This is the latest in a monthly series in which industry leaders describe the projects and products that give them the most joy and pride. This month, graphic designer and publisher Armin Vit reflects on what you can learn from taking a hard second look.
When I was in my last year of college — the fourth of a four-year graphic-design degree program — I thought I was hot shit. In case that is not something anyone says anymore, it means I thought I was the best designer in my class. And to a certain point I was: teachers loved me, my classmates hated me. Despite catastrophic high-school grades and lack of interest in anything, I had found something I was good at.
During that last year, as a class assignment, I designed the logo and identity for a fictitious cultural festival in the historic district of Mexico City. For some reason either I decided or the teachers decided, it was the 16th edition. Roman numerals are also hot shit, so I used those and put a vector drawing of a pottery cherub inside and then surrounded that with Futura going in all directions. I was proud. I got an A. This was 1999.
That year, I submitted the logo to HOW magazine’s International Design Annual under the student category. It was selected to appear in the April 2000 issue, and I couldn’t have been happier, nor fuller of myself and my newfound award-winning status. By then, I had gotten a job working at a large internet consultancy in Atlanta, GA. A $30,000-a-year gig for a dude from Mexico City. This was very uncommon, and it just added to the already high regard I held myself in.
In 2003, now at my second job in Chicago, IL, I started to explore the possibility of a third job in New York, so I began traveling there for interviews with my most recent and spiffiest-yet portfolio — a lovely printed and cloth-bound book. There was no Behance then. Among the dozen projects in it, I still had my 1999 award-winning logo displayed proudly. In a visit to a large branding consultancy I would have loved to work for at the time, the creative director interviewing me was not impressed overall. A real asshole. Or so I thought at the time. When he got to the festival logo, he stared at it. Finally, I thought, he will understand my genius. Then he pointed to the space between the “V” and the “A” and asked me what was wrong with it. I looked at him like, “What’s wrong with you?” He went on to berate me about the absolute hack job I had done with the kerning of those two letters, and how you could park a bus in between them. It was the absolute worst moment of my design career. Up until that point everybody had said wonderful things about my work and portfolio. I felt embarrassed and defeated. I obviously didn’t get that job.
But that interview became a defining point in my career: I vowed to never, ever be called for a technical deficiency. Lacking in concept or idea or chutzpah? Fine. Whatever. But kerning? Never again. This is why I consider this logo to be the best thing I have ever created, because it forced me to be a better typographer. To look at every single decision more closely. To be self-critical to a point where I can’t believe how much of an asshole I am to myself. Part of it is self pride and not wanting to go through a moment like that interview again. Part of it is the quest for always doing something better than the previous time.
In 1999, I truly believed this was the best thing I had ever created, and today there are many things I believe are the best I have created yet; but my true hope is that, years from now, I will look at them and think, “Man, what a piece of shit.” That feeling will always push you to try to make each thing the best thing you ever created.
Armin Vit is a graphic designer and writer living in Austin, Texas. He is co-founder of UnderConsideration, a
graphic-design firm and publishing enterprise all rolled into one.