“What is design?”
This was the opening question posed to Art Ready students by mentor Phill Shung of design and brand identity companies Sundree and Pixod. It led to a discussion of how Phill and his business partner, Mallie Mickens, have helped various clients develop and communicate their brand identities to target audiences. Past clients have ranged from celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Destiny’s Child, to nonprofits like the Brooklyn Historical Society and charitable causes like a Hurricane Katrina relief campaign.
Design and branding projects range from creating websites and smartphone apps, to “art direction” for magazine photo spreads and advertisements. Phill described the process of art direction a little: “You take a concept or story that a client wants to tell, then translate it to a medium like photography or video. This usually involves directing an entire team–for example, for a celebrity photo shoot, you need a location scout to find the right settings to take the pictures, a makeup artist, a wardrobe person, etc.”
For any type of design project, it is also important to “get familiar with your client’s message before anything else.” Phill and Mallie often do a lot of outside research to make sure they fully understand a client’s product or service. They consider this one of the most interesting parts of their job, which has taken them on some unexpected paths. For example, one of their clients was trying to sell horse DNA, which led the company to research the science behind DNA. “In this business, you need to be constantly learning,” explained Mallie. “Each company has a problem, and you need to solve it creatively. You’re expected to be able to solve any problem thrown at you.”
Neither Phill nor Mallie had planned to be a designer early in his career (Phill had actually studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Hampton College, and Mallie went to trade school). Yet both of them had started doing freelance design projects for various clients, realized they could actually make a good living from their art, and eventually started their full-time businesses.
Phill’s mentees will get a basic education in the tools of design, including the adobe suite and html and css. They could build original websites or apps, or, like last year’s mentees, design an entire printed magazine. They will have the chance to meet other professionals on the field, and take field trips to visit other studios and to do photo shoots.
One of Phill and Mallie’s final messages to students was to take advantage of the internet and social media. “In this day and age when anyone can start a blog or post a viral video on youtube, YOU have as much ability to impact what people are thinking as a major TV network.”