Erik Ford Interview

I am a NYC native who grew up drawing his favorite comic book characters on everything he saw. When that phase came and went, I immersed myself into the graffiti culture in New York in the early 1980s. You would think with all my love of drawing, I would have pursued it further in my education. But, I did not. I got a BA in African American Literature & History from Wesleyan University and promptly put that to good use by taking a job in the mailroom of an independent rap label.

I eventually worked my way up to Vice President of Atlantic Records and had the chance to be a part of the careers of Aaliyah, Lil’ Kim, Brandy, Fat Joe, Trick Daddy and T.I. But I never lost my craving to create art. I purchased Photoshop and taught myself by reading every book I could get me hands on. I built my first, absolutely horrendous website using GoLive (before Adobe purchased it) and was hooked ever since.

Once I left the music business in 2006, I decided to finally do what I was always meant to do… I became a graphic designer. With zero experience and a lot to learn in a short period of time, I soaked up everything around me and exhausted every single online resource I could. I taught myself to hand code and began learning the fundamentals of graphic design. All of this while unemployed and no clients to speak of. SCARY! I finally convinced some friends to allow me to create sites for them (more atrocious work that I am sincerely sorry for) that gave me real world experience. This lead to more work, more experience and finally paying clients.

I would live the life of a starving freelancer for three years until I, with lifelong friend, David Belgrave, decided to pool our talents together and form we are pixel8 in June 2009. Now I just live the life of a starving small business owner.

Where do you look for sources of inspiration?

I would be a liar if I said I don’t check out a couple of website design galleries on a regular basis. This keeps me on my toes. And not because I see something that I want to emulate, but because I always see something that makes me say, “Damn! That was perfectly executed! I need to step my game up!”. LOL.

But, inspiration for any given project can come from anywhere really. It can be a magazine I am thumbing through, the music I am listening to, a television program I am watching or a visual I get from a book I am reading. As cliched as it sounds, inspiration is all around you. The only place I haven’t figured out how to harness inspiration from is when my newborn daughter is shrieking at the top of her lungs!

What is your favourite aspect of  web design, graphic design, logo design, jquery, css, wordpress?

Web design: It’s like the Wild West for me. Almost anything is possible if you think it through and it applies to what you are working on. It’s also fast paced and constantly evolving. I mean, think back to 1996 and look how far we’ve come in less than 2 decades. I can only imagine what it will be like for my son and daughter when they are in their teens. It gives me goose bumps.

Graphic design: I love everything about it. I really do. I love the wide spectrum of talent that I am privileged to enjoy every single day. I love being a part of it. Feeling connected to this thriving community.

Logo design: I will be honest with you on this one. Not my fave at all! I have respect for many of the greats that came before me, as well as cats like David Airey, Jeff Fisher, Calvin Lee and Jacob Cass. Those are the artisans. I am here with a guest pass. I tend to shy away from logo design work because, to be frank, I’m not good at it and am OK with that. I think any designer worth their salt should find their lane and tear it up. We all can’t be a Renaissance Man like Leonardo da Vinci.

jQuery: I am definitely a newbie here, but love the relatively easy learning curve and the power, if wielded properly, it gives to designers. I have made a pact with myself to sit with a master this year and siphon some knowledge off of them. Any volunteers? LOL.

CSS: How easy it is to learn. Plain and simple. There is much more for me to master, but it isn’t daunting or intimidating. I love that.

WordPress: For the same reason I love CSS. The relatively easy learning curve. Right now, I know enough to be dangerous but constantly am learning something new everyday that makes me fall in love with the app all over again.

What are your top 5 favourite websites?

I can only list 5? There are so many websites I like to breeze through regularly that it is hard for me to pare down the list to 5, but I will try. In no particular order, I spend the most time on the following:

NFL.com
I Love Typography
Font Shop
Apple.com
COLOURlovers

Who do you look up to in your field?

That’s a good, yet tricky question for me. There are so many creatives out there that literally blow me away on a regular basis with everything that they do. But I tend to look up to those who are forging a path for themselves within their own voice. Does that make sense? I guess what I am trying to say is that the artists that inspire me are doing shit that I am not doing, but still absolutely love, in their own style and not necessarily following any given trend. This is a daily reminder for me to try to find what my voice is and embrace it.

Chuck Anderson aka No Pattern – I first got hip to Chuck’s work while I was working at Atlantic Records. He designed the album cover for Lupe Fiasco’s debut record and I have had a digital crush on his work ever since.

Radim Malinic aka Brand Nu – I think I first saw Radim’s work about 3 years ago in a magazine (can’t remember which one) and was floored by his artistic signature. I mean, he creates some gorgeous digital art on a consistent basis. And, I guess imitation is the best form of flattery because you can see his influences in a lot of other people’s digital artwork.

Futura 2000 – If you are like me and grew up in New York City in the 1980s, you should be aware of Futura’s street art. He pioneered a style of graffiti that is now called “abstract” and has been copied a million times over worldwide. He is also one of a very few who were able to make the transition from illegal street art to legal art with numerous gallery showings. He’s even made a name for himself designing various album covers and record sleeves, over the past 30 years, from The Clash’s “This is Radio Clash” to U.N.K.L.E.’s Psyence Fiction. I love the fact that you can’t put him in a box with a label on it! I hope to get to that point some day in my own work.

There are also comic book artists like Frank Miller and Eduardo Risso whose work really speaks to me. I guess you can say I am all over the place with this one.

What sort of social media tools have you found most successful?

For me, the jury is still out on this one. I will say that I have met, and engaged with, a host of  wonderful people through Twitter lately. Did I emphasize “engaged with” enough? I’m not into the game of “How many followers do you have?”. That is the equivalent of a penis measuring contest that has never appealed to me. (I know there is a self deprecating joke in there somewhere.) What does it really mean if you are following thousands of people or vice versa? Right now, the studio has about 200 followers and we are following roughly the same amount of people (which I think is too much to the chagrin of my partner).
And lately, I am finding it necessary to shut off my Growl notification from Tweetie because I will get 15 tweets simultaneously of some list, somewhere, of the “The 75 Most Awesome Websites designed for People who Like to Stand on their Heads”. I know that this is an over exaggeration, but I think you get what I mean. I think that is why there are days that I don’t even look at the stream or send anything out.

What do you think are the main benefits for offering free advice online? (Whether it’s a tutorial, quick snippet of code, advanced tutorial)

I know, for me, it is a great way to share some pitfalls I’ve encountered or a new trick or tip I might’ve stumbled upon that may eventually help someone else. Paying it forward, you know? I also found it to be a great way for me to get feedback as well. Learn something I didn’t know before. I like to do it for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. I don’t know how effective I’m being, but I am enjoying the journey so far.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

None! LOL! At least, that is what my girlfriend would say. I am my own worst critic. Whenever I complete and deliver a piece of work I am notorious for going back to it and seeing where I think improvements could’ve been made. I like to tell myself that this helps me get better as a designer. It’s either that or a neurosis that will become debilitating in the future. LMAO.

Seriously speaking though, it tends to be my latest work that brings me the highest form of pride. As of right now, I am really digging on the one page website we designed and developed for super talented fashion photographer, Dallas J. Logan. He gave us a tremendous amount of free range in terms of presentation and functionality, so I got to experiment with some concepts (bold colors and large typography) that I wouldn’t normally incorporate with other clients. His work is so visually energetic that I wanted the site to be a compliment to that and not the focal point, you know what I mean? I hope we were able to deliver on that. I know the client is happy, but I still look at it and say, “Shit! I should have done this!”.

What would be your perfect dream project?

I honestly don’t know that I have a dream project. I used to think that I wanted to work with well establish brands, but that leaves little room for creative input. I think a dream scenario for me would be contributing to something absolutely brand new and watching it grow, similar to what I would do when I was in the music biz, but way more worthwhile.

What advice would you give to someone starting out online?

Aspire to be a guru, but always remain a student. Never abandon your thirst for knowledge and your quest to get better every single day. Hell, when I look at something I did 6 months ago, I am appalled at just how little I know and how much more I have to learn.

Also open yourself up to criticism. Don’t get me wrong, it will sting, but if you trust the people critiquing your work, and they are doing so from an objective place, then it is going to make you better. I know I tend to become overly attached to my work and often miss the “forest for the trees”. I’ve actually gotten to a point where I crave the criticism and don’t want people just telling me something looks good. That doesn’t help me get better and I don’t believe it will help you.

What’s your biggest design/internet pet peeve?

I honestly don’t know that I have one. I might have to think about that one for a while.

Looking into a crystal ball, what do you think will be the next design trend?

I hope we can all get back to the basics. The fundamentals. You know? Gradients and textures are cool and I love them as much as the next designer, but I think we are witnessing a movement back to minimalism, to coin an overused and often misunderstood term. I think we are going to see more use of typography and white space as art versus blending modes and beautifully designed backgrounds.

I mean, look at Sushi & Robots by Jina Bolton, Chuck Spidell’s Illusio Design, Twisted Intellect’s beautiful portfolio or Simon Collison’s new site to see what I am talking about. Look at what they were able to do with layout and typography to push the boundaries. WOW! I absolutely love it. And I think once we are able to use type on the web the same way we can in print, watch out!

What can we expect from pixel8 in the upcoming year?

We plan on taking over the world and ransoming it for… 1 million dollars! LOL. I’ve always wanted to say that. Seriously, we are very excited in our little corner of the universe. And, not to let any cats out of the bag, we are presently having discussions about being part of some really cool shit in both the film and music arena (notice I didn’t say business as I am quite done with that phase of my life) as well as working with some startup companies to help them formulate their brand identities both on and offline. These things are getting me jazzed.

We are also going to be redesigning our site from the ground up to better reflect who we are and what we do. I think I drank way too many cups of coffee the last time around and threw in every little thing I love into our current iteration which, to me, feels a bit schizophrenic. We also plan on blogging more this year and using that as a platform to share what we know.

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