Art alumnus talks with design students about lessons learned in life and work

October 15th, 2012 Comments Off on Art alumnus talks with design students about lessons learned in life and work

Ben Jenkins left the students with some advice, “You suck at design, man.” He went on to explain that getting good at design takes time and that he only just recently considered himself to be good.

Ben Jenkins, a 1996 alumnus of the Department of Art at Mississippi State and a former baseball player, was back in Starkville recently for a baseball alumni event.

Jenkins, founder of OneFastBuffalo, which develops brand strategy and brand design for companies and products, spoke to a group of graphic design students on Oct. 12.  He shared with them a little about who he is and what he does and the somewhat unconventional method of how he works and also gave his advice for students and shared some of his recent work.

The alumnus credited his three boys – eight, six and three – with helping him to get his life together. In fact, he said he didn’t really even consider himself a graphic designer until one of his sons showed him a picture he drew of his dad working at a computer, “a designer who only designs hawks,” as his son described with pride.  Jenkins said it was then he first realized, “That’s what I am. I’m a graphic designer,” and he said it also took him that long to actually consider himself to be a good designer, too.

Jenkins shared a little about his background and how he got to where he is now in life.

After graduation, Jenkins played minor league baseball for the Phillies.  He said it was probably the dream life for most of the young guys on the team because they spent a lot of time in hotels just watching TV and hanging out; however, he said, “As a maker, I was bored.”

So, the graphic design alumnus began taking on small jobs not just to fill his time but because he said he was being realistic and knew baseball wasn’t going to be his career.

Jenkins said he would design logos for diners in the small towns he would travel to with the team – for free, a bagel, $50 bucks or whatever he could get.  Jenkins said his current company was born out of that period of time because he learned how to approach people.

Jenkins got his MFA from The Art Institue of Chicago, but when he couldn’t get a job after graduation, he stuck with his freelance work just with a name, OneFastBuffalo.

“Instead of calling myself ‘myself,’ I called myself something else,” he said.  “I branded myself.”

And it paid off.  Immediately, the designer said he was getting paid better and landing better jobs.  After a cycle of taking bad jobs and proving himself to be able to land better jobs, Jenkins eventually ended up exactly where he thought he should be as a designer – in a downtown 8,000-square-foot office in Dallas, Texas, with twenty employees.

The designer said he was good at keeping up with other people and competing. But he realized he was miserable and that he was making others miserable as well.  He said he was out of shape and was so busy selling and getting more work that he wasn’t really even doing what he loved anymore – designing.

So, Jenkins sat down and figured out how to change things up.  He decided to cut down the number of clients he serves and cut out the long processes.  For example, many clients like to have several choices to pick from for a logo, but he said only one – the best – is really necessary.

The alumnus also made the decision to get rid of his office, which was taking up a lot of his time with maintenance, the drive to get there and distractions from employees.

“All of this was just huge blocks of time that weren’t about making,” he said.

So, Jenkins told his employees they could keep working for him, but that they had to do it elsewhere.

He came up with a new company culture, which includes “participation” and “solitude.”  He explained participation as going out into the world and being inspired.

“As a designer, you’re expressing your experiences and the things you’ve seen,” he said.

Solitude comes in when it’s time to get to work, and you don’t want anyone influencing how you how you think or feel.

“I was like … trailer in the woods,” he laughed, and that’s exactly what he did.

Four months out of the year, Jenkins now lives and works out of a 1958 Airstream Travel Trailer with his wife, dog and three kids.

“I can’t think of anything bad about it,” he said, explaining that his work and life are now better.  “It doesn’t matter where I am; my work is communicating and making.  I’m just super happy.”

The designer said he now spends eight hours of every day sleeping, eight hours playing or “participating” and eight hours working.

“It’s all about what’s important to you and what you want to spend time with,” he said.

The designer went on to explain some of his other businesses and partnerships and left the students with some advice, “You suck at design, man.”

He told the students that, though it may not sound like it, this advice is actually meant to be encouraging in the fact that it’s only relative to how good they are going to get.  He said they need to embrace the idea that being good at design takes time.

“I think I’m getting good at it,” he smiled.  “Now take that, and run with it.”

More photos from Jenkins’ visit:

Some of Ben Jenkins’ other ventures:

Jenkins created this company and handed it over to some of his design friends that are native.  The company serves as a native design firm but also has a community side.  Employees go to reservations and talk to kids spread the word about design and art.

Cowboy Chow
This is a restaurant that Jenkins helped start for a friend in exchange for 10% ownership.

Workhaus Lodge
A company Ben Jenkins founded as a co-work space.

Warstick Bat Co.
Jenkins said after all his work branding products, he wanted to create a product of his own.
The company is doing well, but Jenkins said his wife will often remind him when he gets excited about selling a bat for $50 profit that he can sometimes create a logo in an hour and make $8,000.  His response is always, “Yeah , so … I was sleeping when I sold this bat!”
The bat designer went on to explain that creating a product is something he doesn’t get to do with his clients.  He said he loves to see kids get his bats and get excited.
“There’s just something different about this that’s more fulfilling,” he said.

 The Blackline by Treadsmith
A custom snowboard company similar to the idea of Warstick Bat Co.

 A few recent mentions:

Bloomberg Business Weekly on Sept. 27, 2012
The Airstream Office
By Peter Savodnik

GQ Magazine
Best Stuff of the Year 2011

Bat Crazy.  Local graphic designer Ben Jenkins is bringing some swagger
to your baseball swing.
By pete freedman
August 2012

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