I read your OneMinuteWith interview (http://oneminutewith.com/kendrick-kidd) in preparation for this—do you really get up at 5:00 am and go surfing?
Oh yeah, for sure. I'm pretty much up at 5:00 am every morning, regardless of if I'm going surfing or not. Because with a day job, the only time I'm getting work done is either in the morning or in the evening after work when the day job's done. So, morning is my time.
Are you married?
Yeah, married with a two-year-old, which is awesome, by the way. Have you guys talked about having kids yet?
Being on the road has made us talk about it more. We were pretty afraid at first—
I'm still afraid of it.
It's hugely intimidating, it is. And you're never really ready for it. My wife and I talked about it for years before we actually started to consider trying to have a kid, but I have to tell you: It's fucking awesome. Like, it's the best shit ever. You'll love it. And even when you think, “How the hell am I going to do this?” you find a way, and it's just…I dunno.
Why is it so good?
Just watching a little piece of you and [your spouse] put together, just watching them grow and do stupid stuff. People used to talk to me about their kids, and say "Oh, Jonny said “trash” for the first time today!" And they would be so amped up about it, they would be fucking floored. And of course I was excited for them, but you just can't relate in the same way. And then you have kids, and they take a poop and you get excited about it. I mean, that's exactly what it's like. It's awesome. I'm serious.
I've never heard someone say they would be excited to watch their kid poop.
Well, you're not necessarily watching them poop [laughs] but you still get excited.
How long have you worked at this agency?
Nine years. I've worked on Merial brands, so like Frontline [and] Heartgard. It's not terribly sexy, in terms of you don't get to see your stuff up on billboards or in magazines unless it's a trade magazine, but the clients are great clients, they're super appreciative, and it's steady work.
I need a block of time in the morning to focus on design before I start designing, if that makes sense. It's like a jog before a run, you know what I mean?
We just interviewed Greg Christman recently, and he said he'd love to make whatever he wanted all the time, but you just can't. What are your thoughts on that?
I kind of like the balance, honestly. I feel like if you had something good all the time, you wouldn't appreciate it as much as if you had to go and do something else and come back to something good. So, I feel like there's a balance. I kind of enjoy it.
I say that all the time to Claire, because I used to do type design just at nights, not as my day job. Now that it's my day job, I don't enjoy it as much, and I get excited at the idea of it being a hobby, of [type design] being the thing that's the fun thing again. Because when [type design is] the thing that's the money thing, it gets complicated and you lose track.
Yeah, the stress now becomes “Am I going to generate enough income?” versus “Am I going to create the coolest font I can possibly create?”
Yeah! Cool is totally gone. It just jumps ship.
How long do you think you'll work here?
As long as they'll have me. The people are super duper awesome. The agency was founded by an English illustrator who moved to the states a long time ago. He always keeps creative focus on the agency. So even though we're working on business to business stuff, there's always little projects that are floating around that you can get involved with that are a little more creative, and [that] keep your fire burning, you know? So yeah, I like it here, and again I kind of like the balance. Being able to do my freelance and the stuff that I really want, and to take time and craft on the side, and keeping work here, they kind of feed one another. The balance is good right now, so, I can't complain.
Have there been times when the balance hasn't been good?
Yeah, there's always going to be an ebb and flow. When times are bad you just….you've been through the cycle enough times to know that eventually, it will get good again. So you just ride it out until it does.
So after you go surfing at 5:00 am, what do you do next?
If I'm going surfing, I'll call a couple buddies or text them the night before, and we'll meet up. There's maybe two or three of us, and we'll go surf and if I'm not doing that, then it's just me waking up, coming in to work, and just having a couple hours to myself to work on freelance or surf the web and check out other people's work. I'm on pinterest quite a bit, and dribbble. I need a block of time in the morning to focus on design before I start designing, if that makes sense. It's like a jog before a run, you know what I mean? You're warming up; getting the gears moving before you dive into it.
If you don't have that time, what happens?
It's a little clunkier. I end up spending the first couple hours of my day trying to force myself into a spot where I'm ready to design. It happens eventually, but it's much nicer when you can take a couple hours in the morning to get up to speed before you really dive into something.
We'll get down deep in a project that we don't want to be doing, and it's taken ten times longer than we thought, and the client's being a royal pain in the ass; it's really easy to lose sight of why we should be thankful, but we really should be. It's pretty fucking cool.
So the days that you surf, do you still get to work early and have that time, or does surfing serve the same purpose?
It does, but in a different way. Surfing is like a release. I can kind of let everything go for a while before work, which helps and does the same thing. It just puts me at ease, right? So, if I get to spend a couple hours on the computer before working and get warmed up, it puts me at ease, and if I go surfing before work it does the same thing. I'm not necessarily thinking about design [when I surf] but it's being able to take that step back [from work]….I don't know, it's difficult to describe.
No, I get what you're saying.
I've wanted to surf because I skated in high school. A few years ago I was skating and I landed on my face, and I was like: I'm too old!
How old are you?
You are not fucking too old!
[laughs] But it hurt really bad, and had a week-long effect, whereas before it would have just been a day or two to recover. And I would love to surf because I hear it's easier on the body.
It is in a lot of ways. I mean, you fall and it doesn't hurt. You could drown though, if you're not a strong swimmer. But you should do it. And don't fucking stop skating! Are you kidding me?
How old are you?
Thirty-seven. And I still skate! So you've got a ten year window, buddy.
But do you skate a lot?
It's less frequent, for sure. I mean, when I was in college we would get up early and surf in the morning, dawn patrol, come back, eat breakfast, go surf again, come back, skate, surf again in the evening, and maybe go for a night run. I mean, it was bananas. I would be so frickin' spent by the next day—because we would usually do it on the weekends—that I could hardly even function. Your whole body is sore, but it's like a good sore, like a going to the gym sore.
What have you had to give up for your passion?
Time. The older you get the more valuable it gets. You appreciate things in a different way; things that you may have taken for granted when you were younger because you had all the time in the world. You put more of a priority on it. Especially now that I have a son, I find myself wanting to be home more.
Part of the reason why I take my morning time is because my son and wife are sleeping, so it's not time that I'm taking away from them at home, where we could be hanging out. I don't want to be away from them. I want to be around them more. That's my only gripe about having a day job. I would love to be home more with my family. Even if I was working on the computer and they were downstairs hanging out, it would be better, because if I wanted to take a break I could go downstairs, hang out, go in the backyard and kick a soccer ball around. I would be home to do that.
What are you most passionate about?
I definitely love my work, without a doubt, and always will. That's something that's going to be a staple whether or not I'm doing it professionally or I'm retired. Even if, for whatever reason, advertising went away and I had to do something completely different, I would still have to have some kind of creative outlet.
So, I'm very passionate about that. But I'm also really passionate about being a good husband to my wife, and being a good dad to my son, and being around them for not just the important events, but for my son pooping [laughs]. I want to be there for that! I don't want to miss it. So, yeah. I guess I'm passionate about work and my family.
The time you talked about sacrificing before, can you elaborate?
The time thing is partially with family, and partially time with friends, time with my parents, time when I could be out in the water surfing. Sometimes when you get so focused on design and career and you're passionate about it, it's easy to let other things take a back seat. I'm always afraid that it's going to get overly consuming.
Part of me realizes that you need a certain level of dedication to achieve some things you want to achieve, and that level is higher than what most [people] would consider to be normal. But I'm afraid that if I don't keep these other things in focus and keep it in check, then I'm going to miss out on just living life, you know? You don't want to spend so much time behind a computer and not enough time hanging out with your family or your buddies.
Is there anything you're afraid you won't ever accomplish, in any facet of your life?
I used to be afraid that I wouldn't be able to do any design that was going to have any permanence. Everybody wants to contribute to their field and have it be a really relevant contribution. But, I came to the realization that permanence is an illusion. Nothing's really going to stick around forever. We might talk about it for one hundred years, or two hundred years, or maybe even three hundred, but in a thousand [years]? Probably not.
How did you come to realize that?
I don't know. Well, I guess, history, right? There's plenty of it, and I only know that much [gestures between fingers]. And plenty of it is really, really significant to the way that we live our lives and how cultures are formed. But when you take really significant things, and you look at how people forget them over time, and then you take one smaller segment—design—and put that in the same equation, it makes it all seem pretty fleeting. I used to be afraid of [not achieving permanence], and now I'm more afraid I'm going to spend my entire career with all this focus and all this time trying to achieve something, and I'm going to miss out on what we were talking about before, which is the family time and friend time.
You were talking earlier about how balance is important—where do you think you learned that?
Just experience, right? I would miss out on things, I wouldn't be able to go out and have that surf session in the morning because I had a freelance project or a design project that I had to come in and bang out before the sun came up. You do that a few times, and people start to notice, and your buddies are going to rib you about "You work too damn much," which I do [laughs]. And then similar things happen on the family side, too, if you're not around for certain things. If you've been getting up early every day during the week and you're not around when your wife and son wake up, there's repercussions for that.
So it's a learned thing. You realize “I'm spending way too much time in front of a fucking computer, and not enough time with my family or my friends.” I mean, design is wonderful, and I absolutely love it, and I'm so passionate about it, but it's not everything.
What are you most passionate about in design?
I don't know, I just get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I've always been drawn to it. I remember being a little kid and taking art classes and always being drawn away from fine art and towards graphics, be it a sticker on the side of a wall, or a skateboard graphic, or even packaging and logos. I used to drive my fucking art teachers nuts.
It's almost been built in, I feel like. I never remember a time where I didn't want to be around it or draw or do a logo. It's always kind of been there. So, I don't even know why I'm passionate about it.
It's just undeniable.
Yeah, it's just there.
A lot of people we've interviewed talk about how they wanted to make a contribution to something they were a fan of. They weren't able to make the exact contribution, but if they were into musical culture, like bands, they would make a show poster. If they were into skate culture, they might make a t-shirt. Do you have a moment where that was true to you?
Yeah, for sure. I grew up surfing and skateboarding. Literally, my dad had me on a surfboard since I was five years old. So, that's one of those things where in my first memories, [surfing is there], and skateboarding was there shortly after. I feel like the path that I've been taking lately, or ever since I started doing side work, was to try and fill [that work] with jobs that I do, you know what I mean? Fill it with jobs that [are] related to things that I did.
So, recently I've started doing more surf apparel and skateboard graphics, and it's been really wonderful because I spent probably the first ten years of my career doing none of that, and wanting to do that so bad, and that's kind of what got me into it in the first place. That was definitely the kind of graphics I was attracted to before I knew what design was.
So, to have [some of that design realized in] the past couple of years, where I'm actually doing the stuff that got me into [design] in the first place has been super gratifying. I'm thankful. I'm thankful to be in a vocation that I feel like I belong in, that's right for me, [a vocation] that I'm passionate about, and that I can make a living on. So many people frickin' hate their job—I love my job! I wouldn't do a damn thing different at all.
At the end of the day, when you've tried to fit all these things in, when you go to bed, what determines if you feel good about the day, successful?
I think if I can have a really good day at work…Okay, perfect day scenario: If I was able to surf in the morning, so I get to do something that I love before work even frickin' starts, that has nothing to do with work, that feels like home, and puts me in the perfect frame of mind; then come into work and work on a project that I feel really good about and the client is super excited about, and I don't even have to complete in a day, I just have to get to a point where I feel like I've accomplished something; then go home and have a great night with my son and my wife, and eat dinner, and watch a baseball game, hang out in the backyard for a little bit, and just have everything be seamless. The days where I can get the mix of everything; not just design stuff, but the life stuff, I think that's perfect. I will go to bed completely satisfied, and sleep sound.
How often does that happen?
Not as often as I'd like [laughs]. I wish it happened more, but again, back to balance: If it happened all the time I probably wouldn't appreciate it as much as I do. So, if I have a string of three weeks where it doesn't happen, it's tough. But when that one day comes around, it's like fucking gold! It's indescribable. All of that strife you had for that fucking three weeks just melts away, because you got that one good nugget, you know?
Talk about community.
The community around here is really small, pretty close-knit. I feel like Florida in general is pretty small—Jacksonville's not a huge place. I know some folks down in Orlando and over in the Tampa area who are designers, and I feel like it's a pretty good friendly community. The more I talk to people, I find out that that is completely common. It doesn't really matter where you're from. If there's a designer and there's that commonality there, it seems like everybody's pretty game to hang out and talk shop and trade tips, even like finding jobs or whatever. People are always down to help out, and that's pretty cool.
So, Jacksonville's pretty small. Good design community. We've got a great AIGA chapter. They've been bringing a lot of good events, good speakers. They have outstanding programming, and that's probably been for the past six years. So, we've got that part of it, the organized part of it, and then there's unorganized stuff that happens on a daily basis—just chatter, and just helping each other out when we can, which is cool.
What was the moment that you felt like a professional for the first time?
This is the one question that I thought about the most, because I had to really fucking think about it, too.
A lot of [other artists] have had the exact same story, which has been interesting.
And the others have said they still don't feel professional.
Well, there's a little bit of that, right? You always feel like you're faking it to some degree. But I remember the time that I first thought I was professional, and it was fucking great. I was an intern at the PGA tour, which is in Jacksonville, and they had me working on this invite card. And the thing was probably fucking 4x4, it was tiny. But, I took everything seriously at this job. It didn't matter what they pitched at me, I was going to do the fucking best that I possibly could.
So they give me this invite card, and I don't even know how much time I spent on it, but it was just type. It was centered type, it was probably on a cream stock—I remember this shit [laughs]. So I'm at work, I had done this piece, and it went out to get printed, and I kind of forgot about it. They came in, and the creative director jokingly said “Hey, we got your first piece!” and elbows me, and he drops this invite card, this little 4x4 in from tot me, and I was like “Holy shit, they printed it!” [laughs]. I had never seen anything that I had done printed before. They always tell you about it in school and you always hear from your buddies who graduated before you that are working at a place, they're printing stuff all the time. But I had never had a piece printed.
I had this little invite card, and I probably hung onto it for….you know, it's probably tucked away in a box somewhere. That moment, it was like, alright, this is legitimate. They're printing my shit! [laughs] People are gonna see this! It's not a game anymore, this isn't my desktop computer, I didn't fucking print it out on my inkjet. They printed this out on a press. I was so proud of that moment. Looking back now it's really funny, but that was probably the first time I felt like a legitimate designer.
I think with first jobs, you have this profound sense that you have to pull off acting like this character, this professional capable sort of person, so everything is so memorable because you're acting. You're memorizing these scenes…
Of how you think it's supposed to go, right? Yeah.
If you had to pick just one word to describe your advice to other creatives, what would it be?
Probably "thankful." The reason why is [that] what we do is fun. You know what I mean? It's not manual labor, we're not insurance salesmen. It's kind of an awesome career. I'm wearing a t-shirt and jeans and a ball cap to work, and I do it every single day. That's pretty rad. I think it is. You get to be casual and be around cool people, and there's so many good aspects to it.
I feel like you should be really thankful for that, and I feel like sometimes we lose sight of that. We'll get down deep in a project that we don't want to be doing, and it's taken ten times longer than we thought, and the client's being a royal pain in the ass; it's really easy to lose sight of why we should be thankful, but we really should be. It's pretty fucking cool.