A while ago, we started running a series of interviews with designers whose work we admired – and I’m happy to say that it’s something we’re starting up again. To kick things off I wanted to interview Dave Barry, a designer based in Charleston, South Carolina. I first found Dave through Dribbble and I was immediately impressed with his work and in particular how he’s able to create beautifully minimalist designs as well as bold and vibrant artwork. A huge thanks to Dave for kindly agreeing to be interviewed.
Could you give a bit of a background about yourself?
First off, thanks for having me! My name is Dave Barry and I’m currently a freelance graphic designer living in Charleston, SC. I graduated from Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design just outside of Denver and right behind Casa Bonita’s (it’s a restaurant and if you’ve seen the South Park episode, it’s exactly that, so my head basically exploded the first time I went to look at the campus). I’m originally from Pittsburgh, so yes, I put french fries on all of my sandwiches (which should really be required of all sandwiches). But anyway, ever since I can remember I’ve been drawing…and making money – in 3rd grade my friend and I would sell drawings during recess for either 50 cents or a dollar, depending on how badass we thought they were. I would also get yelled at for drawing on my desk and would always be mad when the janitor would erase them, even though I would write ‘Do Not Erase’ next to the drawing. I never totally thought of drawing and making money as a career though.
I went to a private liberal arts college for 2 years to study advertising. My uncle was a big influence on that decision as he worked at a big ad firm in Chicago, and I thought seeing him work on Ritz crackers and Lunchables was just the bees knees. After those 2 years at school though, I had only taken one advertising class and was just building up needless student loan debt. Anyway, I left school for two years and held a number of different odd jobs including kayak rental supervisor, server, kids-gym coach and nanny (or manny…or bro-pair) and traveled the world with my now soon to be wife. It was the best decision that I had ever made as working those bizarre jobs made me refocus and realize that I really just wanted to make a living drawing. Obviously there’s more to it than just that, but that’s when I made the decision to go back to school and finish my degree.
Where do you get your inspiration from, and which other designers work do you admire?
Man, this is a tougher one that what I thought. I could sound super cheesy and say ‘everything’, but it’s kind of true. I’m constantly immersing myself in design from getting lost in the Dribbble black hole to catching up on design trends through blogs like this one. I’m also looking at and absorbing all types of design. As I write that, it just sounds like Design ADD, which actually isn’t a bad thing. I’m just inspired by great work, whether it’s the very clean and geometric style that Jay Fletcher has or the more illustrative, vintage style of Jon Contino. I can appreciate a great UI as much as can a stellar piece of print work. I’m also a pretty big fan of advertising work because they’re able to use comedy to really make a brand come alive, which fits with how I think. I mean really, who doesn’t love a good pun? I think it’s just gaining an appreciation of what all the word ‘design’ can encompass, and hoping that I can make myself better because of that.
You have quite a mix of styles, from really bold and unusual (like your Bare Bones Salsa designs) to very clean and minimalist, like your own logo. Have you got a favourite style? And of the designs you’ve created, what do you like the most?
It’s funny you say that about the Bare Bones project, because I remember saying to myself before starting that ‘I want to do something drastically different than anything I’ve ever done’. It was certainly a challenge departing from my typical minimalist style so I had to catch myself on occasion if I started to stray back in that direction (the skull is still pretty flat though so I guess it didn’t totally work out). This one actually be my favorite project as well as I had a lot of freedom on it. I was really able to a lot of extras for this and I wanted to test my hand at a few different things at the time and was able to. For instance I did some screenprinting for it that I had never experienced before. I really had a blast on that one because it was so out there for me.
Since you mentioned it, my logo actually came from a typography project in an experimental type class. We were given an architect and had to create a typeface based on their style and I had Zaha Hadid. Her style is incredibly abstract and modern (and at times Georgia O’Keefe-esque), so I needed to emulate that (not the Georgia O’Keefe part though). When I was creating the B, I was working on disecting and abstracting the letter and noticed that, hey, there’s a D and a B in there. I know for my personal mark I should say that it had a deeper meaning behind it’s creation, but it was a total happy accident. It worked out though so I can’t complain.
Stylistically though I love the minimalist approach. I love being able to take something and break it down to it’s very basic core while still maintaining its intended shape. ‘Oh that boat has a hundred windows on the side? Well, now it has three”, that kind of thing….with slightly more thought than that. I have a hard time taking myself very seriously which I think comes across in my design from time to time. I use that to my advantage to create a little bit more of a whimsical approach to my process and outcomes.
You’ve been freelancing for a while now – are you enjoying the freelance life style, and do you have any tips for other designers who are thinking about going freelance?
I do love it, it’s great to be able to work remotely, be your own boss and really just be yourself (which may or may not mean working in sweat pants…or no pants). It does have its challenges for sure though. You definitely need to be ready to really work hard to build up your client base, especially if/when you’re starting from scratch. At the beginning you have to be willing to accept that you might not have work (or money) coming in at times, but that’s really when you just need to dig in and do whatever it takes to become successful. Get involved in your design community around you. Find local meet ups on anything. Surround yourself with other creatives in your area or even online because as great as it is to work in sweat pants, it’s equally as great to get out and connect with other like-minded people. Do personal side projects because the more practice you can give yourself, the better you’re going to get.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a career in design?
Be patient and be nice (what’s really the point in being a jerk in life?). Just realize how awesome it is that you’re getting to do something that you absolutely love for a living. On the design side of things, have a reason for everything that you do. It’ll help not only your creative work, but also your business as well. If you’re able to have the purpose to your design, you’ll be able to actually talk intelligently (read: longer) about what it is and why it is that you did something. That will really help you sell yourself in the end (not in the street corner type of way…actually, wait…exactly in the street corner type of way).
A massive thanks to Dave for agreeing to be interviewed, and for the interesting answers. If you’d like to find out more about Dave, you can find his website here, check out his latest work on Dribbble and follow him on Twitter @davebarrydesign.