At the close of 2014 we celebrated in style Max Spector’s 15 years of working at CDA. Full speed ahead into 2015 and we’re eager to see what fresh work he’s got for us all going forward… for another 15 years at least! Enjoy this January’s staff highlight including personal stories from CDA’s tried and true brand storyteller.
Q: How was creativity explored and encouraged in your upbringing? Your early education had some pretty formative influence, yes?
Creativity was thoroughly encouraged by my parents and the larger community. My grade school allotted hours each day to creative pursuits, everything from woodworking to weaving, pottery to painting. I spent most of my time in the art room drawing hideously violent comic books with my friends. I’d say my first foray into graphic design however, was drawing football and baseball players as a child, crafting unique combinations of colors, stripes, helmet logos… I loved the constrained space in which to create — all football uniforms have lines running down the legs, but will you use a thick double line? Three thin lines? How many different colors? etc.
Q: Having started out in Architecture at Cal Poly, how did you know you needed to switch? What was it like after you changed majors?
The reasons to leave architecture were so numerous… eventually it just became crystal clear, it was not the field for me. I fell into graphic design in a way that was almost by accident, but in another way represented one of the single best life choices I’ve ever made. Once I knew I would be leaving architecture, I figured most likely I would graduate college without a career path, so I simply asked myself, “What classes will I enjoy the most?” The answer was a no brainer: art! As it turned out though, Cal Poly didn’t have a studio art major at the time, so I ended up picking the next closest thing: graphic design. It’s safe to say I loved it from the very beginning. And of course, my two years of architecture proved immensely valuable.
Q: As Design Director, what aspects of your role do you especially enjoy? Are there types of projects you particularly love to tackle?
The thing I value about my role, more than anything else, is that I get to take a leadership role in our projects, and with our clients, without sacrificing the thing I love the most: doing the work of graphic design! I’ve found more and more over the years that I love directing our team as well. And the project management component comes with its own rewards as well: shaping the arc of a project and building relationships with clients. I appreciate the role I’ve been given so very much. I don’t think it exists very many other places.
Q: Advice for designers starting out? Lessons you’ve learned?
There’s just no substitute for killer chops. Make sure your portfolio shows your immense talent. If it’s wild and off the wall, even better. I want to see the coolest, craziest stuff you can come up with, not some stiff buttoned-up book that follows all the rules and takes no chances.
In terms of attitude or approach, there are two main attributes I value: eagerness and conviction. If you’re a young designer who can believe in your work without losing your open-minded spirit, and if you can stay enthusiastic without turning into a push-over, then I want to hire you.
Q: Any funny/unusual/harried project-related stories to share?
One of my first really cool projects was for WebAppFactory. We made this super cool business system -- metal business cards, debossed folders, wrapping labels -- and only received a handful of samples. Not long after the project ended, during the dot com bust, the company went under. We called them up asking if we could get a few more of their samples (now that they didn’t need them anymore), only to learn that they had thrown everything in the trash. We cried many tears.
I also remember spending a frantic afternoon down at Apex Die, assembling promo pieces for the Mohawk Show Party that was slated for that night. Two of Mohawk’s reps were there helping me get it done. During down time while the presses were running we played tag in their warehouse.
Then there was the project (which shall remain nameless), toward the end of our relationship their feedback on our cover layouts got so awful, we started intentionally making the worst cover design we possibly could. They loved it.
Q: I remember when our office was on Howard and 2nd — you came into work and your home had been burned down!
I did have two separate homes burn, but actually got really lucky. Never lost everything. In fact, in both fires, my room was somehow miraculously spared. In the first fire, which happened after I’d lived in the city for barely two months, my room was literally the only one in the apartment that wasn’t completely destroyed.
That’s amazing Max. I hope Michaela and Nina don’t play with matches like your old housemates!
Q: You were single for much of your tenure here... How has marriage and parenthood affected you and your working at CDA?
I actually don’t think it has affected my work here at CDA very much. It’s true that home holds more of an appeal for me than it used to, but being at the office is also a sanctuary of sorts.
Q: In what ways have you evolved as a designer over the last 15 years?
I’ve certainly learned to pick my battles, learned how to play peacemaker with clients (Softly Catchee Monkey, as Josh calls it), and overall learned that essentially everything we do here is branding, at one level or another. Brand storytelling is how I see our work here, and I’m prouder every day of what we’re able to accomplish with our little team.
Somewhere along the way I also started to recognize where the real joy in the process is for me. It’s not in the finished product, which can be quite rewarding sometimes but often falls short of the potential I see for it. The real joy is actually somewhere mid-process, when a little creative breakthrough happens and I’m almost surprised by the images I’ve just made. There’s a kind of jolt of excitement when something really cool comes together -- whether it’s on the sketch pad or the monitor -- and it’s something really personal; it belongs to only me. The work may get pushed in one direction or another from there, as other voices join the mix, but in one little moment it’s perfect.
Q: Who have been your design heroes and inspirations?
Charles S. Anderson, Martin Venezky, Laurie DeMartino, Stefan Sagmeister, Mary Blair, Jason Schulte, Charles Wilkin, Tolleson Design, Cahan Associates, Elixir Design, Psyop, Aesthetic Apparatus, David Carson, and so many more that I can’t possibly list here.
My work is influenced by different things over time, often by whichever designer or designers I’m most inspired by during that period of time. Some of their style or process filters its way into mine. I’m very ok with that.
Q: What keeps design fresh for you? How do you re-charge?
I’m happy to say, design has not really ever needed a recharge for me. Every new project comes with the promise of new growth and discovery. It’s a happy marriage, I just love it.
I absolutely love doing my own screen-printed projects (when I can find the time). I get to be the client, designer, and printer all in one. It’s a beautiful sense of freedom.
Q: Where are you and what are you doing when you’re not here?
When I’m not here you can pretty much bet that I’m at home with Nina. Or maybe at the climbing gym.
Q: Your dreams, aspirations? What might the next 15 years have in store for Max Spector?
Here at CDA, I envision an ever-increasing leadership role here on the team. I would love to carve out my own little screen printing workspace at home. And who knows, maybe another little Spector down the road.
Max’s Favorites +
- Color: Blue (growing up), then orange (in college), currently brown.
- Comfort Food: The chicken bread salad from Zuni Cafe.
- Book: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
- TV: The Wire, The Simpsons, Arrested Development
- Movie: The Shawshank Redemption, The Incredibles, Wall•E, Big Night, The Big Lebowski
- Pet Peeve: Safe design, clients as art directors, dishonest whiskey
- Best stress reliever: Playing soccer or climbing
- You’re happiest when? Nina is laughing
Your most obvious characteristic? Probably my intense stare (which is entirely unintentional)
A favorite journey? Tanzania and Zambia for the solar eclipse, 2001
Essential tools? Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign (did you mean physical tools? No way!)
Guilty pleasure? Whatever addictive iPhone game I’m currently playing, which undoubtedly is driving my wife crazy because I won’t put my phone down.
You’re currently reading? A Movable Feast, Hemingway
Great place for R & R? Yuba River
A key moment in your life? The day I started taking design classes in college (see above).
You knew you had grown up when… Still waitin’
Your favorite city? San Francisco on a hot sunny day. Otherwise Paris.
What you’d do if you had another life? Graphic Design. And maybe I’d surf.
What you’ll be remembered for? My students will remember me for pushing them toward wildness, weirdness, and risk in their work. Nina will remember me for being silly, inventive, and relentlessly loving. Oh, and most likely I’ll be remembered as the greatest designer who ever graced the planet earth. Ever.