Soulight On: Dave McClinton

spotlightlogo_DMSoulFul Design is proud
to present the series
Soulight On: a showcase featuring designers of color across different creative fields. My purpose is to shine light on fellow creatives that we don’t see in the mainstream design trades. My goal is for you to be inspired, be informed, be creative.

Designer and artist Dave McClinton launched his one-man design concern in 2004. Technically, though he had been taking on clients since his school days at Texas State University from a small sign shop to an alternative newspaper for tech start-ups and then out on his own. In the 20 years Dave has been working as a graphic designer, he has never lost his love of the work. “I still get excited about every project during the initial discussions,” he says. Early on, he was taught the 2 of 3 principle—fast, cheap, good… pick any two. “My heart is bigger than my wallet as I often help folks out regardless. It’s very hard to walk away from a creative opportunity,” Dave states.

He currently runs his design business while juggling a designer T-shirt line, Drivn Apparel, an advocacy newspaper, TODO Austin, and his own personal artwork. Late nights are a regular occurrence. After the phone stops ringing, emails calm down and those ‘real quick’ requests are over, the night offers peace to actually design something. Dave’s work has been published in Print‘s Regional Design Annual, Typography and Enclosures, the 4th book in the Master Library series, Shapes and Symbols, the 3rd book in the new Master Library series and Logo Lounge Volume 7.

1. How did you first become interested in graphic design?

As a kid, I was always interested in art. I’d scour over posters, magazines, illustrated books, and in particular, album covers. I didn’t know what the job titles of the people creating them were but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. During my senior year of high school, the first three hours of everyday was a class called ‘commercial art’. This is sort of old school, as the profession had just started being referred to as graphic design. This is when I first thought that I could make a living being creative.

2. Often times, families of color look at the creative arts as a ‘white thing’ that we should get a ‘good job’ like a doctor, lawyer, government worker, etc. What did your family think about your choice of career? Do or did they support it?

I think they were just happy that I’d chosen to go to college. Things were kinda iffy there for a bit. I was considering the Air Force because my dad had been in it for 21 years. I thought that would have the least financial impact on everyone. But being pulled in a creative direction, I had enrolled in the Art Institute of Houston for illustration. Thankfully, they dropped the program at the 11th hour. Two weeks prior to classes starting, as a matter of fact. Ha, ha! Lucky. I had to scramble to find a school whose admission deadline had not passed. I was worried a summer off would turn into forever.

As for my career choice itself? Going the art/design route… you’re talking to someone who, as a little kid, received a Dallas Cowboy helmet on two different occasions for Christmas. I never played high school sports, so by the time I was college age my family knew I was clearly going to do my own thing. If my parents had any misgivings they kept it to themselves. They were huge supporters of me being me. My dad’s mantra…just be happy.

3. How did you get your first big break?

I was loving life as a graphic designer at the Austin Chronicle. Volleyball every other day and beers while we pasted (manually) up the paper. A constant flow of swag and the most easy-going office environment ever. That’s where I discovered that I truly enjoyed being a designer. We were cranking out ads so fast it was often times 5 to 10 per day. It was a place where I met good friends who also loved design. One colleague in particular would later throw me a career life-preserver in terms of opportunities to work in the corporate world. It was also a chance to get acclimated with web design. I went from print to web literally overnight. As terrifying as that was, it’s the closest thing to a ‘big break’ I can think of.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


4. In your experience, have you ever felt that you and/or your work were ignored simply because of your ethnicity? What made you think this?

My career started before the internet. So, people didn’t know anything about you other than what was on your resume and in your portfolio. Right after graduation, I drove to Corpus Christi, Texas for a job interview with a well-known design agency at the time. I’d sent my resume and a handmade booklet of logos and illustrations. I had spoken with the studio head during a phone interview and he seemed truly excited by my work and invited me down for a scheduled interview. When I arrived, the receptionist looked nervously at me and asked me to wait in the lobby. When the person who seemed so excited over the phone saw me, his shoulders dropped, the color drained from his face (no pun), and he emphatically inquired, “Who are you? (pause) Oh, you’re Dave.”

I knew instantly I’d wasted a day. We had an awkward, tense interview. Who can say what it was really about, but I was looking him right in the eye and had a strong, negative feeling.

Nowadays, everyone Google’s potential hires and with minimal effort, you can suss out a designer’s skill, background and professionalism. I love the fact that LinkedIn and other social sites allow people to see you. It does two things, gets them ready for who you are and scares away anyone incapable of adjusting. And it makes meeting new clients stress free.

I think designers are mostly judged by their portfolio and client list…mostly. I’ve discovered the only person who can hinder me is me.

5. Have you ever attended any events or conferences in your industry? Did you feel welcomed? Did you see many folks of color? If not, how did that make you feel?

The first and last design conference I ever went to was FUSE98 in San Francisco. I felt right at home. It was exactly like being in a coffee shop, or bar, or a restaurant right here in Austin. Close to zero black people. I could almost hear Sting’s high-pitched voice… there’s a little black spot on the sun today. There were over 1000 attendees and only 3 or 4 of them were African-American. It’s my own brand of cognitive dissonance that I know I’m Black but sometimes things highlight this fact or remind me suddenly—like when I’m just doing my thing and not ‘thinking’ about being Black. I generally make myself feel welcome just about everywhere I go. I grew up being the only black person in a lot of educational and professional circumstances, so it’s nothing new to me.

As a side note, I don’t think anyone felt welcome at this particular conference. It was mostly a handful of über-successful people sitting on a couch—on a stage—talking to one another. While the attendees watched. Very odd.

Anyway back to Austin, last year I walked into an open invitation event for non-members of Austin AIGA and when the person working the orientation desk saw me she quickly looked away… she ignored me for 2 to 3 minutes. When she finally decided to see why I was there, she opened the conversation by asking me if I was looking for the bathroom. Perhaps I don’t look like a designer. Ha, ha, ha! Is it possible I’m not as cool as I think I am? Ha, ha, ha!

6. Lastly, what project are you most proud of and why?

I hope this doesn’t come off as a cop-out but I’m proud of all of the work. I’m proud that each project looks like its own thing and has its own style. I design for the client, the project….sheesh, that sounds like marketing spiel.

Ok, let’s try again.

I’ll say the PeopleAdmin Brand revamp. They were in bad shape when I came along. The fonts used for the logo were inconsistent, the color palette was muddy and there was no strategy for the creation of collateral. I was initially hired to fix one document and my tenacity and desire to fix everything led me to talk myself into fixing more. And it went all the way from the logo to establishing the style for their collateral and their website. I’m proud of the work but more proud of navigating the client/designer relationship—art directing the entire revamp while serving as defacto project manager.

In addition, I’d add the logo and brand development for Jon Salinas Architecture. It’s a great example of a client trusting but also challenging a designer to create something truly strong.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s