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Ethan Bodnar, Underage Designer?

I was recently invited, by the author, to participate in an upcoming book from the jolly group at HOW Books. “My name,” started the e-mail “is Ethan Bodnar, I am a graphic designer, blogger, and entrepreneur. My first book is being published by HOW Books and is a collaborative visual book.” I initially thought that, well, I just had never heard of this designer, blogger and entrepreneur, and how nice of HOW Books to be publishing his first book. Curious as a racoon, I visited his web site — a dapper-looking one at that — and after a few minutes of sniffing around I realized why I had never heard of Mr. Bodnar: He has not been around the profession too long… well, in fact, despite being a soon-to-be-published author with strong typographic inclinations, he is not a professional designer yet, not even a graphic design student, nope, he is an 18-year-old high school senior. This preceding sentence is in no way mocking, it’s authentic surprise and enthusiasm, even more so at Ethan’s preternatural conviction to become a graphic designer, which he expresses consistently and adamantly in his blog with joyful eloquence.

It’s hard not to think back to when I was 18… I was a lousy high school student and one of the strongest reasons why I went to study graphic design was because I assumed there would not be many written tests or things to memorize, not to mention that I had no idea what to do with typography, nor that it “existed”. In contrast, Ethan already has a reading list that rivals that of your typical designer, he can design and program a web site, he grasps the virtues of Helvetica flush left, curates a collection of design-related videos, and, as I mentioned, even has a book deal. (26-year-old Mike Perry eat your heart out!). Called the Grab Bag Book, Ethan’s project brings together designers and artists from around the world that are assigned a random project from an actual grab bag that Ethan delves into to determine whether you will be doing a comic book strip, a portrait, a collage, or a number of other activities that hinge on making you do something you would usually not do. I am doing a collage. I hate collages. But, first, I asked Ethan some questions.

Ethan Bodnar Portrait

Ethan Bodnar, hello.

Armin Vit: “I asked myself whether I truly wanted to become a graphic designer, and the answer was yes.” You posted this on your blog recently, it’s very rare to find someone so young that is so determined to be a graphic designer, how did you first develop an interest in graphic design?

Ethan Bodnar: I found graphic design through the internet a couple years ago. I started reading blogs and looking at many online design portfolios. The inspiration that the graphic design world provided to me was amazing.

Then I actually started practicing design, creating posters and websites and more. It just felt good to make something and then be moving throughout my daily environment and see what I designed hanging on the wall.

To create is in my nature.

Desktop

Desk

Desk and desktop.

AV: With such an early commitment and passion to graphic design, does it worry you that once in school or after graduation it may not be all you had hoped it would? Sorry, I don’t mean to shatter your dreams!

EB: No not really. I have a pretty good idea of what the next four years in school are going to be like. Right now I am a self-taught designer and to be able to get in-depth and detailed education in graphic design for an extended period of time is very appealing.

As for after graduation, I look forward to being able to work in the industry and continue learning. My only concern is the constraints that working with clients have, but it would appear that by being talented you can still keep your creative freedom and choose what projects you want to work on. Right now I am confident that it will be all that I hope it will be.

Portfolio

Application

Portfolio and academic application.

AV: Speaking of school, you were recently accepted to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York for undergraduate studies. What were some of your criteria when looking for a school to attend? What attracted you to SVA?

EB: Going to school for graphic design and art has a certain feeling about it. To know that I will be creating and learning at the same time is great. When looking for schools I kept in mind location, the amount of students, the faculty, the facilities, and the curriculum. The big question that I would always ask was whether it was a process (focuses on theory of design and how you go about design) or portfolio (focuses on having a book of work to get job placement) school. Process was the answer I was looking for, but still realizing that I need to have something to show for after my education to get a start in the working world.

I am still deciding where to attend next year. The School of Visual Arts was great because of its location in the city and because so many faculty are practicing designers. I was also accepted at Maine College of Art, Art Institute of Boston, Massachusetts College of Art, The Hartford Art School, Maryland Institute College of Art, Virginia Commonwealth University and several others.

AV: What do you think a design education must be for a student graduating in 2012?

EB: In a design education you must first have a solid grounding in process, understanding, and practice. But I think that we must take it further.

Students need to be educated in business so that they can work with clients and run their own design studios. We must be educated in the internet and shown what an amazing community of designers can do together. We must be educated in how to write about our own and others’ design work.

I think project based learning is important. I think that we must first work on paper before the digital technology comes into play. I think that, in the end, the most important part is to love design.

Posters

Posters.

AV: Over the holidays you posted a photo of some design books you were ready to tackle… Including Debbie Millman’s How to Think like a Great Graphic Designer, John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity and, more recently, you acquired Paul Rand, Conversations with Students. That’s not light reading. What do you look for in a design book? And how do you learn about new or existing titles?

EB: In a design book I look for content that motivates my mind to think about design. I look for inspiration and new information. There is something special about books. We get so used to working and consuming design on the screen that it’s just good to feel the pages and flip through each spread. Someday I want to walk into the store and walk out with a huge stack of books and just go home and consume them. I also judge book by their covers, I have been told that it’s a bad habit but what are us designers supposed to do.

Lastly, those books were really great and you should consider reading them if you haven’t already. Debbie Millman has agreed to be in my book, John Maeda is now president at RISD, and I truly regret not ever meeting Paul Rand.

AV: One of the things that impressed me the most about your blog and your portfolio was how careful the typography was executed and treated, as if you had been doing this for quite a few years already. How did you learn to work with type?

EB: Thanks, well most of it comes from experimentation and figuring out what looked good. Then from there I started figuring out what was right and just not what looked good. I read Ellen Lupton’s book, Thinking With Type which I refer back to when I am designing.

My design seems to be based very much on clean typography right now and I want to start working more illustrative elements into my work. I use Helvetica, Rockwell, and Georgia too much. Typefaces are very expensive these days. Though recently Adobe and AIGA teamed together to offer a great set of faces to students for a very reasonable price, this is a great move and one that I think was needed.

Typography is all around and by just observing you can learn a good amount. Just make sure you are observing well executed typography.

Posters

More posters.

AV: It must be too premature, but what kind of designer do you want to be? Is there a particular area in design you are gunning for? Like corporate identity, or packaging, or web design?

EB: Right now, I am not completely sure. Web design doesn’t seem as exciting as it did a couple years ago. I never like how they call it corporate identity. Most people who need identities designed are not “corporate” businesses. They are organizations, small businesses, schools, local brands, and initiatives. I think that I would like to work with designing promotional materials and branding for events, designing type, environmental design, book design, and packaging.

AV: Are you looking to work on your own or be part of a collaborative design firm?

EB: Once I graduate I would like to work as part of a collaborative design firm and continue my education by learning from others that I would work with. I have heard that it is not the best idea to start off on your own right away because there is still much to be learned by working with an established design business.

However, eventually I would like to work on starting my own collaborative design firm.

I don’t think I want to spend my whole life being your normal designer. I would like to take design thinking and apply it to other areas. I will use the power of creativity and design to have a positive impact on the world. Coming up with new ideas and new ways to solve issues and problems. It is my belief that creativity can solve anything.

Poster

One more poster.

AV: And, lastly, a more philosophical question. How do you perceive the influence of design around you, both as a young citizen and as a designer in the making?

EB: It is well known that design is all around us as we move through the everyday environments in which we work, play, and live.

However, I think that there is design behind the simplest interactions we have. Whether it be how the handle of you coffee mugs fits your hand, the paperclips on your desk, the piece of metal you hang your coat on, or the design of the chair you are sitting in as you read this. What message is portrayed through these everyday objects?

It is a sad realization when you figure out what you don’t see. Slow down as you move busily through life, there is much you are missing. Take a moment and observe what your senses are taking in and process it a little bit longer. Observe the well designed. Take note of the poorly designed. Have a look at the beauty and aesthetics that may hide below the surface.

Be sure to stop and smell the design. Chances are you may just like what you smell, or in this case, what you see.

AV: Thanks for your time Ethan, and good luck.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 4685 FILED UNDER Interview
PUBLISHED ON Apr.16.2008 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
iffy’s comment is:

Wow I'm jealous! Good for him to have such a strong understanding and desire to explore design.

On Apr.16.2008 at 10:04 AM
Tom’s comment is:

Holy cow. I'd love to see some inside shots of his portfolio.

On Apr.16.2008 at 10:36 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

I've been saying it all along: 18 is the new 30.

On Apr.16.2008 at 11:56 AM
Christopher’s comment is:

I don't know what I think of this. Frankly, I'm not really that comfortable with it. I don't think being 34 is influencing this at all, because even when I was 18, I thought teenagers were stupid and 20-somethings not much better. I couldn't wait to be in my 30s.

I knew a hell of a lot about architecture at 18. And like Mr. Bodnar, here, I had done some pretty impressive reading at that age. Not many kids in high school curl up with Corbusier's Toward a New Architecture. Or the Field Guide to American Houses -- both books that graced my book shelves. I had already amassed a reading list and a book shelf of serious architecture books.

But I was really aware at that point, and especially at entering college -- that I knew nothing about the world. It's why I switched to anthropology, just so I could understand people and culture and the interaction of society.

I had a hell of a time (both good and bad) in my 20s. And I don't regret it, I think it's made my 30s so much richer, because finally I'm pulling all of this information together and seeing the connections that I was searching for in my teens.

Sure I wish I had been as focused as Mr. Bodnar at 18, just because I'd probably have a plum design job now and a maybe a house. And all the other accouterments of status that my peers have.

But then again, I do have a rich world of experience and a wide scope of knowledge and education to draw from. Which is exactly what I intended. Even at 18, those that changed careers in their 30s. Those that fell into the leading the vanguard in their 30s were the ones that were most interesting to me: authors, architects, painters. They had stories to tell. Not just stories of ambition, but stories of having lived a life of experiences.

Graphic design, more than architecture, seems to value fast rising stars. Like rock and roll, I think it's a sign of our focus on surface and youth and not on experience and depth.

On Apr.16.2008 at 12:24 PM
Whaleroot’s comment is:

Internet: 1
Design Education: 0

Good job you crafty youngin'!

On Apr.16.2008 at 12:27 PM
lauren’s comment is:

.. well we all have to start somewhere, right?

On Apr.16.2008 at 12:28 PM
Doug Bartow’s comment is:

I don't know what I think of this. Frankly, I'm not really that comfortable with it.

Young, talented musicians are called prodigies and 18-year-old gymnasts are generally over the hill.

Considering there's no level of education or certification required to practice design, age shouldn't much of a factor in determining status in our industry.

I applaud Ethan's dedication and passion for design at his (or any) age.

On Apr.16.2008 at 01:12 PM
Josh’s comment is:

Armin, this is the best post in a long time. History is important and it is given a pedestal quite often on DO. You deliver gut reaction, yet eloquent diatribes on anything and all, but what I see that really lacks on design blogs is stories or interviews(in this case)that do not just focus on the design stars of today.

Whether there is much knowledge to personally use is probably debatable, but at least if there are any other pre-college students stumbling across this site, I hope it educates and inspires them to be a designer or otherwise just from reading about the dedication and go getter attitude Ethan has.

On Apr.16.2008 at 01:50 PM
Christopher’s comment is:

@Doug: You may call them prodigies. I don't look kindly on them either.

Perhaps we do need more certification, and emphasis on wisdom and experience over stylistic trends. I am not impressed with youth as a measure of skill, whether that is in design or the arts or sports. And as I said this is not just age talking here, I've never been impressed with it. My adage has always been don't trust anyone from age 5 until 30.

I think we worship at the alter of youth in too many of the wrong things. Graphic design is no different.

On Apr.16.2008 at 02:00 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

I'm perfectly comfortable with this, as a 33 year old. He's going to school, where I'd assume he'll get some perspective on design history and theory to back up his obvious talent. As far as life experiences, I'm sure he'll have plenty, while at the same time working as a professional designer. It would be interesting to see how the work evolves and matures as he gets older and becomes a well-rounded "adult", so to speak.

On Apr.16.2008 at 02:09 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Hell, it will be interesting to see how he handles actual clients and budgets and limitations once he's making a living at this.

On Apr.16.2008 at 02:13 PM
Doug Bartow’s comment is:

You may call them prodigies. I don't look kindly on them either.

Dana Carvey called, he wants his persona back.

On Apr.16.2008 at 02:18 PM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

"Well, young Skywalker, we shall your career with great interest."

[no I did not just quote Episode I]

On Apr.16.2008 at 06:39 PM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

oops, forgot the key word: "watch"

On Apr.16.2008 at 06:40 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Dear Mr. Bodnar :

I'd hire you in a second, and I wouldn't just have you doing grunt work like making coffee or handling InDesign preflight jobs. But then again, I have a feeling you're going to do just fine on your own; and in a way, you remind me of Armin (ambition-wise at least), who's also done well for himself. Time will tell.

On Apr.16.2008 at 09:14 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Ethan,

Good stuff! Best of luck to you.

Keep kicking ass!

VR/

On Apr.17.2008 at 01:44 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

This is all pretty fantastic. I'm impressed, slightly envious, but most-of-all excited by the level of energy and interest that Ethan clearly possesses. I can only imagine, Ethan, that you're an inspiration and motivation to your peers. Clearly you have an innate ability to soak up what's going on around you and make it yours.

Ethan, thanks for the story. Armin, thanks for the question-asking.

On Apr.17.2008 at 08:27 AM
Clive’s comment is:

I liked this guy until I saw the self-portrait in mirror, meticulously unkempt designer-hair, ironically large sunglasses and standard-issue t-shirt. Want to take bets on whether there's a Moleskine in his pocket?

Oh wait... there's the Moleskine in the other photo. There's the iPod. There's the Mac.

It makes me wonder if this guy loves the idea of design or the idea of being a graphic designer.

On Apr.17.2008 at 09:28 AM
Laura E’s comment is:

To say that Ethan's work doesn't have budgets, limitations and clients is ridiculous, no?

His blog, posters for high school plays, the book-in-progress and his college applications take into consideration the client's needs and the audience very well. As far as client-relations would go, I don't doubt his communication, ingenuity and problem-solving skills a bit.

I'm going to have to subscribe to his various web channels now. To listen to a designer so articulate and curious (and not pretentious) is going to be wonderful.

Keep up the good work!

On Apr.17.2008 at 10:09 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> It makes me wonder if this guy loves the idea of design or the idea of being a graphic designer.

I'm slightly taken aback by this comment. The implication I read from it is that "being a graphic designer" is somehow not a worthy ambition. Or that acting/dressing like one is something to be ashamed of.

If you want to be a rock star, you rip your jeans, get a leather jacket and buy a God Save the Queen t-shirt.

If you want to be a lawyer, you are perfectly groomed and do whatever it is that lawyers do.

If you want to be a designer, yes, you buy a Mac, a Moleskine, an iPod, and any other accouterment that comes with the territory. Why is that bad?

Also, shouldn't we be happy that there is at least a stereotype for graphic designers that finally breaks through the black turtleneck? And if owning things that are well designed, properly built and look cool, then I'm all for the stereotype.

On Apr.17.2008 at 12:10 PM
johzephine’s comment is:

If you want to be a designer, yes, you buy a Mac, a Moleskine, an iPod, and any other accouterment that comes with the territory. Why is that bad?
Because we'd rather graphic designers were something more than just a trend.

Granted, I'm only 19 myself, and making my way to an education in graphics design. I get irked with myself with my moleskin and mac and ... I refuse to have an ipod, but I'm getting there.

I'm finding it very hard to let myself pursue graphics design because I feel like it's something everyone and their dog is doing. But anything negative I would have to say about this boy would be straight up jealousy.

So uh, more power to him.

On Apr.17.2008 at 01:41 PM
adam’s comment is:

i have known i have wanted to be a designer since the beginning of high school when i went to some career night and heard a designer speak. that was when i was probably 13 or so, and im 28 now, just graduated with my bachelors in design four years ago.

but . . . i didnt realize what it was really about or really get into the world or history of professional design until the end of my senior year in college, just as i was starting to work full time. now i am all about reading design blogs and looking through publications and going to conferences and actually realizing the influence and just plain existence of design around me.

so that is one aspect i applaud young buck here for. that is the one thing i wish i had done, actually gotten involved earlier instead of "oh, i want to be a designer when i grows up."

On Apr.17.2008 at 01:42 PM
Clive’s comment is:

If you want to be a rock star, you rip your jeans, get a leather jacket and buy a God Save the Queen t-shirt.

As long as you're wearing them ironically, I guess.

If you want to be a lawyer, you are perfectly groomed and do whatever it is that lawyers do.

In court and when meeting clients.

If you want to be a designer, yes, you buy a Mac, a Moleskine, an iPod, and any other accouterment that comes with the territory. Why is that bad?

Because it's become the uniform of Graphic Design and it's trite and it's boring.

Designers are meant to be creative, yes? And what better way to show that creativity by using a Mac (slower than a PC, but at least it looks cool), buying a Moleskine (which you can scan for your blog!), buying an iPod (um... okay, I have an iPod), buying some ironic t-shirt with a dreadfully tiresome phrase on it (I Love Lamp! Hahaha!). And hey, why not get a Holga too! It takes, like, film. And it makes everything look crap, which is cool.

You know, like all the other creative people do.

If you want to be truly creative, try a shirt and tie.

On Apr.17.2008 at 01:58 PM
Clive’s comment is:

Just to note, I'm not talking about Ethan here, just in abstract. I think his work is really nice actually, and I can only echo the posters who wish they were so driven at his age.

On Apr.17.2008 at 01:59 PM
Tom M.’s comment is:

Laura E., I also said when he's making a living at this. So, ridiculous? No.

Stakes do get higher as a professional, when your work is tied to your well-being, so I'm merely saying I'd be curious to see how his work and attitude evolve as his circumstances change. Never said he won't be able to handle it. It was more a commentary on the trials and tribulations of starting out as a professional. But hell, he'll be so far ahead of the curve that the point is probably moot.

On Apr.17.2008 at 02:46 PM
Josh’s comment is:

@Clive

You might want to remember that he is 18 and in high school. What...you don't remember the days of wearing shirt and tie in high school? I sure don't.

Well if he's anything like most of us, he'll fall back on a couple strengths and just ride that till retirement.

I miss the days when i had no knowledge of rules and could design from the same perspective he has. Live it up kid and persevere while you got the chance.

On Apr.17.2008 at 03:52 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Ethan, Nice stuff. You have a great start: just loving design. Just don't rust out and keep up with tons of experimentation.

On Apr.17.2008 at 04:32 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Ethan, Nice stuff. You have a great start: just loving design. Just don't rust out and keep up with tons of experimentation.

On Apr.17.2008 at 04:58 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

ethan -

while i wouldn't take anything away from the books and dvd that you have in your flickr pic, next year find your-self some friends that aren't in the same classes at your chosen school and ask them what they're reading.

- stay open

On Apr.17.2008 at 10:45 PM
Amanda Woodward’s comment is:

Ethan, I smile at your passion and with you the best of luck in the world of design.

Sure, lots of us have macs/ipods/moleskines/holgas. In fact, I have all four. I'm not going to worry about being a predicable graphic designer for owning these tools. Isn't it what we create with our tools the important thing?

Our job is to provide creative 'stuff' for our clients. Its enough work to do that without having to be cutting edge with my personal image, too.

Plus, moleskines are the perfect purse size.

Great post!

On Apr.18.2008 at 12:33 AM
Michael’s comment is:

Good on him for getting a deal and being on the path to great things. I have no doubt he will do it, but I am a bit disturbed he has a book deal. After viewing his site I would say that he is very good at reading all of the trendy design sites, looking at the trendy designers who do hand done type, and has compiled information on the International Typographical style. His blog is no different, every post isn't really something that lends who he is as a designer, but what every pretentious blog says what design is. Its all semantics.

I understand that design is a lot about borrowing from the past, but come on. It is just a bit much to publish a kid who is good at executing things that aren't exactly new. Let the kid come up with his own design voice and perspective and see what happens. I think he is on the right track, but lets see if he gets derailed by a bunch of people who are ready to crown this kid king.

On Apr.18.2008 at 08:48 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> It is just a bit much to publish a kid who is good at executing things that aren't exactly new.

The book has little to nothing to do with his work. He got a book deal based on an "idea", as explained in the introduction, and in the link to his site.

On Apr.18.2008 at 08:58 AM
james puckett’s comment is:

I bet if this had been an article about an 18-year old swiss modernist all the cranky designers spitting vitriol about Bodnar’s lack of experience/education would be spitting vitriol at his educated use of grids over wild young creativity.

This kid has talent and works his ass off, and it shows. Be happy for him!

On Apr.18.2008 at 09:32 AM
Michael’s comment is:

Fair enough, but what exactly did HOW see in the idea? Getting published is no easy feat and I can't imagine it would be easy for an 18 year old with a few poster projects to get in touch with a publisher and pitch a book idea. It just seems strange. Maybe he has an incredible agent.

I do find it funny you mentioned Mike Perry and his Handjob book. I see a lot of parallels, aside from the fact that Perry was already established and has some sort of relationship with a lot of the contributors to his book. It seems HOW may want to reproduce HJ's popularity with this book and add some novelty with Doogie Houser Designer heading it up.

Like I said, good on him. I just don't know how serious I can take it right now.

On Apr.18.2008 at 09:34 AM
Tom M.’s comment is:

The good thing is, we don't have to take it seriously. This is just the beginning. Time will tell, really, and I think it will be fascinating to see where he is 5 years from now.

On Apr.18.2008 at 12:47 PM
Ben Weeks’s comment is:

I want to be an eagle scout too Ethan. Respect. Way to take initiative and surpass many design school grads in internet/tech savvy. Again, props. You're a good writer and story teller too. And you seem to have a good attitude, which some of the folks here demonstrate a lack of :)

On Apr.18.2008 at 02:07 PM
Ethan Bodnar’s comment is:

Wow, look at all the comments. Thanks everyone and especially thanks to Armin! Alright, now for some responses, starting from the top.

But then again, I do have a rich world of experience and a wide scope of knowledge and education to draw from. -Christopher

It seems as if you are suggesting that I do not have other experiences in life to draw from other than design. I do and I will be sure to make more outside of the design field. To a certain extent I do your expected teenage things but when it comes to my future I may be more focused then some of my peers, then again some are very focused already. It is much harder to start practicing law or economics as a teenager, design you can jump right in and learn and experiment. Being focused is great.

Also, I don't plan on just being your normal graphic designer for my whole lifetime, I would like to bring design thinking into other aspects of society such as politics, business, economics, and more.

Last thing, you don't trust anyone till they are 30. I think that is extremely interesting statement and wonder what your reasoning is? I do not agree with you on this one.

He's going to school, where I'd assume he'll get some perspective on design history and theory to back up his obvious talent. -Tom M

Thanks, I think this is the most exciting part about going to school to study graphic design. Right now I am self educated and to be educated by people who have years of experience and knowledge is very appealing.

Hell, it will be interesting to see how he handles actual clients and budgets and limitations once he's making a living at this. -Tom M

I've been doing pretty well with this. I do acknowledge that I am not completely immersed into the industry yet, but I am getting closer. Many of my projects have strict time frames, production to go through, budgets, meetings, photo-shoots, and more. I hope that when I am doing design full time that I can still have time to do what I want for myself with freedom.

I liked this guy until I saw the self-portrait in mirror, meticulously unkempt designer-hair, ironically large sunglasses and standard-issue t-shirt. -Clive

I disagree that all graphic designers look the same. Many do fall into the same looks but that is because we are all part of a community who expresses themselves in different aspects of life, including how we dress. That is how I dressed in that picture, I wore gym shorts, flip flops and a baseball hat today and last week I wore a blazer and tie.

And just a note, I bought a moleskine and hated it, those are Field Notes from Draplin and Coudal Partners and they are aesthetically and functionally appealing. Aaron Draplin is participating in the book and I met Jim Coudal at a conference in New York, they are both great designers and people.

Next year find your-self some friends that aren't in the same classes at your chosen school and ask them what they're reading. - Michael Surtees

Thanks, words of wisdom indeed.

I have no doubt he will do it, but I am a bit disturbed he has a book deal...Fair enough, but what exactly did HOW see in the idea? Getting published is no easy feat and I can't imagine it would be easy for an 18 year old with a few poster projects to get in touch with a publisher and pitch a book idea. It just seems strange. -Michael

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Now for the book. I have no agent. HOW has been amazing and I emailed them and made the pitch, from there it was formalized, a profit and loss analysis was done, the marketing team looked at it, and then the board approved it. HOW also saw sample work from artists that had already sent in work. Many amazing designers and artists have agreed to be in the book and I have gotten great feedback from their experiences.

Mike Perry is a great guy, I met him on a trip to New York and did a video about him. As for Mike already having relationships with people in his book, that is true. This is often a question that my friends ask, "How did you get the artists?" I tell them that I just introduced myself and ask. The community of people have been very receptive of the idea. But for myself, I will now have relationships already in place for my next book or project, whatever it may be!

Also, I have never seen Doogie Houser, but my search has told me that the show went off the air when I was three. Perhaps I will get to watch it one day, was it a good show?

Many of you said that time will tell, and I agree with you. No worries, time will only lead to some amazing design education and work along with many fulfilling life experiences. Thanks all!

And of course thanks to everyone for all the kind words, advice, wishes, and more!

On Apr.18.2008 at 07:40 PM
minus five’s comment is:

i think the most incredible thing about ethan is his passion to do something. it doesn't really matter what that something is. you can't fault somebody for their age. they only know what their life has allowed them to know. none of us know his life or his experiences or what he's been through or not been through.

if he ends up changing his mind at the age of 23 and decides he'd really rather be a doctor, that would also be cool. if he had a million different career paths before he died, what would it matter?

this talk about what makes a designer and what designers should and shouldn't wear and should and shouldn't read and what's in and what's out and clients and budgets and mac vs. pc and use and misuse of helvetica is complete and total crap.

none of that has anything to do with a person's ability to live their life and make the best decisions they know to make at the time. my biggest mistakes and bad choices and wrong turns have often turned out to be the best things that could have ever happened to me.

there's not one-way to do anything or one fool-proof trail. there's not even really a map at all.

ethan, be 18. love every minute of it. i'd tell you the same when you're 23 and 27 and 32 and 114.

On Apr.18.2008 at 10:24 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Nice story Ethan, I really do wish you the best of luck with all you do. Just remember to never stop learning and growing as a person and designer. Keep an open mind and always be passionate about what you love to do...even if it isn't design.

... and Doogie Houser was decent if only for the fact it helped Neil Patrick Harris steal the show in Harold and Kumar. Maybe not as good as The Wonder Years for the simple fact Danica McKellar was (and still is) a stone cold fox.

On Apr.19.2008 at 12:58 PM
B.McGuigan’s comment is:

I think we can all learn a lot from the passion that Ethan shows here. Many of us in the design community felt this way at some point in our careers but either lost it, got side tracked etc... Now that I've read this it gives me more inspiration to help me discover design again for the first time.

On Apr.20.2008 at 02:14 AM
Random Boy’s comment is:

Underage designer; the title captures the imagination - the interview made me wide eyed and the portfolio was certainly impressive. It would be great to hear from some 'overage' designers to help educate and give some perspective to the craft of design. Its a great reading list - but what this interview illustrates is the importance of the personal touch. So come on; if you've used a rotering pen and a draughting board. If you're more in tune with acetate than the PDF and if InDesign sounds like a Jamacian holiday destination then share what it was, is and will be like when Ethan graduates.

XX
RB

On Apr.20.2008 at 10:58 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

wow - an inspired and an inspiring talent at the start of an exciting time in his life. Embrace it. And continue to share your zest for life and design with all of us. Best of luck to you Ethan in this next chapter...

On Apr.20.2008 at 09:29 PM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

Hmm. I don't own a mac, moleskine or an ipod! Bummer.

So many cynics. Wow.

Who cares what his motivation is? WHo cares how good he is? Who cares how he's packaging himself. The real story here is the incredible clarity of vision that an 18 year old is demonstrating.

Why is everyone having issues with whether he's good enough, cool enough or genuine enough to go on? He's an 18 year old with a clear idea of what he wants to do, and is making an effort to do it.

When I was 18 I wouldn't have had the balls to get in touch with the Armin Vits of the world, to even know how to talk to a publishing house, let alone the conviction to go and do it, nor the initiative to set up a blog.

He has, and many of us STILL haven't. Hell, I haven't. I sent Armin and Micheal Bierut a couple of mails, and I guess that's my claim to fame. I don't have a book deal, and I don't have a blog. Well I do, but I don't think this one counts.

Is sour grapes what the cynics are really all about?

Good on you Ethan! Good luck, and Godspeed. Go knock em out man!

And if you ever feel like travelling to India to work, call me.

On Apr.20.2008 at 09:43 PM
David’s comment is:

"Is sour grapes what the cynics are really all about?"

I don't think its sour grapes at all, I think its people remembering who and how they were at 18 and wondering what all the fuss is about.

Let me preface my latter comments by saying I wish Ethan the best of luck and my comments are about the assertion of youth over wisdom in general.

I am inclined to agree with those that say we put far to much 'gush' in the young and talented than the older and experienced. When I was 18 I thought I had it all figured out until I became 21 when I thought I had it all figured out then I hit 25 and said hmmm now I have it all figured out, then I hit 30 and realized that I'm going to spend the rest of my life 'figuring it out'.

I think its nice and we should applaud people like Ethan for having the gumption and drive to get up and do what hes doing, but I think with people like Ethan it needs to be measured. I am 'dealing' with what most would call a premadonna on one of my sites right now, has all the talent in the world, is easily one of the best designers on the site, but hes got all book smarts and natural talent and little real world experience yet people have apparently coddled him enough for him to have developed a very high opinion of himself and while I'm not saying that Ethan has this, I'm saying that people with more experience, the 'over the hillers' should take these type of people under their wing and try to if nothing else - not guide their talent but - guide there minds so that they have a deep understand of what it means to really be on a life long journey that has education and experience all along its path.

I think we as a design community are always looking for the fresh and the new and the hip and sometimes get wrapped up in that coming from the young, which is understandable but again needs to be measured. We are, at times, too trendy which is a double edge sword, it lets us be creative and 'free' but in how we emulate each other are we not simply more of the same in terms of cliques? I remember a few years back when I was a designer at an inhouse design shop a new hire in one breath, after looking at my work, said he could learn alot from me as a designer and in the next breath said 'no self respecting designer does work on a PC', not knowing that I had ( and still do ) a PC at home.

To my point, Ethan in his reply here said:
'Also, I don't plan on just being your normal graphic designer for my whole lifetime, I would like to bring design thinking into other aspects of society such as politics, business, economics, and more."

Which made me chuckle as I read it, in making my point, after gaining more 'real life experience /wisdom that the thought process of art is at play in those areas, you could even argue that art (specifically graphic deign) is a manifestation of expression based on the thoughts and ideas of sharing, empowering and selling from those arenas, but again he seems to be on the 'right' path and a bold path it is, so in summation I believe that what you are hearing from the 'cynics' is more of 'O.K... glad you could make it it now have your seat and join us on this long adventure and ride that will hopefully span the rest of your life, there will be some interesting people and events on the way so don't close your eyes or your heart to what's going on around you.' Good Luck Ethan, will be nice to follow you.

On Apr.21.2008 at 12:47 AM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

Oh absolutely - there's nothing at all to suggest that he knows it all or that he has all the answers, or that he's going to be the next Paul Rand. I agree with that totally.

I'm just saying that I admire the conviction and clarity of thought that he's got at a young age, and to my mind that's the real story here, and one that many posters seem to be missing - choosing instead to find fault.

When I was 18, I was certain that because I had a motorcycle, a girlfriend and a charming demeanor, I'd achieve everything I wanted to in life. I had no idea how, or what, but I 'knew' I would.

A couple of decades later, I now know better, and while the charming demeanor certainly helps me get a foot in the door, I've learned that it takes a whole lot more than charm and confidence to stay inside.

I salute a young man who's putting himself on the right track from the beginning, and (hopefully)won't have to play catch-up later in life.

On Apr.22.2008 at 02:48 AM
John Mindiola III’s comment is:

i think what's interesting is that with all his knowledge, talent, etc, he's done a good job at emulating his favorites. it's not like this kid has created a new photoshop experience or turned print on its head. he's doing what we all did (do?), copying those who have gone before him so that he hopefully later break free and become something new. i have little emotion either way on this kid. who knows, in 4 yrs college, he might be burned out on pixels and paths. speakup, track this kid down in 4 years, in 10 yrs, and see what's up.

On Apr.25.2008 at 07:47 AM
Paul Stonier’s comment is:

WOW. This really shows how when you apply yourself you can do amazing things. I have great respect for Ethan. I can remember how terrible I was when I was his age and it was simply because I didn't begin to teach myself until part-way through college. I'm graduating with my bachelors in about a month and I'm struggling to keep up with Ethan's reading.

What's truly scary is that I'm one of the most well-read students in my class and he's already exceeding me. He's already a better designer than some of the students who will actually have a bachelors in GD in a matter of weeks.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Ethan and I can't wait to see his work grow. Rock on.

On Apr.25.2008 at 08:39 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Bravo Ethan, and once again thanks Armin for following your curiosity and finding a great story to share with your readers.

I'll chime in as an "over-age" designer. I didn't get into practicing graphic design until well after thirty. It was a bit scary at first, coming into an arena which seemed to be a bit youth-obsessed. Thre are always "30 under 30"-type features in the trade mags,the "Young Guns" awards, and well the simple fact that young people have grown up with technology that I picked up mid-stream.

The great news for me was that none of that stuff mattered when it was time to go get a job, it doesn't matter when I meet young designers, and it doesn't stop me from keeping my eyes open and my mind and hands free.

The great thing about (Graphic) Design is that it can go as deep as you wish to take it. As a career and as a field of study, it can hold interest and challenges from seemingly mundane activities like setting a few lines of type, all the way to complex information design and systems thinking. One could be challenged for a lifetime with poster design, or move into motion, interactive, packaging, editorial...etc and follow whatever path their interests, talents and drive will allow them.

If there's a drawback to getting into it at a later age it's that there's less time to explore all these other areas. As a parent and husband I had a little more pressure to get a financially-viable creer off the ground in a relatively short time period. I will sometimes look with a bit of jealousy at the work of people who incubated their visual talent and had a more organic career path, but in the end its always a source of inspiration to keep on pushing.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture.

Oh yeah----shouts to FIELD NOTES...and I own the same yellow framed aviators. Cheers!

On Apr.26.2008 at 08:37 AM
Nichole Huffman’s comment is:

I started out in graphic design when I was fourteen (thanks to a graphic artist in a very intriguing show, "The Agency")and I've been playing with it ever since. I'm 20 now and will complete my degree in about two years. I too was focused and determined and thought "This is it!" when I was 18. Then, I ended up changing my degree to archaeology two years into college (But after being creative that long you start to miss it and change back again). I don't regret having switched now and if I could give Ethan any advice this is it:

Stay focused but don't be afraid to step out of the box just a little more (I'm afraid even designers are pegged). If you want to take a criminialistics class, discrete math, or two more world history credits than you need, then go for it. What you learn is what sets you apart and gives you a broader perspective (design isn't just taught in a design school).

As far as your tools of choice go, it's like saying architects use rulers and draft paper because they want to look the part.
I have a moleskine (graph paper is the best way to go, by the way) and an ipod and somehow I'm the only designer I personally know who has a moleskine.

Best of luck to you, Ethan
Cheers

On Apr.27.2008 at 12:27 PM
Chris’s comment is:

Boring. Next!

On Apr.27.2008 at 11:50 PM
Jw’s comment is:

This has me thinking back to my starting days at DAAP in Cincinnati. I went into architecture with nothing but the feeling of "I like cool buildings", and it was a blast... but man, if I had known how to use Illustrator, had experience with printing, colors, page space, etc... I feel like my work would have blossomed much faster.

Of course, This was when Windows 96 was new Adobe Photoshop 4 was the standard, no one was working on laptops, and Lulu didn't exist. I feel like today's high school grads are cooking with gas while we were rubbing sticks together.

Ethan's got a great start, has obviously got some great resources at his disposal, and I hope he goes far!

On Apr.28.2008 at 08:04 PM
Jonas McGee’s comment is:

Oh great just what we need, another kid with a pirated copy of CS3 copying designs he has seen of the net. Yawn, next.

On Apr.28.2008 at 10:33 PM
Jonas McGee’s comment is:

Oh great just what we need another kid with a pirated copy of CS3 copying design he has seen on the net. Yawn, next.

On Apr.28.2008 at 10:34 PM
robert’s comment is:

Designs and illustrations are fun to make.
Being an 18 year old with a little digital camera, a notebook, some super fun projects and bunch of motivation seems pretty cool to me. + Draplin's Field Notes are better than a kick in the pants. I like to take mine to the hardware store.


On May.02.2008 at 03:27 AM
jewelz zilahy’s comment is:

Ethan has inspiration that many of us at chase collegiate lack. His future is a real and very close thing that he doesn't sit back and wait for but begins before even graduation. His ideas are original and interesting, both qualities that have influence where they need it. One can definitely count on seeing Ethan's work in other places then school hallways.


p.s ethan -granola owns.

On May.08.2008 at 11:00 PM
Mikey P’s comment is:

Jonas McGee, if you have something positive to say, then say it, if you do not, please confide your trolling and idiocy to the inner workings of your apartment a.k.a. parent's basement. Clearly if this was not worth your time, you would not have made a comment on it.

As for designing, designs need to be based off something in order for concepts to come to life, be it nature, technology, or other works of art from previous creators. His art style is quite good, and should be shown respect rather than be subject to the pointless ramblings of a fool.

Keep designing Ethan, it looks top notch.

On May.14.2008 at 11:14 PM