Written by Rachel L. Ritter
Mike Thompson is a graphic designer who graduated w/me from the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham. From the start I could tell he was one of the cool ones because he has a similar sense of humor & helped me with homework questions (while at the same time putting any of my best photoshoppin’ designs to shame). Plus he has two kick ass sleeves so that’s automatic points right there.
We wanted to interview you so we could pick your brain about how you do you. Anyone can take one look at your designs and tell you’ve got some great design sense. Do you have any favorite artists/designers that inspire you?
Thank you so much, I’m not sure if I have ‘great design sense’ but some people appreciate what I do so it’s alright I guess. As far as designers/artists that inspire me, I’ve always been drawn to older designers and others that try to emulate that era. People like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Massimo Vignelli, Chuck Anderson, Peter Saville, Brent Couchman and Aaron Draplin are always at the top of my list. I just love bold iconic line work and marks combined with simple and beautiful type. There’s nothing like it.
What are your two favorite CD covers?
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures – This album is so iconic and it’s EVERYWHERE, I actually saw a sweatshirt of it in Urban Outfitters the other day and would have bought it if it wasn’t $60 or whatever it was.
Bad Brains – Banned in D.C. – It’s just bold, bright colors, crazy type, the imagery is almost mixed media looking, you get the entire idea of what this album is going to be like from the cover, and that’s exactly what I think an album cover is supposed to do.
What’s a regular work day look like for you?
I’m always all over the place. I do so many different things lately. Some days I wake up around 10, sit around in sweatpants and a t-shirt drawing or sketching or sitting at the iMac. Some days I have to get up early to freelance at a local ad firm. Others I head over to the record label I help out with. Sometimes I sit around working on my own poster ideas. It’s never the same thing and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way, I love being able to jump around between so many different clients and projects, keeps me sane.
Thanks, it’s starting off slow right now, but then again I really just started it, what can I say? I’m impatient. I just released my first poster series aimed at design nerds like me, a bunch of overprint posters with quotes from my favorite designers. I’m actually thinking about going with storenvy or big cartel just so I can make my own prints and choose my paper stock, etc. I’m a nerd about paper.
What do you like to do in your free time, if you have any?
I’d go crazy if I didn’t make some sort of free time for myself. I do the same things most people do I guess, movies, dinner, concerts, the usual. I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing girlfriend, Morgan, who is my female counterpart so we enjoy the same things. Watching horror movies, listening to punk records, playing with our awesome cat, Carl. She’s the most supportive person ever in anything I do and is quick to tell me when something could be done better or when I’m over thinking something.
What made you realize graphic design was what you wanted to do with your life?
Probably when I started skateboarding around 12 or 13. I’ve always loved to draw but I really learned about design and branding from skateboarding and punk rock. Skateboards just always have the most amazing artwork and I really learned what a logo was by looking at bands like The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and The Misfits. Their album art and shirts were and still are some of the most iconic things to me to this day.
What advice do you have for someone going to school for graphic design? What about those just starting out on their own?
Make sure to completely immerse yourself in design. Design is not all about micron pens & photoshop. You really have to study what’s come before you and appreciate it. Don’t get too set into what your style or aesthetic is, you’re not making things for yourself, it’s for the client. Don’t get me wrong, there are clients that will seek you out for your particular style, but there are those who have an idea of what they want already and you just have to know when to flip that switch.
Also, learn as much as you can as often as you can, there are so many different arenas for design these days and to be able to help your clients in all aspects is an amazing thing. Don’t be a snob about print or web, learn to love both. Also, just have fun. This is an amazing career where you get to use your talent and get paid to do something you’d probably do in your free time, so enjoy it.
Thanks so much for being a guest on our blog Mike! If you dig his style, check him out on Twitter, Pinterest, or his site. You could even email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know you liked his interview. Which of his designs did you like best? Let us know in the comment section.