Holly: Jason Willis is the most talented journalism major our program never had. The award-winning photographer, videographer and graphic designer graduated from Oakland U with a degree in studio art.
You can read about all the intriguing projects he’s pursued since, and about his recent transition from Digital Strategy Manager in Oakland’s Communications and Marketing Department to Director of Media Production at Argonomo — on the about page on his website here. You’ll see right away why I use his website as a course resource in media design (JRN 4200). And you’ll understand why I wanted to ask him a few questions about graphic design best practices, processes, and – yeah – about snacks.
Jason, tell us how you came to design. Was there an “aha moment” or did you find your way here gradually?
My path has definitely been gradual through different fields and industries. But my “aha moment” was when I was in school to become a history teacher while also working at a photography studio as a designer. One of my coworkers there helped convince me that I should pursue the creative field instead.
The menu bar on your website speaks to your skillset: design, video and photography. But we happen to know you’re also an exemplary writer. How have writing skills informed your success as a visual artist?
I often have an idea of how I’d like text to look on a website or print piece. Being able to visualize the layout of text is extremely helpful in design. And having an idea of what you want something to say helps too. I don’t often write, but I enjoy working with writers to get things accomplished.
There’s this George Nelson quote: “You don’t think your way to creative work, you work your way to creative thinking.” What’s the Jason Willis process for stepping into creative thinking mode?
My creative thinking process is sometimes smooth and other times chaotic. In general I find the more planning that goes into a project though, the easier it is to work through creative ideas for it though. I often need to have a clean and organized desk to be able to get into a project.
What’s your favorite workspace for creating?
Anything with a window. Just a simple tree to look at outside will usually do. And I always feel most creative and productive with music. When I feel my creativity or productivity drifting I often switch music genres.
Are snacks allowed at your workstation? If so, what can we expect in the event we visit?
Too often. I have a serious sweet tooth. On the healthy side it’s probably an apple, but you’ll probably find some chocolate or cookies too.
What three pieces of advice would you give current students who want to pursue a career as a visual artist?
1) I’d say try as many things as possible. Maybe you’ll like editorial or corporate or another field, but the more you can try as a student, the better. 2) Learn as many different skills as you can before you’re too busy. Some will stick and others will go away, but it will help you find what you’re good at and enjoy. 3) Have a website. My first website was basically just a redirect to my Flickr page, but it worked at the time. But keep your website up to date and focused on the type of work you want to do.
You’re so accomplished at visualizing — where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
This is always the toughest question, because honestly I’m not really sure. Someday I’d like to get really involved with or work for a non-profit and use my skills in this area.
Observing your prolific body of work, we are convinced you live in a universe with more than 24 hours in a day. Any time management skills — or time-warp apps — you can share?
For years I only slept 6 hours a night. So that might be part of it. I’m pretty organized too. I’ve always made lists since I was a kid and I use the reminders app to keep track of to-do’s and projects. One thing I’ve learned is to make progress on multiple projects at once instead of only working on one project from beginning to end. That has worked for me. But I’m still trying to figure this out.
It seems like you really, really enjoy what you do. That said, do you ever just need to check out of design mode and relax?
I do. I like bingeing a good tv show as much as anyone else. I’ve also recently got into playing drums which is my loud relaxation.
SELECTED WORK: JASON WILLIS