Matt Stevens was the kind of kid who was always doodling on pieces of scrap paper. Which is to say his future as a designer was fairly obvious at an early age, especially to him. "I think around early middle school I realized what a logo is and it just made sense to me," he says. And he's certainly grateful for the clarity. "Taking a message and figuring out the best way to communicate that idea through words and pictures just felt like the thing I had to do."
From there it was a simple matter of deciding whether design or illustration would win the battle for his creative career. He went on to study both in college, eventually choosing to stick with design. Most of his career since then has been in small, design firms. But if you take a look at his recent work, you'll see the strong illustrative element creeping back in, which just goes to show you can always revisit the path not taken.
These many years later, Matt is still the kind of grown-up who fills scraps of paper with drawings and ideas, which he says strike entirely on their own schedule. To make sure he doesn't lose them, he keeps notepads and sketchpads with him at all times, even in the car. "[I'm] not condoning sketching and driving," he clarifies. "Red lights only please."
What's been one of your favorite projects to date?
I am currently doing a branding project for a group of cool folks in Manhattan, Kansas, starting up a unique donut shop. It's a labor of love for both them and myself, trying to do something fun and special that adds to their community. They're taking over an old art deco post office in downtown Aggieville, to create a gathering place in an area that is primarily bars. They have a neat vision for what this place can be and are letting me tackle all kinds of pieces: logo, apparel, glassware, signage and even graphics for a cool old bread truck that they are converting into a place to make donuts outside the shop. They've been awesome to work with thus far.
As a designer in North Carolina, do you find there are any advantages or disadvantages to being outside of the New York design scene?
North Carolina is great. I grew up in Asheville, NC, since the age of 9 up until I went to college in Charlotte. We have settled here to remain close to family in the Southeast and it's a great place to have a family. It's certainly not as active or packed with design as many of the larger cities, but the connections you make online have really shrunk the world in my opinion. Where you are matters, but a fraction of what it used to.
How do you keep the job interesting and challenge yourself?
I am a firm believer in doing work for yourself. As a designer, I have to find that angle or that hook that really engages me on a project. The more personal things I have going, the easier I can find those insights into client work. It allows me to exercise those muscles. The constant pursuit of ideas and thinking lead to better ideas and thinking.
What other creative pursuits are left to try?
I would love to speak more. I really enjoying taking the design battle scars and using those experiences to give someone else some insight or enlightenment. I spoke about doing personal work to the Dallas Society for Visual Communication last year and it was one of the most satisfying experiences I've had as a designer.
How long have you been using Squarespace? How did you find us?
I've been using Squarespace for around 2 years. I was looking for a simple way to get my current work up online and be able to share my process and thoughts. In my search, I had many folks recommend Squarespace to me personally as a good platform.
Why does Squarespace work for you?
I'm not a super technical guy. The simplicity and ease of use was key for me. I love things that "just work" without having to dive deep and have a ton of developer skills. I know the basics and that has allowed me to do what I need to do. I also have seen a lot of other Squarespace sites that have been customized, so I know that should I need to do a lot of customization, I can. I love the built in analytics. The whole UI of the analytics are so well done and easy to use. I also love having all of that available in the iPhone app.
What's next for you?
I've been obsessed with sneakers since middle school, and I started a kind of mad scientist personal project, taking the Nike AirMax 1 sneaker, and doing a slightly different version each day. It was just an excuse to illustrate more, but I really got hooked into the project and ran with it, producing 60 originals and 15 tributes to other designers over the course of several months. It really got a great response, so I've been building it as a KICKSTARTER project over the last several months. I really learned a lot from the success of Frank Chimero's "Shape of Design" project and Simple Scott's "Designing Obama" book. So the goal is to produce a great book with the 60 originals and 40 new ones and some behind the scenes kind of content. I'd love for people to support it.