The following post is from a written interview with Matt Legrice. It highlights Matt’s story in his own words about how he launched his career as a designer.
Pretend you’re a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show…what’s your script to introduce yourself? (I.e. what’s your short bio?)
I live in Jersey City, NJ with my amazing wife and fluffy cat, Jake. I have worked as a design professional for just over ten years, and I’m currently the Creative Director at a fin-tech company by the name of DriveWealth. My background is mainly branding and illustration, but I’ve also gotten much more competent in animation, UI design, front-end web development, and even a bit of copywriting. I grew up in the outdoors and love any and all outdoor sports, but I also really enjoy living right next to NYC. The cultures here and the diversification of backgrounds is both humbling and inspiring.
How long have you been doing design?
I’ve been designing as a professional for just about ten years. I started taking it seriously right after I graduated from college in 2009–I was bartending at the time and made my first $150 off of a logo for my bar manager who was going into real estate (she actually still uses that logo today).
What kind of companies/clients have you done work for?
I feel really thankful to have worked with a wide breadth of different clients. When I was living in Denver, I worked with an amazing restaurant group to rebrand all of their eclectic restaurants, I partnered with a beer-centric event company–now called 2 Parts–designing their site and all of their event collateral and decorations, and had the chance to work with a large non-profit called Water for People on a huge fundraising music festival. Being in NYC for over five years now, I’ve worked with some amazing larger companies, including Google and SeatGeek, on some higher-level stuff. I’ve also had many opportunities to work with smaller companies to help deliver great brands and illustrations.
What’s your favorite campaign you’ve ever worked on?
A friend of mine is an incredibly talented carpenter and furniture designer. He and I partnered on a brand called Trim Designs that featured his custom design work. We’ve had the chance to work with some great startups, designing a few different conference tables and just recently outfitted a new co-working space in Denver with new desks and tables. It was amazing putting together the entire design package for our company–logo, colors, website, catalogs, and pitch decks. I also learned a lot about the whole furniture design business. When I get rich, I know exactly which wood I want my dining room table to be made of.
Were you always artistic? When did you start getting more into design (even before you were doing it for money)?
I was not always creative/artistic. I barely did any drawing or painting in my younger years–I was more of a science nerd, and sports were a huge part of my life.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I found myself having a really hard time paying attention in class, so I ended up doodling on all of my notes. I would sketch logos for snowboard shops I wanted to start and drew silly monsters all over the page instead of writing down what was being presented. I remember a (now successful surgeon) friend telling me that instead of going to med school, I should consider being a t-shirt designer. She was so right.
Also–my mom is and has always been an amazing photographer and was friends with one of the engineers working on developing the original Photoshop. We always had the latest software on our computer, so I ended up being very good with design software in general. I was on my way to following in her footsteps as a photographer, but ended up branching out into graphic design after I learned about it from a patron who owned a design shop in Boulder.
Where/how did you learn?
I find that I learn best when there is a real-world project to tackle, rather than making up fake projects that have no real-world limitations (and, of course, when there is money on the line). I have basically said “yes” to nearly every project that has come my way and have truly learned the entire business and skills of design through the projects that have come my way.
What’s the first thing you ever designed for money?
A logo for my bar manager who was getting into real estate. I honestly Googled “how to make a logo” and followed the tutorial to do so. Thankfully, it turned out okay!
When is the first time you thought, “Hey, I might be able to make a career out of this”?
I had always used Photoshop and other design programs for fun but never thought about turning it into a profession. I did a few projects for friends and acquaintances for money, but even then I still had to maintain my bartending job to continue to pay the bills.
It wasn’t until I had a very serious snowboarding injury that had me bed-ridden for over three months that I was forced to figure out a different profession for myself. I built a portfolio site and started emailing everyone I could to get something to work on. I ended up making a label for a Boulder local coffee roaster called Conscious Coffees. That gave me a bit of a jump, and I was able to start taking on more work. I still bartended and took up other random odd jobs to pay the bills until I built up enough work to focus on design full time.
What were you doing for work before you became a designer?
I strangely had hopes of pursuing a career in neuroscience, but my grades were not worthy of further education (I’m awful at exams). I also bartended all through school and after graduation at an amazing restaurant with locations in Boulder and Denver until I was too busy with design work to handle doing both.
How have you improved since you started? What are some of the biggest differences from where you are today vs. where you were when you started?
I feel that I can see a new project as a whole and plan a lot more before starting any design work. I think this makes my designs much simpler, more thoughtful, and a lot more to the point. I’ve also gotten better at getting inside the minds of my clients, which helps me to inject more meaningful motifs and ideas into the work I produce. I used to just aim to make something look cool vs. actually deriving concepts from doing research and understanding the problem at hand.
Do you have any role models/inspirations?
I wish I could throw down some specific names of people who have inspired me over the years. The people I think I admire the most are those that have honed their style and craft and produce work that both fits a clients needs but also allows them to produce work that they are proud of.
One of my favorite examples is Tatiana Bischak. She’s become a great friend of mine through an online design community and is a huge inspiration for creating work that she loves for clients who love the work she makes. She’s built her design career the way she wanted and is continuing to crush it.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to yourself five years ago? Ten years ago?
This is something that I still need to work on: focus more on the story and concepts and less on how something looks. A well-thought-out concept that is based on history and research will be much better for the ultimate execution than just trying to slap things together.
A friend of mine always said something along the lines of, “You develop your skills for ‘making shit look cool’ very quickly, but the executions will fall apart if there is no backstory.”
What are you doing today?
I’m six months into a Creative Director position at an investment technology startup called DriveWealth. I’ve been fully defining their brand while redesigning their site and all sales collateral. It’s a bit different and much more serious work than I’m used to, but I was hired to help the company appear much more approachable and less techy/difficult to understand.
I’m also still working on a few side projects with a handful of people. My mom and I own a small Airbnb business in my hometown, I’m working to create a small boutique branding agency/merch shop called Super Soul with a friend who is also a redhead (hence the soul reference). I’ve also recently partnered with a couple high school friends on a new project (which is really exciting, but I can’t speak of the details just yet!).