Interview with Garrett DeRossett from Alright Studio

I had the fine pleasure of meeting Garrett for the first time when I was interviewing with charity: water for a summer intern position. I had been keeping up with Garrett’s work online for quite a while and I can honestly say that it was the most fun interview I’ve ever been on. Since then, Garrett has become one of my favorite people on the internet (and that is no small feat) by nature of his sheer honesty, humility and humor.

Garrett DeRossett is a badass graphic designer and co-founder of Alright Studio, based in New York City. He opens up about his journey from dropping out of college, picking up random internships, catapulting himself to lead design at charity: water to now establishing Alright Studio with his partner and best friend. In this conversation, we chat about freelancing, working with your friends, mental health, movies and books, and so much more.

How would you describe your childhood and what is your earliest memory of being creative or curious?

I would say that I had a pretty typical American childhood. I grew up in the Midwest, in Missouri. My religious upbringing wasn’t rather exciting. My dad is an accountant and my mom is an English teacher, and neither them nor me have any clue where the creative in me came from. The first time I can recall doing anything creative as a kid is reading a ton of books. I started to read very early, around the age of 3 or 4 years old, skipped picture books and went straight into young adult fiction. I remember being madly in love with books, and being especially fascinated with book covers. I was always thought that I’d gone down a literary route—writing, teaching English, etc.. At an early age, I started to think about book ideas and things I could write about, and along the way realized that books need to have a cover!

So I’d print out Microsoft Word typefaces and put a regular piece of paper in front of it—sort of like a poor man’s tracing paper—and trace out book covers for these fake books. Now that I look back on it, it’s interesting that my journey kicked off with typography. I could never draw well as a kid—and I still can’t. But I really enjoyed tracing and drawing letters.

How did this general interest in type and book covers translate into graphic design?

My initial interest in books and book covers very quickly turned into an interest in music and album covers. I always had this conflict in my head: I wanted to create content, but I was always more interested in creating the artwork around that content. I would scrappily write a single song and be like, “Oh, I’m a musician now!” and instantly come up with a bunch of album covers for no reason. So I essentially ended up making a lot of art for fake things. I also realized at some point that it would take me a mountain of effort to become a musician of any considerable quality. That’s sort of how that leap from creating content to creating the artwork for the content happened.

I surrounded myself with a bunch of great musicians who started playing at coffee shops when they were 17-18 years old. I went around asking these friends if they needed posters for their gigs. I didn’t charge anything for them—I didn’t even know I could charge for them. Those were my initial forays with graphic design.

So it really went from book covers, to album covers, to making other stuff that people could see and then it was really just finding anyone who would let me make stuff for them.

How did that lead you choosing what college to go to and what to study?

Up until junior year of high school, I really thought that there was going to be a literary angle to what I do. At that point I didn’t really understand what Graphic Design was, and was still trying to get a degree both in English as well as Music Production. Around senior year, I had more clarity about what I wanted to do through creating those posters for my friends and experiencing graphic design firsthand.

I didn’t actually finish college, I dropped out after a semester and moved back home. From that point on, I started taking on various jobs in whatever direction I was interested in. I was interning at a web development agency and discovered another studio in town that did really cool branding work—even though I didn’t know what branding was. So I emailed them and got an internship there, and sort of repeated that process until I ended up in Austin, working for a really small startup building a social media app. I was essentially the brand designer and the would-be marketing designer after the app launched. Around all this time, I was very active on Dribbble which was huge back then. It was crucial outlet for me to get all the bad work out of my system—I would just keep making stuff, put it out there and gauge the feedback I got.

You led design at charity: water and from the outside it seems to me like a unique mix of an NGO and a startup. How was working in that unique environment like for you?

Through Dribbble, I met two of the designers at charity: water, Mike Smith and Trevor Rogers. When I heard that there is a position opening, my time at the Austin startup wasn’t exactly coming to a close, but it was pretty clear that I wasn’t an essential cog to the machine. My work at the startup lacked breadth because I was only working on this one app. On the other hand, charity: water works on a large variety of projects. My coworkers at that startup were really supportive of my decision to join charity: water and they are really good friends of mine to this day.

I was hired at charity: water as a junior designer and I was supposed to work in tandem with a senior designer. Before I even started, the senior designer, Mike Smith, left to start his own studio. There were a lot of transitions happening at charity: water that year, and because of the lack of a creative director, I found all the creative decisions going through me. Although it was a lot of fun, I was 23 at that time and felt that I was neither emotionally mature nor management savvy enough to handle that kind of responsibility.

In terms of my experience working there, I would say it’s the best job I ever had, second only to running my own business. The charity: water office is like a museum of all the cool stuff they make, all the people they’ve helped, all of the celebrities involved—and it was amazing to see all the energy and resources come together to essentially change the world. You walk in through the front door and you’re hit with inspiration every single morning.

The other exhilarating part about working there was that it is very intentionally set up like a startup. They didn’t work with ad agencies or branding agencies—they didn’t outsource any creative work. We worked in-house on everything, ranging from videos, VR films, branding for all initiatives, to designing and building collateral and websites. I got to do every kind of design that existed, even down to data visualization. I even made scannable wristbands for our fundraiser galas. I’m very grateful that it was all over the board. At the time, I didn’t know what I enjoyed working on the most, and I got the invaluable opportunity to work on everything.

It was also a special experience because of the unique group of people that I was working with. Even though my team never put pressure on me, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I talked with our Chief Marketing Officer about feeling inadequate and not doing a good enough job.  They sat me down and made me realize that there was no good reason for my feeling that way. They were actually a bit perplexed with how I felt because they were pretty satisfied with me and my work. Looking back on it, I think those feelings arose from a lack of design leadership there—which by the way could be the reason I got away with a lot of work that I shouldn’t have. I was definitely pushing a lot of creative boundaries but it might have ended up alienating some of our target audience.

Written by:
Prabhav Khandelwal

22.05 2019


2015 web presence for charity: water's annual gala charity: ball


2016 Web presence for charity: water's annual gala charity: ball


A little thank-you poster for one of charity: water's partner in Ethiopia, hence the colors


Poster for inviting intern applications to charity: water. The poster that got me in touch with Garrett in the first place!

It’s true that charity: water’s visual style at that time was not resembling that of a typical non-profit charity. But I also think that it worked for them because it set them apart from the crowd as a—dare I say—design-y charity?

Design has always been at the heart of charity: water, and in a lot of ways the company started with design. The first creative director was the founder’s wife who was actually a motion and graphic designer. I was also really fortunate to come after Mike Smith—because he did a lot of the heavy lifting of cultivating a design culture around the company and educating everyone on a foundational design level. So the team had a good sense of the kind of design that would work and the kind that won’t work. This inspired the company to stand out from the crowd design-wise and encouraged them to push the boundaries even further.

Do you think this widespread design culture around the company helped with the rest of team agreeing with the kind of visual style you pushed for?

I would say so, but that was also because of a weird perfect storm of a lack of stringent creative direction and a open willingness to try new things. I pushed the brand in directions that I thought were interesting and unique, but I’m not sure I spent enough time evaluating whether that direction was the right direction. The experimental side of me just wanted to see what we could get away while still being useful. The team and I put a lot of effort in ensuring that what we made would work and in the end it all boiled down to “just put it out there, and see how people react to it”.

We had the opportunity to be so experimental primarily because of such a strong target audience/donor base. We had an audience which was so supportive of  the core mission that honestly, we couldn’t do a whole lot to fuck it up. The core mission of charity: water is so pure and well-known amongst the people that need to know about it, that they will show up, no matter what.

So what exactly led you to leave charity: water? Was it the prospect of working with different clients and solving different problems or was it more about getting bored with working in-house and generally be part of a studio?

It was a combination of a lot of things. By moving to New York, I quickly put myself in a culture with a lot of amazing artists and designers. A lot of designers here are far better and far younger than I will ever be. It’s not at all like in Austin where every cool designer in town hung out together and shared projects. They’d even split into small groups and chase after clients together. There was a real sense of belongingness and togetherness there.

But in New York, everyone is just competing.

And being in New York for two years and working for charity: water, I really became aware of the competition in ways that I wasn’t before. In general, I felt that if I was to do the kind of work I was bookmarking and longing after, I needed to be in a place where those challenges were a little bit more accessible. And those opportunities do come along with having individual clients, so I made the decision to go work for a studio. I hadn’t worked for clients in a while—although I have freelanced pretty heavily throughout my career.

While looking for studios to work for, I decided that a large agency didn’t suit me and didn’t sound like fun. So, my pool of who I wanted to work for was pretty limited because not many people were hiring and I didn’t get a lot of emails back. I finally got one back from a really small brand/e-commerce/photography/everything studio, and that was the next jump to working for clients again.


Branding, art direction, and web design and development for KENKASHI live now at Photography by Tyler Phenes


Mobile web design and development for KENKASHI live now at


Web design and development for KENKASHI live now at

You mentioned about not wanting to work with big agencies. I talked before with Dennis Plucinik from ATTCK and he told me how working for big agencies seems fancy from the outside, but on the inside it can get pretty brutal. And the dichotomy between what they project out to the world and what’s actually going on is quite disparate.

I really hadn’t thought about that in those noble terms, which is kind of embarrassing. But now, I’m very aware of that and have a lot of hot-takes on larger agencies for a variety of reasons. But at the time, my primary motivation was that if I went to a larger agency, I would just get lost and I wouldn’t be noteworthy or interesting—which is really selfish to be honest. There’s awesome art directors and really killer designers that work at bigger agencies—but I didn’t want to be another awesome designer. I actually wanted some level of visibility with the work I was doing. It’s a pretty selfish reason but I didn’t want to get lost in the big wide world of big agencies.

There are great agencies that I would have surely loved to work for, despite being on the larger side. I thought it was important for me to be as close to the client as possible and away from the bullshit—in terms of how many hoops you have to jump through before the idea even gets to the client. And I’m of a firm belief that getting closer to the client helps produce better and more honest work.

Yeah, when the idea goes through six layers of management before getting presented, it’s bound to lose its essence.

An idea might even get killed before it’s even presented to the client!


I remember at one of my first agency jobs in Missouri, I had an idea that was truly bad—but for some reason the copywriter and I thought it was great. The creative director told us that he thought it was utter crap, but let us include it in the options anyway. Lo and behold, the client freaked out. They thought it was the coolest thing they ever saw, and immediately started applying it to all their campaigns. That necessarily doesn’t mean that it was a great idea, but it goes to show that things that are meant for certain clients are hard to gauge unless you’ve had a direct conversation with them. I think that was one of my primary reasons for leaving charity: water—not only to escape the ring of fire of ideas being churned out and stepped on, but also wanting to be closer to who I was working for and use their specific challenges to make interesting work.

As a designer about to kick-off my own career, I feel drawn to working with different clients in a studio rather than working in-house on a singular thing. I think it is the idea of working on different smaller types of projects that gives a sense of creative control and independence that I find myself attracted towards.

There’s also a level of speed associated with smaller projects. I really love a lot of the web and design work coming out intentionally small studios, because I think there is an element of scrappiness to them. Even if it is imperfect, it is far more interesting to me than something that somebody spent 8 months fine-tuning. Things move so fast, that if you wait too much to try an idea, someone else will. There’s not an infinite amount of ideas and there’s not an infinite amount of clients as well. Multiple clients can have very similar values which can lead to producing a lot of similar work. The idea of working on something for too long and not releasing it feels like getting left behind. And that’s a disservice to the people you’re working for.

Let’s shift things a notch. You’ve been freelancing pretty heavily throughout your career. How do you think that’s different to running your own studio, and to a full-time job?

I think that most of my job opportunities have come by because of my freelance work. I’ve never walked into an interview and shown work from a previous job and had any sort of positive reaction from it. What I end up presenting is usually like an album art/website I did for a band, or a logo I did for somebody I met on Dribbble.

The thing that haunts me the most now is that I had absolutely no sense of what money meant in terms of how much things cost and what I needed to make to live my life. It really made the whole freelance experience about the sheer joy of the work. I never really let cost enter my mind, and I hardly priced my freelance projects responsibly. The problem with that approach is that inevitably you’ll get to a point where you haven’t set any rules and you wouldn’t have been compensated fairly for the amount of work you’re doing. You’ll start to resent the work as well as your client. And that was something that happened a lot at the end of a larger freelance project. And then I would immediately forget about it, and move on to the next project. For the most part, even when I felt burned out or overworked, I somehow got excited about the next one again.

It was a huge learning experience for me because now I understand how to appropriately charge for the services we provide in our own studio. I never really had to worry about the financial aspect of things when I had a full-time job, which is a comfortable position to be in. But had it not been for freelancing, pricing myself and understanding the economics of running my own business would have been much harder.

You’ve worked with a variety of fellow artists: bands, musicians, artists, etc. How would you describe a working relationship with an artist from a different domain? What’s the balance of creative control in that relationship?

It varies with each client but it varies in only one way: the amount of self-awareness that an artist has. What they do and what you do is similar but in different mediums. The best musician/artist clients I’ve had are the ones that are fully aware that they are paying me to do something that they could not do. The worst ones I’ve had are the ones that thought that they could do what they’re paying me to do, but just don’t want to. The way that manifests is in the way that they give feedback. I once showed 10 different album art concepts to a musician in one go. Within five minutes I got an email saying that none of those worked. I never got a reason why. That mentality of “I’ll know it when I see it” is very dangerous because that means that there’s already something in their head and you are supposed to somehow read their mind.

While working with fellow artists or creatives, you have to understand where their heads are before you start working with them. The difference between someone who’s willing to put that time in with you vs. someone who is not, is definitely is an indication of how the project is going to go.

It’s just as important for you, the designer, to have trust in the musician/artist as well. You have to understand that as you put a part of yourself in a project, they are doing the same thing. There’s a crossroads where you can meet up, and that requires a lot of work. If your client doesn’t want to put in that level of work, it doesn’t usually bode well for the project.


Branding and direction for RAD, an Austin-based design and construction company with the goal of providing sustainable homes at an affordable price by Alright Studio.


Branding and direction for RAD, an Austin-based design and construction company


Web design and development for RAD, an Austin-based design and construction company with the goal of providing sustainable homes at an affordable price.


Web design and development for RAD, an Austin-based design and construction company with the goal of providing sustainable homes at an affordable price

What made you decide to start Alright Studio with Ian and Hope?

I think running my own studio is something that I’ve always wanted to do. It was also on the horizon in terms of the decisions that I made. Right after I quit my last studio job, I was in a really weird space where I was freelancing, trying to make my own studio, and also working part-time for some friends in Nashville. I think by working for them, I figured out what I wanted our studio to look like. I got to look at the inner workings of a small studio, the way they bounce ideas off of one another, and the ways their strengths and weaknesses interplayed with each others’.

Apart from all that, another reason I wanted to form a studio was that I wanted to make websites. It was something I thought I was pretty good at, so, I needed someone who could build/code them for me. I don’t know if there was a concrete moment that I can point to when I made the decision to start a studio—it was more like a natural progression of things and us saying to ourselves, “let’s keep going”.

The way things got kicked off in the beginning is that I pitched a project with my friend Ian for a special effects company that needed a website. We had never been approached together by anyone like this before and there was really no reason for them to ask us to work on it together. We put so much effort into it that we made the entire website for our proposal. Once we did that, and thought about projects collectively, it was kind of hard to stop. So we continued positioning ourselves as a collective to get new work. It was almost like we tried working together, and we just didn’t wanna go back to the way things were before.

Sounds like working together was the gateway drug.

Oh, it totally was. After that experience, it became hard to think about work in a singular context anymore. It just felt so natural to have a couple people with you, by your side, on the same wavelength as you are.

How would you advise people trying to go into work together with their partner and best friend? To me it sounds like a pretty delicate situation to work in. It definitely takes some experience and a level of emotional and professional maturity to reach that stage. How do you balance those relationships?

The studio has taken a lot of different forms in the short time we’ve been open. When we first started, we had structured our income to be personal. Essentially, the projects that you worked on, that was the money that you took home. We didn’t really think about it in terms of a payout system where the income is shared. The work was going through the Alright Studio banner and the partners just took home a piece of it.

Acquiring new clients forced us to change how we gave ourselves money and we structured in a way that made the payout equal for each partner. It is funny that you’ve brought it up because we spent the whole of last week reminiscing this whole situation. When that shift happened, we didn’t realize at that time, but it marked a pivotal moment for us because now all of a sudden, our incomes depended on each other. You have to be really careful when you’re navigating a situation like that because it’s a very tricky position to be in.

Since one of your business partners is your married partner as well, have you guys had issues with the work stress coming home?

I’m very prepared for this question. (laughing)

There are a lot of stressors that you have to isolate and be aware about, which we weren’t until very recently. My partner Hope and I have this agreement now that if anything goes weird during the day, we can come home and unwind about it, rage about it, and basically do whatever we need to do to process it.

That sounds super healthy.

Yeah, that’s helpful for us. It’s great! Where is it’s not so great is that the level of communication me and my married partner have wouldn’t apply to our other business partner, Ian. So if Hope and I get back home after a tough day, we can unwind about it, and there’s none of that with Ian. I think you have to learn to set and respect boundaries earlier on than we did. So we’ve been learning how to communicate together really well before we take on more work. Any advice that I would have for people in a similar situation is to take the time to be small, work out of the apartment or coffee shop for as long as you can before you raise your “clout” level. And just make sure that you have all the rules laid out clearly beforehand.

It does help if your colleagues are your friends beforehand. Personally, if I didn’t have Ian and Hope with me, I wouldn’t have started this studio.


Branding, packaging, creative direction and web-design & development for Porter & Pals


Branding, packaging, creative direction and web-design & development for Porter & Pals


Branding, packaging, creative direction and web-design & development for Porter & Pals

Even the studios I’ve come across—online or otherwise—have stemmed for a long-rooted working partnership. I actually agree with you on the fact because I couldn’t jump into business with someone without knowing their ins and outs. Some might even say that running a business together can be a more intense relationship than marriage. (laughing)

Yes, definitely because you are directly responsible for each other’s bank accounts. I think making sure that you have a really functional relationship with a business partner is about being willing to put in the work that doesn’t come easily.

Now that you’ve established your own studio, do you think the pressure to constantly work to the point of overworking yourself is more now, or was it more when you freelanced?

There are different kinds of pressure. I would say that the pressure I felt while freelancing to consistently get better and do more interesting work is a little bit less of a factor now, which I’m grateful for—mainly because it’s hard to work specifically to make that pressure go away. There’s always going to be someone better than you.

The pressure that you feel when you run your own company is more of a given. I’ll find myself working until 9-10 p.m. and not even realize it sometimes because I’m the only one that’s gonna be able to do it. So, I would say that the pressures are different and this point in my life, I’d rather have the business pressure.

And why do you think that is?

The pressure of constantly having to upgrade your skill set is really dangerous because there’s no clear end goal to that. It is easier to look at a business and say, “we have to hit this number to pay our rent, and have this project out by this date”. Those are actionable and concrete goals. The idea of just trying to be better than the other 3000 odd designers in New York is super scary. It also has a lot to do with age, I think there’s a time in your life when you should feel that pressure. That time of your life should intentionally be very short, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

There’s a unique kinds of pressure when you’re working with a larger organization vs. working freelance vs. when you’re running your studio. When at a big company, you feel like the company is responsible for taking care of you. While freelancing, you’re the only person putting in the effort that would get a result. And there’s a unique pressure while working at your own company because your own efforts can translate into other people’s well-being as well.

Out of those three options, I would say freelance was the easiest. And in some ways, also the most enjoyable. Because you really didn’t have to worry about anything other than the project at hand. I recognize that it’s kind of an elitist thing to say because making money while being a freelancer is really difficult from a logistical point of view. But in terms of the voices in my head and the kind of stuff I had to work through, freelance was so much easier.

Frank Chimero wrote in a blog post that, “If work is stymied, ask: are you eating clean? Getting enough sleep? Did your heart pump more than a sloth today? Start with your body, not your work methods.” What relationship do you think your well-being and mental health have on the work you do?

It’s hard to tell the two apart.

I’m sure this is true for everyone on some level, but I know deep down when my work isn’t as good as good as it should be. And before we have to present it, I get extremely anxious because I’m aware that I’m not performing at top capacity, and there’s seemingly nothing I can do about it.

I’ve also realized that my brain needs a healthy recharge to produce good work.

I actually took a weekend off to go see my family and near the end of the weekend, I found my head smack down into business—I was buzzing with incredible ideas. And three days before that I was so burned out that I couldn’t process anything other than getting ready to give the presentation. There needs to be a healthy recharge that I’m admittedly not good at maintaining.

People don’t often realize that mental health and your stability have a very strong effect on the work you produce. On the other hand, I also believe that just like sad kids make good emo bands, emotional graphic designers are the ones that produce the most interesting work.

Since I was 18, I’ve known that I have clinical depression and have been taking medication for it since. What I didn’t know—and got to know midway through a job—is that I have clinical anxiety as well. Anxiety that was so bad that I had to figure out a way to manage it. You’d be surprised that how many people don’t understand, or are unwilling to understand, what anxiety means and the effects it can entail. I’ve met a lot of people with the attitude, “Oh, you’re a graphic designer, just push through and you’ll get there”. For me, it’s not always possible to just push through and make something if I’m not in the right mental space. There’s an element of that in every job but I think it applies more so for creative work for obvious reasons.

In order to sustain a healthy working atmosphere, you have to be aware that people can just sometimes have off days. I had some really good advice from one of my dear friends that helped me out a lot—”If you’re having a bad day, it’s totally okay to not get anything done. But if you realize that you’re having a shitty day, make sure that you don’t have a shitty day tomorrow. So just do whatever you have to do to make tomorrow better.” It sounds really obvious and simple, but it was really helpful for me to let myself off the hook if I’m having a bad day.

Also I know for a fact that I am really bad at taking care of my life in any non-work way. For example, I do not work out, I’d sometimes go 8 months without a haircut, and I generally have to put a lot of effort into taking care of myself. On the other hand, I honestly don’t have to put a lot of work into making myself do design. Even though the work that we do is obviously hard, challenging and specialized, it’s still so much easier for me to get myself to do that, because that just comes more naturally to me.

I kind of want to shift gears and talk about something you posted on Twitter recently.

Oh no. (laughing)

You mentioned you tried going sober for a while and that was a pretty impactful change for you. You said that you ended up feeling everything fully, which can also be a bad thing. (laughing) What would you say about your experience?

So I did not drink alcohol for six weeks. There wasn’t a specific reason why I did that. If anyone thinks that they may have an issue with alcohol or any substance, the best thing to do is simply see what happens when you don’t have it. What I found what happened when I didn’t drink is not the experience that I necessarily heard from other people. Not that I had been drinking everyday, but I generally observed that I was able to maintain a positive mood for a longer time.

I vaguely remember that I posted something along the lines of “unfortunately, I feel everything now” which was the really interesting part about it because there was no longer a way to not feel everything everytime. Earlier, there were nights when I just wanted to switch off my brain and call it day and drink a couple of beers—which is a luxury I no longer had. It intentionally forced me to see what it was like to not be able to turn off my brain. It was a valuable exercise for those six weeks.

Now that I’m past that and drinking occasionally, I now realize that the clarity I used to feel on weekends and Monday mornings when I wasn’t drinking was a fucking high in itself. It made me feel like that there was something awesome to wake up to everyday. It was like that age old adage that you don’t know what life is like until you let yourself fully experience it. It was a good experiment in that it taught me that I should probably care more about my state of mind, and also that I am capable of doing so.

What does the future hold for you? Do you wish to venture into fields you haven’t dipped your toes in or is there some kind of work you’ve done that you’d like to do more of?

I haven’t done any music related stuff in a while, I’d like to get back to that a little bit. I think I want to financially price our studio in such a way that we can do smaller projects as well. We should be able to do more work that isn’t tied to the bottom line.


Album artwork for Steven St. Pierre's album, Stubborn Romace by Alright Studio


Album artwork for I&R's new album, Bankrupt City by Alright Studio

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind? And is it something that you actively think about?

I think about it a lot, actually. But I don’t know if I think about it enough when I’m making decisions. I’ll think about the legacy I want to leave behind in a vacuum. But when I’m shitposting on Twitter and realize the way my legacy is going to live in this crazy social media age, it does not process well at all. (laughing)

If anyone looks at my work when I’m dead, I would like them to think that it came from a specific sense of raw emotion and reason. I think that’s what I like most about some of the album art, posters and even websites I’ve designed. It’s hard to describe what it means or where it came from and I like that about it. I like the fact that when I look at my work, it’s a mess of emotions.

Who are some mentors you look upto in life or for work? Maybe somebody you’ve met or someone you’ve admired from afar?

There’s a lot of them. I think I’ve had people who have functioned like that at every job that I’ve had. The first one that I can remember is my boss Scott at the Austin based startup. He has always been a clear-headed voice of reason in my life. I’m a very emotional person and I sometimes react without thinking too much. And he is the opposite of that, even his humor is pre-vetted in his own mind. I think remembering his level-headedness has been a major influence in my work.

I also feel like I’ve had multiple friends that have inadvertently taught me stuff along the way. My friend Keith Davis Young is a designer and illustrator in Texas. He was one of the first people I met who had a weird, unbridled sense of joy about them. He was just so happy, so uplifting and so caring all the time that you couldn’t help feel a little bit better about yourself when you’re around him. I needed somebody to tell me that my work was good, because it’s hard for me to tell that to myself.

Also, my friend Joseph who runs a web design studio called Extended Play. He has been a mentor in the sense that he does not sugarcoat anything. I think that it’s important to have at least one person in your life who will not bullshit you about anything. I’ve had conversations with him where he’ll be honest to the point of even offending me. He’ll point out when I’m being a baby about a certain situation or if I’m overthinking too much.

What are some book recommendations you can give?

I have to preface this by saying that I’m not a design book guy and I haven’t read many of them. But I’ll start with a design book.

The New York studio called karlssonwilker wrote a book about the first years of their company. It’s brutally honest and I wish everyone reads it to understand that it is okay to go through a tough phase.

I used to read a lot of rock band memoirs. Even though I think that The Doors are a shitty band, the book about their lead singer, Jim Morrison, is insanely good.

Also, anything about this author called Chuck Klosterman. He started out as a rock journalist, but then he widened his range. He creates a lot of significance around very mundane events, and I seem to gravitate towards that.

What are some movies/TV shows/documentaries you would recommend?

I recently watched a movie by the Safdie Brothers called Good Time which has Robert Pattinson in it. It was a really crazy movie and it got me going down a rabbit hole about those directors in general. After the night I watched Good Time, I watched their first movie called Heaven Knows What—which was utterly fucked up.

I don’t know if you know the backstory to this movie. The lead actress in that film was a heroin addict at the time of filming. Basically what I remember is, the Safdie brothers found this girl in New York and asked her to write an autobiography of her life. Instead of publishing the book, they made a movie about it. And after the movie was done, they sent her to rehab—which was really awesome. It got me thinking about the role and responsibility of filmmakers because the closer you get to some of these grittier topics, the more impact you can have. And that movie is freaking amazing.

I watch a lot of stupid horror films too. There’s two movies that I think about a lot for reasons that are beyond me. This film called We Need To Talk About Kevin with Ezra Miller. For some reason, it was so disturbing that I can’t stop thinking about it even five years later. The whole point of the movie is that when Ezra Miller’s character is born, he bonds with his dad but not with his mom. He goes through events in his life where he shows really disturbing behavior around his mom, and no one believes her.

And the other one is Compliance. It is a true story about a woman who worked for a KFC outlet. Some guy calls her manager and says that her brother is busted for drugs and essentially, claims that this woman is part of the investigation. The guy on the phone who claims to be a cop, holds the entire staff of the restaurant as hostage. It was such a weird example of how power can be insanely misused, and how people don’t generally question it.

What are some bands you can’t live without?

Deathcab for Cutie, because I’ve listened to them since I was 13 and kind of feel like we’ve grown up together. There’s a band called The Gaslight Anthem whose discography I have totally exhausted. It would be really difficult to go without this band called The Rural Alberta Advantage. They’re obviously Canadian, but something about their albums reminds me of Winter time.

They’re all pretty different. Deathcab is sort of neutral, Gaslight is for when I need to get pumped up and Rural Alberta is for when I’m bummed.

What’s your go-to drink?

I think a Gin and Tonic, which is a very neutral choice. I’m also a fan of drinking shitty American beers like Miller High Life.

Credits: Garrett DeRossett, Alright Studio

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