Mike Kotler from 1Brand Design was recently interviewed by a local Chicago design & art publication. Mike discusses the state of current design in Chicago as well as briefly touching on the history of 1Brand. Check out the recent article from Voyage Chicago!
Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Kotler.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
My father was a political cartoonist, painter, carpenter, freelancer, creative director, typographist and ultimately a starving artist. I grew up watching an artistic genius battle through the ups-and-downs of a creative career, in the midst of a massive industry shift toward computers in the late 70’s / early 80’s.
We struggled as a family. Toward the end of his career my father would work for peanuts—taking on random design jobs, building signs for small businesses out of scraps and wood we would collect around the lumber yards, on his bicycle. (we could not afford a car.)
After he passed, and after my period of adolescent rebellion and angst, I decided to get my shit together, follow in his footsteps, succeed where he failed, and go to school for graphic design. I knew I had maybe about 1/16th of his talent, and at that point in my life, I was willing to do anything to get out of bartending and the restaurant business.
After a few semesters of dropping out of my local community college, I decided to get the heck of my town and move to Gainesville, FL. I visited a buddy there, the music scene was blowing up, and I figured I can get my degree while I worked on my actual real dream of being a rockstar, of course.
I started a band. We got popular. I got a bartending gig. We drank. I did everything you would assume you’d do as a freshman and then my mom passed suddenly. This was the turning point for me. I felt compelled to succeed to make my mother proud, and ultimately this pushed me to actually graduate—which to this day I still find to be somewhat of a miracle.
Fast forward 15 years, 1Brand Creative is my baby. We have a great team of creatives, and we’re doing some great work for amazing clients—and I’m still in a shitty band from time to time.
Please tell us about your art.
Although all of us are creatives and artists at heart, we don’t really market or label ourselves as “artists”. We are creative consultants that generate sales and acquisitions. I solve creative solutions for businesses for all sorts of industries—with the help of a small team of local independent rock star creative consultants.
We all come from agency backgrounds, and we work remotely—this way we can offer clients the lowest possible rate without dealing with the overhead of a trendy downtown office. From independent newspapers, to large financial companies, we build web, print, video and copy that drive results. Thankfully so far, it’s been all from word-of-mouth advertising. This is proof that if you do good work for fair prices, people will find you (knock-on-wood).
Currently, we have 2 great illustrators, 2 web developers and a full video production team and looking to grow more. I tend to design everything myself, and then have my team take over and build out the projects.
Our specialties are WordPress websites, landing pages, animated HTML5 digital interactive ads, video production and advertising copywriting. We really try to market ourselves as a the 1-stop shop for all businesses creative needs.
What do you think about conditions for artists today? Has life become easier or harder for artists in recent years? What can cities like ours do to encourage and help art and artists thrive?
It’s hard for me to speak from a fine arts perspective, but speaking for young graphic/web designers or any commercial artists really, times are competitive. I do think clients are getting tired of outsourcing their work overseas, crowdsourcing design projects to end up with the same ol’ regurgitated results and the trend is finally swinging back toward finding talented local people who have multiple skills, great communication and are generally low maintenance.
Big corporations are hiring in-house design teams again, and full marketing departments instead of hiring million dollar Madison Ave agencies. Ad agencies have been making a killing off of business charging astronomical rates for mediocre design (which they tend to outsource overseas anyway). I think business owners are finally getting wise to this, and sick of ridiculous invoices.
A full-stack designer or developer is more likely to be seen as a higher asset to a small business owner, and people don’t want to shop around for 4 different creatives or an agency that charges 6 digits for an overpriced CMS system that requires a full development team. They want things simple so they can spend time getting sales and running their business. They want their design, marketing and analytics all from one place and they don’t want to micro-manage it.
I always encourage young designers to learn as much as they can and understand the business side of their work. Clients only need you to help them make money. They don’t care about your art, they don’t care about you, they want acquisitions. As a designer, ultimately it’s your responsibility to engage the user.