24 Feb Why Designing In A Vacuum Isn’t Always A Bad Thing
In Geoff Mcfetridge’s Los Angeles studio, there’s a two-foot-tall stack of Strathmore sketchbooks that catalogue every idea from every professional project he’s ever worked on. “I have them stacked up chronologically so that I can say ‘three months ago is a book and a half ago’ and I can go backwards in time,” says Mcfetridge, who starts off each new project with the discarded ideas of old ones. “There’s that kind of picking-up-where-I-left-off feeling with creativity … a kind of quick warmup to go into an inventive space.”
This cyclical, self-referential creative process has remained unchanged over Mcfetridge’s two-decade-long career. He describes it as a sort of linchpin for the diverse projects he takes on under his design studio Champion Graphics, which include fine art paintings, branding projects, public murals, animations, and graphics for film; one of his most high-profile recent projects was designing interfaces for Spike Jonze’s Her.
Currently, he’s putting together a painting show for V1 Gallery in Copenhagen and designing two large-scale murals, one for the L.A. Metro and another for the Ottawa subway system. A sunny cobalt-and-aqua tile wall he designed just went up at the swimming pool at the Standard Hotel in L.A. And earlier this month, he was awarded the coveted Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in communications design.
However diverse his portfolio, Mcfetridge’s designs are unmistakably his: across all mediums, his style is graphic, simple, lively, and often tinged with humor. He starts off every project with a drawing—the seed of which is derived from an earlier sketch plucked from his mountain of sketchbooks. Preferring to avoid outside influences, McFetridge doesn’t do research for his projects. “For me, it’s more about this belief that I’m inventing new images,” he says.
But when it comes to choosing which projects to undertake, the consistency falls away. McFetridge has always worked for himself, and says his rigid creative process pushes him to find variety elsewhere—with new mediums, clients in fields that interest him, and with collaborators who share similar values. Without an agent or any representation, McFetridge’s clients for a long time were ones with whom he had a personal connection. Nowadays he’s more sought after, but it’s still important for him to know they have something in common. He’ll often initially try to figure out what in his work resonates with his clients personally then take it from there. Though after taking on big corporate clients—Target, Oreo, and Patagonia are all on his client list—that level of connection isn’t always possible.