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Honor Roll: Colin Dunn

Hey Colin! Tell us a little bit about yourself. Whats your major and where do you go to school?

I’m an undergraduate at MICA studying graphic design. I’m scheduled to graduate this May and will be relocating to New York. However, my heart is and always will be on the West Coast.

What’s the most exciting class project that you got to work on while being an undergrad? What about it made you so interested in it?

MICA offers a number of really fantastic courses that fall under the nebulas term “social design.” The classes have different names and approaches, but each aims to use creative thinking to address a social issue in Baltimore. These classes are usually a good mix of students: graduates and undergraduates, designers and non-designers. We work with a partner organization to design, develop, and implement an intervention over the course of a semester.

To name a few examples, I worked on an anti-litter campaign that was developed in partnership with the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks. I also worked with a transitional housing program in East Baltimore to develop branding and environmental graphics. Currently I’m part of a small group of students who have partnered with Blue Water Baltimore to address stormwater pollution in the city. The work is challenging, stressful, and always worth it.

Where do you get your inspiration from? (i.e.: websites, people, personal adventures, music, etc)

I think that inspiration and taste are very closely linked. And If I’m being honest, I never thought that I had really great taste. While I don’t think that taste can be taught, I do think it can be cultivated. One thing I’ve noticed is that people who have really great taste look at a lot of things. If art school has taught me anything, it has taught me how to really look at things.

Beyond the usual design blogs (September Industry is one of my favorites) I get a lot of inspiration from reading. I really respond to Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory as it relates to design. Malcom Gladwell is my guilty pleasure. I read almost everything John Gruber writes over at Daring Fireball. Most recently, I have been enjoying Wendell Berry and his take on systems thinking, and I’m almost done reading Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

What kind of projects are you working on right now?

I am doing some freelance web design and am also developing my senior thesis. Without giving too much away, my thesis is a web-based mind mapping tool that can be used for collaboration, ideation, and brainstorming. I have a process blog setup here for anyone who is interested in following along. The beta will hopefully be launching this May.

Tell us a little about your process from start to finish.

I think that good design is the result of clear thinking. At the heart of every great design solution is a clear understanding of the problem. My work is the result of my own struggle to understand and state an idea as clearly as possible. As a result I tend to work conceptually with word lists and mind maps rather than visually by drawing or sketching. I will usually spend more time researching than my instructors (or clients) would like me to. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the problem helps me to direct my thinking. I’m always looking for the bigger idea that will drive my decisions. Having one clear, concise thought that I can turn back to at any point and say, “is what I’m doing right now addressing this larger objective?” helps me keep my thinking focused and directed. Only after I have a working understanding of the problem will I will turn to the computer.

I hear that you work for Pentagram. How did that come about and what was is like doing work for them?

I worked at Pentagram for a little over a year. Ellen Lupton was one of my instructors at MICA and is married to Abbott Miller, a partner at Pentagram. Through her connection I was able to get an internship.

Pentagram was the best/worst experience of my design career so far. I was able to contribute to big projects with big budgets and learn from amazing designers, but it was a grind. Abbott’s team is small, the projects were big, and the hours were long. Pentagram is a design machine and I was a cog.

Do you have any side projects or an internship going on? How do you handle your time?

I have been trying to limit my freelance work in an effort to focus on my thesis. At the moment I am working on a couple web-related projects that should be out soon. I also work one day a week at Post Typography where I do web and print design for the amazing Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals. I tend to work more than I should and would probably benefit from getting off the comptuer and going outside more often.

What are your next steps?

As I mentioned before, I’m moving to New York and will soon be working full time with Oliver Munday. I am incredibly excited about being in New York and learning from Oliver, but am equally nervous about leaving the comfort and safety of school. I suppose that’s a normal feeling.

Are you looking to freelance or maybe live more of the agency lifestyle?

I don’t see myself being a studio designer long term, nor do I really want to freelance for a living. I think that design is most interesting when it’s serving a higher purpose. Apple, for example, isn’t in the design business, they are in the computer business. But design is a core principle of what they do. Airbnb and Warby Parker are two more recent examples. I think design driven businesses are starting to really blossom and I would love to be contribute to that space in a meaningful way.

I kust want to say thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. You have an amazing work ethic and your process is on point. I seriously can’t wait to see what you put out next! I’m sure I’ll see ya in NYC sometime soon! If you’d like to see more of Colin’s work check out his portfolio, blog and/or pop over to his twitter to say wassup.

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