Interview with Jeff Finley
This is our first interview here on WDL, and we couldn’t have asked for a better interviewee. Jeff Finley is a well known figure in the design community, and as most great designers are…very busy. So we’re thankful that he took the time to answer a few questions for us.
Hi Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. For those that don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I’m Jeff Finley, one of three owners of Go Media, a creative agency that specializes in brand development, art direction, and interactive media. I’m an artist and designer and have a passion for marketing and business. I’ve been in the businesses since 2004. People may know me from our blog GoMediazine or the Arsenal which are two sites that help us interact better with the design community. You can get a better idea of the work I do on my personal site www.jefffinley.org. I also play drums in Parachute Journalists.
It’s evident from your work that you have a lot of passion for art and design. At what point in your life did you discover this passion? Were you always drawing and sketching as a kid?
Yeah, I sure was. I was drawing as a toddler and creating dinosaurs and portraits of my family where their arms and legs came out of their head instead of their body. I was always the “art guy” in school and took as many art classes as I could. I was more focused on illustration, video games, and movies than traditional graphic design. It wasn’t until after college I got more into design, logos, typography, or advertising.
Tell us a bit about your college education. Where did you attend? Also, seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish as a freelancer and business owner, do you think a college degree is a necessity for someone pursuing a career in design?
I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and graduated with a B.S. degree in Media Arts and Animation. From my experience, a degree is definitely NOT required. There’s no rule saying you must have a degree to become an artist, graphic designer, or web developer. It’s all about learning the skills, and unlike most careers, you can learn them from your desk at home and by reading books. You can teach yourself all the skills you need to do the trade and then learn by experience all about the business side of things.
Doing things this way will generally take you longer to develop the skills you need to succeed. I still recommend going to school to learn because it really speeds things up and gives you a schedule of learning. And college is an experience you cannot replicate at your home office. I would say if you’re on the fence, you should go to college if you can afford it.
With a skill set that includes: Illustration, 3D Modeling and Animation, Typography, XHTML, CSS, and more, to say you’re well rounded is an understatement. Out of these skills, which do you enjoy using the most? Also, if you were giving advice to an aspiring designer, would you recommend learning as many skills as possible or being more specialized?
Out of those, I’m have the most fun with Illustration. I think it’s good to be well-rounded, but from my experience, I find myself looking to work with people that are really good at something specific. When we’re looking for a web developer, I would prefer an expert in PHP over someone who was decent in PHP but also did design and 3d as well. I think you should have one talent or skillset that really sets you apart and that’s what makes you in demand. If you’re well rounded, too many times you’re skillset is spread too thin.
Being an owner of a successful business is a big accomplishment. Tell us about how it all came about.
I graduated college and wasn’t stoked with the job opportunities doing 3D animation in Cleveland, so I just started my own thing under the alias Mylkhead. In 2005 I was able to quit my day job and I managed to make enough money by doing t-shirt designs, gigposters, websites, and album artwork. I ran into Bill Beachy and Chris Wilson who were making some headway under the name Go Media and we talked for about a year and collaborated on a few projects. Eventually we agreed to merge companies and I became a partner at Go Media. It was my portfolio, persistence, and ability to market myself that attracted them to me.
It looks like Go Media has grown quite a bit since it’s beginning. You have a new office, several employees, and a well known name in the design community. Does this mean your job responsibilities have changed since first forming the company? What is your typical day like at Go Media?
My job responsibilities have pretty much remained the same actually. I design, and oversee the Arsenal and GoMediaZine, and general marketing and promotion. On a typical day, I spend about half of it in email solving problems, building relationships, and following up on leads. The other half I’m designing for a client (usually illustration work for apparel companies or bands) or adding/fixing/supporting the Arsenal and GoMediaZine. New stuff happens every day, so I could go into work with a plan only to have it change during the course of a day. We could get a tight deadline project at the end of the week and I have to put other stuff aside.
There are few businesses not affected by the recession. How has it affected Go Media? What tips can you offer to small design firms or freelancers to keep moving forward in today’s economic climate?
We didn’t think we were really going to see any affect, but we have. We actually had to lay off 3 of our 14 person team. Our clients and customers are also affected by the recession, so naturally they’re spending less money. But since the layoffs in October, we’ve actually gotten busier than ever before, but our staff is leaner and it’s better for our staff to stay busy like this.
Tips for small design firms – keep an eye on your spending. Sometimes you might not even realize what you’re paying for. Are you paying someone else to do something that you can do in-house? Are you subscribed to any premium services that you can cut back? How much are you spending on company outings, food, entertainment? Sometimes taking a look at your books is an eye opening experience.
Tips for freelancers – if design firms lay off staff, they might temporarily look to outsource to freelancers during busy times. So keep your portfolio updated and let design firms know you’re available. It also might help to do some pro-bono work for free to establish a relationship with a design firm.
Where do you look for inspiration, and do you have any favorite designers/artist that inspire you?
I’m inspired by other designers of course, but also by photographers, musicians, and filmmakers. That’s why I’m starting an art, film, and music fest this spring. In addition, I’m also inspired by other entrepreneurs and community leaders in my industry. It motivates me to see other successful people doing work they feel passionate about and doing it on their terms.
As far as other designers who inspire me: Scott Hansen, Aaron Horkey, Mark Weaver, John Baizley, Rob Dobi, Justin Kamerer, Alex Cornell, Neil Kellerhouse, to name a few. Other inspirational folks I follow are Gary Vaynerchuck, Johnny Cupcakes, Jim Coudal, Joe Swanberg, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski, Collis Taed, Josh Safdie, and Dave Garwacke. If you don’t know who they are, look them up, you’ll see why I find them inspirational.
Tell us more about GoMediaZine. What kind of impact has it had on your business?
The GoMediaZine was a great way to get exposure for our creative agency as well as our Arsenal products. By writing about subjects we felt passionate about it helped generate an interest in what we were doing. It’s also a great way to give back to the design community and communicate with our fans. I’ve recently launched Tumblr account that I will be reflecting more personally on the work I do and what inspires me. http://jefffinley.tumblr.com
In the field of design, we rely a great deal on technology, and it’s always changing and evolving. In the past three or four years, what new technology would you say has had the biggest impact on the way Go Media does business? And how do you see new technology affecting you business 10 years from now? In other words, what’s your vision for the future?
You’re right, technology is constantly evolving. For us, we’ve seen the most change in social media. In 2006, it was Myspace and Youtube was just getting started. Now it’s Twitter and Facebook. The future will be Tumblr, Posterous, and uStream. Most of our work comes from referrals and relationships. And social media just makes all that easier. In 10 years, I imagine we’ll be adopting new technologies for the same purpose. Anything that can help us connect with our fans and customers to create a more transparent and integrated experience.