- Ran Highchair designhaus as a full-time endeavor from 2001-2010. Worked with The Steel Yard, Providence Preservation Society, La Bella Bride magazine, the AIAri and lots of small businesses/individual artists
- Worked for Project Evolution from 2012 through 2014 with clients such as Python.org, Schneider Electric, Regis Corporation, and the Westport, CT school system
- Currently working at Oomph, Inc. as Director of Design & UX with clients such as Leica Geosystems, UWRI, Providence Public Library, and Blue Cross Blue Shield RI
Growing up I was always drawing, but my doodles were typographic in nature — logos of well-known brands (mostly skateboarding/surfing), logos for companies I made up, stick-figure-like cartoons, and sometimes cars. I didn’t know what graphic design was (it was not in the public consciousness at the time1). I didn’t know much about the practice of design in general. High school taught commercial art, but that was not the same thing.
College introduced me to Graphic Design, but it was too early for the web. It was 1993 when I entered, and my freshman class was the first to go all digital — the class before us was paste-up boards, rolling rulers, and transparencies. My class started on a Mac Classic, and my projects fit onto 3.5 floppy diskettes.
Despite what seems like a luddite world — it was all cutting edge at the time —
college taught me the rules of design, and how to break them. I gained an appreciation
for typography in the Swiss style, as well as the work of emerging designers like
David Carson, who was
eschewing all the established forms of what was acceptable and legible
— he most famously said
people read best what they read most.
After college I interned with a small husband & wife team before moving to Boston full-time and gaining employment at Weymouth Design under the art direction of Bob Kellerman. The late-90s were all about grunge typography, saturated colors, experimental typography, and the beginnings of the experimental web. But Weymouth’s big niche was Annual Report design, which was very corporate by comparison. This cemented my more classic typographic tendencies but also gave me an extremely wide range of experience — the company operated as small somewhat independent boutiques under various art directors, therefore, I was never just the guy that did X grunt work; I did all the grunt work, from pasting up presentations to typesetting financial reports to speccing stock photography and sitting in on client calls and meetings. This gave me a strong foundation and confidence to become independent after only a few years.
I moved to Providence, RI, in the summer of 1999 to avoid the Big Dig and because my then-wife/partner was entering RISD as a sculpture graduate student. I thought I would hate Providence because, while growing up, downtown was a mess and the evening news never had anything good to report. To my surprise, the city had turned a corner under Buddy Cianci’s leadership — the rivers were being uncovered, Waterplace park and Waterfire were just beginning, and developers were investing in real estate again. We bought a multi-family house on the East Side to support our endeavors — her grad school and my freelance design business.
It was also a time when the City’s mill stock were receiving much attention. Fort Thunder fell to developers and a series of artist-initiatives arose — Puente and The Plant, Monohasset Mills, the Steel Yard, Firehouse 13, and my own ArtInRuins.com to name a few.
My freelance business picked up. In Rhode Island, word of mouth is the most important form of marketing. It is slow to grow, but it is organic and more sustainable. I supported myself with freelance projects and commonly found new people through Craigslist (yes, really) and RISD’s ArtWorks website. Eventually, in 2005, after my divorce, I hired my first full time employee, James Re, and we were Highchair for another 5 years.
In 2007, I helped start a real estate development called The Grant. My business partner and I were interested in creating small office spaces aimed at creative businesses with the idea that we could team up and share amenities or even clients. It worked to a small degree, with some interactions between my design studio and an architectural studio as well as a landscape design team. If nothing else, the energy in the early years was great, with a silkscreen shop, recording studio, cafe, photographers, and others. It cemented a place for me in the City of Pawtucket as a small developer, and I was invited to sit on a board as well as participate in RFPs to work on downtown improvement initiatives.
The 2008 financial crisis was tough on everyone. Highchair worked with quite a few non-profits and also with some real estate developers, and both sectors were hit hard by the recession. 2009 was survival mode, but by 2010 is was clear that HCd was no longer sustainable. Through a mutual project or two, James and I agreed to become part of C. Murray Consulting, who did not have a design staff at the time, but were a growing WordPress development shop just starting to get into Drupal. They later rebranded as Oomph, Inc.
Personally, 2010 was a big year of change as well. I remarried and prepared to move from the loft apartment at the Grant back to my house on the East Side, as we were expecting our first child the following summer. Oomph was good, but I was missing the open camaraderie I had at the Grant, sharing a studio with a talented illustrator, painter, and programmers.
In 2012, I was hired at Project Evolution2, a move made sweet by the team I would be joining — a few friends from the Grant as well as James who had all joined together under the leadership of a college acquaintance from a town close to where I grew up. The chance to join those folks again was too good to pass up. Although the company did not last another two years (through a complicated series of mishaps, poor executive management, and demanding clients), we had a great run and I regret nothing.
2015, with another child on the way, I set off freelancing again and contracted with Oomph on a series of projects. Chris (the CEO) had always stayed in touch. In a close-knit state like Rhode Island, I never burned any bridges, either. I contracted for about 8 months through several projects before joining full-time in January, 2016.
Over the course of my career I have transitioned from visual thinking and visual UI to systems thinking and UX. Now, “Name-your-mode Experience” design is a thing — Service Experience, Customer Experience, Video Experience… I have become more and more interested in data, personas, and psychology. My role has become more about conversations, questions, and proving hypothesis and assumptions. Finding the story and figuring out how best to tell it.
This was ‘85–’92, and the prevalence of the iPhone wouldn’t bring design into the public consciousness until 2007. There was a small corner of the public that appreciated great industrial design — the work of Dieter Rams for Braun, the design of Bose or Bang & Olufsen products — but the iPhone was a huge commercial hit that suddenly made people look twice at things that were not the iPhone. ↩