Our next guest for the interview category is an award winning Senior Designer, Art Director, Blogger, CreativeLive Instructor and Author of the internationally acclaimed book ‘How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed’.
He’s been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine and AIGA and has had over 10 years experience working for globally renowned agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, DDB and McCann Worldgroup. Today we will speak with Ram Castillo about the difficulties that he faced at the beginning of his career, his opinion about the design industry and the new Giant Thinkers podcast.
Official Website: www.giantthinkers.com/
Could you tell us briefly about your background?
My parents are are originally from the Philippines; a third world country. I was born there but we migrated to Sydney, Australia when I was only a year old. Growing up we weren’t well off. I grew up enjoying simple things. Peanut butter sandwiches, kicking a soccer ball around and building robots out of empty tissue boxes and toilet paper rolls.
I loved drawing as far as my memory can remember. That’s when design began for me; before I even knew it was called that. I was drawn to beach, skate and punk rock culture graphic design. I loved how I could communicate to people without ever making a sound. This developed deeper the more I experimented and learned about the role of design in the world.
I then found that ‘Graphic Design’ was offered as a course in University and private design schools, so I focused all my energy into doing that after I completed high school. Fortunately, I was offered a scholarship to study design, which I took (and I was incredibly grateful for as my parents couldn’t afford to send me to design school).
When I graduated I took a job in the mail room at Ogilvy & Mather (a well known global advertising agency) because I knew how hard it was to get a foot in the door in design. That’s how it began for me. I then spent every single day improving my craft and everything associated to communication and human behaviour.
I’ve now been neck deep in the industry for 12 years and it still gives me tingles when I see experiences improved because of something I’ve contributed to through design (thinking and execution).
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?
There are always going to be difficulties in any stage of ones career. I think that the beginning of a persons career is particularly difficult because there is an overwhelming choice of direction and no clear cut ‘guarantee’ of the end result.
Mix that with early stage ‘young adolescent’ character development and dealing with waves of emotions, and yes, things get tough, very fast and very often.
The most difficult thing for me starting out was that I simply didn’t know what employers wanted. I didn’t fully grasp my own value. I thought that my work was average and I couldn’t connect the dots as to what else I could offer (even though I had it inside)… and that was passion, a willingness to learn, an attitude of gratitude, youthful energy, all these things.
Networking and having mentors was the key to me overcoming these difficulties. It took time and that was the other challenge. I wanted everything instantly.
I had to learn to be patient, to work my ass off day and night for years and earn my stripes.
What was your first design project? Are you proud of it?
One of the very first paid design projects (not a college project) was when I was working at Ogilvy in the mailroom and I needed to help out with the overflow of work. In particular, I had to design kids games for Australian Airlines. Some puzzles and pencil games that kids could enjoy while on their flights. I loved this. It took me right back to my own childhood. When the client approved it and when it was printed and dispatched, I heard that the designs were well received and kids were really enjoying it. My heart sang when I heard the news. I was very proud of that one!
What values are important to you when you’re designing?
I believe that designers start in the industry because they initially want to create “cool” work.
Beyond this superficial layer, designers that stay in the industry and commit to a long life in it, quickly find out that there is a great power and responsibility to the role.
A true designer understands that they have the ability to influence and change the world by shifting human behaviour and perception through designed experiences.
The key values for me are honesty (finding emotional triggers) and story-telling.
Fusing both of these together is incredibly powerful and in my opinion, necessary to design with the needs of the target audience at the heart of the objective.
Do you have any rules that you live by?
I have many. The most important ones are:
- To lead with generosity and follow with care.
- Work harder than your competitors.
- Be nice.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh?
There’s a great book by James Webb Young called ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas‘ which explains the process of ideation really well.
Part of that is the correlation of new experiences and exposure to ‘newness’ directly linking with the ideation process. So I do a lot of things to keep my ideas fresh. I travel a lot, I’ve been blessed to have visited over 30 countries and over 100 cities around the world. I love trying new things from hang gliding to wake boarding. I enjoy eating different flavours and cuisines. I’m always reading about the experiences of others and try to find something fascinating about their story. I follow inspiring blogs and creative work of others. I enjoy going to concerts and watching interesting documentaries. The list really goes on.
It’s about being completely immersed and consumed in culture.
That’s how I try to keep the creativity of ideas alive.
Let’s talk about your personal projects: What’s the story of the giantthinkers.com project? Why did you launch it and what’s the purpose with it?
In 2012, a good friend of mine and I were hanging out at a pub one evening and we were throwing some ideas around. At the time, I was getting an influx of tweets, comments on facebook and emails asking for advice from people all over the world to help them get a job as a designer. My friend suggested that I create a blog so that I could direct people to that instead of repeating myself all the time. So, I decided to call it ‘Giant Thinkers’ which was inspired by a quote by David Ogilvy where he said “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.”
From that conversation, I designed, built and had my first blog post written all in 48 hours. GiantThinkers.com version 1.0 was born! 3 months since it’s inception, it got picked up by HOW magazine in the top 10 blogs category and also featured on Communication Arts and AIGA.org. All organically with no paid advertising.
I first heard about you on Twitter from Jacob Cass who recommended your podcasts. Can you tell us more about this podcasts? Why did you start podcasting and why are you doing it?
Every decision I make for Giant Thinkers is to benefit emerging designers with employment. From the blog, to my first book, to the USA speaking tour where I visited 22 cities in 3 months, to holding two CreativeLive.com classes in San Francisco.
Now, more recently, I’ve launched the Giant Thinkers Podcast. It’s a way for listeners to learn from the success of experts of various industries as a way to help them become better designers, creatives and overall – more successful. I also love podcast as a medium for learning passively. I’ve been a long time listener of many podcast channels and found the convenience was the biggest benefit. I could listen anywhere, any time while doing other things at the same time.
What are your thoughts on the graphic design industry today and its current output?
Without elaborating too much on this (as I could write forever about this question), I believe that in order to survive in the design industry, a deliberate focus must be made on the development of idea generation, business strategy and user experience.
More investment must be made to these areas in order to thrive not only as a designer but to better serve the problems that exist in the world. The output from the design industry will only be as good as it’s design thinking, research, information and creative ideas.
How would you describe the relationship between design and advertising in a digital marketing strategy?
Design will always be the product of the communication objective (whether it’s advertising or digital marketing) and the over-arching strategy that leads that message. How this manifests over time is anyones guess. But the fundamental purpose will remain.
What are the most important 3 tools for you?
Besides the Adobe Creative Cloud programs, honestly, the three most important tools for me are pencil, paper and the internet for research. I can’t pick a project that haven’t started with these three tools.
Could you recommend two or more resources for designers that are reading our blog?
I’ve poured 12 years of professional design experience and countless life lessons into the three products currently available for those that want to accelerate their progress in the design industry. I truly believe that if you’re committed to this path, that these will get you to where you want to be:
Create A Knockout Portfolio – Online Video Class: https://www.creativelive.com/courses/create-knockout-design-portfolio-ram-castillo
Get The Design Job You Want – Online Video Class: https://www.creativelive.com/courses/get-design-job-you-want-ram-castillo
How To Get A Job As A Designer, Guaranteed – Book (Paperback and eBook): https://www.getajobasadesigner.com
What do you think which are the most important aspects when it comes to defining a great designer?
I would say these seven aspects:
- Accepting that failure, mistakes and being wrong is necessary to succeeding.
- Having a willingness to ‘show up’ to life and try, every single day.
- Unwavering and relentless hard work.
- Having a crystal clear objective or vision.
- Asking plenty of questions, never assume.
- Being a great listener.
Tea or coffee?
Oh mate, you’ve stumped me here. I drink both obsessively.
Three cups of green tea a day and a strong piccolo latte makes Ram a very happy man!