Tim Steele: Chief Operating Officer

Tim Steele is not a fiery manager, nor is he steely, he’s “ready.” I think of kung-fu fighters who pay little attention to the flare, but once called upon, they can kick-it where it needs to go. Tim is no fighter, but there’s no getting past him, the problem will be solved, now, if not sooner.

Suzanne Sease: Creative Consultant

Positive, forward-thinking ideas, uplifting style, true professionalism = Suzanne Sease. It’s always hard to define what is “good”. It takes an open mind, a skill for listening and identifying the milestones, and a willingness to be truthful even when it hurts.

Adria Petty: Filmmaker

Adria Petty’s works (music videos, commercials, films, docs) are time machines; within them time modulates between soothingly smooth and hurriedly intricate. Her techniques, the contrast and color of her lighting, and the snazzy immediacy that pushes the momentum is akin to watching time-lapse projector films of stars exploding.

Tyson Domer: Green Building

n a recent All Things Considered Au Contraire opinion piece on NPR, the freelance writer Lionel Beehner focuses being Green discussion on the age old structure of rich vs. poor. Using the holidays as his cloak he complains about marketers and the luxury class using Green to satisfy their charitable conscious.

Caspar Newbolt: Version Industries

Caspar Newbolt’s Version Industries makes nice-looking stuff; web sites, print design, motion graphics, etc. I’m tempted to call their work “slick”, but its more complex, I want to say post-post-modern, but what’s in a name. Maybe it’s the subtle layers to their work, or sometimes not-so-subtle. Pizzazz? Panache? But with great craft. Can a design be both reckless and well-crafted?

The Version crew is inventive in the melding of visuals. There is a rotoscopic nostalgia to their work and an outside vs. the inside juggling. The skin of idea might seem rough, harsh, punk, but the inside is pure charm, captured through the flickering lights of a Radio City Metropolis. Either way the root of what they do lends itself well to clients seeking ideas a bit more radical than the middle way. If presented with the right budget and a dream the Version crew could build a new virtual machine with platinum parts, a silent engine, and the whisper of a ghost that prefers standard 72s over any MP3.

Wise Elephant (WE): Why Design?

Caspar Newbolt (CN): Good question – you see I really wanted to make films & still very much do. However design just seemed to be what I was always doing in my free time & eventually someone called me out on it. I got paid a lot more than I thought I deserved for a small job back in 2001-2 and well, it got me thinking of the possibilities. Basically the whole time I was fighting with the idea of doing film but getting increasingly in debt & unhappy, so almost by attrition I started shifting over to the design world and doing more & more of that & less & less film. You think you’re stronger than you are sometimes when it comes to money and happiness. Suffice to say I’ve tried very hard not to sell out too much since then!

WE: Film, what type of film(s) do you want to make? Is it the silver screen that is intoxicating (visuals), where you are overwhelmed by the bigness of it, or is there a narrative (texts) you’re seeking?

CN: It’s funny – even though I design for a living, it’s not the visuals I get excited about first, it’s definitely the characters and the script!

When I first started writing scripts with a good friend of mine it was all very biographical. We wanted to make David Lynch / Larry Clark / Kevin Smith style things based on our own experiences. You know, where you peel back what appears to be pretty and reveal something darker underneath. Typically it was about self discovery through sex, drugs and rock n roll. I mean those kinda movies like ‘Fire Walk With Me’, ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘Kids’ are still my favorites and I think that’s because there’s a magic in the “naivete” of youth and given a chance to relive experiences is cathartic.

These days I don’t think my interests have changed in terms of core ideas, but I have also had a chance to think of stuff that’s less biographical and more fantasy purely because I have experienced more now & gained more confidence. In fact I have two ideas right now that I really want to develop and just wish I could find the time to.

WE: Why a design business?

CN: It just made sense. The money was coming in & the guys I set the company up with were both amazingly able at handling bank accounts and business decisions on top of their other worthy skills. Plus as friends we found it a fun way to pass the time, pay the bills and live near each other in the ever expensive London. On top of that of course came the rush of actually being creative for a living, which I think is all any of us would ever really let ourselves do, so it was a perfect marriage.

WE: How much control have you had over your professional career as a designer vs. it taking you with it?

CN: Another good one. Actually I think I’ve had quite a lot of control in one way & yet none in another way. We’ve certainly controlled the kind of work we’ve chosen to do & even turned down bigger jobs because it didn’t feel right or felt dishonest / fake / corporate. Which is ridiculous in a way because it’s not made it easier – in fact I think we’d all be a lot richer if we’d been less concerned about that.

But on the other hand, you can’t pretend you really control that stuff. So much of it is luck I think. We’ve met people in elevators who have given us work and we’ve got friends who put in a good word for us too. So yeah, it’s a bit of both. The only thing I make sure of is that we do the best job we can & that we never do the same job twice – I think this keeps us fresh, an interesting prospect in the eyes of others & also stops us hating our work. When you hate your work you stop doing it well … at least I do.

WE: If “feel/gut” is on the left and “intellect/reason” on the right, where in the scope of things (generally) could you put yourself when defining what you like?

CN: Well I’ve never given my intellect or reasoning ability a great deal of credit. It’s like a dice-roll for me mostly when I try, so I’m definitely happier trusting my feelings & gut on things. Especially
design / creative things. To me it feels like I just keep hunting for something that gives me that little rush. Same applies to other people’s work or my own. You know when you see something good because it drops all pretense and smacks you hard where it hurts. In fact that’s what bothers me most about a lot of stuff I see every day online or offline – it’s all so elaborate and high-tech and tasteful or clever and minimalist, but rarely does it make you really feel anything. So yeah, I guess I’m way to the left … way into those feelings & guts etc. Maybe there should be a creative fight club of some sort. You know, to weed out all the copycats and aesthetic posers & get things back to making you really laugh & cry & believe.

WE: Was there a gig/job you turned down you wish you didn’t?

CN: I’m sure, yes. I remember feeling that way a lot when we had nothing on the table and bills to pay, though I can’t recall specifics. But yeah, looking back & cursing blindly about some gig that never came through is definitely not foreign to us, haha. But right now I’m very happy with the jobs we have gotten and the great people we are getting a chance to work with … so yeah, fortunately nothing comes to mind right now.

WE: How much does “New York City” influence you and your work?

CN: A vast amount. Funny you should ask this question really. I am in love with this city. As a brit who was born in London and spent his first working years there, I only made it over here every 3-4 years at best. But each time it gave me a glimpse of something that I found very enticing. Then when it came down to it, London had basically worn me thin and so coming here with a company that was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel was exhilarating.

New York has everything I got out of London / England and then so much more. The people are outspoken, eccentric and welcoming, which appeals to me massively somehow. Then there’s the film and the music – two things I care about almost more than life itself – and they are on
fire in this city. Last of all you have the insanely decrepit & decaying sprawl of it all … to this day nothing gives me a bigger rush than walking through this city at night with my headphones on,
struck dumb by the lights and the cinematic wash of everything.

All of it makes me sit down to work with an energy I haven’t yet found anywhere else.

WE: You mentioned ” insanely decrepit & decaying sprawl of it all”. What is it about decay that is inspirational? Is it building a phoenix that rises from the ashes, or seeing the whole life-cycle of things in a fairly compacted space? What is it for you? What is the energy you feel?

CN: Well it might be your life-cycle idea. New York’s subway for example is like this forgotten element of a city that tries to be as flash and glamourous as it can. You think you’re paying for a cheap ticket downtown and what you really get is a guided tour of New York’s rotting core. And what a core it is! It’s iron, porcelain, plastic and glass at war with mould, rust, trash and rats.

Firstly this seems to be stark reminder that too many people have ‘bigger’ issues on their minds and are therefore failing to deal with what really matters. It’s an idea that’s pervaded everything I do and that I think really drives me. You see I fear giving into certain rotting ideals and I see people doing it all the time. My “favourite” film makers, bands and artists all lose it for one reason or another at some point and I’m constantly trying to figure out why and what drives those who still haven’t yet.

Secondly (& perhaps more immediately relevant here) there’s an undeniable beauty in the rust, mould, rot and crumble happening beneath the constant barrage of lights, people and fumes. In fact it verges on apocalyptic at times to the point of being cinematic and captivating. So all you have to do is walk around in it by yourself with your walkman on and it’s not hard to feel like something amazing is about to happen.

WE: How much has your career been influenced by internet (if not entirely)?

CN: Haha, probably entirely. I did Archaeology at university and sat all night on the internet realizing there was a major disparity between my studies and my urges. One was deep into the past beyond all imagining and one was deep into the future of communications and networking. The internet even now is the most ridiculously exciting thing. It’s a censorship free, 24/7, plunge-pool of ridiculousness and to be able to take these creative urges I have and shape it for people to make a
living … well that’s pretty cool.

WE: What design trends do you see? If you could identify and/or define contemporary design what would it be?

CN: Hmmm … well, contemporary design is too often tied heavily to commercial production. This means that design trends concrete themselves thick and fast because the companies that commission them are rarely brave enough to try something new. They are investing lots of money so they want what is tried & tested & all of a sudden you get a million things looking the same. Which¬†also means that designs can’t be too challenging either and that complete rip-offs are found more & more.

So using that logic we now have one great design becoming a template. This template is then watered down & down to the point where it’s making as much money as possible for it’s multitude of users and eventually it loses the spark that made it great in the first place (and those buying them often have no idea it’s been lost).

Enter advertising.

Advertising takes what was left of good ideas and design trends and strangles them slowly to death. Gone is the notion of using ideas to reveal truth and touch you emotionally. Instead you have ideas created to lie to you and to make you feel things for things of commercial value.

Now whether you think that’s a good thing or not is beside the point – those, to me at least, are the trends and hallmarks of design today.

WE: What else (if anything) do you want to be doing?

CN: Well something I never do enough of is thank the amazing bastards I work with every day for believing in this thing that we do & somehow sticking with it day in & day out. No matter what I think or believe, I would not still be thinking or believing it without them.

Outside of that, it’s definitely films. Sure I’d love to make music, be in a band and all that … but I can’t. I know however that I can make films and still very much want to. That’s the next step, though when … I know not.



Visit Version Industries here: LINK

Michael Doret, Illustrator/Designer

Michael Doret is the forever quiet storm, an innovator whose career works have influenced generations of designs. Born of the era of design giants, a 1960’s Cooper Union graduate with roots in Brooklyn, he’s part of a golden age that continues to produce great works in the face of great competition. Doret’s works stand up, stand proud, and are ultimately successful for the clients who hire him. In our current arena of cost cutting, where stock and cheap-as-possible solutions arise from trickle-down belt tightening, quality tends to slide, but to what damage? Designer/Illustrators are feeling a pinch for sure, with younger designers, many who might not realize their concepts are derivatives of Doret’s, getting the nod for gigs over the old pros.

What’s an icon to do? Diversify? Learn some new tricks, or rely on their skills and name-recognition? There’s no easy answer. With the creative market ever-changing as audience behavior shifts like undertones from print to web and back, splintering into smaller and smaller audiences, the places for “good” illustration/design seem like springtime icebergs, molting and calving. Are magazine covers the last outpost? Pharmaceutical ads?

We ask Mr. Doret about his carer path, design, and his craft, and he answers with the bold color swaths found within his illustrations.

Wise Elephant (WE): Font face, type design, letterform. What led you to focus on this art/design

Michael Doret (MD): I can remember even in High School doing an anti-litterbug poster where I drew a crumpled piece of loose-leaf paper and you could see the distorted and fragmented words on the paper spelling out the headline. I don’t remember how I figured out how to draw those letterforms, but I can see now that even back then I was fascinated with the drawn letter.

Who knows how we respond to certain stimuli as we grow up—why certain things will affect one person one way, but somebody else completely differently. I grew up in 1950s Brooklyn in a neighborhood near Coney Island. I would ride my bike there with my friends to get a hot dog at Nathan’s. I recently found an old photo of my brother and me in front of the Tilt-A-Whirl. In the photo I’m surrounded by the incredible signage and banners that Coney Island was known for. I’d never really thought about it before, but when I found the photo I had an epiphany…that being around this stuff growing up must have had an indelible effect on my brain. My Dad worked in Times Square, so I’d find myself there quite often—again surrounded by incredible signage, billboards, sights and sounds. I realized that most of my work would feel right at home above a Coney Island shooting gallery or on a billboard in the Times Square of my youth.

Somehow in school (Cooper Union) I seemed to gravitate towards things typographic. After school I apprenticed with my typography teacher in his type shop on West 26th St. My first job out of school was at a place called Photo-Lettering, which happened to be (at the time) the world’s largest photo typesetting house. After that I held a series of staff design positions, but took on freelance design work at night. For some reason I could never find the fonts I was visualizing for my designs, so I started drawing what I saw in my head. One thing led to another, and here I am.

WE: It has been said that speaking is natural to human brains, and that writing
is unnatural, that it is a forced and uncomfortable skill. Why is it that
well crafted letterforms are so imperative?

MD: I don’t think I’ve heard that before. Perhaps it’s true. I don’t think of my craft as having that much in common with the act of writing. What I do is much more deliberate and more akin to sculpture or illustration, where I start out with an amorphous sketch, and then in stages, hone in on it in ever tightening drawings until it’s something like the configuration I’ve visualized. It’s not so much writing as solving a visual puzzle.

Until I started creating fonts (just the last three years) well crafted letterforms were not my focus. Sure, I did lettering, but the style of letters was never as important to me as the overall “constellation” I was creating. In other words it was more important for me to create a thing, a conglomeration, a configuration, which most often consisted of more than just letterforms, but could contain illustrative elements as well, all working together harmoniously. So the style of letterform for me could be interchangeable and not as important as the “gestalt” of the whole. It’s more important that the piece I’m working on creates the right mood and has the “look” I’m going for, than for it to correctly reference “Bodoni” or “Cheltenham”. That the whole is well-crafted for me goes without saying. Perhaps that is just part of my obsessive compulsive nature.

WE: Guy Kawasaki, an early Mac engineer, stated that desktop publishing saved
the Mac computer. Did desktop publishing ruin or reinforce letterform

MD: I’m really not sure about how to answer this. The people who do desktop publishing are not my market. I do think that the pervasiveness of personal computers in general are helping to make many artistic specialties appear to be irrelevant. As far as what I do, I believe that many are incapable of perceiving the difference between my work and something they can concoct on their computer by setting type and applying a few Photoshop filters. Most people are now free to think of themselves as “designers” despite their ignorance of the subject. The results are apparent everywhere. Cheap imitations abound.

WE: What new markets do you see that could/would benefit from letterform design?

MD: I can’t answer this question specifically, but what new market couldn’t benefit from just plain old good design in whatever form that was relevant to it?

The problem with the PC is it seems to be a large factor in enabling a march of mediocrity. Now everyone can be an artist, everyone can be a critic, etc., etc. I think some good can come out if it too, but on the whole I think it’s a mixed bag that, in my humble opinion is a bit weighted towards the negative.

WE: From our current interview with Tyson Domer, he identifies that there is a deficit in a general public understanding of “design” which leads to the mediocrity. Thoughts?

MD: I believe that any “deficit in a general public understanding of ‘design’” comes out of an almost complete ignorance of and lack of respect and awareness of the arts in general—and I’m only speaking of the public here in the US. “Art” is generally thought of here as the something one dabbles in on weekends—usually by dilettantes and communists. Art is not part of peoples everyday lives as it is in Europe, and it is not understood how important it is in terms of everything around us, from the lowliest paper clip to the tallest skyscraper. Art is not ingrained in our society, and very little importance is placed on it by our educational institutions. Is it any wonder that our cities look the way they do? Taking a walk around most parts of LA would depress the hell out of you.

One has only to look into Steven Colbert’s concept of “truthiness” in our culture in order to understand why people also “rely on a basic instinct or “feel” to describe whether they like or dislike a particular place, and leave it at that.” One doesn’t need any in-depth knowledge of anything—all you need is to feel it in your gut.

WE: What can you do as a designer to provide the viewer with the realization/entry into the fact that your designs are top-level. Is it in the craft itself? The type of clients you work for?

MD: I don’t believe there’s anything I can do in that respect. Many people will look at my work and somehow “feel” that it really works. But they don’t understand what’s behind it. Many think that if they set some type and apply some Photoshop filters, they’d have a close approximation of my work. And many can’t tell the difference anyway. I think for many the only way that they might understand that someone’s work is better than others is to incessantly drum it into their heads by either constant promotion or by constantly being praised by “authority figures”. Most people know who Picasso or Andy Warhol were, but go a little deeper and mention names of respected artists that haven’t been drummed into their heads, and you’d probably draw a blank stare.

WE: Do you use “feel”? How much is your work feel vs. intellect?

MD: Contrary to what I wrote above, there is a point beyond which one’s art education cannot take you. When doing a piece I do follow certain formulas, but there are many cases where I have to depart from what I “know” is right and follow my feelings. For example, I can’t explain why but I think of color in terms of musical chords. I might look at a piece I’m working on and realize that it doesn’t “sound” right. So I’ll adjust the color until it has the right “tonality”. I can’t really explain it with words better than that, but I do know that those decisions are still informed by what I know and what I’ve learned.

What is inspiration? Where do ideas come from? Are they “feel” or “intellect”. If they’re from pure intellect, then computer could be artists. If they’re from “feel”, then anyone could be an artist (and clearly that’s not the case!). It’s probably a strange brew of the two.


Learn more about Michael Doret by visiting the following websites: