Erik Adams

Erik Adams wears a shy
smile and a crew cut and, despite his stylish urban outfit, he was
raised a farm boy in Ephrata, Washington (pop. 6,895). There, in
addition to cultivating rootstocks for fruit trees, his father nurtured
in him a strong sense of spiritual passion.

“I’m a very
religious person,” Adams says. “For me, religion isn’t
just something you do on Sunday. It’s part of my life.” Like
his father, the 29-year-old designer is a Mormon, and as an
undergraduate at Brigham Young University, completed his two-year
mission in Brazil. Before working in San Francisco—first for
Michael Osborne and, since 2005, at Cahan & Associates—he got his
Master’s in graphic design from Academy of Art University, where
he now teaches. His thesis, “Divine Identity,” emerged from
a yearlong research project in which he collected stories and
photographs from 100 Mormon missionaries and shaped them into one long,
mythological story.

All this might imply that Adams is some kind of
holy roller who buttonholes people and presses the Book of Mormon on
them; nothing could be further from the truth. Meeting him, one notices
first his gentle intensity, his impeccable manners, and his eagle eye
for excellent design.

Consider the recruitment poster he did for SWA,
the conservative landscape architecture firm: “I’d just
finished school and knew what job postings in the landscape architecture
department looked like,” Adams recalls. “A thousand photos
of perfectly groomed grass—boring!” Instead, he floated big
head shots of glassy-eyed grads on a sea of questions—Will I
feel intimidated? Will I know anybody?
—to convey their state
of mind. Honest and fresh, the posters helped SWA attract candidates, as
well as lighten its stodgy image.

“I want to use storytelling to
make design more meaningful,” Adams explains of his work overall.
“For me, writing is important—the way writing and imagery
work together.” His boss, Bill Cahan, saw this immediately in his
portfolio. “Erik fit perfectly into the DNA of the office,”
he says. “Plus, he has self-confidence without arrogance, and
he’s one of the nicest people we’ve ever worked with. As a
missionary, he’d had experience helping others, and he inspires
all of us to be more generous.”

Adams understands that
beautiful things, like religious artifacts, should be part of some
larger ideology. He’s teaching his AAU students that design is
more than just logos and brochures. Issue 4 of See, the Herman
Miller magazine he designed with Todd Richards, features a cover
photograph of bare rootstocks-—his dad’s, from the family
farm—whose tangled threads convey the issue’s theme of
“connection.” Objects, he understands, can be

“I want design to become a more intelligent and
emotional process, a vehicle to communicate other things,” Adams
says. “My three main goals are to make my work instructive,
edifying, and uplifting.” In design, as in spiritual matters,
it’s clear that Adams is a man with a calling.