Designer of the Week: Michael Janda

Meet Designer of the Week Michael Janda. He’s the chief creative officer at EKR, author of Burn Your Portfolio, and founder of creative agency Riser, which served clients like Disney, Google and ABC for 13 years before being acquired by the agency Eli Kirk to form EKR. The PRINT team is thrilled that Janda will be speaking at the 2016 HOW Design Live conference in Atlanta, alongside many other fantastic presenters. At HDL, Janda will teach us the principles and techniques for showcasing work that have enabled him to succeed on thousands of design projects for some of the world’s most revered brands.

Read on to learn more about Janda’s graphic design career path, the variety of roles and experiences that got him where he is today, plus his best advice for designers today. And don’t forget to register to see him at HOW Design Live by February 5th for the best price.

mike-janda-square-graphic-design-career-pathName: Michael Janda

Name of Firm: EKR

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Tell us a little about your career as a designer?
I graduated with a degree in studio art and a focus in graphic design from Indiana University in 1996. After graduation, I bounced around a few small agencies before landing at an opportunity at a children’s toy and book company in Phoenix. I was “web” employee number one and ended up spearheading the creation of one of the first interactive worlds for kids online,

Following that experience I became a senior creative director at Fox, where I managed the design, editorial and programming departments for Fox Kids and Fox Family. Fox sold the divisions to Disney, and I started freelancing. My successful freelancing turned into the creation of my agency, Riser, which ran for 13 years. At Riser we were fortunate to do more than 1,500 projects for awesome clients including Disney, Warner Bros., National Geographic, Google, NBC, ABC, Fox and a ton of others. In August of 2015 I sold my agency to a friendly competing agency called Eli Kirk. We recently rebranded as EKR (Eli Kirk Riser). I currently operate as a partner and chief creative officer of EKR.


Fox Kids Style Guide. Content and creative direction by Michael Janda.


Fox Kids T-shirts. Logo and design by Michael Janda.

How would you describe your work?
Collaborative. When I’m designing, I work best with a team of talented designers who can act as a sounding board to my design. I don’t have a particular “style” per se. Because I’ve done so many projects for so many different types of clients over the years, I’ve had to learn to be adaptable in my design approach.

Where do you find inspiration?
Oh man, I can’t turn it off. I get inspiration all over the place. I follow a lot of inspiring artists and photographers on Instagram. I get lost on Pinterest. I love checking out some of the innovative work on Awwwards and FWA. I have fifteen years of Commarts mags in my office. Some of my favorite brands are surfer brands. My family vacations every summer in Hawaii, and I love to be immersed in surfer brands and surfer stores. The logos, photos, apparel and marketing materials produced for those brands are really inspiring to me.

Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I’m a comic book nerd at heart. Growing up I spent my spare moments sketching from my growing comic book collection. It was the eighties, and Frank Miller’s run drawing Daredevil had me hooked. Alex Ross is also inspiring to me. His work quality is amazing, and the subject matter is right up my comic-nerd alley.

After twenty years of being a digital-only designer, I asked my wife to get me some drawing and painting supplies for a Christmas gift. I pulled them out one evening, dabbled for about an hour and then closed it all up and haven’t touched it since. Not being able to click “undo” on a painting was driving me crazy. As a result, a lot of traditional artists are amazing and inspiring to me.

Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
In 2011, Pepsi hired my agency to create an interactive world for Tropicana Tropolis, a new juice pouch product they were pushing to market. With my experience at oKID and Fox Kids, this was a slam-dunk project for me. We built a fully interactive, animated destination that had online games, activities and product info. The whole project went smoothly with the client. It was highly creative, fun to work on and in the end it won an FWA award. It was a win in all aspects.


Tropicana Tropolis interactive website landing screen. Creative direction and design by Michael Janda. Additional design by the Riser team, now part of EKR.


Tropicana Tropolis sub pages. Creative direction and design by Michael Janda. Additional design by the Riser team, now part of EKR.

Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
About three years into building my agency, I got a little depressed because my day-to-day tasks were so heavily based on the business side of things. I was now managing the team I had hired to produce a lot of the design work, rather than pushing all the pixels myself. Then I had an epiphany. I was designing a business. That business required a culture and a brand that needed to be intentionally designed. This paradigm shift lit a fire in me, and I spent the next several years fine-tuning the Riser brand, how it felt, what it stood for, along with the visual materials that represented it and spoke to the target audience, our client base. In this sense, creating Riser was my most challenging project to date. [Project images pictured at end.]

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I spent most of my career as an agency owner, managing the business side of design. This was rewarding and educational. However, with the sale of my agency, I am excited to be back working closely with the creative team on a daily basis. I’m “all in” with my new partners, working to grow EKR and expand its national presence. I’ve done some business consulting and coaching over the past several years and could see myself doing that in a future phase of my career. I also have another book on the table with my publisher … just need to find time to write it.

What’s your best advice for designers today?
While I was growing my agency, I began to identify some of the “non-design” things that designers must do to be successful. I started writing tips for communication, teamwork, project management, client management and so on, as part of an employee handbook. Four hundred pages later, I sent out my manuscript to a couple publishers and ended up signing a deal with Pearson to publish my book, Burn Your Portfolio, in 2013. So, in answer to the question “What’s your best advice for designers today?” can I say, “Read my book?” without sounding like I’m trying to sell books? Seriously, I put all the advice I could muster in it.


Burn Your Portfolio book cover. Written and designed by Michael Janda. Illustration by Nick Jarvis while employed at Riser.


Burn Your Portfolio interior spread. Written and designed by Michael Janda. Illustration by Nick Jarvis while employed at Riser.


Riser Lobby Sign. Logo, signage and office design by Michael Janda.


Riser Studio Production Room. Office space design by Michael Janda.


Riser Portfolio Posters. (More than 20 posters like these hung throughout Riser’s office space, each poster showcased projects that our agency produced.) Design by Michael Janda.


Riser “Superhero” Business Cards. Concept, creative direction and design by Michael Janda. Illustration by Christian Broadbent while working at Riser.


Riser Marketing Brochure. Design and copywriting by Michael Janda.

In Janda’s session at HOW Design Live 2016, you will learn how to outperform your competitors, amaze your clients and create repeat successful engagements using Michael’s work delivery, presentation and showcasing techniques.

Register to see him by February 5th for the best price!