Humbly labeling his upbringing and early adult years as average, Brian Singer’s accomplishments as a designer are anything but. His transition from a shiftless teenager to an bold design leader started during his college years. Let’s dig into his transformative journey from average kid to a design brand manager at Pinterest:
A Student with a Meandering, Brilliant Idea
Singer enrolled in college rather unambitiously because it was always expected that he attend. Without a concrete career objective in mind, he browsed a list of majors and latched onto Applied Art and Design. He enjoyed art and he figured that would be an adequate fit as a course of study. He applied to only California Polytechnic State University with a simple backup plan: “If I didn’t get in, my plan was to go to the local junior college and get the basics out of the way. Smart plan, right? You can almost taste the ambition. I lucked out and got in.”
While enrolled in Cal Poly’s art program, he read eclectic, sometimes controversial, writings on the bathroom walls that spiked his interest in the social phenomenon. “Anything you could possibly think of was being discussed or argued about in sharpie on a bathroom wall. I was fascinated by the fact that some of the things written were things people wouldn’t say to their friends’ faces sometimes.” Snapping photos of this curiosity around his college, other college campuses and in neighboring bars led him to a groundbreaking idea — continuing the bathroom wall conversations via a book.
Brian Singer’s Design Catalyst: The 1000 Journal Project
The idea originally focused on creating a book that featured his photographic collection of bathroom wall writings. However, Singer realized that a book more than likely would not continue the conversation as effectively as he wanted. This revelation brought Singer to the rousing thought of switching formats from book to 1000 blank journals with directions that encouraged strangers to jot down their thoughts and then pass the journals along to the next unsuspecting person. Singer designed the journals’ covers, handed them out to friends and co-workers, and placed them in the same bars where he took photos of their bathroom wall writings as well as in other public places.
The 1000 Journal Project became a space for social commentary, before the popularity of Facebook and Internet forums. It evolved from Singer placing the journals himself around the San Francisco area; to mailing out 100 journals to ten residents in Belgium, London, New York, Austin, Los Angeles and Seattle; to people enthusiastically requesting the journals from around the globe. Eventually, the demand outnumbered the allotted 1000 journals.
The Learning Curve: Fine-Tuning the Design Process
The 1000 Journal Project received mass notoriety and attention. For a designer’s first major project, its legacy is impressive: it’s an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a published book, and a documentary. But it wasn’t an overnight hit. The project materialized gradually, over a five-year span, as its needs were realized rather than fulfilling a long-term plan. When Singer finished the project, he reflected on his process and how it could have been fine-tuned. “That process was a meandering one until the light bulb went off. Then I realized I would kick myself if I didn’t do it. So I was forced to figure out how to do it. Fast forward to today. When I have a project, I move straight into I need this piece and this piece. I go into checklist mode.”
A Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Attitude
So how does a designer like Brian manage working for corporate giants while executing large-scale personal design projects on the side? Simple: drive. “I think I operate better when I have a lot of things on my plate,” comments Singer about how he manages a fully-packed schedule.
His “can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude propels him forward in his day-to-day work and his side projects, and it escalates his career advancement. Currently, as a brand manager for Pinterest, he brings understanding to the masses that Pinterest is not a social network—it’s a catalog of ideas. He also supervises his design team, brainstorms strategy for campaigns and audits whether additional resources are needed, such as assessing whether to recruit extra personnel for a project.
Prior to Pinterest, he designed for the likes of Facebook, Apple and Adidas. If his self-described former aimless-teenager-self could look into the future, I’d imagine he’d probably be impressed with his upcoming blockbuster projects and estimable resume.
His non-stop creativity follows him from his office to his tiny studio space where he directs his energy toward his side projects — which you can see on his website, someguy. He also uses his masterful multi-tasking skills to complete his projects for when he is outside of his office and studio. For instance, during our conversation he mentioned that he and some friends took a trip to Reno. Not a gambling man and not an avid football enthusiast like his friends, he divided up his time by hanging out with his buddies while simultaneously working on his side projects. As his friends crowded around the TV to watch football, Singer prepared flags with presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s face on them in order to place them in poop around the San Francisco area. He broadcasts this project on social media with the hopes that other people will join in on the aptly-named “Dump Trump” movement. You can find out more about this project via his Twitter: @someguy_is.
Singer is also a member of the AIGA National Board and will be speaking at this year’s HOW Design Live Conference. His presentation, How to Get Rich in Design, refers to how he became rich in design through his experiences with the 1000 Journal Project, TWIT Spotting and his career progression. Don’t miss his talk on Friday, May 20 at 3:00 pm. (If you haven’t yet registered for the conference, don’t miss your chance!)
What’s Next For Singer?
When asked about future goals, Singer wittily and honestly replied, “I don’t know if this counts as a goal, but I’ve always joked about being a designer with no clients. Meaning, wouldn’t it be great if designers didn’t need clients to produce great work? I realize that they’re a means to an end, but I think you could say one of my design goals is to have no clients.” While that goal might seem unattainable, who knows? We’ll see where his ambition takes him next.
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