Please welcome a fascinating man and his solo graphic business. John Scuderi is a talented graphic artist with uncanny business know-how. With his expertise in the arts and technology he understands and really listens to his clients needs. As a result the end product makes his clients look professional and up scale. Read on and let’s find out how John does his amazing work.
PSW (Purely Simple Words): Welcome John, your website syncromeshdesign.com is eye catching and full of information. I see that your work is geared towards arts, trades and technology. Can you tell me about the type of work you do?
JS (John Scuderi): I have always had a connection to both areas arts and technology I started out as a physics major. But changed to journalism major. I have a journalism degree. It was tough getting a job. One day I looked around the room and realized that there were art materials everywhere. I decided to go to night courses in illustration. Later, as many art students do, I switched teams from illustration to graphic design. I have had the pleasure working for the largest independent distributor of music CDs and I worked as a catalog artist there. I have done websites and CD packages for musicians, some of them top flight, but “under the radar” public-wise. I have worked for a couple of tech companies on Long Island, New York. They were surprised I could speak the language to a certain extent.
PSW: How long have you been doing this on your own?
JS: I started in 2000 on a freelance basis, and worked to learn the business on my own. I would usually have a full or part-time position to supplement the work.
PSW: I see you work very hard. What is this type of graphic design called. Because it is so specific. It is more like film.
JS: Ah, you’re referring the the slide shows on my site. There are so many different divisions in graphic design with separate mentalities. There are some who can spend all day working on logos —not my specialty. Or photos or typography. I am closer to that. There a people who can do informational design they can take a bunch of material, take directional and descriptive information, and make a beautiful, easy-to-understand, map out of it. There are those who work primarily with text, posters, cards, website, package design, and sometimes you can work across many areas and sometimes you can’t and you have to hire a specialist. I’ll tell a client that I will not be top flight in this area or that —that’s responsible. In many designs there is an observational hierarchy, there will be things you’ll notice in one, two, three order. That’s programatic, almost like film. In film you are showing these things in sequence; in graphics it’s all at once. It’s all sandwiched together. For example if you have a poster — let’s say it’s a circus poster — you have to cram a lot of information there. It escapes a lot of peoples attention but you are answering the basic questions of who, what, where, when and why. And much of graphic design is about making decisions. Like how can I bring the viewer in hold them and get them to read everything and get the full experience of this piece of communication.
PSW: Tell me more about the slide shows.
JS: It serves an internet purpose. In this case, by having these pictures in the same location, as a slide show, you are saving screen real estate. You can only assume the viewer will initially take in just so much of a view and, if you don’t grab them right there, you are going to lose them. There’s a lot of laziness among viewers so they are not going scroll through. They get a first impression and that’s your chance. The advertising line you mentioned is just an distillation of what I do. Together with a client, I strive for the best that a client can look and it’s shaped to meet with what the customer expects. It’s no different from “putting your best foot forward.” That’s about it.
PSW: Do you specialize with just one group, such as musicians, or do you work with everyone.
JS: I work with everyone, as much as I can. There are disciplines that are beyond me, and I will let the person know right away or if its something like logos that I am not good at. I let them know that you may not get the best logo in the world but you will get a good logo. It depends on the budget. If you want a professional logo from professionals, I think they’ll charge something like $1,000 and up.
PSW: So you look to satisfy what ever the client needs and that is how you put something together.
JS: Yes I have yet to work with art directors of large companies, with people who actually know the art communication business. And there is a difficulty there to secure work from a professional; it’s more demanding and competitive. I am in the growing the stages and I work with people who don’t have a marketing manager don’t have an art director; they might be a small business, a one-person business, or they might be a slightly larger small business with 4-5 people employed and they don’t know how to navigate the job, so it becomes key to the assignment that you be a good communicator — unless you have some sort of charisma and bowl them over or you have a reputation, and instantly impress them that you must know what you are doing.
There are always questions, because people are bombarded with information about design impressions and hearsay. People don’t know the process because they are not design knowledgeable, and don’t process or catalog it. They don’t perceive the strategy, style or cultural elements the way a graphic designer would. I can give you an example. I was helping a proficient talented jazz guitarist who likes to do things himself and he needed help setting up technically a brochure. He also did a CD cover, and wanted to show off his work. He said “take a took at this CD cover I designed.” So I looked at it and it had this Gothic typeface similar to the New York Times masthead. Looks old and fancy almost in a religious way. And I was shocked because anyone who has been to a record store or observed the general use of that typeface knows that it’s used for heavy metal music, almost symbolically. They all use that kind of typeface because it has that Gothic/Fraktur look, serious look, and it’s become a tradition. Now here is a jazz guitarist who probably wanted nothing to do with rock and roll, and here he was offering up this. So there’s different considerations that have to be taken in graphic design that the average person really is not totally conscious of. Graphic designers are constantly concocting mixes physical, psychological and cultural and they are using the ingredients of shape, color and size and looking to get a desired reaction from a viewer.
To review those things: physical, it’s like in physics the effect of color light shapes size optics, and the psychological is how you are impressed by something even though it doesn’t make sense —how it effects the mind. For example, you can have an issue when adjusting type. You can have letters of the alphabet equally set, measured by the physical width of the letter, and it doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Because the letters have different optics so you can have a V and A next to each other and they will look too far apart. There are typeset single words in which it looks as though they could be seen as several separate words. It’s because they didn’t do a good job on the typography, so that’s optics. There’s the psychological, black has a number of effects on us — yellow also. Then there is culture, as I just mentioned of in the case of Gothic type being used for heavy metal. If you don’t know the style and culture, then your message is going to be hidden, corrupted, or made ridiculous.
PSW: You are right I never noticed that.
JS: And sometimes we have to do research for the jobs. We don’t necessarily know the client’s world. Sometimes the job seems as simple as being a personal buyer or shopper. I will take this type from here and this picture from there put it all together. Sometimes its a journey of discovery; you don’t know what the end piece will be. You try different things. It’s a volatile changeable mix. You massage it together until it jells and all works together.
PSW: What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
JS: I like problem solving and creating something that starts as a Frankenstein, then takes a life of it’s own. You put type and colors and shape, and put it together. When they have a life of their own and are cooperating, that’s pretty exciting. I like the discovery thing again. To add to this, sometimes you research or begin meditating on a problem. Usually it’s a combination of all those things.
There’s something that is usually hidden or neglected and that’s judgment. People know the term graphic design and sometimes they oversimplify it down to fashion design or pressing buttons. It takes a lot of judgment sometimes; inspiration frequently. There is no clear formula.
There is is cloudy area for the designer as to what the public or audience understands in design. There are different audiences with different levels of savvy. Sometimes you are astonished. You’ve managed a deft sort of embedding of style and information in a piece and they get it! There’s the realization “they’re just as sharp as me.” And then there are times they don’t get it, and you are puzzled. And that leads you to think “I guess I am sort of special, I have this number of inclinations or attitudes.” A graphic designer is different from a non-designer; a designer is a student of visual effects.
PSW: Is there or have there been any other graphic artists that have inspired you or any other special influences that have inspired you in your work?
JS: There was a book that got me started. It was by a graphic design group in England called Hipgnosis. The 1970’s was one of the golden ages of album design. Their work was exciting and their designs had a lot of depth. They moved things ahead from a time when previously package designs for music was “let’s see how cheap we can get away with,”—”just add a touch of emotion to the album theme.” In the previous days, they almost always put a picture of the artist on the cover. If it was a popular artist, and there was a good budget for photography, it would mean styling the photograph and nothing more. It wasn’t thought out or intriguing. If you could the record buyer to recognize the artist, that was all you need do. The album cover just had to be different from previous albums of the same artist, that’s all. Hipgnosis was paramount in changing all that. I should stress, that Hipnosis was far from my only influence. For a designer, however, this was just a great book.
I’ve been thrilled by so many great designers. They come from all places and all walks of life.
PSW: Who did they do album covers for.
JS: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10CC, Wings, Peter Gabriel. With the advent of CDs, covers became a bit more difficult because you are going towards iconic — almost like a postage stamp. There is less space to deal with you so you can’t depend too much on detail or lots of elements. It’s a smaller field of view which alone suggests that there’s less to enjoy, less to savor. It changes things.
Now, even though unpackaged digital files are popular for distributing music —mp3s and the like— you still have to identify an album or song with a visual. Visuals still really help to make the idea of the music become more “sticky” — longer held in the person’s mind. Having a visual helps people “place” the music. Most music buyers are not musicians or musicologists. They are a little bit unsure what this music is about it, and it’s really rewarding to them to have a kinship and better connection with the musician. Visual interpretations do that job and more. It’s important. There are thousands of pieces of music a person might buy; a visual helps them form a better bond with a song and pushes the artist’s selection to the top of the priority for buying.
PSW: Do you have any direction of where you are taking your business or is it where you want it?
JS: I want to move towards more conceptual, artistic work for customers than at present. I have customers that have relatively modest budgets. They also have moderate understanding of graphics and do not want to go too far afield from what they understand. So my work is not as artistic or gorgeous as I’d like. But there is plenty that can be done at any budget level. And I do find that clients grow from small jobs to larger, more developed ones.
PSW: If you had a client that had a enormous budget what would you do.
JS: It depends. There’s a good amount of discipline within the largest flights of fantasy of serving the client, and serving the client’s client. It’s is my job to connect those two people; it is not my job to show off, but to do the best I can within the framework and budget. For a large budget, the level of detail is greater, the level of stylization is greater, the level of strategy is greater. For modest clients, they want style and functionality that works; you are not overdoing it. In many cases, independent of budget, over-fancy, over-design, is a dead end because you want people to retain the information on the website, not be overwhelmed.
I would like to get into the art direction area when doing CD packages and music graphics. The tendency is for artists to take care of their business and not think ahead and think about what the audience needs so they will call you at the last minute and you are not going to work through too many concepts or looks and not take the time to take a photograph. They don’t want the expense of that. That’s fine. I would hope in the future for more collaborative work, not “I have these materials and throw anything there and that’s sort of good enough.”
My job is to have people come to me and have comfort with me. I hope that, little by little, I do better work and they are intrigued to allow more time, intensity, and interest in communication with their audience or fans. I am happy to say I have a few clients in industrial / craftsman area. I have one that sells refrigeration parts and one client who does upholstery for cars. On the surface, they are not glamorous. But the customer I have for upholstery is marketing savvy. I’ve used more types of media with this customer than with any other and he’s total pleasure to work with. When first going in with a client, you don’t know what the range is for the client, and I am very open to having clients dip the toe. I do understand that it’s very scary when they hear graphic design. They see huge figures popping in their head as well as difficult decisions on style. They are a little anxious to start out with. I will take them and try to win their confidence slowly and then have them slowly understand what is going on and what I am really doing. I and happy to do an interview like this because it helps me to dispel the illusions of graphic design.
PSW: You explain it well and do nice work I can see that from your website I think you have not left any stone unturned. You are open to talking to people and working with a client and making them happy. I can tell from the way you speak and the way you explain things so nicely and neatly on your website. I have a question. What is a video Flash?
JS: There’s a multimedia program called Flash, and it’s been around for more than a decade. It has been used for animation and video and it can be programmed. It is still at the top for games. It’s almost UNused on mobile players. It’s processor intensive, using a lot of your computer’s ability. So, it’s slowly falling out of favor on the web. Sometimes you have to tell people the reason you are not seeing this on your smart phone is because it’s in Flash. Apple has refused to accept it. I have some older work in Flash, and it’s fine for desktop computers.
PSW:: I saw it somewhere on your website but I did not know what it was.
JS: What’s popular now is HTML 5 animations, though they don’t have has much facility or ability as flash. That said the audience is largely growing. So we need to consider that audience.
PSW: Is there anything else you would like to add.
JS: It’s been a pleasure being invited to discuss exactly what a web designer does, and the designer’s approach, and I hope other people become more attuned to it. It is really becoming a necessary language for people to learn because there is so much visual selling. We don’t go to the general store and ask for recommendations as much. We are bombarded with information in a visual way, and people getting to learn more of the techniques, and to be more critical and appreciative of what is going on, is good for them, even if they are not selling anything. Again you are doing a service. Whenever you are communicating, visually or verbally, you are doing a service for the audience, viewer, end user; you are making their life easier, empowering them with information, probably entertaining, and hopefully you are delighting them. So I think its a wonderful thing when you combine these items. And graphic design extends from the very basic to things that approach fine art, and should be enjoyed as such. And that’s all I can think of.
PSW: You taught me a lot because I know nothing about graphic design. I can see how you are going to do really well because you know what you are talking about.
JS: People know inherently a lot about graphic design, though they might not be in the habit of verbalizing it. It’s not different from the way we can all enjoy a movie, but we really can’t discuss the acting the way an actor would. That’s not the point of it. The point of it is to enjoy and receive some information from the work. Thank you very much.
PSW: You are welcome. It is my pleasure to share your story with my audience and the rest of the world wide web. Good Luck.
John Scuderi is very approachable and eager to answer any questions you might have about his work. You can contact him via his website synchromeshdesign.com or call by phone: 516-359-5716.