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Ten Lessons from Kit Hinrichs

After almost 50 years in the business, Mr. Hinrichs had a wealth of advice on his presentation here in Tulsa. Below are some highlights, ten lessons from Kit Hinrichs.

Special thanks to our event sponsor Sappi, for the cool paper sample books designed by Hinrichs himself! Be sure to share your thoughts on Kit’s presentation in the comments below. What did you learn? What were your favorite words of wisdom?


Lesson One:  Be Bold & Unexpected

Hinrichs started off the night with an emphatic plea: don’t create wishy-washy designs. If you’re going to bother being a designer, contribute work that is unique, bold, and unexpected.


Lesson Two:  Change Your Point of View

If you change your point of view, you can change your audience’s perspective. When working on a USC project, the public generally thought of the campus as predominantly upper class, and mostly white. To challenge this conception, he took 40 photographs of students on campus, and pieced them together into one (very diverse) face.

Lesson Three:  Images as Words//Words as Images

As Kit put it, “I am not an Illustrator. I am a storyteller.” When dealing with a large area of type, Kit uses an effective trick to keep the story alive: inserting an illustration or image for one of the letters turns a graphic into typography.


Lesson Four: Embrace clichés
As much as we all want to be original (see “Lesson One”), clichés can serve a purpose. They communicate quickly, and people understand them. Hinrichs likes to play with clichés and twist their meaning. One example: his graphic for the National Medical Enterprise, who wanted to somehow show off the wide range of medical services they offered.



Lesson Five: Keep your audience entertained, while educating them

The Annual Report for the TenFold software company could have easily been serious and straightforward. But to get people interested, Kit went with a “Holy cow” theme. When he showed the final piece to his clients, the engineers replied “those wings aren’t big enough to make [the cow] fly.” Not the feedback he expected, but he knew he had their interest.


Lesson Six: Look to the arts, or link to history

When the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy commissioned Studio Hinrichs to create a graphic identity in commemoration of the bridge’s 75th Anniversary, he turned straight to the source for inspiration. They created a typeface, Golden Gate Girder, inspired by the bridge’s “construction of rivets and girders and in its Art Deco styling.”


Lesson Seven: Piqué their curiosity 
Design can be playful. Engaging your audience gives them something to remember. Kit did just that in his journal @issue, with  a series of quizzes.


Lesson 8: Tap Into Your Personal Passions
Never underestimate the power of honest, raw passion. Kit kept this blunt reminder light by saying, “you all have passions… some legal, some not.”

Kit’s passion is for American folk items, mainly antique flags. This lead to his book, Long May She Wave. Coincidentally, this book came out just three months before 9/11. After the tragedy, book sales soared, and all the proceeds went straight to the Red Cross.


Lesson 9: Take the long view.
We aren’t in this business for just 15 minutes. Focus on building a long relationship with your clients. Kit cited his long relationship with Potlatch (predecessor of the night’s event sponsor, Sappi). Hinrichs worked on their Annual Report for 25 years. He would often use imagery of the loggers in reports, to show the source of the paper. On one photo shoot there was an ornery tree in the background, but thanks to the loggers the tree was down and out of the shot in no time.

As a side note, Kit had a reminder about working in print. Print is not just about getting ink onto paper. We should strive for pieces that utilize printer’s services and make projects unique, things that can’t be accomplished on web.


Lesson 10: Make it move.

Kit gave one last enigmatic piece of advice: if all else fails, make it move.


Kit Hinrichs wrapped up the evening by taking questions and signing posters. We had a great time and learned much more than ten things. We hope you enjoyed the March event as much as we did! Join us in April for another brilliant designer (and West Coaster), Petrula Vrontikis.


Update 4/1: we originally stated Kit Hinrichs had nearly 30 years of experience in the field; that number should actually have been 50. 

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