Klindt Parker currently heads the Starbucks design team, awarded HOW magazine's In-House Design Group of the Year award in 2004. Here, he reflects on his own start as a fledgling graphic designer 19 years ago and how the Starbucks group has changed in recent years.
June 19, 2006 interview by board member Allison Gegan.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Where did you get your design degree?
New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Look that one up. (laughs) It's just north of El Paso.
I had aspirations to go to art school, but thought it'd be better to stay open and see what broader things might be available to me. So I took a lot of computer science classes, way back before computers were so accessible. And I liked the process even though it felt really complex and technical for me. But still when I took an art class, or design ('communication arts' is what it was called back then), it felt like the right thing.
What's your favorite color to wear?
My favorite color is black because it's so easy, but I don't like to wear black…so…I've got a lot of green in my closet. Secretly I wish everything in my closet was one color. Socks, shirts, everything. That would be one less decision for me to make every day.
What is your favorite font?
My favorite has always been Adobe Garamond. Just because when I first discovered a love of typography, and I learned the beauty of using one font for an entire catalogue or campaign or whatever, I saw that you can do so many things with it. It worked well when I was ready to get really skilled at the small details that make typography great.
What is your most hated font? For me, I cannot abide Sand.
There are so many new fonts out there, that it takes a while for the trendy ones to wash away from what is good, so I don't really have a most hated font. But we used to make fun of people for using Arial, because it's the one it's given to everyone with a PC.
If I absolutely had to say, maybe Babyteeth. Ever heard of that one? That's one I don't like at all, Babyteeth.
Take this quiz: www.iliveonyourvisits.com/helvetica
Ok. Excellent, ha. Maybe I should study first, I don't want to fail this. Funny. (laughs)
Interviewers note: Mr. Parker received a highly respectable 8 out of 10
How often do you visit Starbucks when you're not at work?
Oh, probably, four times a month. I get a discount mind you.
You've been with one company for most of your career. Was this a conscious decision?
Actually, though I've been there a long time, I've been at other companies besides Starbucks. I've been doing design for 19 years now, and there weren't a whole lot of opportunities in New Mexico for graphic design, so I moved to Seattle and worked for NBBJ for about 6 years. Then I ran my own little company and did a lot of contracts directing teams at Microsoft, and Nordstrom, and so on. I've been at Starbucks for 8 years altogether, with a one-year sabbatical for traveling in between.
How is it working with graphic designers, architects and interior designers all in one space?
Its not small like it was when I first started, now we've grown so much that we're really spread out. We come together though for special projects though, every two years for example we redesign our stores, look at the palettes, make sure that no two stores are the same. And that's really fun, to look at what we're doing and if we have to change things or if we need to.
What do you think will come after branding, what will be the next Big Buzz?
I don't know what's beyond branding, but I think branding is always evolving, and people are longing for experiences just because of how big the population is and how isolated we can be with our iPods on, and driving alone in our cars to work and whatnot, so, people are drawn toward groups and communities in different ways, whether it's online or not. And I think branding and advertising is going away from printed media to experiences that we're trying to create. That's what we're trying to do at Starbucks.
Do you see a dead-end for print design?
Not really. It's like when the web came along and everyone thought books would be extinct, but it's turned out just to be another tool. As a creative person, you need to be able to think beyond print, whether it's writing or illustrating or being able to do environmental design…other components. It's harder to be a purist anymore.
What about the people that recommend that one specialize? The ones that say just about anyone can be a generalist?
Designers are meant to be generalists, I think. If you run a studio, you never know who's going to walk through your door. Thinking 3-d is important too, if someone wants you to design a display…you might not be an expert, but you should be able to conceptualize it and strive to get there. Being a generalist has served me well. If I know just a little bit about a wide-range of interests, eventually these interests will need a marketing component, and to be able to speak to them is helpful. To be a generalist means you can converse with them about what they do and help them elevate the way they talk about it to others. Even a psychologist can be considered his or her own brand, when it comes time to promote themselves in some way.
Tell us the best part about being married to another graphic designer.
The best part is sharing an appreciation for art. And it's great to be able to go on vacation and appreciate the same aesthetics of whatever you're encountering and the creativity of another place.
I would recommend not talking too much shop at home with your spouse or loved one, because it's nice to have different things to talk about than you do during the day.
If you had to choose a second career today, what would it be?
You mean a career that involves making money? (laughs) This is a good one to daydream about. I've always loved cooking. I could easily go into the kitchen. I also think it could be running a youth hostel too. Yeah, I love traveling, and I love the culture around running a hostel. (laughs) Funny.
What music are you listening to these days?
I listen to whatever gets played in our studio…a lot of LPs from before 1980 or whatever. But I've been enjoying the new Arcade Fire recording quite a bit, and that's it. I mean, I have a 3-year old so I more often am singing nursery rhymes over and over.
What's another example of retail design that you admire?
I like what's happening with innovative mall experiences like U Village and the way they are scaling them down to more of a community looking place. I've also always admired Urban Outfitters because they come up with really great retail store designs that make the store look fresh. They used to have a stable of people that hand-created all their furniture and signs, and that made it so great. So that's a group I really do appreciate. Other than that, I do pay attention to new stuff. I like what Camper stores are doing, I like Whole Foods. I like that kind of hand-made feel.
Place these 3 in order of importance when it comes to success in the field: software knowledge, brainstorming / originality, speed and efficiency.
1. concepting skills
2. speed + efficiency
3. software knowledge
Although they really all go hand in hand. Software is simply a repetition thing, over time you use it and end up learning it really well. Anything to keep you moving forward. It depends what kind of studio you're in and what kind of demands are on you b/c some studios are first and foremost deadline oriented, so above all you need efficiency. We have a good balance. The smaller the studio, the harder it is b/c you have a smaller number of people you have to rely on to get things done. Those situations can be tough.
Is it important to be a good writer?
It's an amazing skill to be able to do that, and it's something designers should be able to look to more than they do, instead of always relying or waiting on your writer to come through. Because you can do things like set up the page ahead of time, and meet each other halfway. The more you can write, the better it is for everybody. You can start things out, and being able to really articulate your vision is a lot like being able to write. Not that writing itself isn't its own noteworthy skill, because it is, but I see benefits in the overlap.
From 1 to 10, how much stress do you feel on the job on an average day?
Ah, good question. Probably an 8 or 8 ½.
Are there any films that you feel designers should see?
There are so many good films. But I've always loved Wings of Desire. That's almost too broad of a question…Blade Runner, Wings of Desire, the Tin Drum. Those would be my three.
What is your favorite time of day?
I like sunset.
Favorite time of year?
Fall. Late fall.
Who or what makes you feel star struck?
Star struck? I'm trying to think who this would be, I don't get the opportunity to be star struck very often. Some classic star would do that to me, like Paul Newman. I actually don't get too star struck by people. (laughs)
Any advice for those just starting out?
Oh, sure. First, you know, not to be let down for the first couple years, that it can take that long to land a job. To always be updating your portfolio and listening to the critical feedback. Even the stuff that kind-of hurts, take and inject that feedback back into your work to create improvements in your book. Always be improving and changing, because a good designer is organic and your book should be organic. I know from experience that you can grow your skills in a very short amount of time if you really listen to the feedback, both positive and negative, and keep incorporating it into your work. Also, make up projects and self-assignments so you can always be honing your craft.
Do you feel that very expensive design schools are worth it?
You know, they work well because people that come out of those schools have a leg up than people that go to one- or two-year programs. They are forced to think and are really challenged by their fellow students. You can have that same environment in a small school or community college, but that's if you luck out. In the Starbucks studio, we have designers from all schools and all backgrounds, and what it comes down to is that they all have a certain characteristic and a hungry mind around design, and an affinity for things that are artistic beyond design that I see in creative people as a common factor. Bottom line is drive and interest. The degree doesn't really matter as much as the actual work in the portfolio and the person presenting it. We look for good thinking, and knowing the different angles one has to take for different companies.
Illustrators straight out of school are great because their look isn't already out there. They can come in and borrow from each other, and evolve, there's a lot of great overlap that so important in our brand.
Who would you most like to design for?
That's a good one. It'd be interesting to do work for Whole Foods, or some of the new concepts for Trader Joe's. Then I think about things I use in my everyday life, that I have an affinity with, that would be great. There's pie-in-the-sky stuff, like, I love what Ideo does. I could see myself being drawn to this holistic way of thinking and industrial design. Conceptualizing it.
If you could run any country, which one would it be?
Oh, I don't know. I guess I would like to run my own beachfront personal resort.
What about your own tiny, tiny island nation?
That could be Ok! Anything with a beach, I would be happy to be the president of without any other governing bodies there to worry about. (laughs)
Finally, if you knew you wouldn't fail, what would you do?
Probably sail around the world. I don't know why I say that, it just sounds really fun.