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Interview with Brad Woodard - Illustration, Design, and Infographics

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This post is part of a series called Infographic Design.
Quick Tip: How to Create a Simple Set of Map Pins
Producing an Informative Map In Perspective with Illustrator

Everyone welcome Brad Woodward to Vectortuts+! Brad has a well rounded portfolio of design, illustration, and infographics. He works for powerhouse design firm Column Five Media where he tackles big client projects. Additionally, he's constantly exploring with personal work, and taking on freelance commissions. Learn about Brad's interest in mid-century modernism, how his style has evolved rapidly, and key ingredients that make an infographic successful.

Q Hello Brad, please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what training do you have, and how did you get started in the field?

I grew up in the Great Northwest, in the Seattle area. From the time it was physically possible for me to draw, I have been drawing. My mom especially encouraged me to create art all growing up, seeing as she is an artist herself. When I arrived at college I thought I was going be a painter, but that idea quickly faded as I realized my classmates were leaps and bounds above me in skill. So I tried my hand at graphic design and fell in love with it. I love how my knowledge of design can yield more than beautiful imagery. I now have a BFA in graphic design.

Now I live in Newport Beach, CA with my wife, baby boy and puppy. And I work full-time for Column Five Media as a designer.

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Q How long did it take you to get a foothold in the industry and establish some regular clients?

To be perfectly honest, I am still getting a foothold in the industry. I have only been graduated for a little over a year now, but things outside of my full-time job have been moving rather rapidly. I am quickly realizing what type of design I am good at, and/or want to pursue. And freelance work is really starting to pick up after a lot of energy being put into self promotion. Surprisingly enough, 98% of my clients want illustration work.

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Q Could you tell us a bit about Column Five? What is the structure of the company and where do you fit in? What is your role there? What types of clients and projects do you work on?

Column Five Media has been a huge blessing in my young career. They are a fast growing, creative agency that specializes in visual storytelling. Most people know us from our information graphics and data visualizations. C5 clientele encompasses some of the biggest companies in the world. See Column Five Media for a list of clients and work.

My role there is a designer. I am provided copy and data, wherewith I am expected to visualize it in the form of motion work, print, web, interactive pieces, and more.

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Q You have such a versatile portfolio, where do vector graphics fit into your work? What are your favorite aspects of working with vectors? What design and illustration tools do you use on a regular basis?

First of all, thank you for the kind words. Vectors are God's gift to man. I love how the are scalable and clean. Almost all of my work includes vector shapes, at least in some stage of the creation process. Many times I will create large vector shapes in Adobe Illustrator and then bring them into Photoshop so that I can paint within the shape with a texture I create. So the tools I use on a regular basis would be a scanner, pen and pencil, Illustrator and Photoshop, and my camera phone for references.

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Q As a designer and illustrator, which came first for you? How does your graphic design background influence your illustration style, or vice versa?

Illustration definitely came first, but my style was way more fine art based. Believe it or not, but my illustrations were extremely realistic still life work. During college I focused almost entirely on design, so I didn't think much of illustration. But, as soon as I started working at Column Five, I was given many opportunities to illustrate again. And my design background deeply influenced my illustration style now.

All of the principles I learned in design classes are just as valid with illustration. My style has been evolving now into something geometric, and slightly Cubist at times. The best influence that design had on my illustration work is the idea of designing out the page and balancing everything within the space. I am still working on it, but I feel I am at least improving.

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Q Who or what inspires your work? Could you tell us about your style?

I am inspired by many artists, but my all time favorite sources of inspiration are the American Mid-Century modernists, such as Saul Bass, Alvin Lustig, Ray and Charles Eames, etc.

Like I mentioned before, my style is still evolving, but it is becoming more and more illustrative in nature. I am finding that many of the design projects I take on now can incorporate heavy illustration as well, so it is fun to pair the two. I try to add a bit of a modern feel to Mid-Century inspired work when I have freedom on style. Otherwise, my style changes depending on what is needed and appropriate for a specific project.

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Q Could you tell us about owning your work? And what mark do you want to leave on the world of design?

This is a great question. It is one I have been thinking about a lot lately. I don't want people just to remember all the pretty pictures I made. I became a designer so that I could communicate ideas. That doesn't restrict me to the world of art. I hope to solve actual, pressing problems in the world through design. Currently, my wife and I are in the process of starting up a company that will do just that, and help kids to be creative and learn to read. Stay tuned for more on that soon!

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Q Was there a pivotal moment when you felt your work matured? How did that come about?

Kind of, haha. I feel like it has matured, but not nearly to where I want it. Just these past few months though, I feel like my work is finally getting away from looking like student work. It took 8 hours a day at an amazing agency and working on freelance projects the rest of the night to really start feeling competent. I still have a long road ahead.

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Q Please tell us about the blog Visual News. How often do you write for the site? How has blogging enhanced your work?

Visual News is an eclectic blog featuring all types of visual goodness. The content is always fresh and interesting. I have been writing for them for about 6 months now. Blogging is a great way for me to learn. The more I have to explain a process to someone, the more I understand it. Communicating is such a key part of what I do, so learning to communicate my thoughts through words, not only pictures, is extremely helpful.

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Q What are some important basic concepts to keep in mind when creating an infographic?

  • The content needs to be quick to read and understand.
  • There needs to be visual hierarchy. This will improve legibility and help the content be more digestible.
  • Add emphasis on trends and patterns.
  • Make it so that the viewer can get involved with the graphic in some way.
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Q What are the some important business lessons you've learned that beginning designer's should take to heart?

Number one is creating a solid contract, and using it. In the beginning I was dumb and didn't use contracts and just trusted clients. Don't ever do it! Always have a contract to protect yourself.

Don't do spec work, it devalues the work of all designers. Obvious exceptions are pro bono work such as charity work and so on. But don't create work for someone without a contractual agreement that you will be paid for your work. This is your livelihood, not hobby.

Get in contact with designers you admire. Ask them for critiques on your portfolio and gather as much wisdom as you can from them. The design community is super friendly, so don't be afraid to approach someone for help. Odds are they will be more than happy to help.

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Q Thanks for the interview Brad! Is there any parting advice that you'd like to give aspiring illustrators and designer who are working hard to grow professionally?

Love your work, and own it! Do what you love. Focus your portfolio on work you want to do, and fill it with that. And no matter what work you do, whether it is good or bad, own it. Own the mistake and do better, or own the fact that you created something amazing. The more you love your work, the better your work will become.

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Brad Woodard on the Web

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