Drew Davies – owner/design director of Oxide Design Co. and national co-president of AIGA

What drew you to your particular field?

I didn’t know graphic design existed as an actual thing until my sophomore year in college. But looking back, even as a young child I was always fascinated by icons, symbols, logos, and the like. I’ve always been interested in art, but design was the way I found to bring my need for order and direction to that aesthetic world.

If you’re looking for a great deal of public recognition, design is not the career to go into, we joke in our field. Maybe the spouses of people that work at design firms could name one, quote, famous designer but most of them can’t.  I’m pretty sure my wife couldn’t.  It’s pretty impressive considering what I would say the impact that we have on the world at large is.

What has changed most over the years in your particular field?

Really just the prevalence of the digital world. When I started Oxide Design Co. 13 years ago, probably 90 percent of our work was print—brochures, business cards, direct mail—and 10 percent was websites and other digital design. Now it’s probably the opposite of that ratio.

Where do you turn for design inspiration?

I tend to look outside of the traditional industry-based sources, and instead get my inspiration from stepping out of the design mind and doing other things in the world. I get inspiration from everyday activities, nature, streetscapes, interactions with close friends and family.

Why do aesthetic qualities matter as much as practical qualities in design?

Information can be as clear as possible, but it still won’t do any good if no one wants to read it. I believe that in order for design to be truly effective, it must be a balance of clarity and aesthetics. The exact proportion depends on each situation.

What are the benefits of good design?

Good design is good business. Good design can literally increase the bottom line. It can get more people to hear an important message and take it to heart. It can drastically raise awareness. It can open up a process like voting to massive new audiences who have regularly been disenfranchised in the past. 

What are the primary influences on design in Omaha?

I think that Omaha’s best design firms are influenced by the same sources that influence designers nationally and even globally.  

What are some classic examples of good design locally? 

I feel like I drive around town and marvel at some of the historical architecture as I’m going through spaces. That’s essentially my feeling, but I could pick out say the Durham Union Station building as this fabulous piece of architecture out of the history of Omaha. On a more visual design basis, I think one of the great example of lasting design in Omaha is actually the mural that’s painted on the side of the Baum Iron building downtown…It’s just a piece of straight-up advertising when they put it up: this is what we do in this building. But it’s become a sort of iconic piece that most people don’t even really pay attention to.

What are some good examples of contemporary design locally?

From a graphic design standpoint, one of the things I am proud of about being from Omaha is that there are a bunch of people doing great graphic design work here in town. 

I think if you look the kind of work that is being done around BarCamp (a conference coordinated by Grain & Mortar) that’s happened for the last few years here in town, the great work Secret Penguin has been doing for Plank and Roja and Blue. 

At Oxide, really since we started we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to essentially give back, create culture and community here in Omaha. We’ve always done a lot of event promotion and branding work, so the kinds of projects we’ve had a great time working on are those kinds of things that are pretty far-reaching in the community and go out and help make a better place out of Omaha. 

If Omaha had a design aesthetic, how would you define it?

From a visual design standpoint, I don’t really think that Omaha has a design aesthetic. What I’m seeing locally is a lot of good work inspired by all kinds of sources from across the country and around the world. I think there is a surprisingly large number of good design firms here, quite frankly, for the size of Omaha. They’re doing good work and I think it’s good work in a very wide variety of styles.

Where do you see Omaha’s design aesthetic going?

I believe that Omaha is right there in the national mix from a design aesthetic standpoint.

How do the different design disciplines interact? 

Done right, multiple design disciplines can work together in concert beautifully. Some of the best cultural experiences we can have are when architecture, interior design, branding and graphic design, way finding and information design, etc., all combine to make something truly special. Even from a nationwide standpoint, designers of all types could be finding more ways to work together to create those kinds of successes. It happens sometimes now, but I’d love to see it happen more.

What do you wish non-designers knew about design?

That visual aesthetics are just a small part of great design. Really successful branding and design involve huge amounts of thought about clarity, accurately conveying information, tactical considerations, messaging, and the like. What all designers want is a sense of respect for the value of what we do.  

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