Interview with Stephen Oster

Date of Interview

June 19, 2011

Designer's Website

cargocollective.com/oster

Designer's Twitter Page

twitter.com/oster_ph

City & Country of Residence

Charlotte, United States

Curently Working For

The Great Job Hunt

Type of Design

Creative Director / Brand Strategist

1. Besides the usual online blogs and galleries, from what or where do you draw inspiration?

It's always the little details that drive my inspiration. How is something made? What was the process that brought them here? Why was it done this way over another? I have an insatiable curiosity and it tends to have me looking at the details. However, when it's time to put pen to paper, I first start with loads of questions. From there, I usually look to a library of samples that we've collected over the years.

The web is great for creative inspiration, especially when it comes to color, but I love looking through printed pieces, because my inspiration is not limited to site. Smell and touch are allowed to play, too.

2. Design-related or not, can you list up to 3 books that you've found beneficial to your growth as a designer?

When I started my own firm years ago, I was given The Business Side of Creativity by Cameron Foote. It's a wonderful resource for designers just starting out on their own. It tackles the the challenges of starting your own company strictly from the perspective of the creative. Not only is it a great read, but the book as well as the website have a wealth of resources, articles and forms that every design firm will soon need. This book has always been at my fingertips.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. This Pulitzer Prize winner, written by a remarkable woman, speaks to a year in the woods at Tinker Creek (obviously). I am fascinated by Creation and all its detail and glory. Annie Dillard writes about these details and her observations of the life blooming and dying all around her. It's a fascinating read and has opened my eyes to see the design all around us. It's these details that often inspire my work.

Inc Magazine. It's not a book, but it's pages, month over month, year over year are filled with ideas and conversations that have taught me how to be a designer, a business man and an entrepreneur. The mag is beautifully designed and rich with quick bits and deep reads. I renew this subscription over any design magazine every year.

3. If you could name one tool/application/software/hardware that you can't live without (from a design perspective), what would it be, and why?

My phone. I believe that at the heart of design is communication, and good communication at that. My iPhone (for better or for worse) has become the quintessential tool of my design life. With it I can communicate with my clients via a number of avenues, I can capture inspiration or thoughts with the camera or notes, I can talk to my vendors and designers regardless of location. It cannot replace my computer or my pen and paper, but it has become a huge asset in connecting me to my clients and peers.

4. What would be your design "dream job"?

As I am currently searching for a job, this question is quite appropriate and a hard one to answer. Obviously, a job at Apple or IDEO or Pentagram would be brilliant, but I think my true answer is broader and less specific to company.

I want to work at the intersection where the creative sensibilities and experiences I have meet curiosity and strategical thinking I love. I want to work in an environment that values aesthetics as it pertains to purpose. And I want to work on a team where collaboration is the norm and excellent leadership is provided and expected. Not too much to ask, right?

5. What changes would you like to see in the design community in the next 5 years?

I was speaking recently with a colleague and we began to discuss this very question. I want to see intelligent and thoughtful design re-enter center stage. My fear is that at the ferocious pace at which we design, the lack of strong creative leadership, and the low-level of entry required for our field, we are losing respect as key people in business decisions.

When our design is driven by trends, style and bottom lines rather than history, research and strategy, our design becomes weak. I would love to see a re-emergence of design dialogue. We are seeing this to some degree with "green" initiatives and web-based companies, but there's more there. We need designers and brand strategists woven into the decision making process in the board rooms. We need a place at the table.

Special thanks to Stephen Oster for taking the time to answer these questions exclusively for Interviews by Design.

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