Connecticut Creatives | Connecticut’s “People to Watch”
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Connecticut’s “People to Watch”

For nearly five decades, Graphic Design USA starts the year off with their list of People To Watch — 20 or so creatives recognized for talent, leadership, success, business savvy, service and newsworthiness.

Connecticut has been fairly well-represented over the years, including luminaries like William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Tom Fowler, Peter Good, Pam Williams, Mike Scricco and Richard Shear.

We thought we’d check in with some notable honorees from the 2000s and get their recollections on the experience.

2015 // Elizabeth P. Ball // TFI Envision

“I am surrounded by both amazing wealth and abject poverty, and everything in between. It helps to keep me grounded and aware that you always have to remember who/what you are designing for.”

“I suspect I was selected because for over 33 years, we have consistently submitted press releases about the work we do for our clients as well as some human interest stories about our team at TFI Envision. I have been a long admirer of Gordon Kaye’s publications and award shows.”

“My photo was taken by William Taufic against a large painting by Jabu, an African elephant that lives in Botswana. My gallery, Pierce Ball Gallery, is the exclusive dealer of these magnificent paintings. I was instrumental in giving Jabu his creative start out in the bush of Botswana a number of years ago, originally starting with small watercolors and graduating to ‘elephant size’ paintings.”

2010 // Brian Miller // MillerSmith

“I’m never afraid to come out and ask for something that I want. That can be both a strength and a weakness. Some clients perceive it as eagerness, while others (fewer, luckily) mistake it for impatience.”

“I really don’t know the details of the selection process, although I think it had something to do with Carol Wahler at the Type Directors Club. She seems to be behind a lot of the good that happens in my career these days.

“I contacted Tracey Kroll, as I always do, to take a photo of me for this piece. I liked the photo we produced very much at the time, but looking back… maybe it’s a little over the top. Just a little.

“It was a nice item to have on my home page, but I don’t know that it impacted my career. It felt very nice though, considering the company I was in. One cool thing that happened was a few of the other people being watched reached out to me (and I imagine others of us). So in that way, it was a good way to meet other creative professionals.”

2008 // Karl Smizer // Smizer Perry

“This is an amazing time for graphic designers. Design has finally made it to the grown ups’ table in corporations where enlightened leadership understands the value great design brings to a business strategy. For the designer who has a strong liberal arts education, kick-ass talent and computer skills, the field is wide open. The key ingredient is the ability to distill complex information into simple visual messages.”

“Through my many years of participating in the annual Graphic Design USA Awards, I came to meet Gordon Kaye. He approached me in 2008 for the ‘People to Watch’ Issue, being very familar with my work and previous awards. I answered a few questions by email and was selected a recipient. The photo I provided was a headshot from a recent business article feature on me. I believe that kind of PR — coverage in a business feature — is far more useful for networking and business development than awards can ever be. My feeling is clients expect you to be very good at what you do. Awards do reinforce that and are great for the ego and peer recognition, but I’m not sure it has a great impact on business. That said, it is a great morale booster for staff — and the first thing people see when entering the studio is a wall covered with awards from a 27-year career.”

2007 // Amy Graver // Elements

“I truly believe that we have an obligation to use our skills to help wherever and whenever we can. For me, that means doing pro bono work or offering reduced rates to non-profits whenever possible. In addition to the pro bono, every year my firm takes it a step further by designing, implementing and using the full weight of our talents, to orchestrate a fully integrated campaign to support an organization doing good work within our community. Our effort for 2006, Bundles for Babies, gathered infant essentials for first-time families in need.”

“My photos were actually taken by Derek Dudek for an article I wrote for Hartford Business Journal on being green, thus the green background. They used one for my profile and another one from the same shoot large on the Contents page.

“Post publishing, I think more of my peers recognize my name. I also received a lot of congratulations — and many of the past winners reached out to me which was honestly very touching.

“Funny story, they actually asked me again this year. I received an email from editor Gordon Kaye: ‘So, I said to my team yesterday … I wonder why Amy Graver did not respond to my People To Watch invite, it would be a perfect showcase for her and us; I saw her briefly at the AIGA legends dinner last year and she is very nice. And Ilana, our creative director, said… She was already a Person To Watch a couple of years ago; she had a particularly memorable photograph. And I said … Amy probably thinks I am an idiot or senile.’ I consider this error a huge compliment.”

I submitted a head shot photo that I had which is typical of all of my photos — in that I wince when I see it.

2006 // Grant Copeland // Worx Branding & Advertising

“My parents were very supportive, unconditionally so. For instance, they must have thought I was crazy when I started my own firm at age 23, but they stood by me. Because of their example, I remain very rooted and confident doing work that can be very stressful and overwhelmingly challenging at times.”

“I had emailed Gordon Kaye, the editor of GDUSA, on some thoughts and opinions for the magazine – and was surprised to get an email back from him. We struck up a conversation from there. He saw more of my work, and then suggested I be a Person to Watch.

“The feedback I got was mainly from my parents – who couldn’t believe the accomplishment. Yes, you can be a regular guy from a regular upbringing from a regular town and achieve great things, I told them.

“I don’t know that it’s changed my course, made me rethink anything, or get a swelled head, but it is a great honor that I still feel very humbled by, knowing the company I keep with other greats from Connecticut and beyond. I remember seeing Amy Graver selected the following year, getting in touch with her, and striking up a relationship from there. Again, very humbling.”

2005 // Alexander Isley // Alexander Isley Inc.

“My workday is the inverse of that of most designers I know. In many studios, it’s expected that you work until 9:00, 10:00 or 11:00 at night. I prefer to get in early, often around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. I get all my good thinking in before the phone starts to ring at 9:00. The ‘regular’ workday consists of putting out little fires here and there, going to meetings, and all the other things that are, well, ‘work.’ (People in the office know not to ask me any complicated questions after 3:00 pm, however.) I go home before 6 to spend time with my family.”

“I’m not sure of the process they have for selecting people. I did an interview with them over email, and I submitted a head shot photo that I had which is typical of all of my photos — in that I wince when I see it.

“It was certainly a nice thing to be recognized, but to be honest it’s difficult to know for sure if the piece had any effect on our firm. I think if something like this comes about, it’s nice to try to get it in front of the eyes of current and potential clients who otherwise might not come across it. I think the only response I got was people asking if it’s really true that I get in to work so early. (As you can see by the time on this email [5:25 a.m.], the answer’s still yes. Time’s a-wastin’!)”

2003 // Rich Hollant // co:lab

“From the unnerving events of the past year, I’ve adopted a mantra: Simple elegant harmonies exist, even when we can’t see them. I’m steadfastly optimistic about integrating the intentions of commerce and creativity.”

“If anyone reading this knows how I was selected, please let me know. One day, I simply received word that I was selected. Though it was nice, I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was more intrigued with the question posed than the machination of selection. Our industry was still reeling from the 9/11 tragedy and spirits were definitely low. The question was about the relationship between creativity and commerce post-9/11. At the time, I was very busy traveling the country for work. I thought it was important to take the time to respond honestly. In looking back at my statement, I stand behind it—both for the time it was written and for the current economic downturn we are experiencing. I view things with the same sober positivity today as I did in 2003 (actually, the response was written in 2002). I was honored to have the opportunity to share that perspective.

“About the accompanying photo: I would have simply sent an existing headshot had one existed. I’m not a big fan of being on THAT side of the camera. I was at a photoshoot for a client with the rockstar photographer Derek Dudek. He took a quick shot of me by the window in his studio. I carried a quote from Einstein (a personal leadership icon) scribbled on a notepad. And that was that. Derek is still annoyed that we didn’t remove the Staples logo on the notepad. It’s my favorite part of the image along with the bangles I was wearing that day (one for each of my sons). That’s the headshot I still use today. Like I said, I really don’t like being photographed, though Facebook tagging is causing me to relax about that. In looking at my online photos, I think my worst possible shot has already been taken and distributed to the masses.

“I’ve witnessed marketing directors present the article to their bosses as an argument to switch from the firm they are using to co:lab. Corporations have tracked us down through the article — we’ve gotten lots of beneficial responses and connections. We don’t have a sales force at co:lab. We count on the positive responses of this kind of publicity to start dialogues with us and right-fit clients. To that end, the article was very helpful at the time. Today, it’s a nice distinction — just look at the list of honorees; it’s a distinguished record of our industry. However, I’m not interested in being fixed in that period. I find what I’m involved in now — what I’m working towards now — to be more interesting and relevant.”