Interview with Empirical Designs Owner Nick DePalo
In NYC Serp‘s new interview series, we’ll be interviewing expert New York graphic designer Nick DePalo of Empirical Designs. His agency specializes in providing graphic design services for businesses, including logo design, branding, advertising, and marketing materials for physical and digital mediums. Check out this interview below to find out how DePalo started his journey into the graphic design industry.
Empirical Designs Logo Design
What inspired you to start your career as a graphic designer?
For a large part of my teenage years and into my early 20s I was in a band, and like most young bands we were very broke. So as we developed and put out music I designed our first logo design, EP covers and shirt designs, basically to cut corners and save some money. I got better at it over time, and other bands started to contact me to design stuff for them. I eventually began doing design work for the record label we were signed to, and as my band more or less broke up I began taking design more seriously and over the course of a few years it evolved into a full time business.
How did designing your bands album artwork help your band?
Most local bands album artwork is terrible. That’s just a fact. Often bands get noticed because of their look, even if that is just online. I like to think that having a slightly better than terrible album artwork and shirts helped us gain the smallest bit of success.
The Everyday Anthem Album Artwork
Why did you start Empirical Designs?
I became really passionate about design and I had the belief in myself that I could be self taught and successful and do something I liked doing (and would probably do for free) into a business. I can’t stress enough how important it is for me, to do something I love for a living. It’s really engaging and rewarding, but like anything else there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with those trade offs.
What do you think entrepreneurs should know before starting a brand / business?
That you will never get to clock out. Ever. Most people are not prepared to work hard enough to make themselves successful. It’s not they’re not hard working people, it’s just that if you really sit down and analyze how much time you need to invest into anything to be truly great at it, and compete in such oversaturated markets, most people are not prepared to make THAT kind of investment.
What does your typical logo design process look like?
Typically, a logo design or a brand identity gets developed in these five steps:
Step One – Mood Board
First, I create a mood board using inspiration from different brands, companies, logos, and visuals from the client’s field. I use this to outline a rough idea of the look we’re going for as well as informs us who the target audience is and how to reach them.
Step Two – Garbage Drafts
This is a series of very rough drafts, aimed at concept development. Basically I will sketch out a ton of ideas to see what works and what doesn’t. The client and I use this as a launching board to identify ideas that are worth further development.
Step Three – Concept Development
I then design and render initial logo concepts, so we can visualize the ideas and narrow the concepts down to the one which we’ll move forward with.
Step Four – Revisions
Depending on the details of the project, the cost of a logo design includes rounds of revisions, so I have the opportunity to tweak the branding to the clients liking and work out all the kinks.
Step Five – Finalization
After the logos have been revised and approved by the client, I will render and provide them with all the files they need to ensure they have the right stuff for each scenario they’ll encounter as a business owner.
What are some common misconceptions about the graphic design industry?
I think that graphic designers as a whole do a bad job of explaining what we’re doing and why we’re doing it when it comes to the design process. I have clients who have legitimately terrible design ideas and concepts, and it’s our job as designers to manage expectations, educate our clients on certain design decisions, and to be the expert they’ve hired us to be. Many clients will push for their ideas to be incorporated or in the fore-front, and sometimes part of designing something great for that client is to explain to them, kindly, and professionally, why they’re wrong and why you have the right solution. Be open to changes, and revisions, but don’t button up when you know what the client wants will look bad or be wrong for them.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve had the opportunity to create designs for Flo Rida, Martha Stewart, Pratt & Whitney, The University of Maryland, Old Bay Seasoning, Pabst Brewing Company, Barstool Sports, NFL QB Carson Wentz, Pro Baseball Player Adam Jones, Thy Art Is Murder, and I Set My Friends On Fire. Those are some of my favorite projects.
T-Shirt design for Thy Art Is Murder
What challenges do you deal with as a designer?
It’s a grind and sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. I’m always anxious about doing enough and impressing clients, and sometimes I can end up spending more time than I need to on concept development and really fine-tuning details before they really need to be set in stone. As a designer, I’m very much a work in progress and part of the thing I love is trying to get better each and every day.
Are there any graphic designers that have influenced your work in some way?
Some of my favorite designers and design agencies include Brandon Rike, Nick Steinhardt, Fanbrandz, Todd Radom, Invisible Creature, Eric Bodamer, Pentagram, Brian Steely, Don Pendleton, Mighty Short, and Shepard Fairey. They’ve all influenced my work in one aspect or another.
What advice would you give to an aspiring graphic designer? Is there anything you wish you knew?
I wish I knew that there wasn’t a formula. Since I was self taught, for a long time I had this impression of design school that people attended to learn the “secret formula” for creating great designs. I was wrong. Design can’t be broken down into a formula. There are guidelines, there are tried-and-true techniques, but there is no formula or recipe to create a great design or become a great designer.