Mike Henderson was, born and raised in rural southern Oregon, predestined to attend Oregon State University. Having an interest in art since childhood he transitioned naturally from his start as a computer scientist to graphic designer. After graduating he didn’t venture too far from his roots and started his career in Portland. He has had a wide array of work experiences in the last six years from designing river maps for fishermen to building brands for luxury condo buildings. He found a passion for brand design and strategy while working at Ziba design and then at Owen Jones and Partners, and his desire for learning more has recently brought him to Wieden+Kennedy where he works as a senior designer.
Guitar Melodies On-The-Fly
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BFA in graphic design from Oregon State University.
Which designer (or design studio), other than yours, do you most admire? One of my first design influences was Tolleson Design. I remember buying their Soak, Wash, Rinse, Spin book my sophomore year at OSU. I loved how they used science as inspiration for their work; my dad is a pharmacist and mom is a nurse, so growing up I would see a fair amount of science-based visuals. More recently, I seem to find inspiration anywhere and everywhere.
What’s the strangest request you've received from a client? I can’t say that I have had anything too oddball. Unless you think a Ninja fighting guitar amp logo is strange.
If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? I would probably be doing something else creative. I have too much of an overactive mind for something linear.
What well-known identity is most desperately in need of a redesign? Despite its popularity, Craigslist could use a major facelift.
From where do your best ideas originate? My best ideas come when I can find or make a compelling story, but it always helps to have personal experiences that relate to the ideas. Once the story is there, the visual language can be developed around it.
How do you overcome a creative block? I go for a walk, clear my head for a little while to reset, and then I dig—watch a new movie, go somewhere new, read a new book or play a new song. Sometimes removing myself from the problem will allow me to think outside the constraints and find something new.
What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? I would love to work on an admissions catalog for an art school. Some of the more creative multi-page pieces I’ve seen have been admission catalogs.
Do you have creative outlets other than graphic design? For the last ten years I’ve been playing electric guitar—blues and rock lead to be specific. There’s something really fun and intuitive about coming up with guitar melodies on-the-fly.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? If I can, I try to not take my work home with me; sometimes that’s easier said than done.
What product/gadget can you not live without? I’m not really a gadget guy. I guess I could easily say that I couldn’t live without my Mac. It would be a little hard to work without it.
What’s your favorite quote? “We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds.” —Warren Buffett
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Have integrity, and humility. A huge ego just gets in the way of a good solution, and makes you blind to learning something new.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I’d come out of school with a better understanding of how to sell my ideas through to clients and other creative professionals. Making something beautiful is only half of the solution. Getting someone to buy it is the other half. Unconvinced clients kill great ideas all the time.