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If you have a degree in what field is it? A BFA in graphic design from Rhode Island School of Design.

Which designer (or design studio), other than yours, do you most admire? I’ve been enjoying the work from a number of studios here and abroad, though a few stick-out as particularly successful: WSDIA here in New York seems to have the right idea—working through a multi-disciplinary lens is one of the best ways to keep work engaging for you and your clients, and those folks are knocking it out of the park on a regular basis. I realize many designers prefer to work within one medium, and that's what I’ve done historically until relatively recently, when I decided that I’d personally prefer to continue to be as broad as possible. I think another group that has a collection of amazing work but that goes relatively unnoticed is NR2154 in Copenhagen; they created the identity for last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009. And far and away I can’t think of a more admirable thinker and stunningly sophisticated designer than Kenya Hara.

What’s the strangest request you've received from a client? This isn’t particularly strange, it was just lucky. I was asked to spend a week in Monte Carlo overseeing a corporate client’s exhibition on-site. As it turned out, I wasn’t required to spend as much time as the work originally dictated, but the short hours, exotic cars, craps tables and scenic views took a serious toll on my work/life balance.

If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? At one point a few years back I was seriously considering breaking up with design and pursuing a job in Santa Barbara. There’s a boutique off of State Street that has an amazing collection of vintage and contemporary furniture, artifacts and artwork which they collect during their various international travels and I semi-secretly wanted to be a buyer for them. If that hadn’t worked out, perhaps I would have tried for something at John Derrian Company. As much as I enjoy the idea of diversified media for my own design work, my comfort zone might always be physical objects, spaces and experiences, (which suggests all the more reason to step outside of that).

What well-known identity is most desperately in need of a redesign? Most desperately? I'm sure this isn’t the most dire situation, but my commute takes me past a series of American Airlines billboards; I can only take the same campaign for so long and as much as I enjoy looking at ten-foot-high bold italic Helvetica that spells out Hong Kong, I think they (and the travel industry in general) could use a little help.

From where do your best ideas originate? Honestly I can’t pinpoint the location. I try to keep a small journal with me most of the time, and it captures a lot of thoughts, conversations, quotes, random sightings and miscellaneous ideas that become sketches. A lot of initial thinking comes from that little book. The sources of solutions to various projects I’m involved with might begin to collect that way, but most ideas with any potential only get better via discussion, and with other people’s insights and collaboration. As much as I can enjoy working on my own, often the best work comes from having people to bounce ideas off of.

How do you overcome a creative block? Exercise. I try to do it regularly regardless, though I rarely do. If I’m stuck it’s typically because I’ve been sitting in front of the screen for too long. In all likelihood I then realize that I haven’t been outside yet that day and probably haven’t been to the gym in at least three weeks, so I take a shower, clean my house and two hours later I’m ready to go—after that if I can’t find anything else to procrastinate with, I’ll go running.

What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? Mind you, this changes on a weekly basis. Lately, I’ve been wanting to do an integrated branding project for a boutique tailor. Besides the usual collateral, I’d work on the interior space, clothing tags, perhaps help inform some limited-edition articles of clothing and definitely some custom cufflinks.

Do you have creative outlets other than graphic design? Try not to judge too harshly. Write.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I was actually planning on reading the other 123 Insights articles to date, to see if someone had figured this one out. So far, I’m unsuccessful. From what I gather, it’s being able to put some of that perfectionist personality trait aside (on a regular basis) and make sure you’re not only doing something totally unrelated to design, but that you actually enjoy it. Plus I’ve heard spending time with other people is a good thing, which I try to remind myself occasionally. To be honest, I am getting a grip on it, but I’ve also got more work to do.

What product/gadget can you not live without? A #2 pencil, as long as its somehow attached to a manual transmission Audi.

What’s your favorite quote? I really don’t have one, but recently I’ve been going with Oscar Wilde’s “I am not young enough to think I know everything.”

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? I have my own experience which is still relatively fresh in my mind, but I’ve also seen a lot of young designers entering the field lately. Having an appetite—being hungry—is incredibly important. First and foremost you’ve got to want to grow, but you also need to recognize that much of what you think you need to know only comes from experience.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That I could make more mistakes, and that it might actually be a good thing if I did. I was convinced that each step of my career needed to be on a set, predetermined course—this firm, then that agency, then this award show, etc. In retrospect, it can drive you nuts and it’s just not the best way to approach your work. That said, there isn't a “right” way to do any of it, it’s simply what feels right for you individually and what makes you happy.
Michael Freimuth is an art director, designer and occasional illustrator living and working in New York City. Though currently at Tender, a creative agency in Manhattan, he's a relatively recent transplant from Chicago and keeps in close touch with his Windy City colleagues by working as the creative director-at-large for the contemporary arts publication, Proximity magazine, and as one of two curators for Materiel, a broadside creative journal. In addition to Tender, he's been lucky enough to work with a number of talented individuals and incredibly motivated creative groups such as Grady Campbell and VSA Partners in Chicago and has also benefited from some generous industry press and recognition.
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