OWNER/CREATIVE DIRECTOR THINK STUDIO, NEW YORK NY
John Clifford loves to create something out of nothing. He also loves transforming the average into something exceptional, making the complex clear, and turning the ugly into something beautiful. Starting his career in marketing for the music industry, John went back to school to study design, and worked at Chronicle Books and Doyle Partners. Now he’s an award-winning designer/creative director/owner of NYC’s Think Studio, focusing on identity, digital, print, and book design. Clients include Melcher Media, The World Financial Center, mark./Avon, PepsiCo, Second Stage Theatre, and The Monacelli Press. John is the author of Graphic Icons: Visionaries who Shaped Modern Graphic Design, which Fast Company’s Co.Design called one of the best design books of the year. He has also written for 99U, AIGA, Core77, Success, and ArtDesk magazine. He teaches graphic design history and typography.
WHERE OR HOW DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR DESIGN WORK?
Almost anywhere: nature, art, architecture, books, printed ephemera, friends and family, and, of course, the internet. But consistent sources are other graphic designers throughout history ‒ not to copy their styles, but to be informed by their ways of thinking and creative approaches to solving problems.
HOW DOES WHERE YOU WERE BORN, GREW UP OR LIVE NOW AFFECT YOUR DESIGN SENSIBILITY OR STYLE?
I have lived in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. This helps me understand regional differences and similarities, and appreciate great food and funny accents.
Blue. No, gray. No, blue. Gray.
Whichever one solves a particular design problem best
FAVORITE TV SHOW?
I’m not hooked on anything right now
Mine! For design education and inspiration, anything by Ellen Lupton or Steven Heller. For humor, David Sedaris. For fiction, Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore, and J.M. Coetze.
It’s based on what I watch with my six-year-old. Right now, Inside Out and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. And Xanadu, best film ever, but I can’t blame that on the kid.
FAVORITE MUSICIANS OR BANDS?
Tom Waits, Beach House, old Bossa Nova, Pixies, Real Estate, Portishead (still), The Xx
FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA?
FAVORITE FINE ARTISTS?
Kurt Schwitters, Donald Judd, Olafur Eliasson, William Eggleston, Jenny Holzer, Tom Friedman
GREATEST STRENGTH/WEAKNESS AS A DESIGNER?
Strength: my marketing background helps me create designs that work in the real world.
Weakness: optimism about how much I can accomplish in a day.
TALENT YOU WISHED YOU POSSESSED?
Playing the trumpet like Herb Alpert. Can’t be in a bad mood when the Tijuana Brass is playing.
ADVICE TO A YOUNG DESIGNER JUST STARTING OUT?
Push yourself ‒ your first idea is probably not your best. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t end your statements with question marks. Stop looking at your phone. Look around. Listen.
IF NOT A DESIGNER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
A writer. I’m lucky, because I get to do some of that now.
A MANTRA OR SAYING YOU LIVE BY?
Think first, design later. ‒ Ladislav Sutner