Bobby Martin Jr. & Jennifer Kinon of OCD on 'Designing with Guts'

Bobby Martin Jr. and Jennifer Kinon of OCD share stories from their experience starting their own firm to show how taking chances can lead to a meaningful and successful design career. 


Jennifer Kinon on leaving Pentagram

"Why would someone ever leave Pentagram? Why would you walk away from working with a boss who treats you like a peer? What makes you do that? For me, it was a 'gut' moment - that moment where you make a decision in your life to go after the dream you really want. The tipping point was imagining the very worst thing that could happen: if all else failed, I would have to call and ask for my job back. Once I realized that was the worst possible outcome if I were to make this next move of starting my own firm, I was able to take that step forward."  


Takeaway: "As you're thinking about the next gut decision you're making in your design career, figure out the worst possible outcome and decide if you're okay with it. Then go for it. Even the worst thing is survivable. The worst thing is always survivable." 


Bobby Martin Jr. on the project that launched OCD  

"We say no to nothing. When the Girl Scouts of America called us to work on creating a more robust identity system and tweak the logo originally created by Saul Bass, we had a 'holy sh*t' moment - there was no way I was touching one of the best logos in history. They wanted to move forward and do something new, but we suggested looking at the visual legacy, looking through the archives to figure out the company's defining features. We were able to keep the integrity of the Saul Bass logo, while also moving it forward and representing girls of any race, ethnicity or background. We also proposed the 'cheat sheet' poster - key questions to ask when building a Girl Scout piece, covering the different facets of the identity system - logo, colours, photography, illustration and type."


Takeaway: "We took a chance, we did something bigger than we ever thought we could do, thinking the whole time that we might fall on our asses, or be embarrassed, but just the opposite happened. A lot of that was luck, but it was also the willingness to take a chance." 


Jennifer Kinon on using a message from President Barack Obama to define OCD as a firm

"We're not a big firm, and we're definitely not a behemoth force of numbers. We're a nimble SWAT team, and all that we work on is identity systems. We're going into new industries and figuring out how to create meaning through type and colour and iconography. Through repetition we're getting stronger and stronger at the craft.


When asked to provide a piece of work that defined OCD, we turned to President Barack Obama's fourth of July address. We reflected on how OCD was paralleled in our country, in our president, and we started to realize that small businesses were starting to feel like America's founders. Starting a small business is about putting a stake in the ground to declare something new. In the age of Internet and flexibility, we were putting ourselves on the line, laying down our lives for our freedom. We were declaring that we could be everything that we wanted to be, that we could do what we love, our way, every day. As a firm, OCD found ourselves in that moment." 


Takeaway: "We can offer clients the opportunity to communicate in ways they otherwise couldn't, without our visual and strategic capabilities. As a designer, I have a unique point of view, I can walk into a business and bring them something they don't know, I can teach them about design, about signifiers and visual equity, and open up their services to a whole new group of people who otherwise wouldn't get to know them. No matter how powerless you feel, you have a special understanding, a special skill, that is a powerful economic device right now." 


Bobby Martin Jr. on expanding the company

"We have set up shop and we're running things our way. We make a lot of mistakes, we have a lot of successes, we learn from them and we try to do it again and again. We love making stuff and we're trying to do good things for good people [...] Expanding the company has made us all a little bit better - more open-minded, more nimble. Along the way we have been strategic and methodical about taking chances. Whether you're learning from working at different places and building up experiences or learning from participating as a design entrepreneur right from the start, bringing these things together has made OCD bigger and better." 


Jennifer Kinon on designing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign 

"I knew that when an opportunity like that is presented, I had to follow the 'say no to nothing' credo. It's an invitation to be part of history, and it's scary as hell because what if you lose? What do you do then? You survive. You put yourself out there and you get better for it. The lessons that I learned on that campaign will make me stronger. I stand by every decision we made, because we ran the campaign with integrity. What makes me confident that I led my design team down the right path in such a fraught and difficult election were words from the woman I was there to represent. She talked about the importance of detail. Because every bit of detail in every word choice, every policy, every bill was deliberately directed with the understanding that it affected one more life. Every word that we chose to put out there was put out there deliberately." 


Takeaway: "When we talk about 'designing with guts', it's about making decisions to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. In my case, the worst happened. I was gutsy, I made a decision, I stepped away from a business I loved when I didn't need to. I don't regret even a minute of it. I'm a living example of someone who struck out, but I'm still here. I hope that this will empower you to design with guts as you move forward and make those aesthetic choices with meaning."