Work inspiration with Geoffrey Smith

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Geoffrey Smith

Graphic designer & photographer @ LookatLao Studio

Hi, my name is Geoffrey Smith and I am a graphic designer and photographer running a small design business in Seattle called LookatLao Studio. I tend to work with people in the restaurant/bar/food/drink business doing everything from branding to websites to photography and then some.

How did you get started in graphic design, photography and development?

My father was a fine artist and my mother worked in computers, so I guess graphic design was somewhere in the middle. I also spent a fair amount of time in photography darkrooms in my spare time. When I graduated high school in the mid-eighties I decided to attend art school in San Francisco. At first I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to study photography or graphic design, but I ended up choosing the latter. This was before computers were a legitimate tool in the workplace, and while it was fun at first, I quickly burned out cutting frisket and filling rapidograph pens—it just wasn’t for me—so I cut my losses. After ten years wandering around, waiting tables, and living overseas, I decided to revisit my long lost design career. This was 1998 and the internet was just taking off for real. Web design fit like a glove. A similar rediscovery happened with digital photography and I was right back where I started. I freelanced for a while and then worked for a Seattle design firm for about 7 years before opening my own business for real.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on some new branding for a soon-to-be-famous Seattle restaurant, a mobile intranet app for chefs to test and catalog recipes, and I’m breaking the mold a bit with a new website for a local UX firm. I also have a personal project about cocktails that is nearly five years overdue. This year it either goes live or gets put down.

What tools and software do you use for your work?

I guess one thing did stick around from art school—I begin every project sketching in a Moleskine notebook with a mechanical pencil. I use the entire Adobe Suite for most everything else. I’m teaching myself Premiere Pro on weekends as I just got a new Nikon D810 and shooting and editing video is the next thing I want to get good at. I write in ByWord. I used to handcode HMTL & CSS in Coda, but I’ve retired that skill set for the most part. I like Things for keeping track of the madness, Evernote for the bits and pieces, and Harvest for handling the cashflow. My Fuji X100 keeps track of the the stuff that isn’t work related.

What is your ideal work environment?

I’m actually designing my dream office right now. It’s still on paper, but I’m talking to some freelance contractors. I work from home, and that does seem pretty ideal. (See sketch.) I do sometimes like the din of a coffee shop for conceptual work.

Geoffrey Smith: graphic design and photography
© photography of sketch by Geoffrey Smith

Where are your favorite places for art?

I honestly don’t seek out much art intentionally, it always seems like the really great stuff will make itself known somehow—it’s part of the culture. I guess maybe I like film, architecture, and comics more than “traditional” art—and that stuff is everywhere! The painter Robert Williams has a great quote: “If it matches the sofa, it’s art. If it demands attention, it’s culture.” I tend to agree with that…

Who are the creatives you admire most?

That’s actually a tough question now that I think about it. I think it changes so much over time. In the old days I was really into Swiss design and grids, so back then I would have said Joseph M?ller Brockmann in a heartbeat. But now, I just don’t care as much about that level of structure (maybe I’ve absorbed it and it’s just a part of me now).

As for purely creative “arty” people I admire? Off the top of my head I’d say Chris Ware, Chipp Kidd, Banksy, Shepard Fairy, Mark Ryden. I like the photography of Michael Wolf quite a bit—and many, many others. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying this guy from Spain, Joan Cornell?, who paints fantastic blackly humorous comic illustrations. He’s my new favorite!

And finally, I’ve just bought a house, so I’ve been studying the work of A. Quincy Jones and Joseph Eichler—both advocates of bringing modern design and architecture to the masses—really interesting stuff. So yeah, I think the influence and the admiration will always be in flux…

See my outdated design portfolio