By David Washburn
Name: David Conover
Courses: History of Communication Design
It was a 1970s love story with an artistic flair -- David and Celia Conover were classmates and college sweethearts in Arizona State University’s school of design. By the mid 1980s, after they’d graduated and spent a few years bouncing around San Diego’s graphic design scene, the couple realized they had something else in common beyond a love for each other and their work – a strong desire to be independent.
So they started their own firm – which they named StudioConover – and never looked back. Over the past 30-plus years have developed a niche they call “building contexture,” which combines traditional graphic design and branding with exterior design.
How did you get started in your career field?
After Celia and I graduated in 1978 with BFAs in design, we spent a few years working for various firms in various industries. Then one day in 1984, following an afternoon of coffee at a Vietnamese restaurant in San Diego, we were caffeinated enough to start our own firm.
What was your vision for the firm?
Our vision at the time, as 28-year-olds, was to work independently. And we were young and dumb enough to realize that if we stuck to it, we could have our own studio. But we had a lot to learn. In school they taught you what color and topography was, but they didn’t teach you how to negotiate contracts, work out lease agreements, apply for loans and establish credit. And you have to know those things if you want to keep the lights on. You have to know budgets so you’re not designing the champagne labels on a beer budget.
How did you develop the niche of combining traditional graphic design and branding with exterior design?
When we began our firm we were working with a number of developers – San Diego was growing up. In the late 1980s, a developer told us he liked the color of the brochures we designed and asked us what we thought the color of the homes they were building should be. It kind of took off from there…we do on the outside of buildings what interior designers do on the inside – everything from the color of the buildings, roof tile and stucco finish selection, decorative tile work on stairways and pools…there are not a heck of a lot of people doing that.
What did you most enjoy about your profession?
What I love most is answering the question “why?” That is the most important question in virtually any profession. Why are you doing this project? Why is this the budget? Why do you want to reach this particular audience? The answers to those questions define the strategy and direction to take.
What advice would you give someone looking to enter this career field?
Make sure that you love it. You will spend more hours in your work environment than in any place other than sleeping at home. Be curious and always be aware. By that I mean we are in the business of style – so you have to be aware of what is current and be aware of what has been done historically. You need to know these things before you can build something unique for the audience you are trying to reach.
How is your field changing?
New technology and a youthful vision will always compete with you. What hasn’t changed is how design firms want to hire cost efficient, capable talent. Anyone in the business of aesthetics often employs young talent because they are affordable and conscientious of what is current. Always be someone who is curious, aware and technologically adept.
Going forward, what are the challenges facing those who work in your field?
It’s always going to be competitive – both with talent and budget. There are many instances where you can do logos for $5 or get less expensive website design abroad. You must build expertise and constantly look for clients who value your expertise, strategic thinking and efficiencies.
What do you like most about teaching for Extension?
From an artistic standpoint, teaching reminds me of the joy I have when I create something from nothing. I love that expression and I enjoy discussing and debating the profession, its history and the future of design with others.
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