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The thoughts, musings, and recent blog posts on design thinking and communications, from the team at NDO*Creative.

NDO Podcast – Ep. 065 – Jon Johnson – "Don't Die Today"​

*On the NDO Podcast, we interview creative entrepreneurs on the story behind their particular craft: the reason(s) they do what they do, how they began their journey, advice they would offer younger creatives, and much more.

This is a snippet of Episode 065 from the NDO* Podcast with Jon Johnson of Bearface Design. If you're from the KW area, you may have seen his various pins done for The Community, his logos around the city, or his posters for The Princess Cinema. We discuss design trends at length, Jon's multiple experiences with designer Aaron Draplin, how "junking" informs his work as a problem-solving apparatus.


Ryan: Being "self-taught", what were those initial days of learning graphic design like for you?

Jon: I learned in a strange, sort of "workmanly" way.

I was the projectionist and manager at The Princess Cinema and they've always had this printed newspaper that comes out. As I was working there, I started to realize that I liked design. Plus, I was making a cut and paste zine with a friend at the time, and realized that on top of design, I loved layout too (even the old-fashioned way with scissors and glue).

I liked figuring out how that layout made sense in regards to the overall idea of what you were trying to accomplish, and it led me to learning a lot more about design in general.

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Then, the guy who did the film layout at Princess was leaving, and since I realized I was good at learning computer software on top of loving design, I convinced the owner of the cinema that I could do [the job]. I had already built up a sense of reliability with him from my other work at The Princess, so he agreed to let me learn on the job and layout things – in Quark!

I sat with the person who was initially responsible for the job, and we did one issue for the cinema – and then they were gone.

So for the next issue, I had to reverse engineer from the final product to the proper techniques themselves. And that was it. On top of that, Jon Kutt (The High Road Design) was leaving Starlight and suggested that I could do work for them (I was cleaning their bathrooms and talked about design with Jon). Literally, my first posters for Starlight were in Quark, cause' that's all I knew how to do at the time.

R: That's so serendipitous that you met Jon and all that happened.

J: I mean, we met and talked for a little while about design, especially as people that have lived in KW for a long time.

And although I haven't been designing for most of my life, you build a network and connections just by living in the area – small businesses here really support each other too. Also, you kinda' get the idea that you can start a small business by hanging out with people that also have small businesses by osmosis.

You talk to enough people and start to understand that you can do it too.

Plus, if you're already friends with people your age who are opening businesses and need design work, but you've already built trust because you listen to the same music, you have the same friends, and they know who you are – it's a fluid process to naturally start working with them.

R: I never really thought about how important that built-in network is until now. You don't start building your network when you begin designing – it happens way before that, even though you don't know it. That's a trip.

Jon Johnson Toronto CN Tower Pin Waterloo Kitchener

J: Before I worked for Starlight, Jane Bond, yoga studios, etc. doing design work – the owners of said places were all friends of mine way before they even had businesses. And all of these businesses were passion-based businesses: showing movies, yoga, bands playing, etc., and you don't do those things because you're looking to get rich, you do those things because you just want to share those things with people.

R: Exactly! Whether it's Alnoor at LOOP Clothing or Erin/Justin at Him & Her, you can tell they immensely enjoy the work that they do.

J: I didn't start designing pins and patches for myself because I figured I'd be rich; I did it because I just wanted to share things I figured other people would find interesting and useful.

There's a great community of designers around here that support each other, talk about design with each other, and want to help.


For the full interview and more podcast episodes, hit the link below.

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