Diego Segura goes through the doors that open
Diego Segura is a design apprentice at Collins, an independent strategy and brand experience design company with offices in New York City and San Francisco. In this episode, Diego describes how he discovered graphic design, his decision to drop out of high school, and what it’s like being an apprentice at a prestigious branding and design company.
This episode begins with a short conversation with Brian Collins, founder of Collins. Brian shares his side of Diego’s story—how Diego first got in touch, how he became a full-time employee, and why, on one of their early days together, Brian took him out to run errands throughout New York City.
After a short intro from Brian, the interview with Diego begins. I was eager to get Diego’s backstory—it’s fascinating (and inspiring) to hear how he got from a small town outside Austin, Texas to Collins in New York City. Along the way, he emailed with Michael Beirut, did multiple remote internships, and wrote The Dropout Manifesto (“a chronicle of [my] crazy junior year”).
We also talked about the importance of agencies and design studios looking outside the traditional design schools, like SVA and RISD—schools Diego wasn’t even aware of when he was in high school—for new talent.
The level of talent who reaches out to me personally, because they see I’m the design apprentice on the [Collins] website—the level of talent is insane. They are so, so, so good. … There’s no doubt they can add value. It’s just, they didn’t come from the same places that all the other designers came from, and we’ve gotta be okay with that.”
– Diego Segura
To learn more about Collins, visit their website. You can learn more about Diego (and see some of his work) at diegosegura.me and you can follow him on Twitter. If you’re interested in checking out Diego’s book, The Dropout Manifesto, it’s available on Amazon, as is his second book, To a Man Much Like Myself.
Below, you’ll find a partial transcript of the episode (may contain typos and/or transcription errors). A full transcript will follow.
Click above to listen to the episode, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or elsewhere to hear every episode of How Brands Are Built.
- Squadhelp. To begin a business name contest with hundreds of business naming experts, and start receiving custom named suggestions, instantly.
Disclosure: Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning How Brands Are Built receives a commission if you make a purchase through the links, at no cost to you. Please read our disclaimer for more information.
DIEGO SEGURA EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (FEATURING BRIAN COLLINS)
BRIAN COLLINS: It’s so interesting to me, the number of young designers who are fluent to start looking at this career in junior high school or even high school, and because of the transparency and the ease of the interfaces of so many of the design programs and systems.
So many young people teach themselves and because there’s so many good tutorials, whether it’s from any of the brands, whether it’s Figma, which is, you know, which is incredible. Adobe, any of the software tools that people use. The students and high school students and even junior high school students are teaching them all of these, all of these skills.
So we’ve oddly become because probably because of our work with Twitch and Spotify, where we seem to be well-known to high school students who want to pursue a career in design. So we got a phone call and an email from. You get scores of them actually, from those who want to know about how you, how do you start a career in design?
And Diego’s was, was particularly interesting because he’d sent a video and it was a long video. There might’ve been like 20 or 15 minutes. And I said, I’m not going to look at a 15 or 20 minute video, but send me, send me one that’s less than five minutes. And two days later, I got an edited five minute video from Diego Segura a high school student. Who’s the child of an immigrant parent from Mexico. He grew up near Austin and he’s fascinated by design board while high school. And he wanted to work with us that summer as, as an intern. So I said to him, well, when you’re in New York sometime, you know, I’d be very happy to meet you, to consider you for, for our internship program.
So, you know, that would be the end of it because I really could only work with interns who were either in San Francisco or in New York. I got a phone call. Like on a Friday, they said bright. Yup.are you open this afternoon? Like, what do you mean? I’m in New York, he said the first money he brought his mother and they flew to New York.
He made this money. He works after like he works after school. He does like some freelance work. He put his money away and he flew he and his butter. He was 17. He flew to New York and he waited in my lobby until I had time to meet with him. He weighed aggressively all afternoon assertive. And I said, okay.
I came out to meet him. And it was a very nice meeting. He showed me his book. He’d written this book called The Dropout Manifesto. He was self published that look at his work and for high school students, I think he was doing second year college student design work easily, easily, second year of college design, like, well, and he was 17.
I’m like, all right. I said, this is really interesting. Let me think about it. This is still the spring is that. Thank you very much. It was nice meeting you. And I let it go. And he called me up and he said, well, are we going to make this happen? I said, yes. And he said, okay, well, let me think about it. And so he, he said, are you gonna be around next week?
And I said, yes, he, he came back to New York and he said, are you free today? I said, what can I come and talk with you? Yeah. He just showed up again in New York city on a Saturday. I said, sure, I’ll make some time. And I wanted to know exactly how serious this kid was. So I did what I sometimes do with someone.
Is I do errands in New York on a Saturday. I just walk around. I go bookstores, I’ll go to a store. I’ll go shopping. I said, this is what I do on a Saturday. Do you want to join me? And he said, sure. I basically walked around New York city with him. He’s hung out with me all day. Long as I went to bookstores, shopping, got some food.
We had dinner. We bumped into friends that I knew at the end of that day, he put up with everything. And then I brought him back to the team. He interviewed with all the creative directors and you Casola Chappelle. And he said, this kid should be an intern. So,he came to New York, he got himself an apartment and he was an intern that summer,Collins, justice, Trinity.
That’s great. Yeah. And then he was so good. He did not want to go to college. And so we extended the internship into an apprenticeship. He, so over-delivered and still works so hard at our members of our team. Really liked him. We made him a full-time employee at the beginning of last year. So he started in January of 2020 as a full-time associate designer as part of our apprenticeship program.
And he’s used stuff. He has to do his sip. He has to read his stuff. He has to right. But, you know, if you’ve seen the redesign of medium, you’ve seen his work wow. At 18 years old. So now he also did that with the other members of the team who were just like remarkable and,George Lavern, true. And Nick X who led that team, welcomed him into that work.
And so I think we’ve had a good opportunity to create a space for young people to kind of. Work together.
ROB MEYERSON: Well, that’s great. And I’m looking forward to talking to Diego and hearing about his personal story and his experience.
BRIAN COLLINS: Yeah, I think it was good. You know, I think Diego’s life has changed. He was, you know, a high school student, maybe a year and a half ago, in Austin. Now he’s an associate designer with an apartment in Brooklyn.
ROB MEYERSON: Now that you’ve heard that little intro from Brian, here’s Diego Segura design apprentice at Collins.
Diego, Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.
DIEGO SEGURA: Thank you, Rob. Appreciate you having me.
R: So we just talked to Brian, and I heard from his perspective a lot about Collins and he talked a little bit about you. But I’d love to hear just from your point of view, can you start by telling us just a little bit about yourself, your background, your design experience, and so on?
D: Yeah, for sure. So I’m Diego, I’m the apprentice currently at Collins. I’m from Austin, Texas, about 30 minutes outside of the city, a relatively small suburb outside of Austin called Leander, Texas. So, needless to say, it is the furthest away you could possibly get from the high design brand, you know, world that is New York City.
Yeah. And so that was my background.the backdrop through which I kind of learned about. Design was, you know, in the suburbs just going to school pretty normal life. But then I kind of discovered design, you know, through the internet and YouTube and started to teach myself. And one thing led to another and I ended up here doing this apprenticeship and it’s been pretty fantastic.
R: So did you, you said you started to learn about design, when you were living in Texas, did you take design classes and. You know, growing up or in high school or anything like that, or was it really through your own research online?
D: No classes, no formal training.it’s funny that you ask I’ve, I’ve revisited this introduction to graphic design and it’s actually one of the questions I really love to ask other graphic designers or creative in general is how did you discover the thing that you do?
And I think graphic design is an oddly specific skillset. Photography. Every family had a camera. And so you, you probably were exposed to a camera as a young person, and took a specific liking to it.or maybe the game of chess. You had a chess board at your family home.graphic design is, is not something that you naturally run into on a Saturday night.
But as a kid, the way I ran into graphic design was actually because I hung out on these hacking forums because as a third grader, I wanted to be, you know, some sort of programmer developer, hacker. I was just fascinated with computers and on these hacking forums. They always had graphic design sections and I’m not sure exactly what the overlap was between selling and legal credit cards and graphic design.
R: Well, you gotta be able to design a realistic looking credit card, right?
D: Apparently I’m sure some of these guys are doing fake IDs and all sorts of crazy stuff. So through that, I started to see these really cool, you know, I don’t remember. I don’t know if you remember, you know, being on message boards and people had their little signatures at the bottom of the messages.
Yeah. People would make all these custom, like, you know, little banners that they put down with their, with their cool usernames. And it was all matrix looking because they were on hacking forums and want it to look like the most elite,you know, program or in the community. And so that was kinda my introduction to graphic design.
And so sure enough, I started making banners for these people on the forums. They were awful. They were awful cheesy. I was using just defiant and, you know, whatever free funds I could find on the internet, it was awful, but it was really, really fun. I used to make myself a new. Forum banner every couple of days.
And it was fascinating to me. And I had gotten started with gimp, the GNU image manipulation program as RIAs can be. And that, that was my start. And I didn’t take it too seriously. It’s not that I’ve learned about graphic design per se. I just knew I wanted to make these forum banners. And I knew I wanted to make a, you know, little logos for myself and I used to play video games.
You’d have me and my friends would make a team and we would.I would design a logo for the team and it was all,kind of branding from a young age, but I didn’t take it too seriously at that point. But at least that was an introduction.later on when I did Kindle and interesting graphic design. I kind of knew where to start.
R: Right. I mean, I’m sure you didn’t know, you probably didn’t have the terminology to, to call it, graphic design or branding and, and maybe he didn’t know that you could even do that for a living, but then once you saw it, I, I assume it all kind of clicked like, Oh, this, this is what I want to do.
D: A hundred percent. Yeah. Well, quickly I can touch on the, you know, when that clicked. Yeah. Later on when I did my first. Internship.it was really just a summer job at a home builder in Austin, Texas. And I got to work in the office. I’m 16 years old. Mind you, the introduction to all these hacking forums and graphic design.
I was probably 10, 11 years old. I’m now learning the internet uninhibited by any privacy, you know, parental restrictions, you know, for, for better and for worse. And at 16, I did this internship and. I was working on spreadsheets, Rob. It was, it was awful. I was plugging in numbers and just exporting things over.
I’d written some programs in Python to make the work faster. And so I had quite a bit of free time by the end of my internship because I had automated. Most of the antiquated process. And then I remembered that I loved graphic design and there was some sort of t-shirts somebody who’s making, they wanted to do a t-shirt.
And so I kind of jumped on the opportunity to, to mock up some persons at this t-shirt and people thought it was really cool and I don’t have the files anymore. I’m sure it was awful, but I was more aware of kind of the business world. I knew what a freelancer was. I knew what.you know, I knew what it meant to actually make money.
At that point that summer, I had also bought myself a new laptop from my money doing that, that summer job. And so it was at that point when it clicked that, like you said, I started to put this skill that I had kind of used on and off over the years to make random, cool stuff for myself and really say, well, Hey, I could actually make some money.
If I made, you know, $500 doing a logo. That’s awesome. And I could do that in school, you know, while still in high school. Of course the school didn’t last long, but that’s, that’s another tip.
R: Well, yeah, let’s talk about that. Cause what I, what I’d love to know is how you got from small town, Texas to New York City and Collins.
And I understand you didn’t go to college, but I’m not sure. Sort of what the decision making process was. Did you move to New York without a job just to experience New York, or did you find out about Collins and that’s what brought you to New York? How did that connection happen? Sure.
D: The bullet point version is this: Didn’t go to college, didn’t finish high school properly.
So I, after that, I guess it kind of starts at that internship. I went back to school, high school for my junior year.17 years old I’m I’ve realized that I could possibly hone this design skillset and make some money. And I think within a couple months I did get somebody to pay me to do a logo and I made like 500 bucks and it became very real when you get your first little paycheck from,doing design.
And so that year I remember distinctly walking into my art teacher, my, into my art teacher’s classroom. I was. Very quick to go grab a marker and go to the whiteboard. I said, Ms. Caisson, come here. I’m going to show you my plan. I’m going to be a graphic designer by the end of the year. And I’m not going to go to my senior year of high school.
And she said, what of course you’re going to do? You’re going to graduate. You’re not going to, you know, but I mean, yeah, I want you to do cool things, but you’re going to graduate. I said, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Ms. And here’s what’s going to happen. And so I wrote up on the board. I wrote a three bullet points.
I don’t remember exactly what it was. I think it was theory, practice and portfolio, very McKinsey way of explaining, you know, but mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. I was, I don’t know why I was so structured about this, but I said, I’m going to learn the theory of design. I’m going to go get books.
I’m going to go read on the internet. I’m gonna learn about composition and all these art terms that she had been teaching us about. I’m going to practice. Of course, every day, I’m going to do a logo a day for X amount of days and portfolio. I’m going to turn the theory and the practice into something tangible that I can show companies in the area.
Yeah. And so that was my threefold plan to, to get a graphic design internship by the next year. And of course the part that is grossly left out of that is probably the most key. Which is networking. I’m 17 years old in Leander, Texas. There are no hyper talented, brand designers, the likes of the people at Collins, Pentagram, Mother, you know, they’re just not in Leander, Texas.
And so the, the other, you know, big prong of that was I had to reach out to people in Austin. And luckily I wasn’t, you’re a major right city
R: known for creativity and design.
D: A hundred percent. And so I was close enough to it that I started. E-coli emailing everybody, everybody, everybody, I know founders CEOs.
There’s a place called the capital factory in Austin, which is just startups on startups. And I started to get in touch with them. I remember this one guy invited me down to the Capitol factory, spent like a whole day with me, introducing me to different founders. He took me to some some Techstars event.
I, of course I wasn’t old enough to drink, so they gave me a drink. And then here I am standing next to the guy who invented ethernet or something, I forget, but I was just networking and network. And of course, every time I used my age, I at 17 years old, this is what I’m trying to do. And everybody loved it.
Right. It’s Austin. It’s very, forward-thinking.so I did that and I even remembered, I went to the Pentagram office.
R: They have an office in Austin.
D: Yup. They do DJs outruns the office. And I, I drove up there and I just showed up cold and just knocked on the door. And that office manager looked me up and down and to get the hell outta here, like w do you have an appointment?
And I said, no, no. I was just wondering if somebody, you know, Wanting to wanting to help me out. You know, maybe tell me a little bit about design. I had no idea any of these shooed me away so quickly, but at one point I got a little bit more ambitious and the wonderful part of that is that it wasn’t a year later that I had kind of skipped the ladder.
I wasn’t reaching out to office managers. I was reaching out to whoever’s email. I could find, and I reached out to Michael Beirut. Michael Beirut returned many of my emails. And then finally I said, can you introduce me to DJ, to DJ stout in Austin? Yeah. He gave me his email. I emailed DJ and all of a sudden, a year later I had an appointment in the same office manager.
I said, do you remember me? Last year? I showed up cold and you shoot me away. But now I have an appointment. She said, no shit. She remembered the day. She knew exactly what it was. She said, no shit. I can’t believe it. That is just wild. So. That was really the important part of, you know, I had all these things working for me as far as teaching myself design, but inevitably I needed the network.
Right. And so ultimately how I got out of school and didn’t return to my senior year was this, I had written a book, someone I had met at some entrepreneurial meetup of some sort in the area. He had mentioned how easy it was to self publish books on Amazon. Now. And how you could write them and get a copywriter and hire an editor.
And I wrote most of my, myself, and then I hired an editor to, to work on it with me. And I wrote The Dropout Manifesto, which was my manifesto about why wasn’t going to go to college, let alone high school. But really it was just a book about here’s what I’m doing to educate myself. And I’m making incredible progress.
That I wouldn’t be making, if I was focusing on my biology assignments right now, because personally, I don’t care about that. This is what I’m trying to go do, and this is how I’m going to do it. And I wrote about how I was reaching out to these people, how I would find these people’s emails. It was just a chronicle of that kind of crazy junior year. Okay. Reach out to with David self, a wonderful founder in Austin, Texas. And he gave me my first job. I worked there for four months as a designer and a copywriter in Austin, right on sixth street. And, yeah, from there, I, I did it another remote internship, and then I reached out to Brian Collins, the same way I reached out to everybody and kind of sold him on the idea of bringing me to Collins for an apprenticeship.
R: In brief. What, what was behind the decision? You know, what was the other rush, I suppose to do this your junior year, as opposed to. Finishing high school and then doing it. Did you just really feel that high school was not worth your time? And so why not start now? Or was there something else motivating that?
D: Yeah, it was, it really was dead simple that I, I felt like I would be wasting my time horribly. I always felt like I was wasting my time at school. That’s not to say that I didn’t have some fantastically influential teachers, some really smart ones.one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Hunt, shout out if you’re listening.
One of the most incredibly intelligent people I ever met in my entire life, he was a debate teacher of mine. And so it was great in that respect, but at the same time when I was networking and I say, networking loosely, I hate the term, but I was reaching out to people saying hello, asking them questions.
And I was meeting more fascinating people. Day to day, probably I would show up to class at 9:00 AM and at nine 30, I’d have something on the calendar. And so I’d just walk out of class and take a call and I wish I could find some screenshots of my calendar. I’m sitting, I’m a high school student. I should be doing my homework and I literally have four or five, six meetings a day with founders.
Anybody I could get in, you know, CMOs, marketing directors, design directors, topographer anybody. Anywhere, they would take a little 15 minute calls with me. And I had asked him, how did you get into design? How’d you do this? What would you recommend? How should I do? My portfolio has all sorts of questions.
Five, six calls a day. It was insane. And my teachers, luckily, most of them were pretty supportive. They didn’t ask a lot of questions, I think because if you have the audacity to walk out and just have the phone to your ear, People think it’s really important for me. Of course it was a no, surely wasn’t an emergency.
R: Let’s talk about getting to Collins. So you said you reached out to Brian Collins, I assume you maybe reached out to other to others at the same time.and Brian was one of the ones that responded and maybe one of the ones who were most interested in,Can you talk a little bit about what it was like starting out at Collins and sort of why you think whether it’s an apprenticeship program or an internship program, why programs like this are important and useful?
D: For sure. So first of all, you know, what was the start? So again, it’s, it’s, it’s a little bit more than an in high school internship because the high school internship is.has a really very simple and beautiful goal, which is to bring young people who are interested in art and maybe showing promise in art, or graphic design or any, any sort of.
A creative endeavor and then bringing them into a real creative studio and showing them, the world as it is in, in, you know, creative professions. So for example, Sophia and Caesar, who were,high school interns at the same time that I had started my apprenticeship. Cesar was working on all sorts of crazy illustration, beautiful art.
And he very much was unaware of the world of graphic design. As I know it, for example, of course I had entered it through.you know, reaching out to these people and learning more about all the students. I knew pentagram and, and Anne Walsh Sagmeister and Walsh before they were an well, I knew all about that.
And so I kind of took it for granted that I understood the professional space of the design world. And for example, Sophia and Cesar were just a little less aware of that because they hadn’t been exposed to it’s it’s not through any fault of their own. Right. It’s just. They hadn’t been exposed to that.
And so the goal of that internship is to bring them in and expose them to everything we can find, for them, which is, you know, having them shadowing client meetings and having them learn about different studios and different designers and every designer in the room, mentors, those interns. And it’s fantastic.
It’s amazing. That said my star was a little different simply because one, it had never been done before, but two. Nobody exactly knew what to expect. So I had a portfolio, but it surely wasn’t of the quality of some of the young people that Collins is hired in the past. I was able to perform work and do InDesign and illustrator and Photoshop.
I didn’t need any training per se there though. At the same time it was.I mean, everybody was unsure of exactly what I could do or what I can handle again, because I hadn’t gone to school. Right. I didn’t have a true portfolio. I hadn’t been guided by any sort of professors on this is what you should show in your portfolio.
This is how you should do it. I very much sold my way in and said, take a chance. I’ll figure it out as I go. And if you think I’m capable of that, then it’ll all work out. Okay. So my star was,the first week I just shadowed. In different meetings. I followed Tom around and I would listen to any client call that he was on and listened to him, present work, and see the word that they were presenting.
And then the wonderful, incredibly talented Leo Porto took some time to let me kind of look over his shoulder and see what he was working on. And at one point he was teaching me, you know, these little tricks and shortcuts and he was like, do you know that one already? I was like, yeah, I’ve done that before.
And a couple more like that when you would kind of gut check and say, you already know this don’t you? Well, I mean, yeah, I’m not saying I know. No, but I mean, I’m aware. And so I’ve looked back at my calendar from those days and I realized that it was about two weeks in which I never would have expected, but it was about two weeks in before Leo was putting himself in my calendar and handing me, you know, a brand guidelines he was wearing.
I said, you do it. Yeah. I remember telling him. Yeah. I don’t know how to do that. I’ve never done a Brank Island. He goes, yeah, but let’s be on. You can do it. You know, he, he was, he believed in me way more than I believe in myself. My star was Leo handing me these things and saying, well, just go for it.
You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it. Just, you know, go for it. And then of course he would critique the work and come by and take a look at it and we’d make edits. And then I started to learn by seeing how he would make edits. And so, yeah, it was very much trial by fire. And then the more Leo gave me the more I got to do.
And the more he trusted me with the work that turned into, you know, working on a packaging project that he was on for many months. And then I ended up doing a lot of that even after he wasn’t on the project anymore. So the key to the start as an apprentice, when nobody knows exactly what you’re capable of.
And frankly, I didn’t know what I could do. That’s why I doubted myself so much when Leo handed me simple tasks and that’s not to say I was running an entire design team or design system by any means, but it was just that little belief that Leah said, well, here, take this one small task and do that. And then do a slightly bigger one.
So on and so forth. And very soon it turned into late nights at the office. Just like anybody else.
R: Yeah. It really speaks volumes of Collins that they were able to frankly, take a risk on you. I mean, in your own words, they sort of didn’t know what to make of you. You didn’t, you didn’t have.you hadn’t gone to design school, they couldn’t get references from design professors that you had had.
They’d seen your portfolio, but you know, they didn’t know what you were capable of. It sounds like you didn’t even know what you were capable of at the time. I’m just wondering is, is a big part of these internships or maybe more specifically what Collins has done with you just. Is it changing the design industry.
And this was something that Brian spoke to a bit in that it’s bringing less traditionally trained people in and frankly, maybe bringing more diversity to the industry, even from a age, gender and racial standpoint, because it’s not relying on that very traditional Avenue of you go to high school, you graduate, you go to design school, you graduate, then you get an internship at a, or, or, you know, your first job at a design studio.
D: Yeah, for sure. When this, and this gets back to your question on like, why is an apprenticeship like this important? And the simple answers for me is this. And this is from personal experience. I had no idea at 16, 17 years old, what SVA was art center. I had no idea about Parsons. These were not on my radar. The only thing that was on my radar was the guidance counselor saying, “Hey, you have pretty good grades. You could get into a lot of great schools and you’re automatically accepted into UT.” You know, all that stuff, the standard college stuff coming out of high school. I had no idea that these things were available. So it’s funny that when I was. Out of high school for a year already joining Collins, people said, well, why didn’t you go to art school?
I said, to be completely frank, I made my dropout decision before I knew any of those things existed. I didn’t even know you could go to school really for design, which sounds stupid, but it just wasn’t, I wasn’t thinking about it. And so when you look at the broader industry, I would venture to guess that the people who get into design somehow were made aware of it at well, obviously they were made aware of it at one point.
And I would guess that a lot of lower income high schools, for example, the high school I went to was the lowest income in our district. We weren’t made aware of those things. Maybe as much as we could have been, or should’ve been. And so it’s a clear discrepancy. Between going to a wealthy school where, Oh yeah, my, you know, my friend is the director of marketing, you know, my friend’s mom is the director of marketing at some massive corporation.
And so they’re aware of that. Right. And so. What you end up with is of course the, the ideal thing is that we reform, you know, K–12 education in a lot of ways. That’s kind of where I stand on. You know, we need to do a better job of preparing people for the real world, but also giving them a truly holistic education.
That’s why it always felt like I was waiting my time at school.
R: Yeah. But I mean, we’re in a long-term solution though, right? It’s not going to happen,
D: not a long-term solution. The short term solution is this the people who didn’t discover. Design, when they were in high school, making a decision about college.
A lot of them skills still discovered it somehow. And so I get a lot of people reaching out to me via email who find me on the Collins website and say, you’re a design apprentice. I would love that. That sounds like my ideal role. And I always ask them, well, how did you discover design? A lot of them had no idea until 22, 23.
They met somebody who went to design school and now they want to do it. And it turns out they’re teaching themselves and getting really, really good. Rob really, really good. And they’re not doing it by paying a lot of money for design school. They’re doing it by teaching themselves, meeting other designers, getting better, getting critiques.
It’s pretty insane. How much better you can get at graphic design, you know, from scratch right
R: For free. For free or relatively cheap. Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, I’ve had a very similar experience, I suppose. I mean, my, my trajectory was very different than yours, but, and I’m not a designer, but just in, in the fact that I had no idea that branding was a thing and most brand strategists that I’ve met,throughout my career almost, uh it’s you know, it’s almost to a, to a person they’ve quote unquote fell into it.
You know they were trying, they were shooting for something else. And just kind of somehow got bumped off that path into brand strategy and thought, Oh, this is fantastic. This is what I really want to do. And it had, I only known it existed now, maybe that’s less and less common these days, but,but yeah, I think a point that I’ve made many times, it’s just that I think what I wish I had known growing up was just the incredible diversity of occupations out there, you know, I think, yeah, I really, you know, even children’s books, you know, they say you can be all these things, but it’s always the same 30 things, right? It’s like you can be a postal worker or a teacher or a, you know, a fireman, right. I’m a scientist quote, unquote. But even within each of those.
There’s a thousand shades of what it means to be that kind of, to be in that world. And so I think, you know, just like you say, designer, I mean, designer is, is what like 5,000 different jobs probably.so I think knowing that sooner would be really useful.
D: A hundred percent on doubted the, I had an advantage by figuring something out that I wanted to do.
Young Collins was small enough where Brian still had the time to personally champion a young person who he thought would be a good apprentice through the organization. And if it wasn’t for that, it would’ve been a problem. Collins was also big enough. That they weren’t a tiny studio where they can’t really afford to take a risk like that.
So it was kind of the perfect organization to test pilot, something like this. And of course, after six months, I, you know, was able to, to work on some of these projects. And I would say provide a lot of value. Again, I’m significantly younger than all the other designers. So by all means I lack experience.
I would never in a million years claim that I am as good as some of the people I work with. These are the most talented designers I’ve ever met and a lot of designers. So there’s that challenge. At the same time I’ve been able to provide value. And so the message then is for all those studios, smaller studios, or even larger ones that you get someone reaching out to you, a young kid who’s.
And when I say young kid, that doesn’t even mean a kid per se, that just means someone who’s trying to break into the design scene and do really good work. And they email me all the time. And I know the email, Brian, all the time. You can say, well, you need to work on your portfolio and you need to do this and you need to do that.
But the reality is we need to have more conversations with those people and say, wait a second, there’s some real promise here, because we’ve seen it happen at such-and-such agency will Collins did it. And they, they got these interns and apprentices and people in the high school internship program. And now graduating from design school and have really bad ass portfolios.
So they’re home growing talent from the random suburbs in Texas. Why do we have to pay, Hey, somebody, you know, crazy top dollar because they went to a famous school, like, you know, the SVA, the RISD, not to say that it’s, it’s about, you know, money or economics per se, but it’s, you can take a bet on somebody who maybe has less credentials.
And I I’m telling you now, If I was out to start a studio today, I would practically build it solely on young ambitious people led by a really great creative director, head of design because the level of talent who reaches out to me personally, because they see I’m the design apprentice on the website, the level of talent is insane.
They are so, so, so good. I constantly questioned myself and see, geez, why don’t they have the apprentice? These people are talented. There’s no doubt they can add value. It’s just, they didn’t come from the same places that all the other designers came from and we’ve gotta be okay with that.
R: Do you think it’s important that, you know, you just gave some advice, I suppose to design studios, like you said, big and small to be a little more open-minded do you think it’s important that they create formal internship programs or apprenticeship programs?
Or is it more just that mindset shift? How would you weight those two things?
D: I would imagine, and I’m not a studio owner myself, but I would imagine it depends on the size of the organization. Collins was able to do this in a more organized way, because they’re a little bit larger, not huge, but a little bit larger.
There’s more people involved. There’s formal HR department. There’s, you know, there’s more structure in general at Collins. And so. For Collins to put it in the structure, it shows we are being hyper intentional about it, and we’re doing it very much so on purpose, which if you have the ability to do that, Why wouldn’t she incredible value creation technique.
If you want to put it that way, it’s also just an ethically good thing to do is to institutionalize, you know, bringing people into the fold who may, otherwise not me there that said at a smaller studio, it is about the attitude. Like you mentioned, it’s less about the formal, you know, whatever you call it, you don’t have to put a logo to your apprenticeship program.
But it is whoever’s in charge of hiring whoever’s in charge of recruiting. It really is just a mindset change. And as subtle as that might seem, you might not get credit for it per se, in the way that Collins is right now, Yacosta has been able to get many, you know, speaking arrangements and do these things to kind of spread the gospel of doing more internships and apprenticeships and bringing more people into the fold who otherwise wouldn’t be in design and that’s great.
And of course, Collins has a brand that people know and love for the small students. You might not get any credit for it, but hopefully you wouldn’t just want to bring in, you know, people of color or. People like me who come from immigrant parents, my dad immigrated to this country from Mexico. I would hope you don’t do it so that you can say, “Oh, we have an immigrant child here.”
I would hope because there’s a genuine warmth in your organization to have different people around.
R: That’s good advice. Not don’t, don’t do it just for the credit. And I, you know, I’ve talked to other people and I think this came up with Brian as well. The importance of, of diversity is, is more than just, getting credit for it.
And it’s, it’s more than just doing the right thing. It’s,there, there are real business benefits and I think that’s becoming more and more clear over time. You gave some advice to studios. What’s your advice to people that are listening to this maybe are in high school or college, and they’re hearing what you did and thinking that sounds pretty amazing.
You know, it’s seems like. Things have gone well for you. And I’m, I’m sure you’re very happy with where you are now at Collins, but if you had to do it over again, is there anything you would do differently? Or is there any piece of advice that you haven’t already mentioned that you think people need to know in order to try to pursue doing something similar to what you’ve done?
D: Well, two things, one is reach out to is see the whole board. So I’ll cover these quickly. One on reaching out the number one thing more than all the theory, practice and portfolio work that I did,you know, from my whiteboard sketch with Ms. Casey, it was reaching out to people, meeting them, expressing what I was ambitious about and asking for more meetings for other people that they knew, because it turns out when you meet people and connect with people, they’re also connected to people.
Fascinating. And so. That is the number one thing is if you’re, you know, learning discord, if you’re on a discord channel for designers, or if you’re on some designing forum or learning on YouTube, that’s awesome. But reach out to people and make a lot of friends.and leave a good impression on these people.
Cause you never know, it might be in five years or in 10 years even, or it might be in six months, you might get your first internship or they might know somebody who has an internship opening and can make an introduction. That’s really what made the difference for me. So that one piece of advice, the second piece of advice though, is to see the whole board.
And what I mean is in chess, if you’re only paying attention to one side of the board, you’ll get checkmated on the other.which happens very often for amateur players that they will, you know, try to attack on one side and then completely lose on the other. And I think the same thing goes for when you’re chasing something in your career.
I was very tunnel visioned about Collins. But that was after having my eyes wide open to the wide world of possibilities in design. I spent months and months and months talking to typographers, talking to product designers, talking to brand designers, talking to marketers and copywriters, talking to creative directors.
I spoke to a lot of different people in design. Before I saw Collins reached out and got a response and really set my sights on it. And so I do have some people reach out to me specifically because they want to work at Collins. And I say, you should. It’s one wonderful to work at college that said sometimes they have, they don’t know exactly why Collin specifically.
And then I look at their portfolio and I say, well, wait a second, you look calm, but you’re a filmmaker. We were brand design firm. Of course we do film sometimes and we do some amazing experiential design and there’s more too, but you’re a filmmaker. Is there a way that you can lean into that? Love? Sure.
You can admire Collins, but I know this studio so-and-so or this person, who’s a filmmaker who I met in New York city. You should tell, talk to them and then they say, you know, you’re right. I love film. Or they love photography, or they actually love product design, or they have a real interest in software engineering and they want to blend, you know, software and product design.
And so when I say, see the whole board, if you see a company like Collins and you’re just, tunnel-visioned on them either, you know, for sure, or you do need to step back and like let everything open up because the fact is Collins is a team of about 50 people. There’s only so many people that can work at Collins.
And there’s only so many people who can work at an Walsh. And there’s only so many people who can work on a team of pentagram and. We can, we can, you know, cry until the cows come home, that we need to include more people. But in the end there’s also a numbers thing, which is yeah. Collins can’t hire people endlessly.
I’m sure there have been many people Brian wanted to hire that is said, well, we can’t do that because we can’t have a staff of 500 people when we don’t have work for 500 people or money for 500 people. There’s so many talents. And so that is, you know, people meet me and say, well, you made it to Collins.
It’s possible. I say, yeah. But I also recognize that. I was incredibly lucky that Brian happened to be very open to that. And it was feasible to do that at that point. If not, you just got to open up your eyes because I, I can almost guarantee you wherever you go. Even if you go to some place where they do poor work for your first internship and you feel like they’re not as good as you know, all the best agencies in New York city, or they’re a hometown kind of advertising or marketing agency, I guarantee you’re going to learn a whole lot from that internship.
Get your first thing, go do it. And then go through all the doors that open,trust me, you can always walk back out of them and reassess the landscape. It doesn’t have to be so,you know, it’s just like when kids apply to colleges and they don’t get it, they don’t get into the one college they wanted to go to.
It’s like, there’s a million colleges. Yeah. You you’ll find one. Don’t worry about it. Just go to that one, learn what you need to learn and keep, keep going. Yeah. Great advice.
R: So the only thing I’d like to end on is just what are your plans? Like, what do you see in your, in your future?you, you mentioned if you were to start your own studio, do you think that’s something that might happen?
Or what else do you hope to do?
D: Yeah, so it might happen, you know, running my own studio. It might happen that I go freelance for a couple of years. It might happen that I stay at Collins until I’m 85 years old. You know, there’s, there’s a whole lot of possibilities. And I think, you know, it actually connects to the answer I just gave on kind of going through the doors at open.
A great quote that I love is, and I don’t remember who said it. Don’t remember where I heard it, but the quote is the next opportunity is the one you have now. And. At Collins.I always wanted this opportunity to be here. And of course I could constantly be thinking about, well, how am I going to advance in the organization?
How do I ladder my way up to, you know, design director and creative director and how do I earn the fancy titles? But the fact is in the short term, my job is to do as good work as I possibly can. Now at Collins, when I get off this call, I’ll be back in InDesign doing what I do on a daily basis. That said, you know, the long-term ambitions I think will show up and become clear to me so long as I keep meeting new people, reading books, as I constantly do, learning from the mentors I have at Collins, those things will become apparent.
Like you mentioned, how many brand strategists have fallen into brand strategy. As an example, I think it’ll be the same thing in many ways for my career, I’ll probably fall into the next opportunity. It might be that one day I meet an amazing designer who we feel like we need to go run a studio together or help rock.
It might be that I ended up a management consultant at McKinsey. No idea. Right. The possibilities are endless. And, it’s my job just to tap on the doors, knock on the doors, see which one’s open. And go through the money too.
R: Well, I can’t wait to see where those different doors lead you. Diego, thanks so much for making time.
It’s been really interesting and inspiring to hear your story and I wish you the best of luck at Collins and if you’re not there, when you’re 85, I wish you the best of luck on whatever that next step in your journey is.
D: Thank you, Rob. I really do appreciate the conversation. Thank you.