I loved art in high school. In fact it was my favorite class. The problem was that if I wanted to go to college, my father insisted on my pursuing a profession that made money. And art was not it. So, I had an idea that I might be interested in architecture. It was a respected profession and technical enough to satisfy him. I thought there might be just enough creativity in it to keep me interested. I was wrong. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have started out with an idea to pursue a career to make someone else happy.
In 1970, I began my major in architecture at the University of Florida. I had much difficulty with the more mathematical, technical and scientific aspects of the curriculum. I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t know to what. Most of my classes were in the building that housed the college of architecture and fine arts. I was well familiar with the work that the fine arts program produced. But one day, as I was walking down a hallway, I noticed some other work displayed on the wall. The work was carefully crafted. I was much “tighter” than the typical drawings or paintings of the fine art students. And, it had type. I noticed graphic design for the first time. After visiting some of the classrooms, I decided that this was something I wanted to do. As I began the curriculum, I had a new fresh outlook on life. Graphic design was a little bit like art in that it had some creativity and expressiveness. But it was also a little bit like architecture in that there were specific problems that had to be solved. There was structure.
After graduating, I moved to Atlanta with my new wife and spent three summer months searching for a job. Just as our savings were about to run out, she landed a teaching job, and I got a job at Davison’s, a department store chain. I was a paste-up artist in the advertising department. There were three of us, all recent graduates. Also working with us on production was an older woman who ran the large copy camera. I worked there for two years, during which I was promoted to layout artist. At Davison’s I learned a lot about newspaper advertising. Ads would go through the process of layout, mechanical, and then, we would see them printed in the newspaper a couple of days later. We saw what worked, and what didn’t work.
My real goal was to work in an ad agency or design studio. Because that wasn’t happening in Atlanta, we decided to move to the Tampa Bay area. My first significant job there was as art director for an in-house advertising department for Plan Services (now HealthPlan Services). They were brokers for group insurance plans. The department used direct mail for most of its promotions. We also designed and printed brochures so that meant an education in the process of printing, other than newspaper.
After a couple years at Plan Services, I finally got the position I wanted. In 1979, I became an art director at a real ad agency. CCM, Corporate Communications and Marketing, was a small agency run by Mark Cohen. Clients included TECO, Shands Hospital, Celotex, Jim Walter Corporation (Walter Industries), Bay Cadillac, Pembroke Pines Hospital, U.S. Lend Lease, Allstate Homes, The Don Cesar, U.S. Health Corporation, and Thermacore. Mark introduced me to the finer points of grid systems. In addition to traditional advertising work, we knocked out five to six annual reports every year. That’s a lot of work. The agency grew tremendously while I was there, even getting into some big-budget television production. We won more than our share of Addy Awards. My name became know in the Tampa Bay advertising community. Seeking more creative freedom, I left the agency, where I’d worked for four years, and began my first lengthy stint at freelancing.