Are you a communication design student at NOVA Alexandria? Are you a design nerd always looking at blogs and websites? Do you enjoy writing and reporting events? If so, you may want to consider contributing to MasterPage. Drop us a line explaining why and how you would like to contribute and including a short writing sample: You may be one of our next bloggers!

October 25, 2010

A Conversation with Rodney C. Williams, 2010 AIGA DC Fellow

Rodney C. Williams, advisory board member for the communication design program, was awarded the 2010 AIGA Fellowship from the AIGA DC Chapter on October 6.

Stepping into RCW Communication Design Inc.'s headquarters is almost like entering a Zen temple. The furniture in the conference room is clean and essential, with a sleek, black bookcase carrying all sort of design books and magazines on one side of the glass table, which faces another sleek, black bookcase neatly displaying samples of the company's design work. The ample glass window lets in plenty of natural light while soothing and uplifting classical music is playing in the background. Rodney C. Williams, President and Founder, is extremely approachable, laid back and friendly, as are his team members.

But don't let the relaxed atmosphere fool you. RCW Communication Design is a leading design firm in the Washington DC metropolitan area with clients that range from federal government agencies and non-profit organizations to private-sector companies. Workdays can be pretty hectic here.

Started in 1987, RCW Communication Design Inc. (RCW Inc.) produces a vast array of quality work including, but not limited to, annual reports, brochures, books, media kits, websites and exhibit projects. The company offers solutions to visual communication problems in a cost-effective manner. It communicates with clients and becomes part of which they are, helping them to make their organizations or businesses stronger. Rodney C. Williams, president and founder, after whose initials the company is named, and co-owner Barbara M. Williams, CPA, vice president and treasurer run RCW Communication Design Inc. The firm consists of art director, Michele Thomas, web developer, Rahsaan Williams, two designers, an intern and a junior accountant as well as a bank of freelancers that are brought in when needed. Rodney and Barbara are husband and wife, and Rahsaan (a graduate of The Ohio State University and an alumnus of the communication design program at NOVA) is their son. However, Rodney C. Williams wouldn't define the company as a family-run business. "It just happened," he says. "Barbara was the controller and vice-president of an ad agency for a while and then came to work for the company here." Their daughter, Barika, is not a designer and has chosen a career in urban policy.

Rodney and Barbara were both born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Although they have lived outside of Atlanta for over 35 years, the majority of their family is there and their families are very important parts of their lives.

RCW Inc. is currently working on the branding of a US Army Fort: "Accomplishing a task of this magnitude is a reflection of our staffs design knowledge and professionalism."

Williams has been in the design business since 1972 and has also served on the advisory board for the communication design program at NOVA Alexandria for over 12 years. Because of his commitment to the design community, on October 6, 2010 he was presented with the AIGA DC Fellowship Award.       

"It came as a total surprise," Williams says about the award. "I received a phone call from Beth Singer telling me that I was chosen to be a Fellow for the AIGA DC Chapter. At first, I obviously did not believe it. I was totally surprised, completely speechless, and quite honored to be the recipient of this award. It means a lot to be chosen by your peers." 

The AIGA Fellowship is awarded to professionals who have been in the design business for at least 15 years, giving back to the community and assisting the AIGA, but Williams doesn't think his is an extraordinary achievement—he considers all of this as "part of the process of being in the business". He believes you should be willing to give back to your colleagues. "I like giving information to those who are considering visual design as a career," he says. Even early in his career, he started internship programs and mentored students and young designers. "I like the idea of being able to find young talents and work with them, and if that's called giving back, and I am OK with it. I still believe in the business of graphic communication. I think it has changed a lot and it's nice to be able to prepare young people or those who are younger than me for what I've seen in the business and give them the information I've learned.”

Williams, who declares he's proud of being the first African American to receive a fellowship from the AIGA DC Chapter, plans to continue to work in the field and assist younger designers who are coming behind him.

As for the design business, he states he likes the fact that design is collaborative: "You're working with a variety of people and talents. There are writers, photographers, designers, producers, web designers and clients. All of that has to do with making a project stronger. We're in the field of communication and it's important to know how to communicate."

His commitment to assisting and mentoring students led him to join the advisory board for the communication design program at NOVA Alexandria, an experience he has enjoyed over the years. Being on the advisory board not only involves giving back, "it forces you to evaluate who you are, what you do, access your views and goals and to pass on that information to the instructors who are extremely busy teaching, guiding and stimulating the students. After 12 years on the advisory board, Williams realized it was time to allow other professionals to share their knowledge with the instructors and students. "It was fun, demanding and stimulating. I would like to think I, along with the other advisory board members, help to make the program stronger."

Expertise and experience to mentor students and advise professors are assets that Williams certainly doesn't lack. He enjoyed drawing throughout his years in grade school and high school. Upon his graduation from high school, a cousin, Don Davenport, who at the time was an art director at McCall’s Pattern Company in New York City, offered Williams a key-line and past-up artist position. At 17 years old Williams headed for New York City, the Big Apple. While working there he attended evening classes at Pratt Institute. Upon returning to Atlanta, Williams attended Clark Atlanta University. He felt he needed a stronger art training and ended up at the Atlanta School of Art (now part of the Savannah College of Art and Design). While attending the Atlanta School of Art, the same cousin who presented him the opportunity in New York told him about a new magazine starting in Chicago. "It was a Playboy Enterprise publication—Oui Magazine," says Williams. "So I took the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of that new publication. Once again I started out as a mechanical paste up artist and learned from there." He owes his first design jobs to his cousin who recognized his talent and recalls that working at Oui Magazine was hard—he didn't want to let his cousin down or disappoint anybody else because of being a relative of his, so he tried to learn as much as possible and do his best. Williams' cousin, who is one of two very important mentors, had a successful career at McCall’s, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Playboy, Essence Magazine and Arista Records. Williams's second mentor is Ahmad Sadie, a former art director at Playboy Enterprise, Penthouse, J Walter Thompson and Medicus International.

Williams worked at Oui Magazine for six years. While there, he resumed his design studies and graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago. He was then hired to be the Associate Art Director of Chicago Magazine. While there, he set his goal to be the art director for a national magazine before he was 30 years old. That goal was met when he accepted the job as art director then design director of Science 80, an international popular science magazine that was published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. While at Science 80 magazine, Williams started an internship program, gave numerous lectures at design schools, colleges and universities, participated in professional seminars and was active in the AIGA and the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington.

Williams’s advice to design students is to learn the principals of design first. "It's a different world today. I'm not sure I want to use the title 'graphic designer' anymore. I think we should have a new title for it. 'Graphic design' is a generic term. There are unique design possibilities today that schools sometimes do not offer: You could become an exhibit designer, or a lighting designer, or an industrial designer, a currency designer, or a fashion designer. There are other design aspects to go into rather than just the graphics. The term 'graphic' to me is sometimes too restrictive. Often you think you're only working on a two-dimensional surface, yet there is a very large array of graphic knowledge to learn. So, before making any decision, I think a young person should go around and observe what those professions are, and if they can, meet a professor and audit a class. Then you locate a school that offers those things that you want and you go there rather than just go to the school in your neighborhood. Design is too open-ended now and particularly with the use of the computer and social networks. But the computer is only a tool. Design comes from you as an individual. I think young people should read more and be more diverse in who they're around."

"We are in the business of communication. We take information and we organize it based on task at hand: It could be multi-dimensional, two-dimensional or verbal. It can be an exhibit, a product or a word. Designers must become aware of international news and events.  I think designers should take business courses. You need to understand the mechanics of what a business is about, even if you aren't going to run your own business one day. Business courses should prepare you to think from a business/economical point of view and that's important. Chances are a designer is not aware of the similarities between a design firm, advertising agency or magazine to a law firm or an accounting firm. You're given a project or task to complete within a billable amount of time. If it takes you longer to complete the task, and that time is non billable, the company is taking a loss". Also, Williams thinks that "we have to go beyond the boundaries of the United States. We should be bilingual. Companies should be more diverse. That's one of NOVA's strong assets. It's quite a diverse college. That's healthy to me."

Williams thinks the students at NOVA are getting a great experience there. Upon graduating from NOVA with a very strong well-rounded portfolio, you will have the tools to continue your education and go to the four-year institution of your choice. "Don't cut yourself short. Don't think locally. Branch out. It's good to live in different parts of the country or out of the country. What makes a better designer is exposure. When RCW Inc. is interviewing young designers, we often ask 'Do you like to read?' If they do not like to read, I casually say, 'Goodbye'. If you don't like to read, you ultimately will find this business overwhelming."

Designers constantly undergo criticism (from clients, art directors, peers, etc). William's words of wisdom are: "Everybody has a creative opinion. You can't have a thin skin. Remember, your task is to solve the visual communication problem that is placed before you. You approach the assignment in the most efficient and professional way possible. You do the best you can—that's what you've been hired to do. Don't take it personally."

No comments:

Post a Comment