The Egotist Interviews: Felix Sockwell
A native of Texas, Felix Sockwell began his career in advertising with stints at DDB and the Richards Group (Dallas), before moving on to San Francisco and a chance meeting with advertising potentate Brian Collins. “I guess the meeting went well,” laughs Sockwell. “Next thing, Collins and I had jetted to New York and were starting up this new design component at Ogilvy & Mather called The Brand Integration Group. 14-hour days, it was a meat grinder but it paid off.”
After a year Sockwell opened his own office (in 1998) and has since been working in NY and Maplewood, NJ, where he lives with his wife, two kids and dog named Kitty.
Getting his studio up and running after leaving Ogilvy was tough. However, luck intervened when Sockwell snagged a big account from Paula Scher – the LeParker Meridian Hotel on 57th street. “I worked with them for a year doing all of their design materials. That paid the bills until I began getting steadier editorial jobs.” Nowadays his work ranges from editorial illustration to logo and icon design to advertising and packaging for a number of tasty clients, including Herman Miller, Sony, Amex, hotels.com, The New York Times and he has just finished icons for Apple‘s new iPhone.
Like many of his contemporaries Sockwell sees design as a collaborative process – not only between him and his clients but with other designers as well. In recent years he has teamed up on a number of projects with various designers, including Stefan Sagmeister, Nicholas Blechman, Thomas Fuchs, Christoph Niemann and James Victore.
Sockwell is savvy, clever and opinionated (the work he does for the New York Times Op Ed page attests to that). And he’s concerned about the societal effects of his work.“Although I do a lot of political messaging, I’ve come to realize that my function as a designer is largely service-oriented. That’s OK as long as the brands I’m developing are good public citizens. Many aren’t. For instance, I did some illustration work for a law firm some years ago. Later, I found out the firm employed Jack Abramoff (former lobbyist who is now in prison for corruption) and was legal counsel to George Bush in the 2000 election. Ouch. That was my wake-up call. Since then I’ve been careful to research my clients more thoroughly.”
>>Felix’s bio has been excerpted from the publication Novum.
Q: Your portfolio is heavily political. Have you purposefully sought out clients of the activist persuasion, or did it just happen?
A: Really? Heavily Political? I do a good amount of work for the NYTimes but I’ve never been involved in a campaign or political identity. OK, that’s a lie. I did just wrap the redesign for Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen and I was careened into the identity brick wall that is the ACLU (and I certainly chastised them after on my website). As far as seeking certain clients out? No. I pretty much take anyone who seems nice over the phone and pays in USD. The final political remark I will make is that yes, I’ve worked for George Bush’s people too. But I’ll save that juicy tidbit for tonight’s show.
Q: Do you feel designers have a duty to participate in social and political causes?
A: Certainly, if, like me they are handsome, enjoy Arugula walnut salads are huge, huge successes. Huge! I’m so hugely successful in fact, that I’ve shredded all 200 of my NYTimes Op Ed illustration invoices (that paid a whopping $175 per) and created a nest on the fourth floor of my Hamptons estate. But I never sleep there.
Q: What’s the best art you’ve seen from the current political season?
A: Hands down it would be Barry Blitt’s now infamous New Yorker cover but I think Shepherd Fairey has entered the zeitgeist in a rather positive way too. Lots of people are skeptical about Shepherd because he’s a vagrant, a vandal and is quite vein. But that’s only because they’re jealous.
Q: Were you in town for the Democratic National Convention? What did you think of Obama’s speech, wherever you watched it?
A: I live in Jersey, no. But I did catch most of the speech. I think Barack Obama is going to be an incredible president. I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.
Q: You’ve done work for some big companies, including Coke, Apple, NYTimes, Herman Miller, the White House, to name a few, yet you’re mostly known for the work you do pro bono (see: logolounge interview). We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a designer who’s been as successful with their pro bono work as you seem to have been. How do you account for this?
A: Hold on. Whew. I need to contain myself. Did you just say “successful with pro bono”? The bar is now closed ladies and gentlemen. Take your last swig and.. OK, I’ll stop. Seriously. It’s nice someone noticed my “good deeds” portfolio. Most people (family included) wince at the idea of giving work away for free. I blame walnuts and arugula.
Q: Would you suggest this type of pro bono concentration to other individuals and agencies out there who want to generate press and paying clientele as a result?
A: Free work is actually a great opportunity to act like an ass. I did an interview with our local paper when the Thelonius Monk / Coltrane artwork hit the street. The next week my framer calls a meeting to talk redesign. OK, here we go I’m thinking. It started out fine. She chose the name (Mona Lisa Framing) and the logo (Mona Lisa Redrawn Holding Frame) and then over the course of 3 years she proceeded to use my near free offering as an excuse to photocopy the original Mona Lisa and slap it everywhere. I yell at her every time I see her but we’re still pals. I mainly do free work for the neighborhood and other existing clients.
Q: What pro bono work do you have lined up that you have yet to deliver on?
A: I don’t do that much bono. Nephew, please! I live in the highest taxed district in North America. I’m total stress bag. Can we talk about my 9 houses? I like salad. Arugula salad. And walnuts.
Q: A lot of your icon and logo design is comprised of a single line stuck to the page, curling around to form a larger shape and concept. What’s the deal, you got weak arms or something? To what do you owe this aesthetic?
A: Hah. I love it. Yeah! I’m weak (from salad). The one liner thing is just something I got mixed up with in high school. Yeah. You know, hanging around with the wrong crowd. We called ourselves the Picasso wanna bees, shaved our heads and listened to ––––––––––. Seriously, I don’t know. I just started doing it about 15 years ago and kept at it then I’ve been making living with it for the past 9 years. I try not to do it all the time but it’s like anything that becomes popular; you have to put your T-tops down so your hair can flow… rollin in, in my 5.0…
Q: Felixsockwell.com and its sister site Feluxe.com used to be playful and zany. You seem to have abandoned all your sub-brands and converted your main site into something so minimal Paul Sahre could have done it. Does the shift towards clean and minimal represent a change in business practices? Or were you just tired of the old site?
A: Hah. I love you, man. Yeah, Paul and I are friends and we have the same web designer. Though when I saw his site I kinda just said ‘damn, just do it like Paul’s!’ Per the business question, yes, I had to tone it down. I was scaring off 1 in 4 potential clients who went to feluxe.com and saw a man taking a shit and then smashing his face into a copy of Hustler. Not exactly a great “brand promise” thing, eh? I have some people willing to help me reboot feluxe.com. I just forgot to pay the bill for it and have been too busy lately.
Q: On your site, you mention you like to see some local flavor while on lectures. What do you plan to focus on from Denver during this evening’s discussion?
A: From what I understand Denver’s canvas was scrubbed clean by the local authorities a week before the DNC rode in. People who want to see my Coke Annual Report illustrations are going to rage. It will probably be more personal work. Things I care about (which includes neighborly pro bono) I want to tell people who I am, where I’m from and what drives the work (coffee? OK). I want to get to know a few Dennies (Denverians?) and after I buy them a warm Coors Light after and ask them why they never fucking hired me. I want to yell at them for ripping me off for so many years. A fight will ensue. I’ll make another set of friends (the ones that scraped my bleeding body off the firmament) and we will go grab a cold Coors Light somewhere more classy. Somewhere safe.
Q: Why should we spend our Tuesday night at your lecture instead of at the office working late like every other night?
A: I’ll have 170 free signed copies of my book (GOP100) to give away as well as tons of signed posters and prints. If that doesn’t do it for you I’ll squeeze your boobies / and/ or give you a hand job in the parking lot. See you tonight, lovers!
Felix Sockwell speaks tonight as part of AIGA Colorado’s Speaker Series
Tuesday, Sept 2, 2008, 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Denver Art Museum, Frederic C. Hamiliton Building (Sharp Auditorium), 100 W. 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204
p.s. If you made it this far, we have two free tickets for Felix’s talk tonight. And you can have dinner with him too, on a BYOD basis. Email us the[at]denveregotist.com and tell us why you deserve to go. We’ll pick a winner and get the tix to you.