April 3, 2024

Episode 20 Transcript | Randall Smith, Founder of modern8

Randall Smith, Founder of modern8 and the SLC AIGA chapter joins host Peter Stevenson, and co-host Alysha Smith, Partner at modern8 to talk about the history of graphic design and branding, how teaching design has changed through the years and why the best Mexican can be found on 3rd west in SLC.

PETER STEVENSON

Welcome to by subject. I’m your host, Peter Stevenson. I’m here with my co host, Alicia Smith, creative and managing director of modern eight and agency. And our guest today is founder of modern eight and current adjunct professor at the U in the graphic design department, Randall Smith.

RANDALL SMITH

Hi.

PETER STEVENSON

Welcome.

RANDALL SMITH

Thank you.

PETER STEVENSON

So this is a real treat for us because you founded the agency that we run now. And so, you know, we are very familiar with you and your past, but.

ALYSHA SMITH

We want to let everybody long past, long, long past.

PETER STEVENSON

But maybe, you know, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up and what got you into design in the first place.

RANDALL SMITH

Okay. I’m a native of Salt Lake City. I grew up in the holiday area, went to Olympus and Skyline high schools. And even in high school I was very attracted to what at the time was called commercial art. I was interested in that. I had classes in high school that included brush lettering and worked on assignments and projects that were very much defined that we define today as graphic design, but at the time was referred to as commercial art. And so I had inclinations, both in junior high and high school toward the field that I eventually pursued.

PETER STEVENSON

And so there wasn’t a title of graphic design at the time, but they called it commercial art. And so did you realize that they were called commercial arts at that time or you were doing art in some way? I know that when you were a kid, you started to work for magazines and related things. Were you looking at commercial art as a future career at that point?

RANDALL SMITH

I certainly had interest in it. Even though I remember my first year of school at the University of Utah, I still was not positive, but I clearly had strong interest in it. And as you indicated, I combined some teenage hobbies that I had.

PETER STEVENSON

You can list what those are.

RANDALL SMITH

I can list what those are. I was interested from the time of my first year in junior high school in magic and performing magic, fooling my friends and my relatives. And I ended up being the staff illustrator for a number of teenage magic magazines. And I progressed through high school doing that, even got involved with a canadian publisher of magic books. And I was doing book designs in my last year or two of high school for this canadian publisher.

ALYSHA SMITH

When you were in college and thinking about going into this profession, were there any, did you know anybody, was there anyone you were kind of looking up to and thought, oh, that sounds like such a fun job. Was there anyone you were aware of that was already doing this commercial art as a profession?

RANDALL SMITH

There really wasn’t anyone that I knew. I do remember one occasion when my parents knew someone who was in this field, and a woman, and I met her, and I still remember a conversation I had with her because she was introduced by my parents with the intent to show me someone that might be a mentor or someone who at least might give me some direction. They asked about my interest, and I specifically commented to this individual that I had a strong interest in typography and type and type design and things like that. And I remember this woman saying, oh, well, that’s not a field that you would want to pursue. She was an illustrator. And she took it from the standpoint of typesetting being a technology that allowed you to do what you want to do and accomplish what you needed to do with a technology that had nothing to do with her hand skills, which she used as an illustrator. So that didn’t pan out in any respect at all. I still had that strong interest in typography, which I took into my years at the University of Utah.

ALYSHA SMITH

So what was the difference in your mind at that point between maybe commercial arts and marketing? Because I know that there was marketing around. You see, if you leaf through, like, old vintage magazines, you could see old VW ads or ads that were out there. Did you see them as the same thing?

RANDALL SMITH

There was a even more distinct division between advertising and graphic design at the time I started in the field. With the digitalization of the whole world that has occurred, I think those mediums have become more close than they were at the time. I did end up getting two degrees at the University of Utah, one in graphic design from the art department and one in advertising, which at the time was in the journalism department, subsequently renamed as the Department of Communications. The advertising was something that had a close relationship to graphic design, and I seemed to enjoy it. It involved writing and designing, and I had some training in writing in the journalism department department that seemed to be valuable in my graphic design career. So I think the distinction more pronounced at the time, at least, between advertising and marketing versus graphic design, which, of course, could be applied to things that were not marketing related. You know, you can design magazines and you can design road signs, and, you know, those aren’t marketing related. So that distinction, I think, becomes a little more blurred after the world became digitized in the mid eighties.

ALYSHA SMITH

Out of curiosity, one more question about your graduating class from the graphic design department. How large was that class, and how does that compare to graduating classes these days?

RANDALL SMITH

Seems to me our graduating class was not very big. It was less than ten, seven to ten, I believe. Currently I’ll be teaching seniors next semester. It has 33, which is obviously bigger. On the other hand, I just finished teaching freshman class or second year students and there was 60 in that class. So something of course is occurring between the sixties and the thirties.

ALYSHA SMITH

They’re not passing their graphic design history classes.

RANDALL SMITH

That could be part of the problem. Yes, exactly. I think that they do have points at which students are required to turn in portfolios to continue in the program.

PETER STEVENSON

So you graduate with a couple degrees from the u and tell us about your first role out in the workforce. Did you go into graphic design originally? Did you go into advertising? What was that first role that you took that paid you some money?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, I remember my first. Upon graduation, I didn’t feel like my portfolio was quite ready. I took a couple months going up to the University of Utah art department facilities and working on my portfolio for a couple months after actually graduating, at which time I then hit the streets of Salt Lake City. And I remember I got two job offers. One was from a local graphic design studio called Bailey and Montague, and the other was from the Lds church graphic design department. Bailey Montague offered me $500 a month and the church offered me $600 a month. So I took the church position because it was a whole hundred bucks more. And it seemed to be a bigger operation, particularly in the pre digital era. The graphic design department was really quite big. It was divided between the design end of it and the production end of it. Again, before digitization, designers created the designs and turned it over to a production department who would prepare things for printing with mechanicals and paste ups, overlays and complicated inking. And so all the creative work was done by designers and all the preparation for printing was done by the production department. And I guess there was about seven, six to seven in the design end of things and even more like ten to twelve in the production end of things.

ALYSHA SMITH

I’m sure at that time production was a lot of work.

RANDALL SMITH

It’s a lot of work and slow. And so things didn’t happen in the instantaneous way that they do today. And a lot of hands are involved in doing it. And I was pleased to be able to be hired for or the production end because there were some graduates from my class who got hired at the church at about the same time, but they were in the production department doing the paste ups and mechanics.

ALYSHA SMITH

Okay, so you started in the creative department.

RANDALL SMITH

Okay, I did. Which I, you know, I was pleased.

ALYSHA SMITH

To be able to, yeah, most interns that we hire start in the production and then get bumped up to the creative.

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, that distinction that I mentioned was, was really clear at the time. It just didn’t you either designing or you’re doing production and not both.

PETER STEVENSON

So tell us a little bit about some of the stuff you worked on while you were there at your first role. And I do want to get into the brand work that you did. I think that’s an interesting story, but what were some of the stuff that the Lds church was producing? And was this the seventies?

RANDALL SMITH

This was, yes, it was 72. The department was organized between the designers that worked on magazines, which was separate department, and the designers that worked on what was called the curriculum. We were there on the same floor. We interacted with the magazine designers, but we worked on everything else, which was primarily curriculum. That means instructional materials for Sunday school and priesthood and religious society, different instructional materials that are used on Sunday, worship services, together with church education materials that were used for teaching in seminaries and institutes, and occasionally stuff for public relations departments. So anything that was needed that wasn’t the magazines fell into our department.

PETER STEVENSON

Okay. And so how far into employment there did you start working on that brand work?

RANDALL SMITH

Well, of course we didn’t call it brand work at the time, but we were approached by a general authority, kind of a lower level, I think a member of the seventies who was interested in creating what he called a welcome sign. He wanted to put a sign out in front of church meeting houses that would literally be welcoming to visitors. And we took that as an opportunity to propose something that the church had never had before, that is some kind of logo or identity. And so we indeed did design a welcome sign that included the words visitors welcome. But together with that, we included a standard presentation of the name of the church. We investigated visual possibilities, but couldn’t come up with any kind of a single visual element that seemed appropriate. So we instead develop a typographic treatment for the rather long name of the church, dividing it between four lines with the articles, that is the and the of a smaller size, and proposed that to the general authorities as the, the solution for this welcome sign. We mocked it up. We cut out letters out of foam core, glued them on a church wall, took a photograph of it, and suggested this was the solution that they might be looking for. We did some research at the church office building, collected all the hundreds of letterheads from each department. Every department looked entirely different. The Sunday school department or the seminaries or the Kirkland. Every department had its own kind of look and feel. And we proposed the unified end of a single system with a single presentation of the church name. We didn’t call it a corporate identity system, we called it a visual identity system, thinking that that would be more appropriate, that wanted to position the church as a big corporation, even though in fact it was. And then we made a big presentation to the entire first presidency in quorum of the twelve in the Salt Lake temple that I had the opportunity to go to and proposed this visual identity system, which they agreed to do, and we slowly implemented that over the next few years. This was the mid, mid seventies, and my immediate supervisor, Stan Thurman, worked very closely on the church logo together with me. And he had just come from Saul Bassen Associates, which was a very well known corporate identity firm. And he had with him some copies of the system that Saul Pass had designed for the Bell telephone system. And we use that as kind of a model for developing the corporate identity manuals for the new church logo.

PETER STEVENSON

I mean, it’s such an interesting, like, part of this start to branding in the state of Utah. Lots of corporate entities didn’t have brands. It wasn’t a big part of this. So I’m curious to know, like, what was, when you talked about what you were creating for people, how did you define the idea of brand or visual identity? How did you explain that to people in this space?

ALYSHA SMITH

Why it was important.

PETER STEVENSON

Yeah, why it was important.

RANDALL SMITH

Well, we didn’t use branding terminology, so we called it just logo design. And eventually corporate identity programs that took the logo and applied it to all of the elements. For the longest time, until fairly recent years, every logo required a letterhead, a business card and an envelope. And so that was the standard presentation for an identity system, together with signage, trade show materials, brochures, pocket folders. It’s phenomenal the amount of stuff we used to print compared to what we print these days. And all of that stuff would have the logo on it, and we’d prepare corporate identity systems and manuals to help guide all that. But that was a developing thing. I mean, I did it when I worked at the church. We prepared a corporate identity manual that was comprehensive and complex because, of course, we designed it first in English, but then I had to start designing it in all the languages, which makes it really difficult, but we prepared a manual for that. In my design practice, it was less common to design those manuals, at least in the early years, because it was an extra added expense and cost for us to design those.

PETER STEVENSON

So you eventually leave working at the church, and so what was that next role that you jump into?

RANDALL SMITH

Decided to quit employment and go into business for myself. And I had an opportunity to associate with another well known design firm in downtown Salt Lake. They offered me some room in their offices, and I quit in February of 1980. So I was at the church a long time, from 72 to 1980 and 79, and started my business. I called it Randall Smith design, very clear and obvious, and moved into the offices of another design firm called Two’s company, Adrian Pulfer and Perry Merkley, who had a night’s office on exchange Place, which is just the coolest part of downtown Salt Lake. Yeah, the building’s no longer there, but the, the address was on exchange place.

ALYSHA SMITH

When you decided to go into business for yourself, I mean, that’s, that could be a pretty big risk. Were you at the time moonlighting as a freelance graphic designer? You built up a portfolio.

RANDALL SMITH

Good point. I had been moonlighting during my years working at the church office building, and I had, you know, friends suggesting that I could help their company, that they worked for and do identities and logos for them, or doing designing brochures, print work, magazine advertising sometimes. So I had hopes, of course, that I might be able to continue doing that kind of thing. It was obviously some risk. We already had a kid or two, and I was a bit nervous about it, but it was something I wanted to do, and I enjoyed the experience of running my own business. Beyond the fact of designing, I enjoyed promoting my business and making it successful and figuring out how to do that.

PETER STEVENSON

So what were some of the projects you were working on in the 1980s as you went out onto your own? You werent doing as much branding. That came sort of later, but what were people hiring graphic designers for at that point?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, the typical stuff is, you know, print work. I mean, you know, the, the printing establishments that were around at the time were all busy. I mean, we were printing brochures and pocket folders and, you know, letterheads, envelopes, business cards for everybody. I mean, you just needed so much more print material before the world became digitized. That was all that we needed to do, and there was plenty of work to do, and that continued and build up more. So, you know, about 1980, let’s see, be about 83, I went into partnership with Larry Clarkson, and we were together for several years till 89, and we had a pretty good reputation locally for doing graphic design, creative work. We attract a lot of business. We worked for some bigger clients. I remember working for OC Tanner. We worked for construction companies, associated Foods. Associated Foods. That’s true. Actually, I did that for an ad agency. We would occasionally work for ad agencies, not frequently, but in this case, it was an ad agency who had yet satisfied their client associated food stores for a logo design. So I was engaged and they did, in fact, select mine. So, yeah, that was fun. You see those cart and the a driving down the freeway all the time in the intermountain west.

ALYSHA SMITH

It’s interesting. That hasn’t changed.

RANDALL SMITH

No, it hasn’t. Yeah, it has not changed. Let’s see. I did that, did that a little bit late. I did that after I split up with Larry Clarkson. But it’s still quite some time ago.

PETER STEVENSON

And I know around this timeframe, you started the Utah chapter, Salt Lake chapter of AIGA. So tell us a little bit about what the community of graphic design was like. What got you to start that chapter? What was that process like?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, there were, there were already two organizations in the city that appealed to both designers and advertising creators. There was an organization called ADSLC. It stood for art director, Salt Lake City. And that organization appealed to graphic designers despite its name. There was also, and still is, an organization in town for the advertising agencies. It was at the time it was called the ad federation, and graphic designers tended to associate with the art director at Salt Lake City or ADSLC, and I became a secretary or something of that organization. Whereas the advertising agencies, which included writers and designers and salesmen and account executives and all the other kinds of positions that are typical in advertising, were more in the Utah ad federation. But the national organization, the AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, it subsequently kind of just dropped the full name and just referred to by its initials, but was an organization in New York City that was starting to establish local chapters. So rather than just being a national organization, you had some local opportunity to associate. And we, I was business partners at the time with Larry Clarkson at Smith and Clarkson. And we noted how these different chapters are being formed in other cities in the nation. And I ended up writing. Everything was done by letter at the time. I ended up writing a letter to the national office and suggested that there might be possibility for a chapter in Salt Lake City. And I initiated it, and of course, I ended up being the founding president, and it was fun to get that set up and going. We established a lot of ids that are still being used in the AIGA chapter to this day. I also got to travel to New York and other locations to presidents meetings. During the first few years, I was the president, and that was exciting and associated with other chapter presidents throughout the nation. But we established things like the AIG 100 and the principles behind that and the name and the, the copper ingot idea. That was the top ten. We were trying to make it different than the ad federation, which had the kind of more typical gold, silver, bronze kind of way of awarding and recognizing work.

ALYSHA SMITH

And just, was it three, maybe three or four years ago you were acknowledged with Othello?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, I think it’s more than that. But you’re right. I was very pleased and honored to be recognized by the Salt Lake chapter as a fellow, which is an honor that the national office, from the national office with a cool little plaque that recognizes you. So, I don’t know, for your contributions to your community or something like that. That was really nice.

PETER STEVENSON

So let’s, you know, we talked a little bit about the eighties and then, you know, the nineties. You know, what was, what was the graphic design community like in that era? The Aaga had formed during that point. Graphic design is becoming more of a thing rather than commercial arts. You’re starting to see branding start to trickle in and maybe the two thousands. What was that world like here in Salt Lake? What was the graphic design community doing? What was the life like as a designer here, running your own shop?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, we had a good. During those Smith and Clarkson years, particularly, I felt we had a good relationship with not only our competitors, but other designers that we knew. There was a lot of emphasis upon doing annual reports. Annual reports are an opportunity to really show your design skills in a printed medium that, that reflects upon the corporation and becomes a marketing vehicle for that corporation, in addition to providing the financial requirements that are part of federal trade, communication, FTC, or whatever it is that controls that sort of public, public companies. So there was competition for doing annual reports. Packaging was another area that a lot of designers sought to get involved in, and we did some of that and then just working for the biggest and best clients that you could find. But at the same time, there was opportunities to do fun work for smaller clients who weren’t as bogged down by corporate responsibility and corporate fears. And big corporations tend to want to look like other corporations, whereas smaller clients really have more opportunity for new and interesting ideas.

PETER STEVENSON

I know that. Let’s talk a little bit about the founding of modern eight because that’s something we both care a lot about. So 2001 comes around. What was it that you saw in the marketplace that made you launch modern eight? What was the idea behind modern eight at that point?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, there were a couple other entities in between, but, you know, I had another partnership or two and was splitting up from a partnership in the late nineties. Short lived partnership with Doug, sliding those going very well. The late nineties was a tech boom and we were doing very well and making loads of money. Money. And then there was kind of a bubble pop right there at 2000 and the partnerships and I was thinking, all right, so it’s time to form a new entity. Because my name and my partner’s name were in the name of the business. I, in fact, intentionally decided to avoid putting my name in the business name, which it had always been previously. I had a name either in some fashion for a couple reasons. For one, you get all of the sales calls because they know who to ask for because their name is in the business name. Right. So I thought I’m going to avoid putting my name in the company name so that I at least will have fewer of those sales calls that time.

ALYSHA SMITH

It seems. I mean, if I think about all of the ad agencies or just agencies around that time, they mostly did have names.

RANDALL SMITH

Yes, it’s very common to have. Yes. FJ, CNN, fatherhands.

ALYSHA SMITH

Yeah.

RANDALL SMITH

Yes, very, very common to have.

ALYSHA SMITH

Not common now, but you’re right. So you maybe were a pioneer in that.

RANDALL SMITH

I do remember a large advertising agency in town called Richter Seven, whereas we were formed before that. So I had this number kind of association prior to that. But modern eight was formed as an opportunity to take kind of a shift in the services that we offered. Previously I had only offered, whether I was in a partnership or by myself, creative services only. We never thought about offering anything that might it be described today as strategic services, but needing to position a new company with a new name, dropping my name and my business partner’s name, we really wanted. I really wanted something that would set us apart and distinguish us not only in what we offer, but distinguish us from what our competitors are offering. And branding at the time was a newer concept. It had been around a while in the nineties, but was still kind of new. I remember a conversation I had with someone who was a prospective client and I said, we offer branding services. And this guy literally thought I was talking about branding cattle or cows with a hot iron. I mean, he really didn’t have a concept of what, what it was. Branding was an idea whose first idea I’d heard about branding, even though it wasn’t called that was called a positioning. In fact, there was a well known book by Trout and Reese called positioning the battle for your mind. That came out in the eighties. That was the first time I really, for early eighties 81, and that book was the first time I really started to thinking about offering some kind of service beyond creative services and the term. By 2000 and 2001, when I formed modern eight, was branding was becoming more of a concern. And I educated myself really with books. I had two or three books that introduced me to the ideas of branding. Mark Gobies book emotional branding, brand identity by Alina Wheeler, the brand gap by Marty Neumeyer those books were really foundational in my effort to set up modernate as both a creative service and offering some strategic services as well. And I set up a process that we call the 5d process process that have five steps to it. Obviously that had three steps that were prior to design, which was the first step, and those are the strategic steps, and the last step was deploy. So that was a process that we found a lot of clients liked. They liked the idea, particularly the top executives. They were more interested, or at least they were, felt themselves more valid in understanding and accepting a process. They weren’t as quite as certain about being able to determine what they liked and didn’t like when it came to creative, but they thought process was something that they really gravitated towards.

ALYSHA SMITH

I would say additionally, if you’re a top executive, you obviously want your product or service to stand apart from the competition. And so if you’re working on that positioning, and to your point, maybe they don’t understand how to navigate the world of visual design. They certainly know that they could buy into the idea that they want their product or service to stand apart with its positioning, which would be a strategic service.

RANDALL SMITH

Exactly. And our services, when it offered these strategic services, involved understanding what their competition was like, interviewing not only the executives at the company, but interviewing their customers or clients and trying to research what their competition was like. And so, true enough, those ideas rang true with the executives. And not only did it differentiate us from competitors who are not offering these kinds of strategic services, but it also, we could charge more money. I mean, we could really say, you know, we can offer this and this and this and it’s going to cost you x as opposed to just doing creative services only.

PETER STEVENSON

And so you launched this. You’re an early mover in this idea of branding and strategic services, along with design services, which I think we see pretty much across the board now. Most places are doing strategic and design services together, at least in the brand space, and there’s much more people like that. But as you start to build modern eight in the two thousands and ahead of the crash in zero eight, tell us a little bit about what set you apart, what you saw in the marketplace there that made you able to charge more. How were people receiving this idea of, this new idea of strategic services and branding together, and as brands became something everybody needed. Was that happening in 2000? 2000, 520 ten. What was that like?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, it did seem like everyone was getting on that same bandwagon. I think the thing that distinguished us somewhat was this process that we gave a name and a distinct identity to. No one else had. The 5D process, you know, this discover, distill, depict design, deploy. No one else had that. And it was something that we could truly suggest was ours and ours alone. And there was a process. It involved image efforts with the client where they would respond to an image and help them think a little more abstractly and a little more emotionally as a, as opposed to thinking with words, which is so much more concrete. And that process was something that clients seemed to respond to and liked and set us apart.

ALYSHA SMITH

Do you think it’s because they felt like they were more involved in the output than they typically would have been if they had just hired you for a design?

RANDALL SMITH

Yes, absolutely they were. And of course this took time to refine the process that we offered, but yes, they certainly felt much more involved than they were. If you’re just doing a logo and identity, you just kind of said, well, what kind of a company are you and what’s the name of your company?

ALYSHA SMITH

What colors do you like?

RANDALL SMITH

And we’ll design you a logo. Whereas the, this really set us up for success in many ways because they were involved, we were doing it in an understanding of what their competition was doing. Clearly if all their competitors were blue, we didn’t suggest a blue logo. We positioned them. We made recommendations about their brand position their brand. We called it their only, only the thing that really they could claim that no one else could claim. And that market position was a part of our brand recommendations that we proposed in the d three stage and get their buy off on it prior to doing any design work in the d.

PETER STEVENSON

Four stage during this time. You’re also an adjunct up at the University of Utah, teaching branding, giving everybody your defi process as the idea for them to then use when they launch their own agency.

RANDALL SMITH

That’s right.

PETER STEVENSON

So I’d love to hear a little bit about the changes in the graphic design education from your days in school up to now. What was that process like in the two thousands as graphic design became much more usable? Adobe products are now out there. There’s a lot more graphic design design interest. It’s a lot more approachable than maybe when you were in a student. So what was that education like? What were students like in 2000 through 2015 ish.

RANDALL SMITH

My career bridged both the digital era and the pre digital era. So mid eighties is when Apple introduced their first Apple Macintosh. And slowly that started having impact. It wasn’t instantaneous. Things weren’t moving as fast as AI is moving currently, but it was having an impact on the very earliest kinds of programs did not have the capability that later programs did in terms of postscript and being able to. At first, we would use the computer for typesetting, but would still do paste ups. We’d still prepare things with mechanicals and gluing things down with, with wax and overlays. It was a very complicated process. It did, in fact, ensure our longevity as designers, because no one could figure out how the hell you did these things. I mean, it was just way too complex. We were kind of like the wizard behind the curtain. But as technology made it more accessible, more democratic, or people, you know, everyone could, could design something fairly reasonable with the aid of technology. And we witnessed that happening. It was interesting. We found it hard to believe. I remember futurists saying, well, one day your office, secretary, your aunt, will be able to design a brochure. It seemed impossible because it was so complex, no one else could do it. But of course, it happened just as you, as they suggested. You know, my career was both pre digital and digital, and we had to learn new technologies. And, you know, in the end, I learned those things, although frankly, I never was quite as good as my employees were. They were always a little faster and probably always will be. But the newer technology, you know, the new technologies, in some respects, weren’t as good as the old technologies. There were differences that took time for technology to catch up to. And sometimes we could do things in the old way that were really better. But eventually, technology managed to solve even the most subtle kinds of issues. It was interesting to both teach at the University of Utah and to have a, have a design firm that went through that transition. I tell my students about a quote of Milton Glasers, who said that, yes, his studio does use a computer, but he said, I had some reservations about it. He said that. He said that the same way you look at clay sculptures. He says there’s a lot more clay sculptures than there are sculptures made out of stone. And he said, the obvious reason for that is you approach something made of stone with a lot more determination, a lot more effort, and a lot more careful than something is easily malleable as Clay is. And he made that analogy with the digital world, the accessibility of the digital world, means that you might suspect its outcome in a way that doesn’t have the deliberate means that making a sculpture out of stone might do.

ALYSHA SMITH

Even if, I mean, if I’m incorrect, let me know. But I believe that even now, up at the, um, at least at the U, you don’t teach those technology programs. You teach the, you know, the theory, the, you know, all of the design concepts, and you kind of expect students to learn the technologies on their own.

RANDALL SMITH

That is true. I mean, they do teach some technology, and they’re there to help you, but that is not the emphasis. The emphasis is really upon solving problems. Problems. And they figure that, you know, there’s myriads of ways that you can learn technology and that there’s no reason for them to spend time doing that. They’d rather spend time teaching you design principles. You know, form, color, line, balance, typography, all those are design principles which apply to graphic design, to architecture, to interior design, product design. You know, those are principles that are universal and that spending time teaching those is more viable than teaching you, you know, how to do kerning in Adobe.

ALYSHA SMITH

So I guess that’s why you were able to keep a job for so long that you didn’t have to keep up with the technologies.

RANDALL SMITH

It’s just.

ALYSHA SMITH

That’s perhaps true design principles that don’t really change that.

RANDALL SMITH

You’re right, exactly.

PETER STEVENSON

I do want to touch a little bit on the transition from going from an owner to selling modern eight to Alicia and what retirement has been like still. Well, retirement a little bit. What was the reason that you wanted to retire? Why choose Alicia to make as that next heir to the. To the modern eight throne? And what has it been like watching Alicia run modern eight as opposed to.

RANDALL SMITH

You during a transition time? Alicia suggested that she might be interested in working at my office. Her background was in fashion retailing. She had a strong aesthetic background that expressed itself in interior design. But I had my doubts about whether or not Alicia would work out. Well. She’s a people person. She didn’t necessarily find herself, I’m right.

ALYSHA SMITH

Here, by the way.

RANDALL SMITH

Behind the computer, which working in an office would require. But she convinced me over a period of time to give it a try. And I suggested that she might take an accounting class, and she took over responsibilities that included the kinds of things that helped make the business successful. In fact, I remember when I first started getting employees, I had interns first, which are not really a committed employee, but the real first, really, employee I had that I guaranteed a salary to was not another designer, because I already had these interns, but was a bookkeeper, secretary, bookkeeper, because I really wanted someone to handle all of the complexities of billing and collecting and all that kind of accounting and all that sort of stuff. And Alicia came on and took over those kinds of responsibilities, but grew in her ability to take on additional responsibilities, including account management and creative direction, over a period of time. As I, you know, it wasn’t instantaneous. Even though I turned over the business to Alicia on a specific date and time, I gradually disengaged over a period of four or five years time. It really wasn’t until the pandemic that I felt like I totally disengaged, because that was kind of forced upon all of us, at least as responsibilities increased, as mine decreased over a period of time.

PETER STEVENSON

And how has it been watching the new owner of modern day?

ALYSHA SMITH

I know I don’t do everything exactly as you would like them to.

RANDALL SMITH

One of the interesting outcomes as I’ve watched Alicia run the business is even more emphasis on strategic services than which I did. I’m a designer of my background, so perhaps my prejudice would be towards the creative side of the business. Alicia has recognized the value of strategic services and still offers in depth and exceptional creative services, but probably has increased the offerings and the ability to help clients strategically, which is great, and that’s a natural kind of thing. She made some changes to the office environment that I didn’t agree with, but that’s what a new owner should do, and it’s been fun to see that happen, and I’ve been proud and excited to see what Alicia has done with modern aid.

ALYSHA SMITH

I will say, just to kind of piggyback on the strategic services being more emphasized as design has become more ubiquitous. There’s templates for everything, and just in the same way that you said you could never, you couldn’t imagine your aunt being able to design an invitation. It’s even more so that now, that way now. And with AI kind of taking over to find value in what we do, it really needs to be backed up by that strategy. That the reason, the why, so that that end result, that creative result, is not just something that came out of thin air or it’s not just generated by AI. It’s more important than ever that we provide value beyond what it looks like.

RANDALL SMITH

Exactly. I agree with you, particularly with the advent of templates and AI. It really seems I tell my students about this definition of design that I came across a number of years ago that I really liked. The definition was only three words long forethought before making forethought before making. So that tends to suggest that the important thing is the forethought, not the execution. So that tends to emphasize by its very definition, the idea that strategic help before executing the creative plan is probably the most valuable part of what you can offer. And that seems to be even more so as we see AI, we’re surprised all the time at what AI is capable of doing and how fast it’s moving. And the idea that you can offer that forethought before making seems to be a very viable and important differentiation.

ALYSHA SMITH

Yeah. And I would say also, as you know, I’ve interview, you know, new applicants or new interns to work for us. You know, of course I see a million beautiful portfolios, but the most important part of my interview process, and what makes me know that someone’s going to be the right fit is if they’re able to speak through the reasons why they made those creative choices. And if they’re not able to articulate those, then I know that they’re not going to be, you know, a strategic partner in delivering those creative services.

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah, that’s a really good point, and I try to make that point to my students, too. And it’s a natural way to understand someone’s abilities and how they think if they can talk about them like you explained. And that’s why I think that that’s important. And it’s probably a natural result of even going way back to my degree in advertising and my efforts at writing and thinking a little bit beyond the strict creative design stage. That seems to me to be absolutely important and valuable.

ALYSHA SMITH

Yeah. Otherwise we’re going to get taken over by AI. So we like to end with two following questions. Peter will ask the next one, but I would love to know, is there a piece of advice that may be knowing that this, our audience is mostly in the marketing field, but is there a solid piece of advice that you might give to those that are interested in listening and might want to take something tangible away from this podcast?

RANDALL SMITH

Yeah. Particularly coming from someone who’s in their mid seventies. I would say stay curious if you can be very much involved in the world around you despite your advancing age, if you can understand pop culture to the degree you can, and it gets hard as you get older to reflect upon what teenagers are referring to when they’re talking about the latest music or latest movie. But if you can stay curious and read, I really think that you can learn a lot about the world around you if you’re curious enough to make an effort so that you don’t devolve into some kind of. I remember borrowing a truck from my neighbor who was about my age. Two or three different times I borrowed his truck. And every time I borrowed, he had that serious FM subscription model of radio. And it, of course, has many options. And every time I borrowed his truck over three different times, it was always playing Elvis Presley all Elvis, all the time. And I thought, you know, I had the feeling that this individual was not doing what I just said, and that is staying abreast of pop culture and being a part of the world around them and being curious. I think that’s a distinct disadvantage for someone in design and even in marketing. You know, it’s just you got to do the best you can to stay on top of things, reading, being a part of the world.

ALYSHA SMITH

Yeah, I would say you do a really good job of. There’s rarely a thing that I can’t run by you that you at least haven’t heard of a bit.

PETER STEVENSON

Yeah. Well, last question. Give the listeners some restaurant recommendations. I know you don’t have favorites of things, but where should people eat around the Salt Lake valley?

RANDALL SMITH

I usually turn to you for foodie, not the foodie that you guys are. On the other hand, I do enjoy going to lunch. A couple places come to mind. I do enjoy caputos a lot. You can’t beat that. Those italian sandwiches over caputos with it. And that bread. I don’t know where that bread comes from. It is great.

PETER STEVENSON

Have you been to central 9th market, by the way?

RANDALL SMITH

Central? No.

PETER STEVENSON

You gotta go. We gotta go.

RANDALL SMITH

You’ve told me about it. I haven’t been.

PETER STEVENSON

We’re gonna go.

RANDALL SMITH

And I enjoy, as you are well aware, a local mexican restaurant called Alberto’s that I even know the name of the cook behind the, behind the grill. So I must go there a lot. And I do enjoy that. You know, I’m not above going to a fast food place, but one step recommended is good. And Alberto’s, I feel like, is one step above. I go to the greek Slovaki. I think that’s a fun place. I like that.

PETER STEVENSON

What’s your order when you go to the greek souvlaki?

RANDALL SMITH

I like both the. What’s the one on the stick? That’s a souvaki, right? No, what is the one on? Yeah, I’m not sure. As well as the. The pita.

PETER STEVENSON

Okay.

RANDALL SMITH

All right, so both those are good.

PETER STEVENSON

Okay.

ALYSHA SMITH

I think what he’s getting at is, do you order the chicken or the lamb?

RANDALL SMITH

Oh, oh, no. Yeah, I order the lamb. Yeah, I like that.

PETER STEVENSON

Good for you. All right, well, thank you so much for being here. It’s great to see you again. And if you. When was the last time you got complimented by a teenager on your clothes? Recently.

RANDALL SMITH

School. Yeah.

PETER STEVENSON

All right. All right.

ALYSHA SMITH

Last week.

PETER STEVENSON

Yeah. Thank you so much for being here and we’ll see you around.

RANDALL SMITH

It was fun.

PETER STEVENSON

Thank you for joining us today on this episode of Buy Subject podcast. If you have any guest recommendations or other comments, you can send them to us at info@buysubjectpodcast.com. Buysubject Podcast is a production of modern eight and agency in partnership with Silicon Slopes, the Mount West Capital Network. Audio production by Dave Meakum, video production by Connor Mitchell, and the music by the insanely talented Josh Johnston. If you need any place to eat or if you need any of our old interviews, you can find that all on our website@buysubjectpodcast.com.

*Pardon our transcriptions, They’re transcribed using ai.

By Subject is a production of modern8 with support from Silicon Slopes + MountainWest Capital Network.