An Interview with Rock Star Designer Tad Carpenter

Hello Tad Carpenter!

He’ll be the last to tell you, but for us here at Go Media, WMC Fest 3 alum Tad Carpenter is a rock star. Designer, illustrator, author and teacher, Tad balances good stuff like brand identity, packaging and book design, illustration and interactive along with his role as Professor at University of Kansas. Surrounded by design (his parents were artists and his wife Jessica a designer, too), Tad creates whimsical, smart and all-around fun for clients like Macy’s, Chronicle Books, MTV, Adobe and Hallmark Cards.

Clevelanders, be sure to catch him on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at the next AIGA Design Speaker Series.

Now onto our chat!


You’re pretty much a rock star designer in our eyes. In your opinion, why was it you who “made it”? What are characteristics that would drive someone to achieve such a status?

Complacency breeds death. I want that fire, I want the pressure, I never want to stop climbing.

I dont know how to answer that. Ha! Thank you for the compliment but I am just thankful to have work and to be doing something I love everyday. I don’t know if I have “made it” like you say. I still feel like I have so many things I want to make and so much I want to do that I’m still each day just climbing that hill. I will always be climbing that hill. The older I get at times that hill starts to feel like a mountain. I want to make more, I want to do more. The hill keeps growing. To be honest, I hope I never feel comfortable and complacent. Complacency breeds death. I want that fire, I want the pressure, I never want to stop climbing.

Illustration, Identity, Restaurants

If you had to choose one defining moment in your career that pushed you towards notoriety, what would you say that was?

Perseverance and sweat are vastly underrated traits.

Geez, again I am not sure. I don’t know anything about notoriety to be honest. I, again, am just so happy to love what I GET to do for a living. It is important to remember we GET to do this. There sure are a lot of other professions out there and I am so lucky this one chose me. I can say this, ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be an artist, a designer, an illustrator. I got my first taste in 3rd grade and at that moment I knew this was the life I wanted to lead. I worked really hard. I still work really hard. That is what it all comes down to in my eyes, how hard do you want to work? I have never been the best draftsman, or the best with color or have the best type skills or can draw anything I look at or whatever. But I have always been willing to roll my sleeves up and work, work, work. Perseverance and sweat are vastly underrated traits.


What is one important piece of advice you’d give a fellow designer who wanted to land a dream client, such as Hallmark – but had zero connections?

No way to fail.

Connections are important of course. I could be wrong, but to me making connections today is the easiest it has ever been. Everyone has those big pie in the sky dream clients they would love to work with. Anymore finding out their contact info is literally just a few clicks away. Never, ever be afraid to ask for something you want. If you want to work with Nike or Hallmark or Apple go make it happen. The worst that can happen is you end up exactly where you are now. No way to fail.

Have you ever broken a “rule” to get ahead in your career?

I did once go swimming 5 minutes after I ate. I regret this daily.

I also talked about Fight Club which I think might be a big no-no according to the clubs first rule.

What is your biggest fear, creatively speaking?

When I first wrote an answer down I wrote that I fear not getting any work in the future. All of it just drying up. This is a BIG fear for me but really, I would just have more time to make things for myself. That can never be taken away from you. So yes, not getting in more work and having to get a real job is a big fear but also just time passing you by scares me. I want to do this for another 70 years…can I? What will our profession be like in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? The fear of the unknown is always present.

Illustration, Books

What is your biggest dream, creatively speaking?

I have so many things I really want to do. A huge passion for me is writing and illustrating children’s books. I have been so lucky to work on several over the past few years. I want to keep doing this forever. My first real exposure to art (like most of us) was from children’s books. I love that maybe I, too, can inspire or get a child excited about design. That is a serious responsibility that I don’t take lightly.  Something I have always wanted to create is a clothing line. My wife and I (also a designer) have played with a few ideas over the years and I would love to work more on this one day. I love branding new start-ups too. I hope I can create more and more of these as well. Restaurants, retail, anything. It is such a rush creating a new brand and seeing the clients excitement as it comes to life.

BIKE PRINT Illustration, Prints
Illustration, Prints

What is the biggest challenge you have faced, or face on a regular basis, to achieve success?

I guess having too many dreams, goals, work and commitments is not always a bad thing.

I am sure it is the same challenge everyone faces. Never, ever enough time. Outside of running my own studio I also teach graphic design at the University of Kansas. I love teaching. It no doubt makes me a better designer and I love working with aspiring young designers. It is so rewarding and flat out fun. But, it does add to my workload to get my “real work” completed. I feel I am pretty good with time management but could get better. I guess having too many dreams, goals, work and commitments is not always a bad thing.

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