The Designers: Order’s Garrett Corcoran on the process, side projects, and learning new skills
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For number thirteen in the series, we spoke to Garrett Corcoran of Brooklyn-based design office Order.
EM Hi Garrett. How have you been?
GC Been pretty solid honestly, hanging in there through the wild times we’re in. Every week is kind of its own mix of up and down, but feeling good about moving through it all.
EM Can you place where your interest in design originated?
GC My first thought was skateboard brands, which I still think is what cemented it for me, but even before that, I was redrawing album covers of punk bands I was listening to as a kid. That music is what brought me into the skateboarding community and got me drawing logos for skate companies I’d make up or doing graffiti… allegedly. So with drawing that much, I thought the next right move would be the fine arts programme in college, but once I got there it never really clicked with me. There was one lecture in that first semester where they screened the Helvetica documentary and I remember being on the edge of my seat while some of my friends were literally falling asleep. That was kind of the first clue I was in the wrong place, so I spoke to some professors and older friends afterwards about the kind of work I was into and the response was usually something like “everything you’re talking about is design.” Up until that point I hadn’t really been that familiar with the term graphic design. But thinking back on drawing album covers or making fake skate brands or graffiti, it was all kind of adding up to practising design in a way. It honestly seems obvious to me now that this is what I ended up getting into.
It honestly seems obvious to me now that this is what I ended up getting into.
EM Can you tell us about how your career path led you to work at Order?
GC I’d done a few internships in college and my last one was actually at a different studio in New York, but the experience there really made an impact on me and I knew I had to move here after graduation. So when I started reaching out to places, I’d heard of Order from the Standards Manual books but they didn’t have a website at the time and the office itself was a bit of an enigma to me. I’d seen a clip of Jesse and Hamish speaking at a conference that year and their approach sounded like it could be a good fit, so I emailed Jesse kind of on a whim. Started out on a freelance basis and once I got here all the pieces kind of fell into place. Been here ever since.
EM What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt during your time there?
GC Listen and Trust. The. Process. Working in a smaller studio like this means wearing a lot of different hats and balancing a lot of responsibilities on top of trying to make great work, so when I was first starting that was a little daunting to dive into. But I’ve learned so much from watching and listening to other coworkers, both at Order and before, and I think that starts to build a good reference library for any curveballs a project might throw. That being said, I also think it can be difficult to put trust into the work you make. We have a process that’s very rooted in listening to what our clients are saying and what their needs are, putting that at the forefront of our thinking. So I find some comfort in knowing that every choice we make has a reason behind it and hopefully that gets the work where it needs to go.
I’ve learned so much from watching and listening to other coworkers.
EM Of all the different non-design hats you find yourself wearing as a designer in a small studio, which do you find the most challenging?
GC Having a consistent approach to managing project schedules and timelines is definitely a challenge. There’s always that constant flow of projects being added to the mix or changes being made to timelines, not to mention every project is different and there isn’t a one size fits all approach to each. Figuring out how all those pieces fit together and making sure it all adds up to getting everything done requires a lot of attention.
EM And what about the most rewarding?
GC Each person on our team has a lot of direct communication with clients throughout our entire process. From initial kickoffs and research interviews, to presentations and file handoffs, I feel like by the end of a project we end up knowing our clients very well. Getting to know them, what they do, and how they do it is essential to making good work. But even design aside, learning about other people and industries is a reward in itself. I know that sounds a bit like a Hallmark card, but it’s true.
EM As you’ve transitioned up to being a senior designer, what have been the pros and cons of how your role has changed?
GC It’s shifted my thinking from being just about what specific task I’m doing to understanding how they all constantly work and shape where the project goes as a whole. For me, that’s allowed a kind of ground-up mindset to take over, always trying to see the bigger picture through the smaller details. I wouldn’t really say it’s a con, but that shift has upped the stakes on all fronts so there’s a bit more pressure on making sure everything is done well.
EM What does your setup look like?
GC This is the setup for now, but moving to a new place soon!
EM Do you have a daily routine?
GC I’m very much a creature of habit, so I feel like a lot of my day follows some sort of routine. Working from home has changed things, but usually, it’s up early to make coffee, check a few blogs, back to my desk to work, admittedly probably listening to the same records on repeat, and cap the day with taking our pup out for a walk.
EM Have you found working from home has impacted the way in which you work?
GC There’s that quote from Bob Gill that if you’re designing an identity for a laundromat, you go to the laundromat. That philosophy is a big part of how I work, so staying home and doing everything remote has made the process more… creative. Without that kind of tangible experience, I think it’s really placed a strong reliance on back and forth conversation, both within the studio and with clients. Even more so than before, I’m making sure any kind of communication is clear and detailed so that while working from home, I can still get a clear picture of who and what a project is designed for.
Side projects or other hobbies have done so much to shape my view on design.
EM What’s New York like as a city to work in?
GC Pre-pandemic I might’ve had a very different take on this, but now some days I almost forget I’m here. I do still feel that intense energy that I think New York has though. Being in a place with a high concentration of studios and designers, there’s that excitement of being a part of the community here that underpins everything.
EM What skills would you like to learn that you haven’t yet found the time for?
GC Oh man… so many. I’ve been admiring the folks building in processing from afar for a while now but I’ve only really scratched the surface for myself. It feels like such a clear way to take advantage of the digital world that brands are living in more and more, not to mention can lead to new ideas that just might not have been found on other platforms. I’ve also always wanted to learn piano, but that’s neither here nor there.
EM Do you see the benefit in engaging in side projects outside of the studio, or do you like to switch off outside of work?
GC I’ve learned it’s actually really important for me to not think about it as switching off outside of work. A lot of side projects or other hobbies have done so much to shape my view on design that I like to think of everything as connected and constantly influencing one another. Design to me is more about a certain perspective and that’s something I think manifests itself in a lot of aspects of my life. I’ve also found side projects can allow for a bit more experimentation or collaboration with people and mediums that might not always be on the table for studio projects, so it’s nice to step out of the more rigid structure and look for something outside that lens.
EM How do you get through spells where you don’t feel at your best creatively?
GC Those periods for me usually come from starting to spin my wheels on one idea and overthinking it. So I like to spend some time away from the computer and look back through books, both design and non. That gives me a more focused way to reabsorb ideas or work I think are successful. Then I’ll come back to whatever project I’m working on and instead of trying to design something that works, I’ll kind of do the opposite. Maybe I’ll try setting it in a typeface that doesn’t work or use a ridiculous colour palette or something. Altogether it’s kind of a full creative reset, overload and then flush the system. Helps me get out of that spot I might’ve been stuck in.
EM Would you like to set up your own studio one day?
GC I always kind of thought so, but I’ve felt my perspective on that change over the past few years. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the places I’ve worked so far is the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. If I were going to start a studio I’d want to make sure I was carrying that forward and not setting up a solo practice or something. I think right now my focus is really on how I can build a strong team wherever I’m at, but in the future? Who knows.