The Designers: Base Design’s Ross Gendels on overcoming anxiety, having fun at work, and more
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 the eighteenth part of the series, we spoke to Ross Gendels, Design Director at the New York-based office of international agency Base Design.
EM Hi Ross, how are you?
RG Hey hey, I’m doing great… enjoying the summer in NYC and trying to stay cool.
EM Can you place where your interest in design originated?
RG I have often thought about this question and I think it started – unaware what design was – when I was a kid making movies with friends. I hated the pre-made graphics/titles iMovie provided so I would end up making my own… this led me down a path of trying to find ‘cool’ typefaces on dafont, downloading photoshop, etc. My friends and I would compete against each other to make the best graphic or ‘photoshop’ for a movie, and eventually for mixtapes. I don’t think I made the connection that what I was doing was considered ‘design’ until one of my art teachers in high school gave me a book about typography.
Most jobs happen because of a combination of hard work + luck + timing.
EM How did you get your start in the industry?
RG Throughout school – and even for a little bit after – I was definitely exploring all the different paths I could go with in the industry. I had an internship at a real estate agency, a few design studios, and a clothing company. I worked in advertising for a short while before I found my professional interest moving towards branding and design.
EM How did you land your role at Base Design?
RG Well, I think that most jobs happen because of a combination of hard work + luck + timing… I have always looked up to, and respected the work that Base does… so at some point, I reached out to Min Lew, Base NY’s creative director and we started a conversation which eventually led to the fates aligning and me joining the team.
EM What do you think you’ve learnt since you’ve been there?
RG So many things… I’ve definitely grown in many different ways since I started… Everything from how I present work… to creating brand strategy… to general craft and refinement. Base sort of requires everyone to wear different hats, AND everyone at Base is super talented and smart – so whether I want to or not – I’m going to learn something.
Everyone at Base is super talented and smart.
EM What do you think is the most important skill a designer should have that isn’t design?
RG The ability to have fun and play. I think that the best work comes when you are having fun… mixing order and chaos. People tend to take things very seriously – which can be good… but there should be a time for both.
EM As you’ve transitioned through to senior design positions, what have been the pros and cons of how your role has changed?
RG Most of the changes to my role I have been extremely happy with! I have found that I really enjoy working with younger designers, project planning, budgeting, etc. The only con is that I now have to go to more meetings – and I am not great at staying still for that long.
EM What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?
RG Confidence and anxiety… which is not something that you can always get rid of… BUT is definitely something you can overcome with the right teammates and friends… a lot of the anxiety and lack of confidence began to fade when I gained more experience and was supported by co-workers. The benefit to my anxiety – while maybe not always healthy – is that it pushes me to go further and grow more.
EM You mention your love for sci-fi on your site. Does that love ever influence your work?
RG Yeah… I guess I’m not so quiet about my love for sci-fi… that passion definitely influences the type of work that I enjoy doing in my free time. I actually have an ongoing project with a writer friend of mine where we are building out this fictional world through encyclopedic entries (www.bkh48.xyz). This project is really fun because it combines two of my passions, and we are not super precious about it… I’m pretty nerdy about a lot of things and I really don’t care. If you ever need a good sci-fi book recommendation let me know.
EM Let’s have it then, what should we check out?
RG Ha… OK. This is a bit tough because I don’t really know what you might be interested in… but here is a range of some of my personal favourites… We’ve got ‘Hyperion’ and ‘Ilium’ by Dan Simmons, ‘Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert Heinlein, and ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert. I think that’s a nice mix of contemporary and classic but I’m no scholar.
EM Have you found side projects to be necessary throughout your career?
RG I don’t think they are ever a necessity for me… so far. Most of my side projects sort of came about organically and never from a need. I do feel lucky because I know many designers who do need side projects in order to maintain sanity.
EM What skills would you like to learn that you haven’t yet found the time for?
RG So many!! I’m always excited to learn new things. At the top of my list right now is to learn PHP so I can work with a custom CMS… I also want to learn how to work in C4D.
EM Who do you look up to in the creative world, and why?
RG To be honest this question is really hard for me to answer because I’m not sure there is one person or one thing I look up to… there are a lot of individuals and things I would consider role models… and what I like about them differs from person to person… whether it’s their personality, their drive, or their ethos. Also, I think my role models change as I get older and have different priorities… right now I have been reading/watching a lot about Bob Dylan… I love his playfulness and spirit and how that translates into his work… another musician who I look up to is Arthur Russell… he pushed the boundaries all around him and had an enviable hunger to make. I think the authors, Arthur C. Clarke and Neil Stephenson, deftly walk the line between science and fiction… and I admire their ability to live in both worlds.
EM What does your setup look like?
I think too rigid of a process can limit the work.
EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel creative?
RG Lots of coffee… just kidding. This is a good question… some days during quarantine I would wake up and just not be into the day. I think the best thing for me to do during these moments was to step away from the computer and think… do a different task but keep the creative challenge in the back of my brain. Also, I usually don’t feel creative for a reason – so identifying that reason and trying to find a remedy can also help.
EM Do you like to have a routine and fixed process for when you work?
RG I do like having a routine and a process… but only to a certain extent. I think too rigid of a process can limit the work and reduce those moments of magic when you come up with an unexpected solution. For me, it’s really about finding the balance between order and chaos that a situation calls for.
EM What do you enjoy about living and working in New York?
RG New York is an amazing city – but it can also be a pretty shitty city… I think this is what I love about it. It has character and feels alive. From a professional point of view, there are obviously a lot of great studios and designers based in NYC – which creates a great community around design.