IRA Cummings on Art, Design and the Indescribable Freedom (#33)
Our Guest Today: IRA Cummings
Ira Cummings is my guest on the Feisworld podcast. Ira is an Artist, Printmaker, Draftsman and Designer. I called him out as the first introvert ever invited to the podcast (perhaps, others may just be better at hiding it). But let’s face it, #IntrovertsRule. They are focused, thoughtful, and often bring the most surprising ideas and solutions to the table. Ira is one of them, whom I had the pleasure to work with in the past year on a variety of projects at Arnold Worldwide. Ira has a Open Studio coming up Friday April 10th – 12th 2015. If you happen to listen to this podcast before the show, look up Miller Street Open Studio in Somerville and that’s where you will meet Ira and his artworks.
In this one hour conversation with Ira, we talked about design, branding, experiencing the brand as a customer and vice versa – engaging with customers as a brand.
Ira and I are also in the process of rebranding the feisworld podcast. He says:”When my friends embark on something that’s so close to their hearts, I like to help them out!” Ira has been a huge supporter from the very beginning of my podcast. Feisworld isn’t the only one, Ira has helped out on American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Design Exchange Boston (DXB), Design Museum Boston.
“My interest and love for both art and design fuel the pursuit whether it’s for work, myself, all of none of the above.” – Ira Cummings
Here are some of the core themes and questions of our conversation:
- Why did Ira help feisworld podcast with its first rebrand? [4:30]
- What is it like to work as a designer at a big agency such as Arnold Worldwide? [11:30]
- What does it take to work as a freelance designer and what are some of the design and non-design problems Ira has encountered? [13:00]
- #IntrovertsRule, how does it play out for Ira as a designer? [14:30]
- Ira’s origin stories (from a small town in Vermont to Boston). Plus,what does punk rock have to do with all this?
- What are the art mediums Ira likes to work with and why? [33:00]
- Ira’s version of the “indescribable freedom” and the most risk he has ever taken [36:00]
- Brand is about experience (not the logo, or general look and feel) [44:00]
- How does Ira influence experience with design? [49:00]
- What are some of the brands Ira finds inspiring – including how Zappo’s CEO turned Las Vegas into startup fantasyland? [51:00]
- Rapid Fire Questions (i.e. what advice would you give to your 20-year old self? What’s one thing you’d change about yourself? What’s in your go bag? [56:00]
To learn more about Ira Cummings, please visit Ira Cummings’s website, art website (Printmaking, Drawing), or connect with him via Twitter and Instagram.
Lead photo by Liz Linder Photography
Word Cloud, Keywords and Insights From Podintelligence
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art and the digital world.
Fei Wu 0:18
I would Cummings is my guest on the face world podcast today. He’s a senior designer at Arnold worldwide with a background and training in illustration. I call them out as the first introvert ever invited to my podcast. Perhaps others may just be better at hiding it. But let’s face it, introverts rule. Sometimes they’re focused, thoughtful, and often bring the most surprising ideas and solutions to the table. Ira is one of them, whom I had the pleasure to work with in the past year on a variety of projects. Ira has an open studio coming up this Friday, April 10, through Sunday, the 12th 2015. If you happen to be listening to this podcast before the show, look up Miller Street open studio in Somerville, Massachusetts. And that’s where you will meet IRA in his artworks. In this one hour conversation with Ira. We talked about design, branding, then experiencing the brand as a customer and vice versa, engaging with customers as a brand. I had to open up my favorite topic with Ira that is, what is Iris secret origin? And what are some of the things I didn’t know about him that essentially shaped him into who he is today. Ira is a savvy cyclist who spent a week and a half biking the mountains in Colorado, five to six hours a day. He told me that biking the mountains, and just be so free that you could go wherever you want is the indescribable freedom. We close the interview with rapid fire questions, including the new one I had never asked before. What is an iris to go back? In other words, what would Ira take with him without knowing where he’s going next? If you liked this episode, please check out the other episodes on the face world podcast and let me know your feedback via Facebook face world or my Twitter handle which is also face world. Tell me everything, anything and please share it out with your family and friends. Faye Chang God’s here that is thank you very much in Chinese. Without further ado, please welcome Ira Cummings.
Ira Cummings 2:52
To drink from that place. Which place the one who went to?
Fei Wu 2:56
I think it’s called soft power. Oh yeah, that’s okay. Yeah.
Ira Cummings 3:02
It’s like 10 $10 $10 for fun stuff.
Fei Wu 3:08
Yeah. $10. And brown rice bowls, and fusion Asian food. And every there’s Asian. And if you just walk like another block, you’d be in the middle of Chinatown getting all the most authentic
Ira Cummings 3:21
and half the price. Exactly half of the price. It’s close, though. So. Yeah.
Fei Wu 3:29
So I’m super excited to be here with Ira Cummings. I don’t think I’ve ever said your last name once. It is correct. That’s correct. So IRA is here. Ira is a phenomenal designer, artist, biker cyclist. Bunch of things we want to talk about on this podcast. And thank you so much for joining.
Ira Cummings 3:51
Thanks for having me.
Fei Wu 3:52
I really appreciate it. We’re, we’re at Arnold, everybody’s very busy working 80 hours a week. So sparing half an hour here. 45 minutes. It’s really It’s phenomenal. So I want to jump right in and introduce you in a way that I wasn’t able to for my other guests, which is that you are contributing significantly to the face world podcast itself. You have basically helped me rebrand face world, which, if you’re listening to this podcast, you can go to face world.com FEISWOR LD and I have a lovely business cards and I’m talking about create a little section to showcase this whole thing. So why did you decide to help me again? Remind me
Ira Cummings 4:38
Oh, because you’re my friend. And you know, I really I really think that you’re doing you know some interesting stuff. And whenever, whenever my friends embark on a project that’s so passionate and close to their heart, I like to help them out whenever Right, and so,
Fei Wu 5:01
so I’m not the first one obviously know, some of the other projects you’ve helped out with in the past,
Ira Cummings 5:07
um, I have done a few other things. I like being involved with the design community in Boston. So I’ve, I’ve volunteered for AIGA on various things, both smaller things. And then my friend Jason Stevens runs a annual design conference that’s gone gone on for the past couple of years in Boston called Design exchange, Boston, or dxp. And I helped with their website this past year. And kind of helps just sort of from a higher level or direction, creative direction standpoint. I’ve also worked with design museum Boston, on an exhibit that they did a couple years ago called Getting there about the design of travel, and just kind of helping out here and there, where I can
Fei Wu 6:03
is it? Do you think it’s normal? Now, when I say that is because for me also working for an agency, that sometimes the The hours can be pretty intense in terms of on a really good week, I feel I feel like 4050 hours and oftentimes much beyond that, and people in the in the industry will completely understand. So for you to kind of do that. And in addition to that, working nights and weekends, and when what trigger you to want to do that, is it? Is it for kind of self improvement, or is it sort of just happen organically?
Ira Cummings 6:42
I think most designers would probably answer this question sort of the same way. Because pretty much everybody got into design because they really liked doing it. And so the lines between what you do for work and what you do for fun blur a lot. I’ve, as you mentioned, I’m an artist as well. And I think there’s definitely a in terms of like the final product or the final outcome. There’s a really strict or qualifiable goal, or outcome that is different from design, but how the process works, what the outcomes are, what the I don’t know what the pieces what that make up the whole, those are all they’re kind of porous, like my art and force, my design, my design forms my art. There’s a lot of kind of interplay between the two. And there’s like, my interest and love for both really sort of fuel that interest in pursuing it, whether it’s for work, whether it’s for a friend, whether it’s for myself, whether it’s for none of the above. Yeah, so that, that I was is really, I mean, it’s putting in the hours, but sometimes it feels like work. Sometimes it doesn’t, you know, I
Fei Wu 8:11
echo much of that, for me, it’s there is balance, filling the void of, you know, in all honesty, you cannot get everything there is in life out of work as much as the it’s really important. And we do great work for our clients. For me, you know, podcasting, connecting with people, learning so much more about them is very fulfilling, and very rewarding as well. So tell me about for you the difference between being at work working on client work versus your personal project. So paint that picture for me a little bit was it was different and what’s similar?
Ira Cummings 8:48
Well, I’ve always worked for consultancies. So with a consultancy, you’re always working for a client. It’s the the contrast would be being in house at company. And that there’s there’s a lot of gray in between those two poles. But with a consultancy, the client is always your, your reason for being in, in a situation. So the client for me is always the end. And that’s really the main differentiation between anything I do at work, and anything I do for myself. A lot of the things that I do on a freelance basis also focused on that sort of client designer relationship, but then things start to blur more where it’s a design project that I do for myself or it’s an art project that I do for myself or for someone else or just because I feel like doing it sort of thing.
Fei Wu 9:57
I feel like you you look, you look super Young for the longest time, I thought you were like significantly younger than I am. And so you’re in your 30s. And most of my 30s, we’ve been going at this for a little while, and some of my listeners, whether they’re artists or not, or musicians, I wanted you to share sort of your experience in terms of how you get into freelancing. And what people don’t realize is they people think about freelancing in terms of I get on whenever I want, and I build these fantastic relationships, I have drinks and go out to lunch with my clients. That’s sure that’s true in some scenarios, but oftentimes, when you don’t have is an account team, you don’t have a project manager to help you kind of manage the timeline, their expectation, payments, collection, all these things along the line. So do you find that challenging? Or how do you kind of mitigate and manage that on your own.
Ira Cummings 10:57
Um, I’ve kind of have had a bunch of iterations of my career. Even though, as I mentioned, I’ve always operated in sort of a consultant basis, it’s been, you know, I’ve worked full time at places I’ve worked full time, and supplemented with freelance part time, I’ve been full time freelance. So it’s, it’s kind of in a spectrum. But one of the reasons why I really wanted to work at Arnold is I haven’t had previously the experience of working with a large company where there is all those capabilities and roles in house. So that’s been a really great experience for me having people to really maintain client relationships. And it’s not something that I need to devote huge parts of my day to having people that are just exceptional writers and being able to consult with them, and helping shape direction with them. Having people that do animation, that shoot video that shoot photos, that just all those pieces that come together to do really good work. In a smaller place, you sort of do all of them, sort of at at the cost of quality sometimes, you know, because a lot of times you’re just trying to do stuff as quickly and efficiently within budget constraints for any particular goal. You know,
Fei Wu 12:24
about the budget. Continue?
Ira Cummings 12:27
Yeah. So with my freelance work, when I was a full time freelance practitioner, it was definitely a big learning curve, in terms of figuring out how to bid projects, how to manage money, how to how to grow relationships, how to make new ones, how to maintain ones that you already have. And I liked it, it was enjoyable, but it you can look at it as a design problem. And it is to a certain extent, but just filing receipts is not a design problem. So I just don’t like that stuff. So that’s part of the reason, the reason why I’ve gotten to the place where I am basically
Fei Wu 13:19
speaking of design relationships, and I think what you said about Arnold is totally true. And I feel like I come from a digital agency background. And now I’m meeting a lot of people who has knowledge much beyond what I’m familiar with TV production print out of home, I didn’t know what Oh, H actually is. And learn that you’re a fascinating. And I’m going to jump into sort of a personality question here that we start talking about, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert,
Ira Cummings 13:51
very much an introvert, very much, very much
Fei Wu 13:54
an introvert. So I want to congratulate you for perhaps being the first introvert face world podcast. I never asked that question. I never needed to because everybody kind of jump on the podcast and, you know, people who reach out to me or whom I reach out to tend to be fairly extroverted, given the roles are in artists, artists kind of tricky. It really depends. But musicians, business people, project managers very, very verbal, vocal and, and it’s interesting you you mentioned that so well, you also said about our noticed the people, the amount of people that volunteer have to deal with every day and build relationships with. You have to deal with the clients do you think has ever come to you as a challenge? Or how do you kind of, you know, sort of
Ira Cummings 14:45
come to work for my extrovert mask on?
Fei Wu 14:48
extrovert mask. Exactly.
Ira Cummings 14:50
This huge challenge for me. More than more than the design stuff is it’s really a challenge for me. I feel like I can figure out the design stuff. Even if I don’t know how to design the thing that I’m designing right now, I feel like I’ve figured it out enough times in the past that I can do it again. So really like the people is the biggest challenge. And I mean, like challenging in a negative sense, I mean, in a sense of a problem that I need to solve. And I think it’s, I’m kind of, at the point in my career where I’m kind of mentoring younger designers. To a certain extent, it’s not, it’s not the main focus of my role, but it’s something that I do, and it’s something that I really enjoy. So being getting better at that and figuring out that, that that way to interact with people, whether it’s more junior designers or account people are anything to help them understand the process, how to help them do their job, or the challenge of working with people at the executive level, that are making decisions that really impact my day to day, and figuring out the best way to interface with them so that they understand what it is I do and what the value that I bring to the process is. That’s That’s all a huge thing that I’m trying to get better at. And I think it’s that’s really difficult for introverts because, I mean, myself, especially, I have kind of a halting way of speaking it’s because I’m like thinking and processing stuff before I speak. I don’t do that. Yeah, goes anywhere. Yeah, my I have too much of a of a filter and kind of a block before I actually verbalize anything if I do in fact verbalize something
Fei Wu 16:54
I’m gonna dive into why that is. But um, before that, I want to say that is therapy session. You know, I’ve come to realize that I guess the past couple years or so that I feel that extrovert people, you know, extroverts are, are overrated, in many scenarios, cases, whereas, you know, introverts kind of undervalued at times, there’s a really interesting TED Talk, which I will send it to you that it’s about this woman who is an introvert and whose kids are introverts and she described not forcing them to become extroverts and how they could succeed and, but add to that I recently have been falling is a fantastic entrepreneur, and podcaster, whose name is Jonathan fields, and I was reading his bio on the train last night, and it was hashtag introverts rule. So and this was like, the day before interview, I got really excited, I started to reflect upon the sort of your presence and the impact you’ve had on my projects, which we’ve worked on. Many we’re working on really big projects, which I cannot announce on the podcast hasn’t been official. And but this is probably the biggest project you and I have collaborated on on a regular daily basis and all these milestones. But prior to that, we worked on you Western International University, in Phoenix and all the other accounts, what I really what I always find intriguing, this may may be like pushing your button a little bit, but in a good way, is, you know, when I have people like Caleb Brown, Josh Green, who are my guests previously on previously on face world podcast, when they walk into the room, I know their presence, I noticed right away, they’re very noticeable, I can predict the, I cannot predict exactly what they’re going to say. But I can almost predict their actions picking up, you know, a marker for some ways, my marker here, and, and then how they’re going to facilitate and drive the meeting. So and they’re very effective. But in general, sometime in our industry, the loudest people are not often the most intelligent, or the the biggest value added, folks in the room, what I notice about you, which is really intriguing as sometimes I don’t, you’re you might not be the most noticeable, and certainly not the loudest person in the room. But once in a while, you know, all of us kind of go into this, go into the space and put a really difficult problem on the table. And we all get stuck. And as a team, we’re trying to get Unblocker unstuck. And then just in the corner of the room and hear like a whisper I could barely hear it. I remember just in my head, I was like, oh my god, that is the solution. That is the answer to this thing that we’re discussing. I remember I have to look over and there you are, you know, it’s like I would I and then the funny thing is I never I could never see it coming but to your point I always felt like you think things through very carefully. But it’s yeah, you’re absolutely a very much valued player and kind of surprised me on a regular basis. And I don’t think I get surprised very easily. But I like that for some reason. I like that just completely out of the blue. And so, yeah, thank you for being my team.
Ira Cummings 20:26
Well, thanks. I mean, I think the way that a lot of businesses is structured in at least in my experience is probably obviously, biases sort of northeastern Greater Boston area, business models, but I think generally business kind of favors extroverts. I don’t think there’s really one better than the other, but I do think introverts are undervalued. But it’s hard for us to speak up. Collectively, as a group,
Fei Wu 21:02
you should motivate other introverts. Yeah,
Ira Cummings 21:05
I’m working on motivating myself first, and then then we’ll deal with other people.
Fei Wu 21:12
Yeah, maybe you should recruit some extroverts, but then make sure they don’t talk. So I gotta put, I was like, Stop me if I’m doing all the talking. I want to know about your origin story, like sort of a secret origin things that people don’t know about you already. According to you. That’s everything, because you haven’t been very vocal about your life. But yeah, tell me why. Why do you think were you kind of born or raised this way, what has contributed to you being an introvert, or perhaps, who knows when you’re three, you’re complete extrovert, and you decided to,
Ira Cummings 21:47
I think I ever was really, really any more extroverted than I am right now. I guess my parents could speak differently. And I’m sure as a kid, you have less of a filter. But I grew up in semi rural Vermont, that’s outside of the biggest city in Vermont, which is, you know, 40,000 people. So, you know, it doesn’t get much more populous than that. But there was I was, you know, my parents are really great there. They’ve always been really supportive of me. They’re both kind of ex hippies to a certain extent. And so they weren’t really afraid of a son that really wanted to go into art, or do something that wasn’t being a lawyer. Very supportive. Yeah. Yeah, they were. And, you know, I think kind of my current, like, the foundation for who I become, as an adult, I feel like I can most pinpoint back sort of two around the high school years, both from a good and a bad standpoint, like, from a good standpoint, I started to really sort of define my identity, for a bad standpoint, and it was just a very awkward time and feeling very, like I didn’t fit in with anybody. I always felt like I wasn’t really like a pariah, or anything like that. But I certainly didn’t run real close with the the cool kids, if you will, you know,
Fei Wu 23:31
what were the cool kids doing versus what you were doing. They’re probably like,
Ira Cummings 23:35
drinking and getting into trouble. You know, like, I’ve always been a pretty kind of a student, sort of guy. And I’ve never been into drinking or drugs. I in high school, I got into hardcore and punk rock music and I I wasn’t sort of am still straight edge which is like a lifestyle choice based around not consuming drugs and alcohol. And it was kind of this like, label that I adopted, you know, other people are, were doing it so there’s a camaraderie of that but it’s also sort of like a way to I don’t I thought it was cool to like ostracize myself a little bit for some reason.
Fei Wu 24:29
Because firstly, of all I want I want to clear definition what punk rock is. Yeah. And in China, where I grew up when kids listen to punk rock, those are the troublemakers Yeah, the I guess the good kids that straight a kids are listening to jazz, classical music, or some pop music. But what is punk rock? Punk Rock Music Exactly. Like what’s your definition? What who are some of the musicians that inspire you? Because I feel like
Ira Cummings 24:54
Yeah, I mean, in high school, it was like, like Earth crisis. and strive for were, like two of my favorite bands. And I don’t know there’s a whole whole long list but I don’t know it’s yeah, it’s sort of like, you know, the the golden age of punk rock for me is around like 1976 in New York and London and it was, you know, started by the Ramones and
Fei Wu 25:22
calling, are they anything clash? The clash? Yes, that’s one that Yeah,
Ira Cummings 25:26
I mean, those are the two like Seminole punk rock bands that made probably the biggest wide, wide, mainstream splash, but there was so much happening kind of, out of the mainstream and out of like, unless you were in, in the days before the internet, when you had to be like, in this sort of super niche subculture, and you knew where the shows were. And just seeing like, all those of those bands, like, you know, black flag or the Bad Brains, or minor threat, or SSD, or any of those bands that would never ever play on the radio, like, outside of college radio would never play on like the top 40. But they kind of, you know, the, the, the, the punks that you kind of think of is like safety pins and spiked hair and stuff. I mean, that’s all kind of an affectation. And just sort of a mode of dress, and it gets the really important things for punk where the idea is that you can just do whatever you want to do. Like, if you want to put out a record, you put out a record, if you want to start a band, you start a band, if you want to dress however you want to dress, you just do it. And and the other thing is really kind of the questioning of of any sort of established dogma, you know, whether it’s religion or government, or something related to the educational system, just question kind of everything and that sort of skipped assist.
Fei Wu 27:10
Maybe this is obvious, but do you think there’s kind of a direct connection or conclusion between you being an introvert didn’t fit in like everybody else? Yeah, maybe there are more people who felt the same way that you thought they did. Yeah,
Ira Cummings 27:23
I mean, that’s, that’s kind of like the draw of punk a little bit like a lot of it’s like the outcasts getting together, sort of, I think some people were in it for the, for the fashion or for the drugs or for just to like, stir things up. But for me, it was it was more about like DIY and, and kind of just questioning social norms. So
Fei Wu 27:48
so that’s, again, the introvert who’s, it’s interesting when I think people take different actions, for me kind of fulfill another creative side of myself, it could be podcast, could be painting could be martial art. For you, I feel like instead of being very vocal about it, and I feel like you’re largely influenced by the music that you listen to, and I’m also familiar with a lot of the bands you mentioned just now and makes me want to revisit them, and really listen to the lyrics is another thing, like, I’m not sure you feel the same way. But growing up, when you listen to music, especially the catchy ones, you know, really listening tuning in the lyrics you don’t almost don’t care about, it’s more about the tempo of the music itself. But I think the music you described, has, you know, as much content to do kind of an essence to do the lyrics. And there’s just to the music alone.
Ira Cummings 28:42
Yeah, yeah, I think it was, it was key, you know, like, I guess the biggest downside of punk rock is that it’s just sort of buying into a different ideology, instead of just the mainstream ideology. But I do think it like filters out to other parts of life, if you don’t get caught up too much in that, like, black leather jacket, spiky hair kind of thing. In in, just going back to your question about like, the origin story, I think, I think that sort of mindset. Like generally filters in you know, I think I think it’s one of the things that makes it really exciting to be working right now. Because, like, you know, when I was growing up, if you wanted a radio show, tough luck, but like what you’re doing right now. So now you can start a podcast, you know, like if you wanted when I was coming up if you wanted to publish a book, tough luck, but now you can. Now you can do that and you can talk to people. Yeah, you know, whether it’s like you want to have your own video program whether in just create your own Any kind of thing you want to do, it’s so much easier to do that. Now, I think that’s super amazing.
Fei Wu 30:08
That’s I want to add to that, because we kind of started talking about this different area daily stand up today is you’re going to have an art show coming up very soon. And by the time we released this probably getting even closer to the date. And my as you know, both my parents are artists and my mom in particular, you know, back then we’re talking about 70s and 80s. Tough luck, if you want to have your own art show. Yeah. Because there are only such limited galleries and you have to be a certain status, you have to know the right people. Yeah, then any any point of that connection that you fall through, there’s no chance but for you, you’ve been going out for a little while, tell us about the show you’re going to have.
Ira Cummings 30:47
Well, it’s less of a show. And it’s more like Open Studios. So, yeah, a studio where where I’ve worked at, and it’s a building of artists. in Somerville, where I live, is having open studios, April 10 11th, and 12th. It’s called Miller Street Studios. And it’s something they do by annually. So this is kind of the the one opportunity for the next two years. So best place to check it out is Miller Street studios.net. And that’s as pretty much all the information,
Fei Wu 31:24
they include that link in there and speak in which you helped design the website. For them.
Ira Cummings 31:29
Yeah, very superficially, I more like help them install WordPress and connect the dots.
Fei Wu 31:38
I think that’s huge. Because I’ve again, I’ve echo much of this, I’ve helped a lot of my friends, businesses kind of take off setting up websites, social channels, maybe just they’re kind of in the background, or now you don’t think too much about them. But I’m sure the effort was much appreciated. What are some of the types of work or media that you work within for this particular show, and as well as in general, like pieces shown, versus at home?
Ira Cummings 32:09
I would say I think of the work that I do, as as my artistic practice as drawings, they, if someone else was looking, they probably call them mixed media or collage, I look at them as drawings, just because that’s how I think of them, I approach them as a stress person, I think far more linearly in terms of like drawing of lines then form and dimension and space. So that’s, that’s how I classify them and in how I generally describe them, but really, they’re, they’re a combination of a bunch of different dry media, whether it’s graphite, or, or pastel or colored pencil or kind of whatever I have handy with some wet media, I usually use acrylics, but sometimes squash with and then collage and I started sort of sanding them to kind of play with the layers and the layering and the textures and that kind of stuff. So it’s kind of a mixed media practice. I really like working on paper, it’s ice, I had been doing a lot of printmaking previously. I just like the warmth of, of paper versus working on canvas. I like working on panels, some, but it’s just sort of more expensive, more cumbersome. And I think the warmth of paper is really nice like it has it has its own character that it brings to the piece that I don’t get from Canvas,
Fei Wu 33:55
I noticed that it’s noticed the same feeling when I read a book, as much as you know, I used to travel a lot for work. And the last thing I need was a actual book or two, three books in my suitcase and my carry on. But I always enjoy flipping through the pages. I love drawing on paper rather than you know, in contrast to that is reading a book on Kindle on iPad on my computer. Yeah. So I think there’s like really interesting intimacy. And working with pen pencils.
Ira Cummings 34:26
Yeah, so yeah, I mean, I try not to be a Luddite. But just everything I do for my work is digital. And the creativity flows differently, digitally versus analog for me, and I think the analog stuff is you sort of have to commit to it. And I think that’s, that’s good for me, like having 100 layers and 50 Undo states when I’m doing something that’s more art focused. Probably I’ll just get lost in the details. So
Fei Wu 35:05
a few years ago, I started looking to try to learn Photoshop because I have to, we worked on a couple of small art projects. And the moment I opened up Photoshop, and I just like one, like, punch myself in the face, and like, wow, there’s been like another five versions. I don’t know where the buttons go. And yeah, I tried to learn Photoshop and I remember a lesson one from I forgot the website is like, you should close Photoshop and start thinking about planning for what you’re trying to design. A general advice for more junior designers out there, especially if you’re listening to this, I think drawing working with paper and pencil are not just a unique skill that you could you should think about, but I think it’s it’s a requirement almost. So I’m glad that you echoed the same. Yeah. So let’s, let’s jump around a little bit, I really want to get to this whole your connection to nature, I think people will talk about nature a lot on my podcast, Matt loomly, Caleb, and in the context of, you know, people like to be outside in general, like, take a walk doesn’t matter. It’s like five degrees here in Boston, I personally, I, I need to be connected to nature, I like to feel the wind on my face, to kind of take that to the next level, you are a your biker kind of biking around and Boston and you’ve taken that on as a very significant personal interest. So tell us about that.
Ira Cummings 36:30
Well, when I started riding a bike, probably as most most people did, as a kid to give some mobility, but then with the whole, living in a rural place, probably the farthest I could ever bike was about a mile, my friends are eight, eight plus miles away. And so then there was a point when I would just get my parents to drive me or eventually I got my license. So I’d start driving myself. So I kind of stopped biking anywhere, and then moving to Boston, bikes are just the best way to get around. So I started doing it, it’s kind of intimidating, it’s not the most bike friendly city certainly got better. But when I started it, it was worse. And but you know, I just really enjoy it, I think you, you’re way more present than when you’re on the T or in a car, and you see things and you’re not constrained really to anybody else’s time schedule, or we kind of have to follow the roads for the most part, but you’re not really constrained to where the T goes or where a bus goes or, and it’s a lot faster than walking. So and then there’s just kind of like the kind of indescribable freedom that that allows, combined with this idea of like, I just got myself from one end of Boston to the other in less than an hour under my own power, or I just biked you know, 40 miles under my own power. Something I could have driven in, you know, a 10th of the time, but I got there, just by my own legs turning, you know. And really, I’m really passionate about mountain biking, it’s, if I could do it all day every day I would. But that’s you got to go outside be in the woods, you can do it alone, it’s a little more risky. But it’s awesome to do with a small group of friends. And you get kind of the rush of the downhills combined with kind of the it’s sort of a mental challenge of picking the line, like sort of the path of not always Least Resistance but most efficiency through any sort of given point. You’ve taken
Fei Wu 38:59
a trip. And when I say recently, I think is within the past year or so to Colorado with some of your friends. How was that? What was that experience? Like? And I guess, maybe nothing of that compares to what you do here in Boston. Tell us about that.
Ira Cummings 39:13
That was a trip I took with my brother. I flew out to Grand Junction in Minot with him and we camped around Grand Junction and in rode bikes every day for a week and a half.
Fei Wu 39:25
Every day, how many hours a day. Exactly.
Ira Cummings 39:27
It was probably five, six hours a day. I was great. I really liked it. I don’t think I would want to live there just because it’s beyond biking. There’s not much else.
But it’s it’s really beautiful around there. It’s totally different from here. I mean, I’ve been places. I’ve been to Texas a little bit and it’s just dry with no not much vegetation but this protocol Rado was it was drier, but there’s still some green and but the you know the rock formations like the cliffs they’re just unreal you know you can see how just centuries of of weather have eroded the landscape and shaped it and then you can ride on it is it’s totally unreal at the same time. Like that’s definitely the most risk taking I’ve ever been in my life. I know you had Chris on before who’s jumping out of planes, but for me like riding along the edge of a cliff that was like you know, a couple 100 feet down, especially being scared of heights was like, pretty pretty out there for me.
Fei Wu 40:44
Yeah. It’s I find I find it interesting to talk about cycling, biking in general, again, originally from Beijing. bikes were, you know, absolutely part of my life there. I think it’s much safer to bike in China first to certain degree because you have a separate you’ve always expected people expected drivers are better at it. And you have a separate lane. I mean, just in your lane. Totally different. Totally different. There’s nobody in your way. Certainly not cars.
Ira Cummings 41:12
I would love to see this country to top that maybe at least in the cities.
Fei Wu 41:15
Usually. I could absolutely imagine you I’ve had other American friends so fondly called American friends actually feel kind of out of place when I go home to kind of integrate back to China. But I’ve had people who don’t bite nearly as much as you do, you know, father and son showed up in Beijing. And they’re like, Yeah, forget taxis. They literally just bike through the entire city. Yeah, great time. I can absolutely see you do that with Chris and your wife with your brother.
Ira Cummings 41:41
You know? Yeah. I mean, I, I think it’s really difficult to convey to people that have never done it. But I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it. With my own experience, I’ve seen it with my wife’s experience, I’ve seen it with my friends experience, like you have a total different interaction with the city when you start biking it and it can be anything from like, a super easy to ride bike everything up to you know, dudes and spandex, you know it, it can kind of be whatever you want it to be and it’s very much like can be a different way of expression and kind of a realization of, of what you’re into. And I like to get around
Fei Wu 42:26
totally when I I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I wouldn’t my friend Pamela me took a three week trip to Europe. She’s actually in Paris right now she texts me this morning’s like, hey, remember, we have stale bread in Paris. We literally spent $2,000 All together hotels for three weeks. So no, like I have living in the shady is like hotels and not having enough food. But one of the things I noticed we love the most compared to the rest of the people are traveling with with us is we didn’t want to be on the bus the whole time. We loved walking around the city. We we thought about getting on bikes, language issues, whatnot, we couldn’t really get the rentals for me to add to that I love visiting local schools. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I just love it. I want to be in the classroom. And I feel like there’s something about being around children. We’re kind of the educational system you get the most transparent feeling and integration into the city. I did take the train and literally had no idea where I was going. Yeah. But then you have to get up and walk to these random places. So absolutely agree that exploring cities at the same level. So we can we we we talked you talked for a long time. But what are some of the things that you want to you wanted to talk about that we haven’t gotten the chance to?
Ira Cummings 43:46
I’m not too sure. What else? I mean, I I haven’t really talked too much about design. I guess I could talk about that a little bit. I feel like I’ve sort of chosen a little bit of a strange path but I think it’s it’s something that’s getting a little bit more popular but I got started doing or working with a relatively small but a little bit kind of mid sized company in Vermont called select Design and they they really got a start kind of doing some marketing stuff and sort of grew this branding capacity and capability and so that’s that’s really where I got a lot of my foundation for design. I don’t have a design, formal design education.
Fei Wu 44:51
Studying college I studied illustration,
is that not consider like traditional design path.
Ira Cummings 44:59
No different The not, you know, illustration is like, what you would see accompanying, like, on the, on the cover of The New Yorker or something, you know, it’s like it’s had somewhat of a resurgence, but especially digital illustration, but like I, I hardly had to touch a computer in school I liked to so I did. But I was one of the few people that graduated school with an actual functioning website, portfolio. But it was otherwise it was a very traditionally based program, which, you know, it kind of made sense to me, because I was, I started drawing, I always loved drawing, so it was sort of like an evolution of that. But then I was just kind of burnt out on it after school and wanted to do something different. And I was kind of interested in design my, my best friend, all throughout school, and you know, who’s still my best friend was is in was in the Communication Design program. And he was kind of he was roping me into helping him with projects I was, I was looking at what he was doing. So I kind of had an idea of what design was, and some of like, the big, the big ideas, but it was through that first job that I really developed a love for it and, and start to understand what it was and started to do more research and started to educate myself and then kind of the the brand piece. And that’s it’s kind of a buzzword, I guess is like branding. In business these days. I think people generally use it in the sense where they’re, where they’re referring to a logo or like, the things around a logo, like the colors, the type. For me, brand is always about experience. And you can have a really horrible logo, but still have a good brand. Like, Zappos would be a really good example, like people have, like, horrible. Yeah, people have like a really like, you know, that’s a great shopping experience for most people, you know, sometimes maybe it’s not what you really want, maybe you’re, you’re looking for, like super high end stuff, and you only want to like walk into the store and you know, have someone give you things or sell you things for very exorbitant prices. But like, you know, Zappos is a horrible identity, but a good brand, because they’re, they have great customer service, they, you can pretty much get what you want. Like free shipping, like people have all these warm, fuzzy experiences with, with the company, you know, they’re like, transforming downtown LA into, I guess you could say for for better or worse, but they’re like having some sort of revitalizing change in the environment. So it’s like, this is like cultivating that. And then like how you interact, how the bigger sort of organization interacts with the people that it touches. That’s, that’s like the experience, that’s really the brand.
Fei Wu 48:28
Also designer, especially the bigger agency, you know, we have a brand experiencing brand team planning team design team. You I feel like there’s a theme throughout the podcast, you focus a lot about experience, whether it’s outdoor being, you know, providing the experience of feeling connection to people, how do you think as a designer, that you’re able to kind of bridge that gap? As a designer, you know, you’re tasked to design a logo, how do you choose to kind of navigate around that and trying to influence the actual experience of things? Because in some people’s minds, that’s that’s digital strategy, that’s business strategy, all these things that people can’t quite connect to design. How do you see that?
Ira Cummings 49:12
Maybe, maybe I’m entitled, but I think designers have been should have as much a seat at that table in those kinds of decisions. I think designers have, I guess you could say it’s, it’s, it’s somewhat unique, I think it’s certainly a focus, and kind of an empathic quality, that a lot of people that are just looking at two by twos don’t always have. And I think designers can kind of marry that like, Okay, here’s the concrete thing that we’re going to make, like how does that tie into the bigger sort of experience as a whole so it’s like the bigger holistic view married with that really like finite and focused? What? What is the outcome? What’s actually? What’s it actually going to feel like in I kind of hate that field? Word and in terms of design, especially when you talk look and feel that’s one of my least favorite phrases in all of design? Sorry, I didn’t. Yeah, I just think it’s like, it’s, it’s, it’s bigger than that, you know, that’s it. Like, if you’re just talking about sort of logos and the identity piece, it’s very superficial, I think it’s really kind of missing, really missing the opportunities and, like the impact that design can have in the bigger, like, business picture.
Fei Wu 50:46
What are some of the brands that you find inspiring, and it could be anything, it doesn’t have to be constrained to a certain industry? I’m saying that because you’ve given me some of the customer testimonials, and I’ve been able to follow some of that, but what are some of the brands that you that gives you that not look and feel, but gives you that feeling of you, provide you with a better experience, especially in such a crowded marketplace these days? You know?
Ira Cummings 51:15
Um, I guess I mean, it tends to lean more towards like, lifestyle stuff for me. And it’s, it tends to be things that I consume, kind of because I, the brands, the brands appealed to me like vans as in the shoes, and and they’ve kind of grown into apparel and all this kind of stuff. I think they’re one of the more I think things are starting to fall apart a little bit. But they’re very, they have their roots very much in skateboarding and surfing and kind of California alternative culture. And I think they’ve cultivated that fairly well as they’ve grown and kind of similar similar voltcom They have always kind of a different,
Fei Wu 52:12
what are some of the brands that you you buy and love
Ira Cummings 52:18
it you know, those two, definitely. I love Adidas for some reason, like, I played soccer when I was a kid. And I just kind of like their aesthetic better than I do. Nike. Plus Nike shoes don’t fit me. They they build them around forms that are for people with really narrow feet.
Fei Wu 52:43
Interesting. Yeah. Maybe for Nike to consider a better experience. Yeah, the customers there. Yeah.
Ira Cummings 52:49
I mean, I don’t think I think like Adidas is not the most innovative company. But I think they have more like style cred. In a certain sense, then that Nike does,
Fei Wu 53:01
I’m surprised, are you so far we haven’t brought up Burt’s Bee because we had this conversation, perhaps when we’re working on an account, I think could be junk free to, but some of the ideas of was one of them as well. The funny thing is, like, before we had that conversation, I own nothing from Burt’s Bee. And I started to realize that when I go to CVS or I’m looking for, you know, like facial products, or like lip balm, I started to think about Burt’s Bee and trying to explore to see why you were very intrigued by the brand and I so far I’ve been super pleased. And they I noticed that was such an interesting experience with them to have their separate, I’ll always so it’s never kind of diluted by other brands. There’s no competition, they’re kind of like we’re our own thing. And so winter again in Boston was like five degrees out super dry. And I was looking for, you know, like moisturizer on Amazon. And Versace was like top of the line with like, 3000 positive reviews. So there’s got to be, I’m always fascinated by brands who are able to build to attract such cohorts of, you know, customers who just in love, and once nothing else.
Ira Cummings 54:16
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think Burt’s Bees is a really smart brand, I think, I think is that ugly, they’re not as sophisticated as I think they could be. But I think they’re, they’ve aligned themselves with causes. Specifically, you know, the environmental message and well just, you know, like they’re they have of the things that you can buy in a grocery store. Burt’s tends to be the highest percentage of natural ingredients and you know, like they support environmental causes and things like that. So they align themselves with a cause so that people that are passionate about the cause are also passionate about birds. So it’s kind of like a one feeds into the other sort of thing. I do use their their product. I just, I feel like what? Well, to your, to what you’re referring to I think they’ve, they tend to think about more of that experience than some other companies. I think I think other companies are catching up. But, you know, like they’ve they have all that. Like they’re rare, their presentation is pretty focused,
Fei Wu 55:35
very consistent. Yes. Yeah, that’s the look, you know, like nothing else, like I never get confused by the brand identity. So I’m running a little bit out of your time, actually, the time committed. So I’m going to wrap up with a few rapid fire questions. And are you into reading? Books? Do you read books on a regular basis, and
Ira Cummings 56:02
I’m trying to read more. That will include a list
Fei Wu 56:05
of blogs and things you find inspiration, and especially when it comes to design? We’ll include that in the blog post. But let’s, one of my favorite question to ask my guests is looking back. What is that advice that you will give to your 20 year old self? What would you say to your 20 year old self?
Ira Cummings 56:25
I would say just like, loosen up and not worry too much about what other people think about you just kind of own it. You know, it’s something I still struggle with. But I think that the more that no matter what you do, the more that you can just be confident in being kind of who or whatever you are, you know, just everything else sort of falls into place one way or another.
Fei Wu 56:58
I really liked that. And Sam Smith, I believe it’s a singer’s name. I don’t I don’t recall that name until watching Grammys this year. And the young gentleman who came up and said I’ve been seeing for a long time, until I was trying to be myself that I’m able to achieve the success that I have today. He took away like all the Grammy Awards that just came out of nowhere. And my second question is, well, given where you are right now, what is that one thing that you would change about yourself? Could be anything? Any interesting questions, I just say James Altucher, this question is pitched to James Altucher, who’s like number one influencer on LinkedIn, he’s like, I really wouldn’t mind being having Brad Pitt’s Look, I just saying. Anyway,
Ira Cummings 57:45
um, the one thing I would change. Um I think it’s, I mean, this is always kind of a tough thing, because I have I think about regrets probably more than I should, but at the same time, I really acknowledged that the, my path here has been pretty dependent on the choices that I’ve made. Maybe just to probably take an interest in, in design sooner. Maybe the other thing would be to kind of commit professionally, a little bit more in a more focused way. Just because I’ve even even though I’ve, there, there’s been kind of some through lines in my career, it hasn’t really been, it’s more like been based on what I was good at, or what there was demand for or things like that versus kind of really bleeding into any one particular thing. I tend to be a generalist a little bit. So I think pushing myself to focus earlier,
Fei Wu 59:24
what are some of the focus areas that you would like to consider now?
Ira Cummings 59:30
Um, I, I really do want to be better at mentoring younger designers and helping them to get better at whatever it is that they want to do. And kind of help, you know, help them get to where they want to go without some of the stumbling blocks that I had to Learn from my experience, and, and kind of try to foster creativity because I think it’s I don’t know that people really how much people take it for granted. But I think it’s, it’s kind of awesome to have a job where you get to be creative every day. And you really don’t have to put up with doing things you don’t want to do if you have ambition, because they’re, you know, the the times I see job listings for designers every day, just not even looking. But you know, people say, I’m looking for someone to do this, or, you know, anybody who could do that, or I heard about an opening at this, like, there’s a lot of opportunities, there’s tons of opportunities for designers. So if you’re, like not doing something that you’re not interested in, like, just go get a new job.
Fei Wu 1:01:02
Or something else, just start something on your own. Yeah. And the friends project. Yeah, we’ll close on a very lighthearted question. Which hasn’t been I haven’t pitched this to anybody else. I find it kind of intriguing that in there’s a saying in the US I don’t think there’s an equivalent in China, which is a to go bag. Like you know, if you have a to go bag, it gets imagine like a student backpack size. Not like a ccm for people in there will be in the back for you.
Ira Cummings 1:01:36
Um, there’d be a sketchpad and like, dozen different pencils, there would probably be you know, enough books to keep me busy for a while. I don’t I don’t know if a phone would be in there, but definitely some way to listen to music.
Fei Wu 1:02:01
Have fun when I’ll be in there.
Ira Cummings 1:02:03
You know, I have a love hate relationship with it. It’s, it enables a lot but it also, I think makes people kind of overly reliant as well. So
Fei Wu 1:02:14
let’s say you have like 50 pounds of stuff. Most of the empty will be like
Ira Cummings 1:02:19
maybe some food
Fei Wu 1:02:24
like that answer maybe next time for my next podcast open with that because there’s so many trigger points from that is like, why did you decide to do that? Thank you so much for being on my podcast. Thanks. It was a pleasure. Fantastic. Well, we’ll include information on how to follow you is Ira cummings.com.
Ira Cummings 1:02:43
Yeah, it’s Ira coming SATCOM is is my design work Ira Cummings. art.com is my more art focused stuff. I’m Ira F. Cummings at most social networks. So that’s usually the way to find me.
Fei Wu 1:02:58
Right and you post regularly to Facebook, Twitter,
Ira Cummings 1:03:02
Twitter, Facebook tends to be for people that I know so I keep keep it kind of siloed Instagram as well. Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr. Those are the main ones. We include
Fei Wu 1:03:14
all of that information in a blog post.
Listen to more episodes of the face world podcast. Please subscribe on iTunes where visit face world.com that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes, links or other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening
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