So tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in South Florida. I worked and failed at a lot of jobs. I must have had 15 to 20 jobs before I was 20 years old and I was fired from most of them. That’s the wrong kind of 20 under 20. I managed a storage facility for a while. I sold shoes at one point. I was a server for three hours. I was a lifeguard. I worked at a “roll your own” smoke shop for a while. Those guys were D-bags.
When I was 17 I got an internship at a small copy shop. They did club flyers, business cards, event signage. Stuff like that. I was hired to work the front, but I was terrible. They put me at a computer in the back and taught me photoshop. I started out making club flyers. I still have some of those designs. I’ll never show them to anyone.
After graduating from Full Sail University in 2013, I moved back home and started freelancing. Four months later I was moving to St. Petersburg, Florida to work at the Women’s Tennis Association. I got to work on a lot of print and social campaigns, but motion design was and still is where I am happiest. Motion design is how I got my foot in the door and it’s how I want to focus my career.
It had been a little over a year at the WTA and it was great, but I was craving that romantic agency experience. It was motion design that got me the job again, this time at a digital agency based in Tampa called Sparxoo. In the two-plus years I’ve been working at Sparxoo I’ve grown tremendously and worked harder than I thought possible. We’ve gotten to brand a local downtown. We just launched a Best in Class University website. I’ve added a bunch of digital skills to my toolset and I’m working towards elevating to the next level.
For many of us, turning a hobby into a career is something that happens by chance. Although Joshua Baron always loved graphic design and art, he didn’t truly make the decision to be a designer until he was 21, working two jobs while going to community college. In his own words, he “was taking courses aimlessly and skipping school like [he] wasn’t paying for it” – something I think many of us have experienced, but don’t often own up to. Once the decision was made, Josh, now an Art Director at Tampa-based digital agency Sparxoo, has been on a determined and focused path toward working across multiple mediums and platforms.
The boldness in his approach to design shines through in the way he discusses his process, the vibrancy in his print work, and the playfulness in his motion work. Apart from all of this, I was impressed with his positive attitude toward exchanging ideas and making connections within the design community. To get the full effect of his motion work, I highly recommend checking out his website and Behance.
That sounds like a wild ride already! So, now that you feel that you've found your place – what would you say your biggest strengths and struggles are?
I’ve been able to step up and lead. When meetings get started I want to be the first one at the whiteboard. I want to help set the vision for our projects and I’ve been lucky enough to contribute that way. Without a Creative Director at our agency our work was very technical and SEO focused. Coming in with little digital experience, I’ve been able to add value creatively and shift the agency’s perspective. I’ve added video to our capabilities and steadily built up our portfolio as storytellers. It has been incredibly rewarding and meaningful.
With that leadership has come my biggest struggle. I’ve had to manage other creatives and designers very early in my career. Some with more experience than me. I want to be the mentor and leader that I want for myself, but that person isn't here yet. Since I’ve started in my career I’ve been searching for a mentor in my field. Someone to model myself after. I’ve ended up taking a couple steps back in the past 6 months. We still have other designers on our team, they just don’t report directly to me at this moment. I’m learning to lead by example now and I most definitely haven't given up.
“They put me at a computer in the back and taught me photoshop. I started out making club flyers. I still have some of those designs. I’ll never show them to anyone.”
What are some trends in your field that you wish you could bring back, and which ones would you rather forget?
I love that the 80s are back in type and in color palettes, but in a more refined way. The field feels so nostalgic to me right now. I can look at 80s playlists on Spotify and get some really relevant inspiration. It makes me happy. Personally, I anticipate more bauhaus type of stuff on the web. Functionality and art are blending in fun ways. I’m seeing a lot of bauhaus style grids in web and mobile designs.
I really want to forget about long shadows and ribbons.
Who are some designers/artists that you feel have impacted your own practice? What about inspiration from outside the fields of design and art?
Fortunately for me I don’t have to look far to find inspiring designers. I look at a lot of local artists and agencies in town. St. Pete and Tampa have some amazing talent. I can just look at their work and it motivates me to get better and try new things. I still need to actually meet a lot of them. I could name them but I don’t want to embarrass myself.
There’s also my wife, Lala, who I met at a design conference in St. Pete. She’s a UI/UX lead and is doing things in her work that are truly innovative. We both constantly push each other to be better in life and in design.
This is gonna read like the dumbest answer, but I look at everything. I don’t really switch off. I try and absorb everything and find patterns and meaning in it all. You could give me what seems like the least exciting project possible and I will find something to get super excited about and want to make a whole world out of it. In a way, I think of everything as some form of art. Brian Eno said art is anything you don’t have to do. I like that thought.
Tell us about your thought process working through your favorite project – how did you develop this practice?
My favorite project right now is Spout App. I’ve had the idea in my head since 2013 to build an app that can help people heal each other. I took the opportunity that came with my new role at Sparxoo to teach myself the basics of UI/UX and visual design. I was able to apply a lot of what I learned during the day in my work, and at night I would work on Spout. It also doesn’t hurt that my beautiful wife is a UI/UX lead.
Functionally the app is about reciprocal audio messaging. You open Spout and you have a random message waiting for you. You listen to it and you can reply directly or send your own message out into the world. The idea is that Spout would facilitate honest communication through reciprocity. Listening and then speaking. Spout works geographically so you could be standing in a park and shuffle through all the messages that were sent from there.
I started with the brand. Visually I had this very literal interpretation. A capital S that would second as water spout. As I iterated I realized that the brand needed an identity that was completely transparent. The app is focused on audio so the visual aspects should be functional and easy, but not necessarily noticeable. Just like a great music player - you don’t want it to get in the way of the music. The aspects of honest conversation reflected the same ideas.
Starting with the brand is what I would typically do for any other project where I would be building from the ground up. It’s the opposite for Spout. When I reversed the process and went into the ux and interactions the brand came to life on it’s own. It’s still a work in progress and I’m still shopping around for development. so if you know anyone…
What's in your margins?
I try and keep my margins wide. I’m currently teaching myself Sketch and Principal. I’m working with musician Twelve’len on a new website and some interactive content. We want to connect to fans like no other artist out can right now. I can’t talk about that yet, but I can share a WIP.
Here's a link to to some tunes!
Edited by Padmini Chandrasekaran
“The idea is that Spout would facilitate honest communication through reciprocity. Listening and then speaking. ”
Can you tell us more about your experience across various mediums – do you have a different approach to your motion work versus print work?
Absolutely. With print, I’m always thinking about how it reads. Where am I taking the users eye. How am I establishing hierarchy and what is my call to action. Whatever it is I want them to hold on to it. If It’s a stationary or business card I’m thinking about how it feels on your fingertips. With signage I’m always thinking about the environment and how I can best utilize the space.
With motion, everything is happening at once and I can be much more deliberate in my communication. It’s less about where the viewer’s eyes are going and more about putting the right information directly in front of them. You can’t touch video like you can a print piece and it doesn’t exists in physical space but you still want it to feel tangible. I think about that a lot. How can I make it feel real? How can I engage the senses beyond seeing and hearing.
Why do you think inclusion within a team or project is important? Do you feel as though this is something the design field lacks?
I’m very lucky. Both design jobs I’ve held have been very inclusive work environments. At Sparxoo our brainstorm sessions bring in so many different cultural backgrounds, races, genders, and even occupations. Leadership, Interns, and everyone in-between. We’re a minority-owned company with a majority women workforce. I’m very grateful for this and I wouldn't have it any other way. I’ve learned a lot about patience and acceptance. I’ve learned to address more variables in my work. It doesn’t matter what the project is. Anyone who has an opinion can participate. I love that. When I’m working on a website I want a developer's input, the content team's advice, guidance from the digital team, and wisdom from our leadership.
With that in mind, I do recognize this is a rare thing. It wasn’t exactly like this at school. Full Sail was an expensive investment for me and I’ll be paying for it for the next 20 years or so. But I can see the price tag being a limitation for a lot of people. I learned a lot of technical skills at school. At work I quickly learned what was missing from my education. I picked up a lot of interpersonal communication and self awareness.
What do you wish the world knew about people in your field?
Half of my family has no idea what I do. They think I make pretty pictures all day. I was showing my grandma my website and demo-reel and she says “it’s so amazing how these artists do these things”. I’m like “Grandma, this is my work”. She says “hopefully someday you’ll make some money at it”.
I guess I wish the world took more time to think about where everything comes from and why it makes them feel the way it does. That’s when you start to appreciate things you might not have noticed before.