I was invited by AIGA Oklahoma to present my thoughts on “The Culture of Design in Oklahoma” at their November 17, 2011 event at TapWerks.

Amy Johnson from the University of Central Oklahoma Department of Design asked for a short bio. She was the MC of the night so she read what I submitted to her:

“Brian Winkeler is an OU Visual Communications graduate who was released into the cold, cruel world of 1992 with a mediocre portfolio and a prevailing sense of shame at having bought the debut CD from Right Said Fred.

Brian gained much industry knowledge and experience before being asked to leave Ackerman-McQueen, Jordan Associates and Third Degree Advertising, and is now owner and creative director of Robot House Creative where the odds of him being fired are slightly lower.

Brian has won over one hundred local and regional awards for his copywriting and design work, is the only four-time winner of the prestigious Fontana Award for Humor and was named the 2011 Advertising Professional of the Year by the Oklahoma City Ad Club.

Brian still owns that Right Said Fred CD.

The write-up for the event inspired my presentation. Here’s what it said:

“That’s it! We’ve full-on, totally, 100% officially, had-it-up-to-here with the “Rest of the Southwest” heading. I mean yay! that we get recognized but ummmm WT*?! We are not some low-rent (well, I grant you the cost of real estate IS really low), horse riding (well yeah, I do have a horse), denim wearing (hey those NYC people wear jeans too), back water (don’t we have more coast line than most places?) where people are surprised to find good design! Heck no, good design lives here, thrives here, but too few people know about us! Why is this? Are we hiding it under a bushel basket? Do we think of ourselves as less than those NYCers or LAers? Come and hear some of Oklahoma’s best and brightest discuss the Culture of Design in Oklahoma. This is Pecha Kucha style: Each of the speakers is allowed to use 20 total slides and each of their slides is viewable for 20 seconds.”

I freaked out about the whole “Pecha Kucha” thing. Luckily, they asked me to go last so I was able to take mental notes while watching the other six speakers. Also, my pal Kathleen was a presenter and prompted Amy to advance her slides so as soon as I knew I wouldn’t have a clock on me, I got comfortable. The three pints of Left Hand Milk Stout I’d drunk at that point also helped.

So below I have my slightly edited presentation. My slides were über-simplistic so I’ve bolded the headline that was on screen with my script below each one.

“That’s it! We’ve full-on, totally, 100% officially, had-it-up-to-here with the “Rest of the Southwest” heading. I mean yay! that we get recognized but ummmm WT*?!”
W-T-Asterisk. Seriously? ‘W-T-Asterisk?’ I mean, what the f**k?

I am not George Clooney.
I am not George Clooney…which should be painfully obvious. I would love to be George Clooney because he’s handsome and dashing and funny and smart and dates models and wants to save the world. The best I could ever be is a chubby Dr. Drew or a slightly more gay Anderson Cooper. I can never be George Clooney. But that’s okay.

OKC is not NYC
I’m not George Clooney. And Oklahoma City is not New York City. And it’s not LA or Chicago or Dallas or Minneapolis or Portland or Kansas City or anyplace else. For better or worse, OKC will always be OKC. And it’s our obligation, as leaders of the creative culture of OKC, to be champions of the better.

OK is not OK
Most of you probably know before our license plates were branded “Native America” by Ackerman, they said “Oklahoma is OK.” That was an attitude that almost comedically embraced and promoted mediocrity and the only thing that’s NOT funny about it is that, for generations, Oklahomans were content with just being okay.

OK used to be just OK
Twenty years ago when I graduated the last place I wanted to work was in OKC. It felt like there was no life here. No culture here. The GCS – Graphic Communication Society – was amazing but its days were numbered when the chief organizers of the group found better opportunity by moving down to Dallas. OKC was a creative ghost town.

The state of the Culture of Design in OKC is good.
Twenty years later I’m pleased to say, borrowing a line from our commander in chief, “the state of the Culture of Design in OKC is good.” And by good I’m not saying it’s just okay, or that it’s not great. But it’s good. It’s positive. It’s healthier than ever before and you just have to look around to see that it’s growing every day.

I survived Ackerman McQueen.
My first job was at Ackerman. I lasted five months. But they’ve been on top in town for over 70 years (according to LinkedIn) because, through blood, sweat and many, many, many tears, they produce exquisitely designed work. They used to be the only true game in town and they were the sole definition of the best OKC had to offer.

AC Creative  Braid Creative  Funnel Design  Ghost Design  Insight Creative Group  Jenkin Design  Jordan Advertising  S Design  Skyline Media Group  Staplegun  Stubble  Third Degree  Traction  VI
Here’s an unofficial list of current local businesses that are capable of doing great design work. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I didn’t include Foundry Collective because I’ve heard they’ve left town, which is unfortunate. And I didn’t include my pal Phillip Schroeder, who I think is the best designer in town, because he hasn’t landed on a name for his freelance biz.

I’m not saying that everyone on this list hits it out of the park every time. But there’s great talent at all these places, and the growth of these entities over the last ten years has upped the local game considerably.

We are a community of opportunity.
Not to get all Johnny Cochran but the thing that makes the state of the Culture of Design good right now is that there’s more opportunity than ever to do great design and there’s a community here that supports and celebrates great design. That’s why you’re here in this room right now. Also, you know, good beer.

“We’d love to keep some grads here, but we both know advertising employment in the OKC area is limited. Very limited.” — OU Advertising Professor David Tarpenning
The Oklahoma City Ad Club Career Day event was last week and I worked a ton on it over the last few months. This is the response I got from a local professor to explain why so few of his students were interested in the event. I shared the quote with the 80 or so students who attended Career Day but didn’t share with them who it was that was telling me what I “knew.”

Because I am a lover of gossip and a hater of presumptuous academic condescension, I’m letting you guys know that it was OU advertising professor David Tarpenning. He’s not talking specifically about jobs in design but he may as well be because this has been the attitude for ages about opportunity in town, and it’s dead wrong.

Plugging the brain drain.
Local universities are graduating more quality designers than ever before. OU and OSU are still going strong. OC occasionally sends out a rock star or two. And UCO has recently become a major player. More students are seeing what’s going on in OKC and want to stay and become a part of it, which is integral to the health and growth of a design community.

Look around.
What’s the Culture of Design in OKC like right now? Look around. Look at the great work Staplegun is doing on Project 180. Look at the gorgeous rebranding S Design is doing for Metro Transit. Drive up Automobile Alley and just look at the spaces Funnel, Ghost and Insight have created for themselves.

Look online.
Check out the websites of all of the businesses I listed earlier. You’ll see great portfolios of great print and web design. And then go to Braums.com and you’ll see that some local businesses still have a loooong way to go and maybe at some point a local agency will finally get the opportunity to free them from 1985.

Look at the ADDYs.
This is a shameless plug since I’m on all the committees but the best opportunity to truly see the best of design in Oklahoma City is at the ADDY awards. Nothing motivates me to get off my ass and do great work more than seeing all the great work everyone around me is doing, including design students. The 2012 show is February 18th.

Look in the mirror.
As a design professional you are an example of the Culture of Design in OKC. And you should relish the opportunity to be an advocate and evangelist for our culture and our community. There’s more excitement, more opportunity and more awareness of Oklahoma City than ever before and it’s up to us to define our brand and shape our message to the world.

More Coyne. Less Kern.
Wayne Coyne and Sally Kern are both ambassadors for our city and state. Regardless of personal politics, our job as a creative community is to follow Wayne’s example by promoting the fact that we are diverse. We are unique. Our strength lies in the reality that we all think differently but are unified by our belief in great design.

OK is OK.
I’m not George Clooney. I’m Brian Winkeler. And Oklahoma is Oklahoma. We are as great and strong and innovative as we choose to be. We should never again allow anyone to define us by what we are not. We need to define us by what we are. And what we are is pretty goddamn great.

As a design professional in Oklahoma, you need to ask yourself, “What the asterisk?”

And whatever the asterisk is is up to you.


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