“I got a masters in branding at Coca-Cola.”
It was 2007. Glacéau had Vitamin Water and Smart Water. They had quickly become the memorable, iconic beverages in every grocery store.
Glacéau did something very few had caught onto at the time— their brands spoke back to the people. When you pick up a bottle of Vitamin Water, the label makes you laugh. It put the human back in brands.
Coca-Cola saw this and wanted it. So, they acquired Glacéau for 4.1 billion dollars. And Alex Center went along with them.
He went from a young designer in a startup to working alongside the brightest minds in a mega-company like Coca-Cola. All without changing desks.
Maybe you don’t know the name, but you’ve seen his work. Just observe how easily the images of Vitamin Water and Smart Water labels come to mind. That’s Alex.
And this is just part of his story.
For a guy who coins himself as “just a kid from Oceanside”, he’s got an impressive background behind him.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Alex earlier today, to talk dreams, careers, the branding/design world, and everything in between.
These are 6 wonderful wisdoms from one hour with Alex Center:
1.) The 10,000 hours rule is a real thing
Any good skill takes practice. But especially when it comes to an artistic or creative skill. Artistic work isn’t as easily measured as something more technical. It takes practice, critiques, rejections, and feedback to know when you’re doing the right or wrong things. The more hours mean the more confidence, the more freedom, and the more creativity, you gain at your disposal. Above all, 10,000 hours gives you practice in learning how to design with humans in mind, especially if you’re trying to design for other people (which we always are).
2.) Don’t wait to make stuff
Your friend’s garage band, your brother’s soccer team, a local mom and pop shop. . . These are all opportunities to jump on. No one has to give you permission to create value, or just make something. This generation of emerging designers and creatives is the luckiest generation of the like to ever exist. Not only are we one direct message away from the ears of our idols, but also the ears of businesses all around the world. With a little cleverness, we can realize the abundant pool of possibilities that are available to take action on.
3.) Don’t just do design
When Alex leaves work, he leaves the design world behind. He consumes other content that interests him, and those interests can stem into comedy, fashion, or whatever grabs his attention that day. Passion for design and work is great but happiness will never stem from just one place. Time with loved ones, exploring new places, watching a funny show, it’s all good for the soul.
4.) It’s not only about your technical skills
Portfolios can prove a lot about abilities, just as experience can point to strong technical skills. But there are other important qualities that make up the ideal designer for a job. Alex believes the most successful people aren’t just known for their high skills but their kindness and overall charm. Kind people are memorable and likable. Other people like to spend time with them. When a studio owner is looking to hire, it’s important the candidate has the right attitude, as well as high ambition and leadership skills. Then come the technical skills.
5.) You’re never going to know everything
And if you think you do, that’s a good sign you don’t have the right attitude. With any trade, but especially the design world, there’s something to learn every day. Programs, trends, client needs, it’s all changing daily. If you’re not trying to learn and adapt, you’re going to be left behind. On the flip side, there’s no shame in not knowing how to do something. The needs delegated to designers are so vast, it’s impossible to know everything. Roll with the changes and learn as you go.
6.) Great design is about people
You can make the most beautiful, complex piece of art the world has ever seen, but if no one understands it, it’s not doing its job. There are a lot of designers with impressive portfolios of art looking to get into the branding world. But average person outside of the designer/branding realm doesn’t want to be bothered with complexity, or any wasted time. People want to understand, connect, and draw a conclusion all in under one second. If you can do that for them, you have a great design.
I love Alex’s story. I like to think that he was a part of bringing a touch of humanity back into brands. And now he’s bringing it back even more with the opening of his design and brand company in Brooklyn, CENTER.
Here’s to the magic of choosing beverages in dirty bodegas, and the guy behind it all. Thank you for your time and wisdom, Alex.
Check out Alex’s talk on The Futur podcast here.