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Big Ideas

Hero Design Studio: Smaller Is Better

Elizabeth Manos-Brickey of Hero Design Studio discusses leaving the comfort of the big-agency world for her own start-up venture.


Many people — creatives, especially — dream of ditching their day jobs to pursue their true passion. While most may find this prospect too daunting, too unstable, Elizabeth Manos-Brickey did exactly that when she left her job at a large ad agency to develop Hero Design Studio with her now husband, Mark. Since then, the only time she’s looked back has been to remind herself of where she won’t end up again.

Elizabeth’s involvement with the development of Hero from a small freelance project into a full-time design studio and boutique started with a massive leap of faith. “I left my stable art director position at an ad agency after almost 5 years, for the unknown world of a small studio. At the time, myself and my now husband, Mark, had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. We didn’t take out any loans, we had no business plan, after a few months of working together we bought a silkscreen press and taught ourselves to silkscreen print. We were already doing so much music marketing work, we wanted to take it to the next level. I truly believe going with your instinct and not planning ahead and over analyzing can produce some of the best results for your career. In 2006, Hero opened a boutique in downtown Buffalo, we started out small and had no expectations, but having an open door policy for the studio and a boutique featuring our full collection of posters, designer toys, and more, has been amazing for business and has actually brought quite a few new jobs in the door.”

After exiting her corporate job, removing that mindset proved to be one of Elizabeth’s greatest obstacles. “The biggest frustration I had to overcome was when I first left my job to work with Mark at Hero, and I had to start thinking completely for myself. When we create our posters we almost always have complete creative control or damn near close to it, and I found it very difficult to let go and let loose. I was so used to pushy, know-it-all clients telling me what they wanted and how they wanted it. Being your own client is probably the most difficult thing about being a creative, since you are also your own worst critic. I have slowly started to find my comfort zone in my work and to trust my instincts. The best way to overcome creative road blocks is to find inspiration from artists whose work you admire and the things that make you most happy visually. Work in your comfort zone and don’t try to do things you wish you could do, work with your strengths and take those to the next level.”

Paying close attention to schedule helps keep the studio on track. “I rely heavily on all things technology, I have many lists of things I need/want to complete on my computers and on my iPhone, and I keep a daily list of things to do in a notebook on my desk, I also really love and rely on my iCal. I try to ensure my time is well spent, by paying strict attention to deadlines and making a daily list of things I need to get done in the order they need to be completed. I also keep a list of long term items without deadlines, projects for clients and even personal projects. My best tip for time management is to get the little tedious projects out of the way first, even though it seems annoying to have to get them done before the big, fun projects, its much more relaxing and rewarding to work on the bigger projects without anything else looming over your head. I also really try to shut my email and IM off if I am working on a tight deadline, sometimes the distraction of emails and IMs coming in can overwhelm your brain.”

My motivation everyday is to never work for someone else again

Because of its size, collaboration is a huge component of Hero’s operation. “Working in a three person studio, collaboration is a huge part of my creative process. Its so fulfilling to come up with a concept and to have two other people to run it by and get feedback from, negative or positive. We may not always listen to the suggestions given, but its nice to have it there for the taking. All three of us have such different styles and work processes, that sometimes the littlest thing that you could have overlooked is seen right away by someone else, and it can pull your whole idea together. Some of my favorite posters I have completed are successful because they have an element of Mark and/or Ryan in them.”

Everything Hero produces is motivated by a desire to better the world in some way. “One of my favorite quotes that I have heard recently was by Massimo Vignelli in the film Helvetica, where he compared being a graphic designer to being a doctor, “Life of a designer is a life of fight, [a] fight against the ugliness just like a doctor fights against disease. For us the visual disease is what we have all around and what we try to do is to cure it… somehow …with design.” To me, this is what makes our job so rewarding, I actually feel like I am making a difference.”

Finally hitting a stride, Elizabeth now relishes working in a small, independent environment. “My motivation everyday is to never work for someone else again. Working for myself has been the single most rewarding and amazing experience of my life. Everyday my goal continues to be to do what makes me happy. I love knowing that I get to do something I truly love and I can make other people happy by creating for them, as well. I hope that I can continue to get better at what I do and that I continue to learn more about myself and my trade while doing so. I am continually amazed at what talking to other creative professionals teaches me, which is why we try to take every opportunity that is given to us to speak to students or review student work, I want to be able to tell students and people starting out in our industry the things I wish I knew when I started.”

Comments (4)
  • theTRUTH

    “Working for myself has been the single most rewarding and amazing experience of my life…” <br />
    <br />
    This is sad. If you live a life where work is the most rewarding part, you’re doing something very wrong. <br />
    <br />
    PS – THERE ARE NO LARGE AD AGENCIES IN BUFFALO NY

  • jodeeferrari

    “This is sad. If you live a life where work is the most rewarding part, you’re doing something very wrong.”<br />
    <br />
    What an incredibly naive & bitter thing to say. Of course your work can be rewarding & fulfilling. You’ve totally missed the entire point of this article.<br />
    <br />

  • Illeander

    Wow, that is so awesome that you had the courage to leave the security of your former job to pursue your own dream. It is good to be able to work at something you find satisfying. If I could, I would love to do graphic design for the rest of my life. But, first I have to work at improving my skills.<br />
    This article is very inspiring.

  • AliciaO

    This is a great and inspiring article!<br />
    Didn’t your mother teach you that if you don’t have anything nice to say not to say anything at all?

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