Why the future of design belongs to the hoodrats5 min read

Sometimes, if you want great design talent involved in developing your brand, you have to look beyond the recent crop of college graduates, even beyond the pool of experienced graphic artists.

Sometimes you have to look under a bridge.

COLLEGE DIDN’T CLICK FOR DYLAN

Dylan Swindell just wasn’t feeling Ball State orientation. As an artist, he loved to create; but when he considered applying his passion to the business world in the way the program wanted him to, there was something missing. It all felt …

“Robotic,” Dylan told us in March of 2018, when he had been with Anderson Creative for nearly three years. This was the word he came up with to describe his abbreviated college experience, which ended before it began.

His tone and the way he winced behind his glasses revealed more: you can tell the classroom approach for him (as advertised, anyway) felt frustrating, joyless, unfulfilling. Like a program incompatible with his wetware.

It was a far cry from the freedom he had found as a teenage graffiti artist.

SCECH MAKES HIS FIRST MARK

Dylan’s hometown of Alexandria, Indiana is crisscrossed with railroad tracks. He was always fascinated by the artwork on the sides of trains as they passed at crossings. He looked at the words with weird spellings, painted in bold colors, and wondered what it was all about.

“I figured out that was a tag, the name the artist called themselves,” Dylan said. “If I was going to do this, I needed a tag of my own. I was always sketching in my notebook, so I came up with Scech.”

Dylan and some friends often went out to a place called Graffiti Bridge. This overpass in northwest Delaware County, where I-69 crosses over County Road 251 N, north of McGalliard Road, has been a favorite spot of graffiti artists for decades.

The concrete slopes down to vertical walls on either side of the road, making two great canvases for rebels with paint cans. This was Dylan’s first gallery.

Scech was born.

SCECH GOES LEGIT

Ever the perfectionist, Dylan painted his tag over and over again, experimenting with font and color. He and his friend went out to a train yard to tag boxcars. Given how hard it is to stay anonymous in a community as small as Alexandria, they steered clear of town.

One popular spot proved too tempting to pass up, though. There’s a long, high concrete wall along the road at the high school called “senior wall”, because every year, seniors write on it in chalk and take pictures in front of it. It’s a tradition.

Dylan and his friends were sophomores, hanging out on a Tuesday night when they were laughing about how dumb they thought the senior wall was (in the way that teenagers naturally know everything), when someone said, “Screw it. Let’s go leave our mark on it.”

They went out to the wall under cover of night. Dylan’s backpack was loaded up with cans of as many colors as he could fit into it.

“Me and a friend of mine hopped out of the car, ran up to the wall and started spraying,” Dylan said. “I had like three lines done, and suddenly, all these cops swarmed from everywhere. You’d think they had found Bin Laden or something. It was nuts.”

Dylan was arrested. His parents came and picked him up. The school didn’t press charges, but they made him clean it up.

The following week, his art teacher called him up to her desk and said, “So, I heard you were into graffiti.”

She and the drama teacher were putting on a play for the drama club and needed a backdrop done. Would he be interested?

Yes. Yes he would.

Young Dylan thought that was an awesome idea. He finally had an opportunity to take his passion and apply it to someone else’s need, to do his craft in the full light of day.

Scech went legit.

“I hit the jackpot. To take that super crappy experience and have someone put a silver lining to it, that’s a direct inspiration to everything I do today,” Dylan said.

HOW TO CATCH A HOODRAT

A few years later, Dylan was without a degree but brimming with talent. He’s back to making art for the sake of art, expressing his passion without anybody asking him to and working in a bar in Pendleton to make something of a living.

The bar let him hang some of his work. A couple of the bar’s patrons – Arin and Jake Anderson of Anderson Creative – liked what they saw. They asked Dylan if he would be interested in working for them.

Yes. Yes he would.

The graffiti punk, the vandal, street artist – whatever you want to call him – was now going legit with a paycheck.

“Jake calls me a rural hoodrat,” Dylan said with a chuckle.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum, however. Dylan gets a kick out of how the graffiti of previous decades that was considered aberrant has become hip and mainstream. Brands are figuring out how the grittiness of graffiti art, a.k.a. street art, has a way of speaking to target audiences on a deeper level than the clean, sanitized content of mainstream design.

“It’s the evolution of the hipster,” Dylan said. “It’s cooler now to have handmade stuff.”

Why? Dylan explained that it’s … well, hard to explain. All he knows is that what speaks to him – bold colors, unique contrast, the interplay of light and dark – often speaks to others.

Like loyal customers, for instance.

CUTTING EDGE BRANDING = PIXEL-PERFECT TAGGING

What can’t always be expressed in words, however, is felt in the spirit of the street artist. It’s the freedom to mark the world in their own way, consequences be damned. It’s also the drive to make their mark over and over again in search of the ultimate act of self-expression. The perfect mark.

You can relate, can’t you?

Artists like Dylan channel that spirit that once drove them out into the night, to tag bridges and railroad crossings and train yards, into creating identities for brands that are more than just a collection of computer-aided, “robotic” design principles in action.

They are pixel-perfect tags with soul. They actually make us feel something. They make us want more.

That is why the future of design belongs to the hoodrats.

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