Chats with creatives: visual designer Zach McNair

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Zach McNair brings a fresh angle to the series with a lot of diverse work experience and a brave way of diving into difficult projects in order to learn while doing. Also, he agrees that face time is the most important source of inspiration, and that's hugely admirable.

Chats with Creatives | Zach McNair
Zach McNair logo
Zach McNair logo

1. What type of design do you do?

In short, you could say that I do visual design. It all depends on what comes in that day. Some days I’m illustrating logos, other days I’m designing UX & UI for websites or applications, and still other days I’m laying out artwork for print. Occasionally, I’ll also design titles for a video.

2. How long have you been designing?

Full-time since 2009, but I’ve designed and built my first website in 1997.

3. At what point in your life did it click for you that design was your thing?

That’s kind of hard to say. I think I’ve found more solace in Creative Direction and overseeing projects that operate in multiple mediums be it web, print, video, or photo work. I’d say that I realized in 2005 that I wanted to be a designer (among other things,) and I’m thankful that I’ve been given that opportunity to do so for so long.

4. What did you study in college and how did that prepare you for what you do now?

I actually never went to college. My folks weren’t at a place where they could help me, and we all know that making minimum wage at Starbucks won’t pay tuition. So, rather than submit myself to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in school debt, I decided to do whatever I could to build my own shop.

5. What's your working situation and challenges/benefits of it?

I run a couple of businesses. I don’t think there’s been a time in my life where my eggs have been in one basket. I’ve always had a couple of things going on at the same time.

In 2013, I started a company called Dbln with a buddy of mine because I knew that I couldn’t keep all the corporate design under the same umbrellas as the entertainment design I do. Artists typically hate corporate work, and businesses really only respond well to other businesses. So, most days of the week I’m balancing the work I do with Dbln and the work I do in the entertainment industry.

Some of my biggest challenges are many of others' as well. We all think that there is this nirvana that we all come to where we know how serve our clients perfectly, we know how to hire perfectly so that we’ll never have to fire, we know how to bid the perfect number that will leave everyone feeling amazing, we know how to perfectly balance time at home and time with work, we know how to make enough to have a sweet office in a cool part of the world, etc. Man, I know some of the industry’s leaders, and they are all still struggling. Their issues may be different than yours of mine, but that’s why we look to our mentors.

One of the wisest things I learned as a kid was that I needed to surround myself with the people I wanted to be like. We’ve all heard the quote from Picasso that everyone abuses where he talks about stealing from other artists. Man, it’s amazing how approachable our heroes are if we would just reach out to them rather copy them. I’m guilty of this, and I’ve burned some bridges along the way. However, I’ve also made some really dear friends by being bold enough to message my heroes and by responding to folks who’ve reached out to me.

We all have something to learn. I don’t think I’ll get to the end of my days having all the things figured out.

6. What is your favorite part of the design process and why?

I love all aspects of it. The best part is probably the end when you get to experience the client’s satisfaction with your hard work.

7. How do you keep up with trends or learn new skills?

A balance of befriending those who are better at those things than I am and just getting in over my head.

8. Where do you find inspiration?

I think it’s harder to not find inspiration these days. It’s great that there are so many sites, magazines, movies, and conferences dedicated to helping others find inspiration. I don’t write those things off at all. However, the best inspiration for me comes from buying someone a drink and just talking life and work with no expectations. We’re so used to our isolation and our devices that we forget that there’s power in face time. If face time can’t be had in person, then use FaceTime, Skype or whatever to talk with a friend, mentor, etc.

9. What is your favorite recent design?

Usually, the stuff I’m doing currently is my favorite. I don’t get the opportunity to show WIP stuff that often though. There is one client project I did this year for Derek Webb and there is one personal project I did a while back called Winter Passengers. Those two projects are special to me for a number of reasons.

Derek’s project was special because he needed a lot of different work done for him, and there was about half of it I’d never done before — not personally and not for anyone else. There’s a line from one of his songs that resonated with me and is how I knew everything would be all right, "I have a habit of getting in over my head. I just can't resist the locks and chains. It bounds me up to something that I can't control.” I figured that someone like that would understand me getting myself in over my head. After everything was said in done, we delivered music packaging, website design, photography, and 6 music videos.


Winter Passengers came out of my own personal exploration. At the time, I had never been to Colorado, and I had always wanted to be in the mountains. This was kind of the best I could do to help suppress that desire.


10. What advice do you have for budding designers?

Find a mentor and do hard work. Everything else will fall in line.

Make sure to follow Zach on TwitterDribbble and Instagram. Before I sign off here's more of Zach's work.

Eye of the Hurricane (Acoustic)
Eye of the Hurricane (Acoustic)
Andrew Osenga
Andrew Osenga

What do you find most inspiring in Zach McNair's interview?

Cover photo via Zach McNair