Two years ago, Matt Kursmark was fresh out of college and happy playing in a band he helped start in 2003. He built a website to showcase the design skills he'd honed at Ohio State majoring in visual communication. He fielded occasional job offers and freelanced. Then came the 3 a.m. email, all in lowercase letters, that changed his life.
The message from Adobe asked if he could come in for a job interview in San Francisco, for a design position. He talked it over with family and his Pinstripes' bandmates, guys he had played with since 2003. He went. The interview went well -- too well, he says. They offered up the job that was too good to turn down.
But a graphic designer's dream job wasn't Kursmark's goal. Through high school and college, the Pinstripes had been a constant in his life. His dreams revolved around making a life and career of music with his bandmates and long-time friends.
Kursmark, 24, and a few friends started playing ska and reggae under the name The Pinstripes in 2003 and have logged hundreds of shows since. Even after graduating high school and dispersing to different colleges, the band would show up at gigs after not practicing together for two months and perform without problems.
After graduation, Kursmark moved back to Montgomery, Ohio, to live with a fellow Pinstripes member, Chris Grannen. Kursmark found freelancing jobs, but was mostly concerned with recording the group's latest album, I
. While on vacation with his family in Hawaii, he built a personal website. Building an online portfolio of the work he created -- while in school and while working at the Wexner Center in Columbus -- was one of the best decisions he ever made.
"My parents would go to bed at nine and there wasn't much to do," Kursmark says. "I was just in the hotel coding away and never thought about where it could take me."
on his site showed a flowchart about jet lag. He created the piece while in college, and once he added it his website and shared it with a few people, the image went viral. The flowchart brought thousands of visitors each day to his site, so many that advertisers wanted to buy space on it so they could gain visibility.
"I got a couple job offers, but nothing I was willing to leave and sacrifice what I wanted to do with the band," Kursmark says.
Soon after the site gained traction, Kursmark received the email from the Adobe recruiter. But he was conflicted. "I was still really excited to work on things with the band," he says. But Adobe offered him a job as a user experience designer on the spot.
Two months later, he was living in California. The move came at an especially hard time for the band because they had just finished recording a full-length album. Kursmark didn't have time to help teach a new guitar player their songs, let alone develop the chemistry the band had after years of playing together.
At 22, Kursmark was the youngest person on Adobe's experience design team, but he was a quick study. The group focuses on designing the user interface for Adobe and outside products. Kursmark's specific team worked with outside clients to design user experiences, including a digital publishing suite for tablets and iPads. He and other designers create the ways readers interact with major publications, from Wired to Martha Stewart Magazine.
Kursmark had mostly worked with print design and didn't have much experience in designing user interfaces, but coworkers at Adobe say he is a natural. "He's one of those designers who makes it seem so easy," says Jonnie Hallman, a developer for Adobe. "The work he produces in on a very high level. People get jealous when someone can pump out the quality of work he can while looking relaxed."
While in San Francisco, Kursmark and his girlfriend explored the city, but he wasn't sure what to do with his free time. He explored photography
, but for years, between practices, designing the band's website and playing shows, Kursmark's life was the Pinstripes. With that gone, he felt something was missing. He began to play around with the idea of moving back to Cincinnati, and floated a new idea to his boss, who is also a musician. Could he continue to work for Adobe, but do it remotely, from Cincinnati? In January, Kursmark made the move back east.
From his OTR apartment, using video conferences and constant instant messaging, Kursmark works with a team of designers based in New York. Being back with the Pinstripes has recharged his creativity, adding even more value to what he makes for Adobe. He says much of the work created at the company is sparked by the outside interests of designers.
"If you're creative outside of work, you're going to do good stuff at work," Kursmark says. "You have to keep your mind active."
Kursmark and the Pinstripes
are touring now, with shows from Minnesota to Austin for South by Southwest. They just released their album that was recorded in 2010 and are playing to bigger crowds than ever before.
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Band shots by Caroline Tompkins
Portraits by Scott Beseler