Jason Snell of We Have Become Vikings
Jason Snell is a rock-’n-roll-obsessed designer who founded We Have Become Vikings after working as a creative in various agencies across the country. He is also a guitarist and vocalist with the rock band Ohio Knife.
Cincinnati has so many branding and design firms. How are you different?
I’ve worked through most of the agencies in town and even worked at a few in Austin, New York and Seattle. There’s so much bureaucracy built up in 100- or 200-person offices that a lot of the creativity gets zapped.
I still do a lot of work for those agencies and understand them, but I think it comes down to being able to turn on a dime. If there’s a project that comes in at 5 p.m. on a Friday, chances are, I can get something done by the end of a weekend.
Descriptions of your firm mention a rock-’n-roll influence. How does that come through in your work?
I’ve been playing music since I was a teenager; I’m in my mid-30s now and I still love making music and designing rock posters, websites and music videos for my buddies. But it doesn’t just mean music. It means, hey, we’re going to shout this loud, and we’re going to make something cool with it. Whatever the medium, we’ll crank it out.
What does that mean, day-to-day?
There are so many firms out there that do the same kind of work, but you have to do all different kinds of work to keep challenging yourself. The further I progress with what I do, the more I start to focus in on my passions, and one of my biggest passions is rock ’n roll. You can get away with a lot in rock ’n roll. It’s almost a badge to wear on your chest to say, “Hey, this is rock ’n roll, and what we’re doing here is rock ’n roll."
I have clients from insurance companies to major rock artists; my clients come to me because they want something with a little attitude.
How did you know when the moment was right to start your own firm?
I have friends that are angry and talk crap about their job, but they never do anything about it. Or they quit and they’re more miserable. Those aren’t good options.
If you’re creative, you’re always going to do your own thing, even if you work at the biggest firm in the world. If you’re creative, you go home and you keep making stuff. I wanted to use this as a way to keep doing that “stuff" on the job.
At some jobs, I’d do two years worth of work in a year, or I’d have a meeting every hour. The right time for me was when I punched out and went home, but I never turned it off. I kept discovering and learning. Every day after work, I was pushing and pushing. Suddenly, I had more freelance than I could deal with. I made myself too busy, and I knew something had to give—what gave was the day job.
What inspires you?
Anymore, everything is designed, from a pencil to your sofa. Once you start thinking about things in those terms, it’s hard to turn it off, and you get oversaturated with reasonings: Why is this made this way? Why can’t it be different? To do something different, it’s important to look outside that.
To me, it’s interesting what's happening in rock ’n roll, what people are doing with instruments. I also look to fashion and even architectural projects. That work is amazing to me—it takes a designer, an architect and a blue-collar guy to wield and axe all day to get it done. That’s inspiring to me.
Interview by Robin Donovan