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Member Spotlight - Carlos Segura


[ August 21, 2000 ]   "Communication that doesn't take a chance doesn't stand a chance" is Carlos Segura's motto. Does he live by it? The answer seems evident in the success of Segura Inc., a multidisciplinary design firm. Birthed in 1991, Segura Inc. is expanding to include five companies. Segura Inc. is the design firm, T-26 is a digital type foundry, Thickface Records is a record label, 5inch.com sells predesigns like CD art and DVD, and Segura Interactive. Recent projects include designing new fonts for Motorola cell phones. Segura Inc. just launched a new Web site for Emmis broadcasting, EMMIS.com. They are also the creators of the typeface for the title sequence of the hit show NYPD Blue.

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See the Buell commercial [2.2mb]
However, Carlos continues to restrain expandion, as was his original intention in order to uphold the integrity of superior work. Carlos takes these accomplishments in stride perhaps because he has never consciously followed a career path. As a child, he describes himself as an "oddball, just a loner type of creative person." At thirteen when most boys were out playing football, Carlos was in his room practicing drums with Grand Funk Railroad records trying to master this craft so he could be in a local band. One day he did replace the drummer and he began designing flyers for the band. This turned out to be the auspicious beginning of an especially distinctive career. The work that has come out of T-26 has been described as "Paradigm Shifting."

Despite all of his success, when I spoke to Carlos for Alternative Pick his tone was unassuming and genuine although conveying the abundant enthusiasm he feels about his work, life...and, oh yeah, motorcycles.

An article I read about you in IDEA that described the work of T-26 as "paradigm shifting." Could you expand on that?

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When we started in 1994, we kind of helped invent a new category of type market: the experimental type foundry market. And now we take it for granted because we see it everywhere just like when Calvin Klein came out with their ad - ten, fifteen years ago it was breakthrough but now everybody does it. It's part of the landscape. The typography that we've introduced in the market just three, four, five years ago was underground counterculture type of typography that you saw in clubs only or in underground records or experimental type projects. Now it's mainstream.

Was being a drummer one of your life's ambitions?
I don't really see drums as a specific career path, just as a creative outlet. My life has always been how to find opportunities to have creative outlets. Whether it be drumming or whether I mix. I'm a DJ. I design type or I do graphic design or I do promotions for T26 or I go ride on my motorcycle. It's always about finding more ways to have creative outlets as opposed to having a specific career. It just so happens that I'm doing this for a living now because I have to do something, but I don't think that I would have consciously picked this or would have specified myself to only do this.

Now that Segura Inc. has grown, do find yourself in more of a supervisory position?
 I still do a lot of the hands on but I have people that are helping me. I've kind of delegated everything that happens here. Eric Ravenstein is the head of New Media. I contribute in the design exploration phases of certain projects, but I don't do any programming. Eric takes care of all that stuff. I'm still part of the creative process and we make a pretty good team. He oversees other people.  Tnop is our senior designer. He is the key force in Segura Inc. on the print side of the business. As a group we are all consciously involved in the creative process, but because we actually have chosen to specialize in front-end development only, we don't do back end programming or engineering. We hook up with back end technology partners that help us implement whatever we design.

You mentioned keeping your company small to maintain quality.
We stay small for a whole slew of reasons some of which are we want to be selective about the work we do. If you get big you have to take more work just to cover the overhead. And that's just a big snowball. In fact, eventually you end up doing crap. Second, we want to be able to dedicate our craft to whatever project we are doing. It's just logical that you can't do too much of everything at the same time. And so we just try to attract clients that believe the same thing.

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Design of Yosho book (above) and poster (below right)

What's the most important advice you've received?
I don't know if I'd necessarily call it advice, more like observations. I used to have this client who would always hire me and say don't hold yourself back, go as crazy as possible. I would and she would love it and then always ask me to tone down here or take it in there. One day I asked her why is it that you always ask me to go as far as I can then you always bring me back somehow. And she Loading image...
said, "Carlos, it's easier to bring someone back than push them forward. I knew she trusted me and needed to pull me back based on the reality of the marketplace, not because she wanted to have her fingerprint on it. A rep here in Chicago once told me the sign of a good art director is to know when to stop. Or to know when to delegate things to people who know what they are doing. I just learn from things like that.

Who do you admire?
When I get asked this I almost hesitate because I don't want to leave anyone out. Stephen Sagmeister in New York. The reason I like Stephen isn't just because he's a designer. It's because of how he thinks, his vision, what he believes in.

How would you say your vision has evolved?
Honestly, none of the things I have ever done was with the mindset that I want to make money or I want to become famous. I just do it because I wanted to do something fun for me. Frankly I was just being selfish. I didn't even go to school for this. It's not like I have a secret plan if you follow you will succeed, it's just a big accident. I mean a good one. but nevertheless it certainly wasn't planned. I think in some way a lot of creative people are like that, whether it's in design or in the movies or whatever. I think you just do what you like and things just happen to you. It's a matter of taking advantage of whatever happens to you at the time it happens.

What advice would you give someone starting out?
The advice I give to people, is to be true to yourself. Don't make a portfolio you think people want to see; make a portfolio that you want them to see. Most kids who come over here have a portfolio full of school projects that don't mean anything to them. In fact, if you took the names out and the school, they would all look the same to you. You could switch the names and not even know it. And you have to be prepared to fail. You have to accept that someone's going to look at your work and say man that sucks.

Did you have an experience that stands in your mind as a turning point or hard lesson learned?
I don't know if I had a big failure but I had a lot of ingrained happenings in my head. I interviewed at an agency 15 years ago and the creative director was so nasty. I flew up there and I was just so key to go to Minneapolis and he just pretty much said to my face, "You suck. You need to get out of this because you are never going to make it." He was so nasty about it. I don't even remember his name. I mean that's happened a couple of times.

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Were you far enough along in your career to know that he was being nasty or did you take that on yourself?
No matter how far along you are in your career, anybody that says something like that doesn't hurt you is full of shit. Or doesn't have a heart. I suppose I didn't really believe it but sure it bothered me. You really, really have to believe in yourself; it's hard. It's really, really hard.

Did you feel like you had a lot of support while you were going along, friends along the same path, etc.?
No, I didn't have any friends that were in it. I must say though when I met my wife, my now wife, I was working at Bayer at the time. She walks in as I'm talking like this (covers phone) honey I was just saying these nice words about you. The best support I had at the time and now is her. One day I came home and said honey I quit and we're going to form our own company and she said, "Oh okay?" I mean nothing. No oh my God this that and the other. I didn't even know I was going to quit, not even that morning. I was just going to work that day and said oh f__k it I'm outta here.

Wow. Was there something that happened or had it just been building?
No. I had wanted to do it for ten years. I did it ten years too late. I got comfortable with the three-week vacation and the nice salary and the medical insurance weekends off and responsibility of only one job at a time and you get comfortable, you know?

So was your wife also working with you and decided to quit also?
No, she was working in interior design. She left that and came with me. We've been together for thirteen years now and she does all the financial, billing and everything.

Working with your wife must present its own challenge?
Yeah, although I must say it wasn't a big deal. We're a team and she does what she has to do and I do what I have to do. It's really great. I mean you couldn't pick a trust worthier partner. In a way it has challenges but in a way it's a relief too.

So given that she deals primarily with the financial end, is she ever trying to pull you back in terms of trying to save money?
Oh she's a saver just as a person, but I pretty much get what I need to get and she pays for it.

Do you feel like you've been able to stick to your motto: "Communication that doesn't take a chance doesn't stand a chance?"
Yes. I'm really lucky. I don't know how I pull it off. And that's not to say it's easy cause I still have some challenging clients. I guess that never goes away. That's just human nature.

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Design of T26 promotion

Given that you work with your wife you must take work home with you?
God, is that an understatement.

Do you ever get to separate from it?
My only relief from that is when I ride my bike. It's the only other thing that I do; my motorcycle.

What kind of motorcycle do you have?
(Laughs shyly) Quite a few.

- Contributed by Mary Beth Holland


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