Aaron Huffman, The Stranger

1. where are you from and how long have you been an AD?
I've lived in Seattle most of my life, and I've been the art director here at The Stranger since December 2006.

2. how was your university experience - did you feel ready for the real world upon graduating?
My university experience was a little disappointing, at least as far as my classes were concerned. I learned most of the practical skills I've used in my design work by working at the student newspaper, which came out five days a week. Deadlines, software, all the basic fundamentals of page design—all of this stuff came from the paper (and the amazing art program we had in my high school). Eventually I dropped out (partially on the advice of my favorite professor) and did whatever design work I could findposters, CD art, etc. Years later I ended up at The Stranger, where I started by doing manual paste-up (with wax! Another skill I learned in college) and advertizing design.

3. the stranger is such an awesome music magazine, how thrilled are you to be directing its visual identity?
I really love being part of the Stranger tradition. The paper is very involved in the local community in many ways—arts, politics, music. I really love Seattle, so I like to feel that I'm doing something for the city. We've always used our cover as our own personal art gallery. The cover images rarely have anything to do with the content of the paper, so I think that keeps us from looking like the average alternative weekly. Basically, if it seems like something that somebody else would do, we don't do it.

4. what are some of the key responsibilities in your day to day role?
I oversee a small staff of editorial designers, dole out assignments to illustrators and photographers, and generally do my part to help keep things running smoothly. With our tight deadlines, there isn't much room slacking off in terms of finding/creating good art.

5. you hire illustrators all the time, how does someone get your attention?
A unique style is an attention-getter, of course. There's an awful lot of illustrators out there, and less work to go around these days. This is another place where I try to avoid typical alt-weekly-style art. I try to use as many local artists as I can, but it's also great to have a stable of people all over the country—and beyond—who have fresh styles and viewpoints.

6. what can an illustrator do to really piss you off?
Missed deadlines and poor communication are the deal breakers. Lateness can easily be forgiven if you're in contact with me and respond quickly, but the combination of the two is deadly.

7. what are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?
Well, my particular corner of the design industry, the independent alternative weekly, has been a little slow lately, but I think things are looking up. The key is to branch out, become a valuable part of the local community, and have a creative and vital presence on the web. The physical paper is just a part of what The Stranger is doing these days. Not only is that vital to our survival, it's also really exciting.

8. what are you loving about design right now?
Design is in an in-between period right now, as are a lot of things. There's a lot of possibility. The old ways of doing things are dying, and the new ways are in the process of being invented. I'm excited to see where things end up in, say, ten years.

9. what are you into music wise - what are you listening to / do friends REALLY trust your opinion band wise?
Since I'm also a musician, I would hope that my friends trust my opinion when it comes to music, but maybe I don't want to know the answer to that question. More often than not, I end up listening to the same music I've been listening to since I was a teenager: the Pixies, the Smiths, the Cure, Blur, R.E.M., etc. As far as new stuff goes, I've been listening to Blitzen Trapper, Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, Liam Finn, and probably a bunch more that I'm forgetting.

10. what magazines catch your eye / do you just have to pick up?
I used to be such a magazine-aholic, but I've weaned myself off of them a bit. Paste has always looked amazing. The Believer and McSweeney's are always a pleasure to look at. There's a cooking magazine, Saveur, that's very attractive. I remember Rolling Stone always being really classy years ago, but I haven't picked it up in a while.

11. how important is down time, away from the office etc for your creativity?
Getting away from work once in a while is essential. It's all too easy to reach a point where the last thing you want to do when you leave work is think about art and/or design. That's not a good point to be at. I recently went on a trip to a few countries in Europe, and I didn't really speak any of the languages. It was refreshing to look at the design all around me—posters, books, signs, menus, everything—completely divorced from the meaning of the words, based solely on its composition. I try to step back and do that as much as I can.

12. favorite font and why?
Oof. That's a tough one. I'm partial to fonts like Trade Gothic these days. Classy, versatile. We have a font called Knockout that we use at The Stranger that has about a million different weights and variations. It's good for just about any display/headline/cover text application.

13. any advice for new illustrators just starting out?
I'd say establish your own unique style and convince people that you're the one they need instead of trying to figure out what people want and fitting yourself into that mold.

14. any advice for those looking to get into the magazine industry?
Learn web design. It will be a big part of your job. I went to school just prior to the web taking over everything—and I also happen to love the specifics of designing for ink on paper—so I can't say that I'm that excited about designing for the web, but it's undeniably a major part of everything. Learn to love it.

Thanks Aaron, LOVE what you do.

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