Decode Designers Go Ranching

Created On: April 27, 2018

A huge part of our culture at Decode is finding out what makes our people tick. To produce the best digital work in Houston, we need to be a space that fosters and supports creativity. Recently, three of our super-fly designers, Jessie (JV), Dan (DV), and Ross (RW), headed west to AIGA Austin’s Design Ranch 2018.

If you’ve ever wondered about Design Ranch, or wanted to know more about our designers, here’s a super cool introduction:


Talk about what you learned at one of the workshops and why it was important that this conference was analog.

  • JV: Ink Off the Old Block was a freeform letterpress workshop, lead by Dirk Fowler. One of the first things Dirk said to us, before we started digging through the woodtype, was ‘Don’t be designers today. Chill out.’ As a designer himself, Dirk knows that we are always in our heads, perfecting every little thing we do. In this workshop he encouraged us to let go and not think about what we were doing too meticulously and just create something off the computer, with no specs, no cmd+z, and no guidelines. Sometimes I forget there are imperfections and they are OK.
  • DV: A small departure from graphic design was Whittlin' Wood: The Sequel, led by master woodworker Aaron Michalovic, that had us make a spoon from a piece of wood. It was nice to work with our hands again and relearn the patience and process of doing something slowly to eventually get to something. I feel like this sort of process is something we have to remember in a world of fast turnarounds and computer programs.
  • RW: While working with The Amazing Hancock Brother’s screen print workshop I learned to just go for it. Grab ink, grab a block of wood and start to build up light background colors. Then the magic happens. Slap a bright red or a blue and it’s done. The art really just makes itself. You can apply this to any type of design. Just go for it. Trial and error is how you perfect the technique.



What was it like being around other designers and creatives in this setting?

  • JV: The stereotype of designers being introverted is very real. It was interesting to put all these people in one setting and try to get them to interact with each other. I think we all did really well. It’s also just cool to see designers outside of an office.
  • DV: Our experiences in digital advertising seem to be universal, as we’ve all felt the pains of having to fit everything into a 50 pixel tall space. The overall vibe was positive during our workshops and encouraged us to freestyle things without doing the designer thing, which is to judge everyone and everything. We also had bingo cards that helped facilitate conversation, I still never found the male cheerleader.
  • RW: I had a little bit of different experience personally, as I began gravitating towards some of the outgoing designers and enjoyed playing kickball and volleyball with a group of the DR veterans, organizers and workshop leaders. Some of the repeat Design Ranchers seemed to all know each other which was refreshing to see. The design community at the ranch was very approachable and accommodating to obvious newcomers. Hearing where they all came from and what outside of work talents was very interesting. Made some friends from Dallas and Austin; some people came from Toronto and as far as Portland, Maine!!



What was your favorite part of Design Ranch and why?

  • JV: As soon as we arrived, the campgrounds were straight out of a movie. The first time the bugle sounded across the entire camp really just brought it all together. I was really looking forward to paddle boarding and being on the water between workshops and meals so I was really happy the weather let up on the last day so I could get out there and take a breath. Other than that, the food was awesome, the merch was exciting, and the workshop leaders were bad-ass. I’m sort of going to miss a voice over a speaker telling me what’s going on everyday.
  • DV: Waking up at the crack of dawn to a noisy camp bugle for yoga and coffee. The psychedelic cumbia band Money Chicha. Free beer. Rolling dice with the coffee guys from Brew & Brew, who brought their awesome “Little Brother” van out to whip up espresso drinks every morning.
  • RW: Drinking after the day is done. JK. Letterpress and Screen Printing, for sure. But also the bands at night, the free espressos, free Austin Beerworks & Tito’s was right up there with it. And star gazing.


What’s something you’re taking away from the ranch that you didn’t arrive with?

  • JV: Don’t forget to relax and take time for yourself. It will help you keep loving what you are doing in the office.
  • DV: It’s important to keep doing things by hand and have fun doing it.
  • RW: After working at a desk using a mouse 95% of the time, you regain the ability to craft and think dimensionally. Your problem solving skills and decisiveness come alive and it’s great to see what you can do in a 3 hour class. I think in the first question I answered, that in the workshops, you just grab your tools and go for it. There isn’t really any restraint to what you’re about to create. That feeling is great. I took away that I need to keep busy creating dimensional things outside of work, or if there are any opportunities here at the office, just go for them (for instance, make some Decode swag (the amount of cool swag they had at the Ranch was exciting.) or paint a mural on a wall here) I think people could see what we are capable of here creatively speaking and it could be a good opportunity to showcase that and expand beyond the Healthcare realm.



Workshop Recap

WELCOME TO WEIRDOVILLE! w/The Amazing Hancock Brothers - The weird, weird West and the Hancock Brothers Monster Mash-Up. The post, postmodern world of screen print anti-design random craziness. Each participant will have random images to screen print in a free-for-all manner, creating a democratized image full of color, monsters, cars, type, guys, ghouls, girls, mid-century beefcakes and whatever randomness that’s available. Colorful screen print fun for the whole family! But leave the kids at home!

Not one to follow the rules, Dirk says he’ll print with anything he can cram through the press. Make relief printed posters with vintage wood type and ad cuts along with book binding board, popsicle sticks, gasket rubber, coins, found objects… heck, anything we can get up to type height.

GOIN’ POSTAL w/Mike Davis, burlesquedesign.comBurlesque of North America’s own graphic designer and avid philatelist Mike Davis will show off some favorites from his personal collection of postage stamps spanning numerous countries, social and cultural themes, and visual styles. Then Mike will lead you in creating your very own stamp designs. Not rain nor sleet nor hail can stop us!

PRIME IT, PAINT IT, PASTE IT w/Nani Chacon, IG: @nanibah - Learn about murals created in studios and applied outdoors using interface materials such as polytab. In this workshop we will each create a large scale painting on interface material. We will learn to prep the material, enlarge a sketch, and paint our subject matter. Each participant will take with them a large scale painting to install on a surface and location they chose once returning home. Participants will also learn a brief history of how this material is used and how artists are using it today.

Learn the mechanics of paper pop-ups and use your new found knowledge to create type-based paper sculptures that unfold from flat cards to 3D masterpieces! We will use paper, X-acto knives and rubber cement to make typography bloom, bend and unfurl in ways you never knew it could.

PREPARING FOR THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE w/Rose Newton - You know it’s gonna happen. Zombies. Why not be prepared? Come to Rose’s workshop and learn some basic wilderness survival techniques. You’ll learn about alternative fire-starting methods. Build a shelter through lashings and other techniques. All participants will take home an emergency kit that you will assemble during the workshop. Spend a few hours with Rose to learn about survival, zombies and maybe we can talk about Design too.

WHITTLIN' WOOD: THE SEQUEL w/Aaron Michalovic - In this workshop we’re going old school. We’ll be using the oldest style of wood carving, whittling, to make spoons. (I was told there were injuries and blisters from this workshop… Design ain’t easy!)

For more about Austin’s Design Ranch, visit

Comments (1)

  1. Erica:
    Apr 27, 2018 at 08:08 PM

    Glad y’all had a great time! Y’all come back now, ya hear?

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