Culture | April 16, 2013
Creative Director, Ryan Littrell, speaks at George Fox University
I recently got a call from my alma mater, George Fox University (GFU), and was asked to speak as an honored guest for the board of trustees. The board has a large meet-up twice a year and focuses on a specific area of study. One of the initiatives of the board is to evaluate all majors and their relevancy to the work force upon graduation. This time the topic was the art department, and more specifically, graphic design.
So I donned my formal attire and took a trip to my old campus. There were about 100 people in total at a very nice formal dinner with a good amount of friends to catch up with. After dinner my college advisor Mark Terry made an introduction to the crowd. He noted that graphic design is the 5th largest growing degree at GFU. Mark also went on to tell us about an interesting experience he had recently.
Apparently a business contacted him with an opportunity. They needed a designer for 3 months and wanted a GFU alumn. The job paid 10k a month and had the potential to turn into full-time work. To Mark’s surprise and delight, no one wanted the job. They either had a job or had a company that was too busy to take on another project. So when the question comes up, “Are there jobs for designers once they graduate?” the answer Mark gets to give is, “Absolutely.”
So when the question comes up, “Are there jobs for designers once they graduate?” the answer Mark gets to give is, “Absolutely.”
Then Mark introduced me. The following is a paraphrase of the speech I made.
"Thank you, Mark. You know, Mark, you have been a huge part of my life. You were very instrumental in getting me into Fox and getting me to graduation. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. I really appreciate your heart and dedication to the students at Fox and am very thankful to have had the honor of having you in my life.
Okay, so me. You know when you're young and people ask you what you want to be when you grow up? Well, since I was about 5 my answer was always, “An artist". As I grew up, my dreams expanded to include college, a wife, a family, a house and my own company. As I looked around, I realized that these dreams must have come from God. While my parents loved me and provided for me, violence and poverty surrounded us. Nobody was buying a home or going to college. God gave me my dreams to guide my path.
God gave me my dreams to guide my path.
As I got to the end of my time in high school, lack of money and mediocre grades made the dream of college seem very unlikely. However, God had a plan. The summer I graduated from high school, I saw God move in my life more clearly than ever before. I was all set to go into the Marines. In high school I spent all of my time in art and weight lifting. I won the weight lifter of the year award and that caught the eye of the military recruiters. Since I had received no acceptance letters into any colleges, I saw an opportunity to serve my country and get financial support for college; I decided to go into the Marines. I remember the recruiter was scheduled to pick me up from my house in the afternoon on a Thursday. I sat out on the curb waiting for this recruiter, but he never came. The next day I got an acceptance letter from GFU.
I was ecstatic. The dream was actually becoming a possibility. Next came the process of figuring out how to pay for this private liberal arts education. Fortunately, my freshman year was the first year Graphic Design would be offered as a major. This meant there was scholarship money available. Mark Terry worked with me and I was awarded that scholarship. My financial aid counselor, Terri Crawford, went above and beyond to bring me any scholarship and grant she could find. On top of that, my high school guidance counselor, Susan Roberts - who was the key to getting me into college in the first place - did a scholarship match with the college. I was humbled and blessed and now felt I needed to make sure I didn’t let anyone down.
I was humbled and blessed and now felt I needed to make sure I didn’t let anyone down.
So I got in! As I look back on what I learned at Fox, I realize what they really taught me was how to craft creative solutions and how to lead. This came from things like my internship. I had the privilege of another first: I was the first Graphic Design Intern for the Marketing Communications department at Fox. This meant while I was learning from great professors and adjunct instructors in the classroom, I was also learning my craft from real life projects for the university. I also got the opportunity to be a resident advisor; I went on a mission’s trip to Brazil and on a Juniors Abroad trip to Italy and Switzerland. This and many other activities all meant that by time I graduated from George Fox, I was able to land a job in my field. The other thing I found at Fox was a beautiful fiancé who is now my wife, Caitlyn Littrell.
As you can see, the dreams of my childhood kept coming true. After Fox, my wife and I moved to southern Oregon, where we now have a house and three boys. I have had a couple of jobs and am now one of three owners of Creo Agency. Creo has grown from a few small local clients to large international brands and San Francisco start-ups.
Creo has grown from a few small local clients to large international brands and San Francisco start-ups.
One of the first projects I’d like to talk about is Pulzar. Pulzar is an oil product produced by Thai Petroleum and Trading Co. The product had been under the Pennzoil label and the company found themselves in a position where they needed to develop their own brand. We came along side them and worked on logo design, package design and web design. They were able to hit the market with this and beat their previous year’s sales within the first ten months under the new brand name. This all culminated on their 60th anniversary, and I had the honor of attending their anniversary celebration in Thailand. Let me tell you, these guys know how to party and the event was unbelievable.
They were able to hit the market with this and beat their previous year’s sales within the first ten months under the new brand name.
The next project I want to showcase holds a special place in my heart. There are some great things that happened with this project and some very difficult things. The project is called CoffeeTable and it’s an iPad app for browsing catalogs and making in-app purchases. They contracted us to design a new identity, user experience and user interface. Two weeks into the project, my wife was diagnosed with stage four-breast cancer. For those of you who have had cancer touch your life, you know that stage four is basically a death sentence.
So I had to leave my company and this project to go help my wife fight for her life. My business partners told me that they were prepared for me to be out for the whole year and they would keep the paycheck coming. Nowhere I had worked before would have made that kind of statement. It was obvious that God had brought Creo into our lives when he did to support us through this hard time. I can tell you now, after a lot of chemo, surgeries, scans and tests, my wife is now cancer free. My company stepped up and finished the project even though they lost me mid-way and CoffeeTable is now the number one Catalog App in the iTunes store.
At Creo we say, “Our heritage is westward-ho, blazing trails and taking risks in pursuit of greatness". We are about living life to the fullest and taking challenges head-on. As George Fox continues to produce great designers, I would urge you to keep instilling these qualities in the students: be brave, don’t settle for what you see, see what could be and learn what it takes to make those things happen."
...be brave, don’t settle for what you see, see what could be and learn what it takes to make those things happen.
It was quite an honor for me to be able to go back to the school that did so much for me and tell my story. The designers that come out of GFU are very talented, smart and well rounded (if I do say so myself). If you have the opportunity to hire one, do it!