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TL: Jonny! jm: Hey Ted. TL: There you are. jm: How are you? TL: I'm good. jm: Right on, are you safe are you staying in? TL: Robin and I are doing great. She goes to the condo every day, she's a therapist and her work is completely online of course and I work completely online. I think this is my fourth or fifth video call today. jm: Well I hope this is the enjoyable one.

TL: So you really have taken on a task here. jm: Yeah you know I started this kind of body of work when I was on the AIGA board, just trying to find out ways for the community to come together and also expose everyone to everyone else. It never quite took shape there for them, and so I kind of took it upon myself to just build a tool. And right now the website is not that exciting but it's a start. And then this, this is also the other half of it up of talking to everyone and just hearing the stories of what it means to be a member of the Pacific Northwest and the creative community that is here and what that means and how it's different than other places.

So you've been in Northwest, you've been in London, you've been all over- what was the story leading up to the (Leonhardt Group)[https://tedleonhardt.com/about/] of your own? And how did you get started in the design community? Tell me a little bit about your whole story?

TL: Well the only thing I could do was draw, I could talk, I could tell stories and I could draw. I had a high school art teacher, that in retrospect I realize, that he really kind of took me under his wing. And so for four years of high school I had him twice a day, everyday for homeroom and an art session. And he basically gave me the opportunity to kind of get into the Seattle creative community because he had connections with all the working artists in downtown Seattle and they would come in and give talks. And so I had this early on kind of glimpse into the fact that you could actually make a living in a commercial sense with your artistic abilities. And then he convinced my parents to get me into a small private art school in Seattle that doesn't exist anymore named Burnley School. (The Burnley School for Professional Art)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheArtInstituteofSeattle].

So I went from a C student you know, close to flunking out, barely graduating high school to grade A student, winning scholarships etc. Just because I was so turned on by the whole art as a professional endeavor. And the school got me gigs, you know minor small things but things that kind of even before I left school I was doing work you know on a really low level obviously, but professional work and then leaving school they got me a job at (Boeing)[https://www.boeing.com/]. I couldn't get a job in any of the agencys or anything but I got a job at Boeing and I could draw like a local very well-known illustrator at the time named (Dick Brown)[https://www.historylink.org/File/20768] and I sort of could copy his style I mean I can't I still can't paint like he did or draw like he did but I could kind of copy of style. And they had a whole thing going on with his illustrations and they could get me for I don't know what they paid me in the first year, maybe $8,000 or something yearly salary back then, and do what he was charging him $1,000 an illustration for. And so I knew Dick really well and I had been freelancing for him and he was like really cool.

So that got me started and then through printing samples by you know delivered to our little inhouse art group at Boeing, I sort of discovered graphic design and a particular designer in Seattle a guy named (Kern Devin)[http://immortals.chcs.net/categories/design/ted-leonhardt/] his sample like leaped out from everything else and he had worked in Baltimore at a design firm name (Barton Gillet)[https://vimeo.com/2408933] which is actually a well-known east coast design firm I think they're actually still in business. And so I went to work for this guy and worked there eight years so I basically moved from being an illustrator to being a designer and that really kind of set my career up and then I had a dispute with my employer over money which is laughable and I quit and I started my own business with a partner named Kathy Spangler.

I basically focused on doing anything that we could to make a living and so we did design, we did advertising, we did displays, we did literally anything that we could do to keep going. One of our biggest accounts, which actually put us into business, was with a local public relations firm named (Jay Rocky Public Relations).[https://www.historylink.org/File/20251] They had been an early public relations pioneer in Seattle and in fact have been the pr guy for the (Seattle World's Fair)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century21Exposition] which got him connected to all the business people in Seattle. That was our biggest account and we did all the design work for the pr firm and including when they were building (the pipeline in Alaska)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-AlaskaPipelineSystem] he did all of the pr work keep the construction of that pipeline going you know in spite of all the environmental stuff. So I was actually working for the enemy back then, oil industry, happy as a clam unknowing you know what the environmental damage was and probably not even caring at the time.

So Kathy and I stayed in business for gosh, 1974 think we started and we split up so 9 years we split up in 85 and then I started the Leonhardt Group and the Leonhardt Group was way more focused on classic branding & corporate identity. We did a lot of annual reports for large companies and ultimately by the end of the 90s we were working all over the world, you know doing branding work and identity work and corporate projects for large public companies.

jm: Was there a turning point when the Leonhardt Group went from you and a couple founding people to this thing is really blowing up? This thing is internationally acclaimed?

TL: Well it was very slow. I mean basically we started the company in 85 and I sold it in 99, so you know that's like a 14 year period. Well we had the downturn of the late 80s early 90s which was an economic slump but the 90s were you know a huge growth period for big public companies and the fact that we had been doing annual reports for large public companies put us in the kind of the (catbird seat)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catbird_seat] in terms of being identified as somebody who knew how to behave by the corporate rules, play the game you know, understand what the issues were and how to behave in that corporate environment and that gave us a real leg up. And so we were like early to the technology you know so when the (Macintosh came out)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_128K] we adopted it immediately and we were quick to the web because Microsoft and Apple were clients of ours. So basically our clients literally put it us in the spotlight. In fact, we did all the graphics for early on for (Pagemaker)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_PageMaker] which was the first program that was a you know a layout typesetting program on the Macintosh.

jm: Oh yeah that's totally what I learned on.

TL: So we were well positioned to take advantage of the technology in the early years of the shift to digital. So we basically grew from nothing to, modest by big business standards, but we grew to 10 million in fee revenues which was big by design firm standards. And then we were approached Carolyn, my wife, and I, we really had no other source of money other than the business and we knew that ultimately we would have to sell the business to be able to do anything else to retire or anything so we were watching for possible buyers. We went through a dance with the company that owned (Fitch)[https://www.fitch.com/] over a couple year period and ultimately we were purchased by a company that had purchased Fitch. So in 1999 we basically we sold the business when it reached and I think short of 50 people and slightly over 10 million dollars in annual fee revenue.

I then took a job with the parent company in London and they had purchased 27 design offices, some of them bigger than ours, some of them smaller than ours and my job was the creative director which is you know with 500 employees and 27 offices is ridiculous. Not approving creative for 500 people but theoretically that was my job, but really what it was was you know a presenter and a person who went to corporate meetings and helped you no help with the sales of major problems and stuff like that. I did that for a couple of years and and then ultimately ran afoul of the corporate gig and actually didn't like what they were doing and I had the ability to quit at that time, I had enough money so I could just like do whatever I wanted so I quit.

jm: Was it a big deal, did feel like a risk when you were selling your own company or did it feel like a natural progression of it?

TL: Well all these things involve all kinds of risk and anxiety absolutely, yeah of course. Yeah, terrified. Is it going to happen? Or is it not going to happen? And then what's it going to be like and then you know since then I've been consulting with creative businesses so one of the great benefits of having that gig was getting connected to people who were running design offices all over the world and so since then my consulting practice is helping people deal with those issues and I've had many clients now that have gone through the process and struggled with the result one way or another so. Sadly very often the people who buy your business you know aren't ultimately the business actually folds even though they spent a lot of money buying it. You know that the management of senior management doesn't see all these small units as all that important and so they don't treat them very well and often the whole thing falls apart so that's a very common scenario. And my office basically just dried up you know it took about 5 or 6 years after I left but basically dried up and blew away. You know after being a thriving business with 50 employees.

jm: Do you find it more freeing now to be in your own personal practice than you did when you were running, when you're the head of a studio?

TL: Oh no. No, it's all fabulous. I love the job and I love doing it and I also got tired of it and wanted to move on to different things. And I love what I'm doing now I mean it's you know I mean the hard part is when you're starting and trying to get business and you don't know from day to day whether you're going to be able to feed the family. That's scary and and I certainly have had that experience and I've had many clients who have struggled through that experience and nowadays I mean with this virus I mean I've had clients with you know 50, 60 employees that I'm working with right now who basically their business has dried up and gone away because they were all focused on some activity you know like events where there are no more events. You know, all the sudden if your area of specialty is somehow involved with the event industry you're in real trouble.

jm: But you're doing you're also your teaching a class right now on how to create more work right now?

TL: Yeah with a group of creatives, five of us, we've created a creative cooperative and one of the things we're doing is we're doing a series of online workshops basically on how to deal with you know getting business when everything just shifts on you like it is right now. So getting business, keeping business, and dealing with the world in the virtual environment and in doing so in a way that is productive and produces revenue. That's the focus of our upcoming discussion and you know we did one mailing and we've got I think it over 40 people signed up so we decided not to promote it anymore.

jm: Good problem.

TL: We might be overwhelmed we think we'll do something every couple weeks.

jm: So when you're when you're coming up with ideas like this or when you were working more day-to-day in studio, do you consider your base creative source something coming out of yourself or is there an external muse that you are kind of trying to channel into your work?

jm: I think it's always a combination of the stuff that's inside of you and the people you interact with. You know as a species homo sapiens are social I mean that's basically why we're successful. We learned how to collaborate in small groups otherwise we wouldn't have survived, we have the benefits of individual creativity and then we have the benefits of combined creativity and I'm reexperiencing that over the last eighteen months with this overture I mean I've been experiencing it with clients but now I'm actually involved in a small organization again where we talk two to three times a week now it is of course it's all on on video conferencing, but we talk to her three times a day a week, and we modify each other's ideas and we individually suggest things and then we help each other make our ideas better. I mean it's a great, that collaborative process is great, but ideas always start with individuals and some of the individuals in the group are kind of better at idea starters and some of the people in the group are better at adding and modifying the ideas and all of that is a great pleasure. And you know creatives each have their own kind of their personality shapes what they contribute.

You know I've had the great pleasure of kind of teaching myself how to be a writer over the last 10 years and I'm writing a fictional you know a serial novel I'm on chapter 28 for crying out loud, I can't believe a written 28 chapter so that thing. And there every time I sit down I have no idea where you know the next chapter is going to go and then somehow I write the first sentence and then I know what the second sentence is going to be and then I look down and I have 1500 words and I'm going 'oh my God, I got to cut this thing you know?' And creativeity as human being is great because you can just do these things.

jm: Where do you sit on the relationship of what would be considered good work versus what would be considered well paying work. There's a lot of studios that say sometimes you do a project for the meal and sometimes you do it for your reel and I'm kind of curious at what point are you making decisions solely on that and at what point are you kind of driving studios, driving the team to create the best things that they can?

TL: Well we're kind of unique we're not we're not actually producing revenue, we're doing this I mean, certainly we would like all of us would like to produce some revenue from our cooperative venture and I suppose eventually we do but that's really not the primary concern. The primary concern is what what can we do that adds to the party, if you will, that will be a pleasure to be involved in I mean that's really been then the driver. But back to the subject directly about money, there is no reason to be in business if you're not going to get as much as you can for what you produce. And when I consult with clients I mean basically one of the things I discovered over the course of my career is how what a difficult time creatives have asking for money and so you know I wrote a book titled (Nail it)[https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GU3GU46/ref=cmswrtwdpxaArwFb0SHZJK8], (stories for designers on how to negotiate with confidence)[https://youtu.be/fLCzyvswr4]_ and consult on negotiations all the time, I mean I had to negotiation consultation earlier this morning. One of the things I do is I help creative actually get as much as they can from every negotiation because that's the point and then when you have the luxury of doing the work for the pleasure do it, do whatever you want and forget about the money you know, but we have to you know, baby needs a new pair of shoes you know what I mean?

jm: Yeah yeah yeah, I've been in some creative environments where the the singular decision-making criteria is only 'will this increase our fee or is this going to increase our are billable hours' and it's the work is always secondary and I found those environments frustrating but also I think I maybe learned the most in those environments.

TL: This is capitalism, and the way to get the corporate community to give us creatives any money is when we can make money for them. I mean I gotta tell you the irony of my life, basically I was born to (Depressesion era)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression] parents and every nickel was counted and saved in my childhood and of course I grew up in the biggest expansion of the middle class in the history of the world and all I wanted was you know the coolest car in the best clothes and prettiest girl and that was it you know my priorities were not in saving money and recycling the tin cans which is where my parents were. And then you know I enter a career where basically I'm sort of semi (mad men)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MadisonAvenue#Advertisingindustry] career, that's about you know selling branding and moving candy bars and automobiles, oil and god knows what else we sold and everything was about money and I sell my business and then I'm at (Sea-Tac)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle%E2%80%93TacomaInternationalAirport] I'm getting on the airplane to go to London to take the first day on the job in this new gig also completely about capitalism and in the airport I pick up this book and the title of the book is (No Logo)[https://naomiklein.org/no-logo/] by Naomi Klein and I'm like 'Oh. I think I should read this on the plane' and basically I get off the plane and London and I'm thinking 'the gig is up! It's up, it's over, she's right! It's all bullshit!' And my entire life is about selling people shit that they don't need.

jm: So what did you do, how long were you in that position then?

TL: Oh a couple years of corporate you know conference rooms you know in every big city in the world. Still continuing on but having grave doubts. One of the tragedies of the creative in today's world is that the place where we get the money so that baby can have a new pair of shoes is the very corporate world that we that we now recognize is not very good.

jm: That is the contradiction that we are operate in.

TL: The dilemma. So when you said you were in a studio where they were only focused on money and billable hours, well that's it.

jm: Is there a way to build relationships with clients that are healthier for the creative side but also healthier in the work that those corporations are producing?

TL: You can begin to focus on the areas where there's growth opportunity and the creativity is for purposes other than just making corporations grow. So the game industry is growing like crazy, lots of people love playing online games there's a lot of creativity involved in creating those games, there's lots of small companies that are coming online with new forms of games, so it's not just (Electronic Arts)[https://www.ea.com/] and other giants. And so there is an opportunity of direct-to-consumer. There is the growth going on in serial novels and graphic novels targeting youth so we're talkin young adults 18 to 25 or something like that grew 52% in in 2018, well that's huge. There is now a large online community of serialized novels being supported you know people paying a buck, a buck and a half per episode so there's another direct-to-consumer for creatives. So there's new opportunities for creatives because of the digital world that never existed before that are not about selling candy bars or soap for (Procter & Gamble)[https://us.pg.com/] and that's the place where I think the future lies for creatives entering the workforce today.

jm: What would you consider a successful studio to look like if they were operating in that space or if they were operating in a completely corporate-funded space?

Tl: I think happiness is the key. Are people enjoying, are they finding the work and the experience of doing the work pleasurable and is the group working as a group and actually involving people together in a way beneficial for all the people in the group. The (Saturday Night Live)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SaturdayNightLive] model of managing creatives is a healthy way to manage the creative group in a way that is extremely productive. Models like that are I think the future of great creative power houses. And then of course all the possibilities for creating the new world so product design and digital product design, where we're actually interested in solving some of the problems in a way that's actually of benefit to people the uses of all the new materials that are not so damaging to the world etc. So you know the combinations of things that are possible now that we're never possible in the past because of material development and communications and alternative energy sources you know all those things are real possibilities for creatives to rally around rather than the corporate studio that's a copy of (Pentagram)[https://www.pentagram.com/] doing ridiculous logos like they did for (Hillary Clinton)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HillaryClinton2016presidentialcampaign] with an arrow and an h charging god knows how much and of course how much do they help her get elected not much.

You know I think that model is over and I participated in it and it was hot in the 90s, the million-dollar fee was not that unusual and of course the corporate world doesn't pay that kind of money anymore that's the other thing that's happened. Procter & Gamble actually I think was two years ago now announced they were going to cut spend for creative services by over a billion dollars.

jm: They were spending that much?

TL: Four billion a year on creative services they were going to cut it 20% or 30% and so you can see what happened to (Landor)[https://landor.com/], (Interbrand)[https://www.interbrand.com/], Pentagon and local in Seattle (Tether)[http://tether.com/], (Hornall Anderson)[https://www.hornallanderson.com/] went to nothing because they were completely dependent on the cash flow that's over.

jm: Is there a way to I guess manage these financial requirements of running a practice but still feed the creative culture of that practice?

TL: Yeah sure, the work has to be something the people believe in and it has to produce revenue. Have to balance the amount of clients that you have you know the income with the expenses that's you, simple. But the hard part is finding a niche that has the opportunity to develop enough revenue.

jm: If you were if you're talking to studio heads today, would you encourage them to find a niche that they can operate in, with the team that they have, and with the market that exists for those groups?

TL: All of my clients are in nitches these days I mean that is where the opportunity is, so every client that I'm working with today has some kind of a niche advantage and that's how they're, that's why they're able to be productive and make enough money to be alive. But nobody's making the kind of margins that were available in the 90s I mean the the the (2008 crisis)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financialcrisisof_2007%E2%80%932008] when that happened that was the absolute end of those margins and they were already dwindling prior to that, that I could see just from my little consulting practice. But you know I'm tapped into these little groups all over the place and none of them have the kind of margins that were available to us in the in the 90s.

jm: What are these studios relationship to inhouse groups now that larger companies are bringing this creative resources under their own roof?

TL: Everybody saw (Steve Jobs')[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs] you know success with design and realized that it was stupid not to have an in-house group. You know the proprietary stuff, the secrets they don't want this stuff to leak and all that stuff plus negotiating every job you know the fees on every job with outside hires really slows things down, so having an in-house group is a really smart thing to do and of course you know reduces the cost. But it's the relationship that these small outside groups are they survive because they have a a skillset that's not available in-house for some reason.

jm: Is it a skillset or is it like a set of opinions that they operate from? Or is it just a studio culture that can't exist inside of a larger company?

TL: We live in a world of the client knows what they need. So I type in a question and (Google)[https://www.google.com/] has all taught us how to use the internet & online services is that we ask a question: so you need a logo? You type in 'I need a logo.' You need an infographic? You type in 'infographic.' You need a video, you type in 'I need a video,' you need a motion graphic I need you know whatever it is. 'I need a new brand' whatever it is and the next thing you know you got 50 suppliers willing to provide that service. So these these services have all commoditized and that's why the margins over, so the only way to get some margin is to provide services that are not so easily available. So you know it's some combination of things that's wrapped around a particular need that the world has where there's money needs to be spent and it could be you know could be an almost anything but it just have to not be you know a widely available commoditized resource.

jm: You touched on I guess the growth of Seattle, and the resources that came with working with some of the largest tech companies here- how have you seen the design industry change with Seattle changing and how have they affected each other well?

TL: The combination of the in-house group and the change in the way business view the services has basically devastated the design and advertising community in Seattle and everywhere else far as I can tell. So even the you know supposedly high-end firms you know are headquartered in London and New York and so on and in San Francisco are not turning the kind of dollars in terms of revenue and margin that they used to turn. So for a creative looking for where is the career, so when I entered the business graphic design was actually a new term with a long ways from being commoditized and so my career spanned the best years of that phenomenon of design and branding being really really viewed as highly valuable by corporations. But by the end of the 90s corporations were already beginning to see that they could do those things themselves more cheaply in-house and they built internal systems to do that and so the the whole structure of the design community being you know producing the kind of revenue that it used to produce, just fell apart. And then when 8 years later when 2008 happened that was the death note.

I'll give you a sample of what happened: I had a gig where I was president of (Anthem worldwide)[https://www.anthemww.com/] this was 2004-2005 and my job was mostly acquiring design offices for the company that owned Anthem worldwide but one of my jobs was helping close large deals. We had a large package design opportunity with (Walmart)[https://www.walmart.com/] and my job was to go down and close the deal with Walmart. So I go down to (Fayetteville)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fayetteville,NorthCarolina] I go into this little purchasing room office and no big conference room, no view of the city no fancy dinners, none of that. And this is like a you know more than a million dollar opportunity and the purchasing agent says look 'we really want to work with you guys. You do great work, I really like you Ted, I get it that you know how to do this and manage it and do it well, and I know you'll do a great job for us- but your fee is ridiculous' he said 'let me show you' and he turns his computer screen. So this is just me and him in the small room, he turns his computer screen to me and he says 'let me show' you and he has every design job similar to the one I was pitching on his screen for like, I don't know, the last five years prior to that and he knew to a penny what every SKU cost to produce and what they paid the design office and what the margin was it that design office. And he said and 'here's what we're going to pay you.' All very kind about it, but you know it's like guess what the day of walking in and making the big splash like that, in this category, is over.

jm: Puttin the brakes on it.

TL: They had mastered the methodology that moved out to every major corporation in America and so all of a sudden over, for the major corporation, there's far less of that now.

jm: If I can kind of switch gears little bit and ask you about what do you think of the design education world and what do you think students should be learning today in this new kind of second phase of graphic design?

TL: Well they should really make themselves aware of the fact that salaries have not grown. You know salaries have been flat in graphic design since 1990, the (AIGA)[https://www.aiga.org/] (survey)[https://www.aiga.org/salary-survey] has shown no growth since 1990 so people are basically being paid as graphic designers what I was paying them in the 90's. So that means that they've actually gone backwards. The skills of the graphic designer are still important but they need to find some other way of applying them than in simply being a graphic designer because it's been commoditized and a lot of graphic designers are paid $60,000. I don't know if you can live in Seattle on $60,000 don't think you can. So be aware of the fact that you're going to have to do something other than be a quote unquote 'graphic designer.' And so I do a gig with (Shoreline,)[https://www.shoreline.edu/] I do a gig with (Seattle Central,)[https://seattlecentral.edu/] I think I'm doing next couple weeks from now, I'm doing a gig with (University of Washington)[https://www.washington.edu/] which I do once a year and basically, that's my message is be really aware of where money is for creative people and where money is not and be prepared to new adapt your skills and add skills so that you can make a living as a creative person.

jm: Are you content in where your career is today? And are you trying to aim to be somewhere else in 5 years from today? Is there anything that gets you up at 5 am with a smile?

TL: Oh yeah, the next chapter of my serial or the next call with a client or the next planning meeting with my overture team always gets me up with a smile. By the way, we get up at 4 in this boat, we have our coffee at a quarter to 5 and then we go for a long walk, and then we make Robin breakfast.

jm: Do you have any questions for me?

TL: What inspired you to do this Jonny?

jm: You know I enjoy the creative community, I grew up here, I've seen communities in other places- I feel like they know each other more or they are exposed to each other a little bit more and so I wanted to provide a tool as a phone book but also a resource in these conversations. To really I guess just expose the stories that exist here but no one really knows. I feel like anyone that I talked to, the kind of local design history. Design history as a whole is difficult because it's not everyone pays attention in those classes, but the local design history I know parts of it here and there, but I don't know any specific person that I would go and ask and say what's the deal with or what's Ted's story? And so I wanted to have a place that people could go to and hear the stories of how businesses were made, how to run businesses. Not necessarily how to be a designer cuz I think there's a lot of great resourcess in that area, a lot of great teachers working in that area. But what does it mean to have a creative community in a area and have that area influence the creative community.

TL: have you always had an interest in being a journalist?

jm: (SVA)[https://sva.edu/] has as a class called designer as author and I think I was in that mindset but I never knew there was even a term for it until I found those classes. And I didn't take them necessarily, but I think that finally put words to me always wanting to create my own work and not just do client asks of me. And so the thing that gets me up at 5 am is knowing that I can go learn something and I can go build something new because of this problem that I've created for myself. That I can I can share that with people and figure out how to make that into a business and not necessarily follow that the traditional. I mean I would love to figure out a way for this to live and support me.

TL: Well anything I can do to help Jonny, I'm happy to help. jm: Awesome! Thank you. TL: Well thank you very much and let's stay in touch and it'll be fun watching your venture. jm: Excellent thank you very much.