In 1992, I founded Devious Design, Inc. in Manhattan. The idea behind the venture was to maintain a "fun little studio, which produced high-quality design work at modest prices". Those same principles apply today.
The name devious was a controversial choice with my peers in New York, however, I like the dictionary definition: Veering from the straight or common course.
In addition to our work's quality and reasonable pricing, we were the ones to go to when things needed to be done literally over-night in a town that never sleeps: Kenneth quickly built a niche with ESPN on this fact alone, and they became a bread and butter client over the next five year.
Originally, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I graduated from Louisiana State University with a Liberal Arts degree with an emphasis in Photography and History. Following graduation, and a summer spent backpacking Europe, I moved to New York City to attend and graduate from Parsons School of Design. "Initially, my focus was on Photography, but I quickly found that the photography department, and photography money in the city was based in studio work. I worked as a Studio Photographer's Assistant while at Parsons, and over the course of that year, decided to move into graphic design where I excelled, and though a professor began working as a designer at Scholastic Publications.
Reliable Design Studios, Inc.
My big break came when a substitute teacher, Bill Kobasz of Reliable Design offered some part time work after graduation. This quickly turned into a full-time position. Mr. Kobasz had just split with his partner, and needed some additional help. Reliable already had an impressive list of clients: Alexander Jullian, The International Center of Photography (ICP), Lifetime Television, MTV, Showtime Network, Sony Music, The Whitney Museum of Art, as well as other cable television clients. Working in the entertainment design business was a dream come true for me. And the fact that Reliable Design consisted of just Mr. Kobasz and myself, gave me an up close, hands on view into how a studio was run. "Besides the professional quality and dedication to the business, I credit one very important part of my learning experience to Bill: putting yourself into your work". For Bill and I, that meant a humor: sometimes very sarcastic humor". I worked with Reliable Design for the next three years: "Back in the beginning of that time, we did not have computers, and type and images had to be Xeroxed and put through a wax machine, cut by hand with an Exacto Knife, and put down on a board to be photographed to print". It was a long tedious process: Working until 2am was not uncommon. Bill is the most talented designer and photographer I had ever met, and I owe him a great deal for the commitment and painstaking detail he put into every project we worked on: We continue to be good friends to this day. I can remember many times when I would be done at midnight, thinking the project had been solved, and Bill saying "lets try this one other thing", which invariably would lead to something visually brilliant well after midnight. It was long hours, but we always a great time in the studio on Broadway and Houston: Just north of SoHo.
Devious Design, Inc.
In 1992, I left Reliable, and began working on my own as Devious Design out of my Manhattan studio apartment. My first client was Greenpeace in Washington, D.C., and the first job was a 100-page catalog of environmentally friendly clothing, and other goods. This project allowed me to go to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco to art direct photo shoots. My next client would be ESPN.
Late Show with David Letterman
Within the first year with business was going well, when a received a call from a Parsons School of Design friend, Karen Heimann. She knew I had started Devious Design, and asked if I would be interested in working up some design sketches for the Late Show with David Letterman Logo. Karen had spent the past summer as a designer for Saturday Night Live, and had recently moved to Letterman's show as he prepared for his move from NBC to CBS. I was thrilled with the opportunity, then ecstatic when one of my sketches was chosen, and later became the official logo for the national television show. Not long after this project was completed, Karen invited me to join her working on the staff for the Late Show. I was more than hesitant when first approached, but she insisted that I come down and tour the theater. I can still remember coming out of the Broadway and 52nd Street subway station, and seeing the Late Show with David Letterman marque on the Ed Sullivan Theater. If that didn't sell me, which it kind of did, the tour of the set had me signed up and ready to report for duty. For the next year and a half, Karen and I were responsible for a Tuesday night spot that featured our work, weekly skits which needed props, tee shirt designs, and all printed marketing material for the nightly national television show. I would leave after that year and a half. Though the work was exciting, and I met a great number of wonderful people and a good handful of celebrities; Devious Design was still my calling for the more challenging work.
Return to Devious
I returned to Devious Design and my apartment studio: Quickly picked up more and bigger assignments with ESPN. In addition, the new ESPN2. I also made connections with Avanti Press, which was then a small greeting card company in SoHo. Now, their cards can be found in many stores across the country. I still get a kick out of seeing some, which I had the pleasure of working on that have stood the test of time, and continue to be sold. Devious Design also teamed up with Treehouse Design, an architecture firm, and began creating accompanying graphic design work for several Manhattan restaurants, which the firm specialized in designing. Two of these restaurants were located in the World Trade Center, and were late destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By 1999, I had grown tired of New York City, and the hectic lifestyle, and made the decision to move across the country to San Francisco.
Go West... Young Man
The Dot Com craze was booming and I had a couple of friends in the Bay Area, who had been talking about the money being made there. I was blessed to find a house just blocks from the Pacific Coast's Bluffs in Moss Beach with plenty of open area to walk my German Shorthaired Pointer, Caleb Stone. Caleb served as Devious Design's Vice-President until his death in 2010. I continued to work with my New York based clients: ESPN and Speedvision Networks, while seeking new work locally. It was not long before I was contracted by Future Network and their video gaming marketing department. Future Publications and I would have a year and a half relationship. They were a fast growing company producing magazines: PC Gamer, NextGen: The official Sega Dreamcast magazine, PSM: Playstation Magazine. During my tenure, my conceptual and design work helped to land Microsoft's new XBox Magazine, and launch the websites DailyRadar, and Revolution Magazine.
Up, Down, and On Top of the World
As the saying goes: "What goes up must come down". As fast as Future Publications grew, the air came out of the sail just as fast when the Dot Com crash appeared. There was always a push to take me off contract, and make me a full-time employee, which would have meant longer hours and less pay. Of course, this had very little appeal to me, and when the ultimatum came... I was out of there. I had little doubt that Devious Design would come through again, so I rented a studio in Half Moon Bay, California. Hardly a month had passed before two planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City: This caused my Manhattan cliental to dry up. It was so bad, I did not even bother to go to the studio, since the phones had quit ringing altogether.
For the next six months, there was very little design work completed. It came to a point where I saw little chance in paying the bills without a drastic change of business direction. A friend and I talked about forming a local fun and leisure magazine. This would be risky due to the fact that there already existed two local magazines: The newspaper's Half Moon Bay Review monthly magazine insert, and a long time publication: Coast View Magazine. To me, they lacked quality, and were not all that interesting.
So, during that six-month slow period, we began the groundwork for what I believe has been my greatest achievement during my design career: HighTides Magazine. The magazine like the other local rags would be free, and any profit would come from advertisers. We created mock-up magazines, and began selling in advertising terms, "air": Since we really had no product. The first ad we sold was to the recently built Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. It did not hurt that I already had established a great working relationship with the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce: Designing their Visitors' Guide for two years.
The first High Tides edition was launched on the Forth of July in 2002, during the annual town parade. While looked into renting billboard space along Coastal Highway 1, we ran across an old 1972 Volkswagon Minibus, which had been used by a surf shop. We purchased the van for less money than renting the billboard for six months. The van was repainted and our logo was splashed around it. The "High Tides' Bus" would become an icon along the local coast roads. It was first used in the Forth of July Parade: Decorated in tropical theme. We had a group of friends, guys and girls dressed in hula skirts walking along side the van passing out magazine that day, Tropical and summer music blasting. The magazine became an instant success, and over the next two years, we would dictate trends with our two competitors. In Addition, High Tides Magazine would win six awards for Excellence in Communication from the prestigious national magazine: GraphicDesign: USA.
The End of High Tides, and a Second Chance at Life.
High Tides had a fantastic run; however, nothing that good ever last forever. At the end of the second year, my partner in the magazine decided to move on. I was experiencing serious burn out, and some mid-life career doubts. I was also falling further and further into the depths of alcoholism and drug abuse, which had followed me ever since my days at Louisiana State University. I would try one last attempt at geographic change to solve the problem, and even then I picked probably the worst place to deal with the situation: Key West, Florida. Eventually, I would end up back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and would enter treatment for substance abuse. My sobriety date is May 5, 2006, and I have been clean and sober for over 12 years.
I was extremely reluctant to return to design in my early sobriety, and also had a strong desire to help others facing their demons. I worked at a court-ordered inpatient adolescent facility in Baton Rouge: The Springs of Recovery. Eight months as a Counselor-In-Training was all I could handle, but the experience clearly showed me that if I was to continue in this line of work, I needed more education. In January of 2010, I began graduate school at Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. It was an intense one-year program: Including internships at their world-renowned treatment center in Center City, Minnesota. Following Graduation, I would take on my first true counseling position at Burkwood Treatment Center in Hudson, Wisconsin. This was a true dual-diagnosis facility where I handled cases involving substance abuse with co-occurring disorders: Anxiety, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, as well as other mental health diagnoses. Burkwoood was an intense learning experience complete with high stress. The whole experience was not unlike the television show: M*A*S*H.
I would leave Burkwood a year and a half later to enter Graduate School again: This time at Adler Graduate School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My hands on experience with art therapy during my early years of my own recovery, which was also when I began to paint, was as much a factor as my passion for art. Combining what my knowledge of traditional talk therapy with art express therapy would prove to be a powerful combination. My first Art Therapy internship at People for Pride in Living (PPL) would demonstrate this. PPL was Section 8 housing, which included therapy for recently homeless families with substance abuse and mental health issues. The job also included facilitating reunification of many single mothers with their children lost to Child Protective Custody due to their problems. Seeing this reunification was rewarding to me, since I had witnessed mothers losing their children for the same reasons at Burkwood Treatment Center. I throughly enjoyed this work.
Sweet Emotions Counseling, Art Therapy, and the reopening of Devious Design
As my two-year tenor at Adler Graduate School came to an end, Mandy (my wife), and I began looking to leave the frozen tundra of the Upper Midwest. Mandy and I had met at Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School four years prior. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she wanted to move to Louisiana. Although I yearned to return to the South, I had hesitations about moving back to Baton Rouge. We had a good friend from Hazlden who had attended school at John Brown University, and recently returned to Northwest Arkansas.
This friend, Mandy, and I decided to open a private practice in Bentonville, Arkansas, which would go by the name Sweet Emotions Counseling, LLC. Working with our friend, we learned what worked and did not work when working in the field independently. One thing we quickly found was our friend and us made better companions than work partners. So, after eight months, Mandy and I left the Bentonville location to work on our own in Springdale, Arkansas. Since Devious Design had conceptualized the name, designed the logos, website, operated the Facebook page, and created the marketing pieces, Mandy and I retained that intellectual property.
Devious Design also began to operate again with my wife taking Caleb Stone's old job as Vice-President (Mandy loves that line). Her degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, and background in marketing blended well with my vision. Together, we created more marketing pieces for Sweet Emotions; as well as, Devious Design. Our first work together would be for the non-profit organizations: Warriors In Heart, and "Don't Label My Kid".
Today, we are happy to be able to say that Devious Design is once again open for business. I believe my art therapy training has brought my artistic skills to a higher level, and that has transferred to better marketing, design, and advertising for our clients.
We invite you to call with any questions; as well as, invite you to follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/adeviousdesign. We would appreciate the opportunity to show what a little deviousness could do for you, your product, or your business.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY, DESIGNS, AND WEB DESIGN: COPYRIGHT ©2018. SWEET EMOTIONS, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Kenneth W. Davis, MA, LADAC, Masters Level Art Therapist
Founder + Creative Director, Devious Design, LLC.