From Suck to Suck-cess

How I discovered design as my passion in life.
Justin Knepper

Designing sucks! No, really, it totally sucks. It sucks in every way imaginable. It sucks so much, I can’t live without it. 

Now you probably need some context to this confession. Stay with me. I promise it will make sense. Otherwise, you can just tell me to suck it, Justin. So, let’s start with a basic definition to give us perspective. 

What is Design?

When I say “design” I am referring to anything creatively composed. It could be a letter to your mother, a redesign to your kitchen, a poster for a theatrical play, or design of a website. It can be a music video, a painting, a poem, or even a new dance move. 

As creators, we design every day. Our medium may be different, but our inspiration and thirst to be satisfied with creating something is a shared experience. 

So design is any output of imagination. 

What is Design to Me?

For me, design is many things, including storytelling, graphic design, web content creation, photography, developing marketing collateral, and so much more. I see design around me every day, in everything. I see it in shop windows, on billboards and on metro train cars. I see it in commercials, in social media, on packaging in the grocery story, even on the news.

I am hooked on design in every possible way. I am fascinated by how people share ideas and messages in visual, audio and written content. It is my creative crack!

Discovering the Suck

I was drawing from a very early age. I used to recreate VHS video covers (yes, shout out to my 80s and 90s peeps) of my favorite movies. The process of sketching and coloring became a total time suck for me. I would be lost for hours in the process. In fact, I still have one of my original drawings from the Star Trek IV movie cover. 

post sketch
My preteen sketch of Star Trek IV movie poster.

In college, my world of imagination simply exploded with the discovery and actual comprehension of Shakespeare. It was a semester of insanely moving discussions about all things Shakespeare. I was totally sucked into the imagination and imagery that Shakespeare created with his prose. 

Then I joined the “corporate” world, where one would assume I would lose all semblance of creativity and ultimately my soul. But, I found a way to stay creative. Even though I was in banking, I soon found my inner designer itching to get out, so I started with bank branch newsletters and creating “sales tool kits” as a manager. 

I used my skills as a creator (aka. designer) to transform completely boring and uninspiring compliance regulated sales and service processes into motivational tools and resources for bankers, designing print and online sales tools. 

Fast forward through one boring MBA program (only did it for the resume cache) and then during my second Masters program, this time in Rhetoric and Writing (basically, all things non-fiction), I found my pinnacle of design passion; Information Design. 

The definition of information design is “practice of presenting information in a way that makes it most accessible and easily understood by users.” Further, information design “overlaps significantly with experiential and environmental graphic design, specifically in the presentation of information on signage, visual displays, interpretive graphics, and exhibitions.”

Basically, information design is taking something complex and making it accessible and clear. I found this completely amazing and useful, and it has led me to today and my current business and passion. 

Sucking Around The World

I am a traveler at heart. I love to learn about new places, cultures, people, food and wine! I knew at a very young age that the world was literally my oyster, ready to be explored and transformed into my playground for creativity.

In 2018, when my husband and I decided we wanted to live abroad (outside the United States) I had a great conversation with myself (a leftover practice from those amazing high school theater years) and evaluated what really made me happy in life. 

I quickly identified that my passion was in writing and design. And combining the two was my creative crack. Design total sucks my time, sucks from my totally overly stimulated brain, from my insanely overactive imagination. Design enables me to actually focus by providing unlimited outlets for my creativity. 

I started my digital design agency, Bento Box Communications, not only to be able to live abroad and be in control of my time, but to provide a creative outlet that I actually loved to get sucked into! When I wake up and look at my schedule to see I have planned to design a website, create ad posters, or even write a blog for my clients, I am actually excited!

When I am not creating for my business clients, I am totally sucked into any number of other creative adventures. I am writing a couple of novel series, rewriting some plays from my youth, designing print-on-demand design for t-shirts and mugs, curating and editing my photography for high-end art sales, and even launching a photojournalist travel blog with my husband. 

I now live in Porto, Portugal, where I can explore Europe as my backyard, and can take a flight anytime around the world, without the time constraints of a nine-to-five job. My work, and my passion, follows me wherever I go.

A Sucky Conclusion

I’m addicted to exploring. Without exploring, you don’t discover. Without discovering, you don’t experience. Without experience, you don’t learn. 

So yes, I’m a design addict. I let design suck me in with all its gore and glory. 

My advice to any type of designer or creative is to embrace the suck! Embrace the euphoria you get from the spark of idea in your mind that leads to the art you create. Embrace the time suck you get from getting lost in your creation. Embrace life in all its suckiness, the good and the bad, because we learn and grow from both. 

We become better designers by embracing the suck that exists all around us. Through observation, reflection, and creation, designers have the power to take suck to an entirely new level of suck-cess!