Designer Interview: Dan Kuhlken of DKNG Studios
DKNG is the design and illustration studio of Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman. For a long time I have been looking to their work as a source of inspiration and, I will admit, a bit of jealousy. You may know them for their beautiful, screen printed music posters. But their work isn’t just beautiful, it is layered with wit. Each time you look at their work, you will find a new detail. Their work never ceases to amaze, with the amount of detail and care that go into each project.
Dan was kind enough to answer a few questions on some of his own design philosophies, and gave some advice to designers who are thinking about starting their own design business.
Q: What did you do to get your work and name out to the public? How did you land projects with bigger clients like HBO and ABC Family?
A: It all sprouted from our first client, the West Hollywood music venue “Troubadour”. We over heard that they were looking for poster artists so we submitted some designs to them for upcoming shows as a pitch. They dug our work and from there we continued to create posters for their shows. They paid for the printing, we designed for free. It was a win win situation since what came out of it was dozens of portfolio pieces that sparked the interest of other clients.
ABC Family and HBO took a little extra work to land. Nathan was working for television and offered our posters as props in the set design of some shows (Veronica Mars and Greek).
Our relationship with HBO stemmed from entering a poster contest for the series “Flight of the Conchords”. Our poster submission won the contest and from there FOTC asked us to create 3 additional posters for their live tour.
Q: What advice would you give designers who want to go out and start their own design business?
A: Portfolio first. Don’t start any business just because you have the tools and/or talent. You need finished product to prove your worth. I believe that most great business organically creates itself based off of one’s passion for their work. Don’t be afraid to work for free if it means it will lead to a stellar portfolio piece. You really have to love what you do in order for it to love you back.
Q: What are some of the pros and cons of opening your own design business?
A: One of the obvious cons is that you aren’t guaranteed a pay day and to strive for that kind of consistency takes a lot of work and sometimes taking on some frustrating clients/projects. You may end up working 14 hour days 6 days in a row at times. Everything comes in waves too. When no work is around, try to enjoy your free time because the next week could be chaotic.
In the beginning everything is harder. But once you get your groove down and your portfolio grows you will begin to have the luxury of saying no to potential clients and only take on jobs that you know you will truly enjoy.
The pros of this business are that you are your own boss. You can create your own schedule and go out of town whenever you like (as long as you have the time for it). You are making money doing what you love, which is one of the most sought after positions in the business world. It takes a lot of patience, respect, determination, confidence, work ethic… the list goes on, but it’s worth it.
Q: What is your goal as a designer?
A: To inspire. I want to consistently learn and discover new things in design and I want my work to constantly be re-inventing itself. I don’t want my to develop a style and be pigeon holed into only making design that all look the same. I want my work to always have a strong and specific connection to the client and I want all future clients to be confident that a design from our firm will be custom made and unique to them.
Here are a few samples of their work, but take a look at their portfolio here: DKNG Studios