Creative Art Director,
Will Tullos, On Designing For The NBA
Will Tullos is an illustrator and designer hailing from Austin, Texis.
With his creative design skills and a deep love for basketball, one day Will took a long shot and applied to be a designer for NBA team, Houston Rockets. Finding success with the Rocket's creative team, Will now works as Creative Art Director for the Sacramento Kings. He's also worked with the likes of 3M, Adidas, SXSW, Austin Film Festival, University of Texas, and more. When he's not working the talented designer enjoys swimming in cold water, gourmet cheeseburgers, and Tarantino movies. In this short interview, Will shares with us how he landed his dream job, the importance of carving out your own creative style in the world of sports design, and finding that all important 'work-life-balance.'
So Will, tell us a bit about your background and how you came to design for sports, specifically?
Hey Mantra! So, quick background story: I grew up playing basketball (I'm 6'7" and I was 5'10" in fifth grade, so I didn't really have a choice) but I always had a creative side. My mom is an artist and my dad drew housing plans and built homes, so as a kid I spent just as much time in art classes as I did in the basketball gym. When my college basketball career went down in flames (I was bad), I discovered the world of graphic design at Texas State University and was immediately hooked. I knew I wanted to combine my love of basketball and my burgeoning creative abilities and make a career out of it. Over the course of a few years, I worked for an ad agency and won a couple of poster contests, and began to feel like I was starting to find my way in the design world. At that point I decided to apply for an open designer position with the Houston Rockets despite the fact that I fully expected them to throw my resume directly in the trash. And the Senior Creative Director (shout out to Jose Lopez!) gave me a huge opportunity that I'll never forget. The rest is history.
How would you describe what you currently do?
Currently, I'm an Art Director for the Sacramento Kings. I actually started the job less than a month ago, so everything is very new and exciting. I work alongside the Senior Creative Director (shout out to Ryan Brijs!) on everything from logos to social media graphics to digital signage around the Kings' arena. I also oversee a couple of young designers and try to guide them in the best way I can. So far it's been amazing, and some days I honestly can't believe that I've reached this point. I try to stay positive and stay in the moment and appreciate everything (and everyone) that has helped me get to where I am.
"I battle with impostor syndrome and sometimes it feels like if I let off the gas, even just the tiniest bit, I'll lose my edge and be whisked away from my dream job by men in black suits and sunglasses."
How does your more ‘personal’ work inform your professional work, and vice versa?
I haven't had a great deal of time for personal work lately. I think forcing myself to take a break from the sketchbook/Macbook in the evenings keeps my brain fresh for the next day. But one thing I make sure to do is keep up with art and design from outside the sports world. In particular, artists and designers that I discovered in my hometown of Austin, Texas. People like Will Gaynor, Rich Cali, Lauren Dickens, Christina Moser, Drew Lakin (I'm forgetting a million others) help remind me to look at the world differently and try to bring my own unique perspective to the work. It's hard to explain, but Austin artists remind me that it's okay to try different things and it's okay to stray from the standard styles of the sports design world.
What's been your biggest challenge along the way?
There have been alot of challenges along the way, so it's hard to pick just one! But one thing I still battle with is the whole 'work-life-balance' thing. I'm borderline-obsessed with my work, and I have trouble turning my design brain off and focusing on menial daily tasks much of the time. I battle with impostor syndrome and sometimes it feels like if I let off the gas, even just the tiniest bit, I'll lose my edge and be whisked away from my dream job by men in black suits and sunglasses. That's obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but I do need to get better at stepping away from my work and doing things that alleviate stress, like going to the gym or watching a movie. Experiencing life is too important, and you shouldn't jeopardise that by constantly working and worrying about the spacing between two letters in a logo or something ridiculous like that.
"As someone who has reviewed portfolios and made decisions on hiring young designers, I never like it when someone's work immediately reminds me of another
designer I follow."
How does your job fulfil you? Is there anything you’d change about what you’re doing or the way you’re doing things right now?
My job fulfils me simply by allowing me to wake up every day and not hate going to work. It ticks multiple boxes for me; I get to work with a great team of people and feel a common sense of accomplishment when different projects are completed. I get to be creative and see my work unveiled on a really big stage. And the fact that I enjoy it so much allows me to continually practice it and push myself to learn new things without it feeling like a burden or homework. The average person spends a tonne of time at their place of work, so I feel comfortable knowing that when I'm at my desk, I'm in my comfort zone and I'm passionate about what I'm doing. The only thing I'd change is I'd move the entire Sacramento Kings organisation to Austin so I can be closer to my friends and family. But we all know that ain't happening!
Where are you hoping to take your work next? What are some of your goals moving forward?
At this very moment, that's a tough question for me. Being an Art Director for an NBA team is a dream job, so I don't want to spend too much energy on thinking way ahead and daydreaming about the future. I want to focus on the present and make sure I'm doing the best work I can for the Kings. Some short-term goals that come to mind are honing my illustration skills and executing a killer campaign when the Kings (fingers crossed!) make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
For anyone trying to get a foot in the sports design industry, what advice would you give?
Some advice I would give is that although it's okay to take inspiration from others' work, make sure you're not crossing the line into copying. As someone who has reviewed portfolios and made decisions on hiring young designers, I never like it when someone's work immediately reminds me of another designer I follow. I know it's easier said than done, but you have to make sure you find your own lane and that your work has it's own unique feel. Use your best judgment, and if you're still worried it's too similar, ask a friend or loved one for their thoughts. Find styles and layouts you like and combine them in creative ways until you eventually find your own personal aesthetic. It takes time, effort, and a few headaches, but I promise it will be worth it in the end!
Also, wanted to say a quick word to young designers about social media. A wise person once said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I would recommend sticking to that, especially if you're looking for a job. If you're being openly critical of other people's work without having any background information on their deadlines, direction, or budget... it's not a good look. On the other hand, think someone did some amazing work? Let them know! If you're not a fan, do yourself a favour and just keep it to yourself.
"Experiencing life is too important, and you shouldn't jeopardise that by constantly working and worrying about the spacing between two letters in a logo or something ridiculous like that."
Finally, as our name suggests, here at Mantra we’re curious about what keeps our favourite creatives driven and pushing forward. What’s your personal mantra, Will?
There's nothing specific that I repeat to myself every day, but I did see a flag for sale at an Austin screen-printing and design shop called Ramona Press that said "Work Hard and Be Nice." Pretty simple, but if that's not a good mantra to follow daily, I don't know what is!