Sean O'Connor, Brand Designer

Sean O'Connor is a brand designer from Brooklyn, New York. By day he works at Mucca Design and by night he freelances through his design studio, Instinctual Beings. With a focus in lettering and conceptually-rooted branding & identity systems, he enjoys using his brain and hands to make good work for good people. Thanks for chatting with us Sean!

What do you do?

I’m a brand designer with a typographic edge. All the work that I produce is highly rooted in concept, meaning, and purpose.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

An “ardist”.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

I certainly took a less conventional route than most of my peers after graduating college. I naively went straight into freelancing full-time. I worked with a number of studios in Boston on a project-by-project basis, the longest job being a part-time contract position with Commoner Studio in Somerville, MA. That was perfect because it was a chance for me to work directly under someone who has not only been working in the design field for several years, but also doing the type of work that I aspired to do, that being typographic-centered branding.

Shortly after working there for 8 months, I packed up and moved to NYC, where I freelanced full-time for another year or two before joining the Mucca team, which is where I currently spend my days. Prior to that I got to work with a number of really talented studios doing primarily branding and packaging for restaurants, companies in the food industry, and other smaller boutique clients.

Sean OConnor | Bodega Canal menus
When you first started, how did you find clients?

Before I graduated school, I was getting a number of jobs through Instagram. Word of mouth was super helpful as well- build a brand for my mom’s work friend, create a logo for a colleagues non-profit, develop a brand look and tone of voice for a classmate. If you work hard enough, I think the domino effect will eventually happen.

In recent years social media’s proven to be less helpful, for me at least. Most jobs I get these days are through word of mouth, Working Not Working and my website, with a sporadic few coming from LinkedIn, Instagram and Dribbble.

Do you have a motto that you work by?

No cheesy mottos here. Just trying to make good work for good people. I like to think that you get out of this world what you put into it.

How do you stay productive?

By working on projects that I’m genuinely excited about. Work aside, I’ve found that this helps as well-having a regimented schedule but intentionally breaking it from time to time making each of these moments new and special.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve got a couple projects in the works for some personal friends. These are often some of my favorite types of jobs. They tend to give me personal fulfillment and purpose in what I do, knowing that I can help directly make a difference in someone’s life.

In addition to freelance work, there’s always side projects cooking on the back burner. I’ve been trying to set aside more time for both type design and analog collage-making, finding a balance between working on and off the computer.

What is your dream project?

To design a manhole cover. Either that or to work on the branding and packaging for a multinational toilet paper company.

What one piece of advice would you give to a freelancer just starting out?

Forever be a student. Be open to learning new approaches, techniques, styles, etc. I would strongly encourage young designers fresh out of school to get experience working at an agency, studio, in-house, or somewhere where they can learn from others who have been in the industry a lot longer than they have. Making mistakes on your own dime is rough but as they say “A foolish man learns from his own mistakes, while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” It’s not all about making mistakes, though that’s certainly part of starting out and I think it should be more openly encouraged and accepted.

Sean OConnor | Rise entrance signage
Sean OConnor Brand Designer
Forever be a student.
Tell us about a time in your career when you struggled.

Without dropping any names, I will say that I’ve struggled with communication on several accounts in the past, mainly when first starting out. Every job I take on I learn something new, whether that’s something big or small. Having clear communication is crucial in what we do and if interrupted, can often be the demise of an otherwise successful job. Learning from my mistakes, I always make sure that both the client and myself are on the same page and aware of scope, deadlines and deliverables.

What are you listening to, reading or watching that is inspiring to you lately?

Listening:
• How I Built This with Guy Raz- super interesting and inspiring.
• Design Matters with Debbie Millman- always professional, well-spoken and insightful.

Reading:
• Lots of realistic fiction recently. Too many to name.
• 5 Love Languages- inspires me to be a better partner.

Watching:
• The Office- best show ever made (my completely unbiased and objective viewpoint).
• Chef’s Table- beautifully produced and shot series following an eclectic array of the world’s most talented chefs.

Sean OConnor | Zuckers mural
Sean OConnor | Zuckers facade
What is your favourite piece of clothing?

I try not to get to attached to stuff like that. I definitely have a few pieces that are always the first to go in the laundry basket. Some of my recent favorable articles are from Everlane, Gap and Ijji.

What is the strangest thing about you?

I like my mac n cheese soupy. Correction–I don’t mind my mac n cheese soupy. I know. There’s a special place in hell for me.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
How can we find out more about your work?