Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile we feature Kenny Rufino. Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin, wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.
Kenny, please provide us a short bio.
I have always been curious about how things worked and why things were. I would ask a lot of questions, observe and obsess, be critical about whatever was around me. I thought I was just being a precocious kid, then a disaffected teenager and so on, but those traits really helped me see the world differently. I dabbled in art, which then led to graphic design, and then I joined the dot-com community in the late 90s. That was the beginning of a shift for me because we were starting to see how technology was transforming our world, and that designers had a major part to play in shaping that change–but only if we could rethink design as something greater than just an aesthetic to the real solution.
It’s exciting to be a part of an industry that is evolving–the definition of design, how design can empower and enrich, and how design can make our world better–our team at REQ has a role in that shift and I’m very lucky to be a part of it.
Are you involved in any other organizations?
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this but I am not currently involved in any professional organizations. I was a member of the Art Directors Club and AIGA years ago but haven’t been for a while because I never really took advantage of the benefits. I do make quite the effort to read thought-leadership articles, case studies, event recaps or any other pieces of content to continue learning about what others are doing.
In all honesty, I’d rather spend my off-hours not thinking, reading or hearing anything about design. When I’m in work mode, that’s all I’m focused on and I need to reset or else I’m not much use to anybody the following day. Some designers can be completely immersed in that world 24/7–hang out with other designers, spend time at design events, read design books, etc., but I’ve always needed a broader approach in order to be productive.
Reading fiction, seeing art, listening to music, even just walking around with the dog–those regular, non-work activities have generated a lot of valuable ideas and inspiration.
What are the things you are most proud of?
It’s incredibly satisfying to watch a member of the team as they grow professionally–to see how their thinking elevates and reactions mature over time. Having some sort of positive influence, even if it’s the most miniscule impact in how they start seeing the world and coming up with solutions is very humbling. We’ve been fortunate enough to win awards and be recognized for our work but that’s just icing on the cake. The cake is really more about what can I do to be a positive, memorable factor in someone’s professional life.
Who are your personal role models?
When I was younger, I admired a lot of different designers, artists and musicians, but actually ended up learning more from people I’ve known personally. My parents certainly played a huge part, but close friends and colleagues have also been highly influential for me. I think that’s the biggest drawback to the notion of a role model. I can see their accomplishments but I won’t ever get a real sense of the effort it took to get there. So I could canonize someone like Paul Rand or Louise Bourgeois and learn as much as possible about their lives and their work, but never have the opportunity to observe them in their studio or ask questions about their experiences or learn personal and meaningful things from them. I try not to subscribe to that kind of idolatry.
What advice helped you in your career?
The advice was all a bit different but was generally about two things: finding some sort of understanding in life and being as true to yourself as possible. It sounds more like personal advice but it has had a major I impact on my professional life. Finding understanding is about observation and empathy while the latter is about honesty and authenticity.
If it’s something prescriptive you’re after: mind your grammar and spelling. This is a big deal, guys.
What professional advice do you have for others?
Pay attention to things. Lots of things. Look around and notice the world around you. For example, there’s a box over there. What colors are used on that box? What material is it made of? But don’t just observe. Think while you observe. Be critical. Why did they use those colors? Why that material? And then pay attention to yourself and your reaction while you’re observing. How did I feel when I held that box? Should I have a different reaction? Did it serve its purpose? How can that box be designed differently to serve another purpose or elicit another reaction?
What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?
I’m pretty open when it comes to music and it really depends on my mood. I listen to a lot of punk, post-punk and techno but I also like to play Bach or Debussy in the morning and Coltrane or Wagner in the evening. The Velvet Underground and Bowie are always on rotation.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
Right now? Davelle, a tiny Japanese cafe on New York’s Lower East Side. It reminds me of the kind of unassuming place you stumble across while you’re traveling overseas–great, homemade food with fresh, local ingredients in an imperfect-yet-perfectly-designed space.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I wear a lot of black but I do own a white tee.