Design & Branding

I am intrigued with design and branding and adore companies that are well branded. It's so critical in today's time. I have always known Winston O. Peraza was a mastermind of this but to fully see his brain in action when I dined at Torero    really really fascinated me to reach out and know more. I always jokingly tell him that one day I am going to hire him to brand myself but I am so serious. He truly is the best graphic designer I have ever met. And he shares my love for cold weather and fantastic music. He is a founding partner and chief creative officer at Cubic, a Tulsa-based creative agency, providing design, branding, marketing and advertising services in all media. Over a career that spans more than fifteen years and four different countries, Winston has consistently pushed the limits of creative innovation.  As a founder of the Loft Design Group (1997), Particle, Inc. (2002), Inc. and more recently Cubic, one idea has remained at the center of Winston’s creative endeavors: Relevance, timeliness and authenticity are key to establishing strong connections with any audience.

Winston has 6 years of independent and academic studies in design, typography, color theory, philosophy and analytical drawing at the Insituto de Diseño Hans Newman (Caracas, Venezuela), Instituto ProDiseño (Caracas, Venezuela), Universidad de Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico) and the University of Tulsa (Tulsa, USA) where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1995.

Interview with Winston: 

-If you had to give yourself a job title, what would it be?

My current title is CCO (chief creative officer) which really is just an artifact of my partnership in Cubic and the way our studio is structured. However, everyone know’s I’m not big on titles. If I HAD to make one up for my self it would have to be somewhat descriptive of what I think I actually do for a living…. Something along the lines of: “Guy with open eyes who pays attention to the world and sees things for what they should be instead of for what they are". 

-What was your dream job when you were a kid?

Never had an actual "dream job”, mostly because the idea of a “job” was not too appealing to begin with,  but I was very interested in physics since I was a kid. To this day, I still try to read and watch as much stuff about particle physics as I can. I also love architecture and furniture design/fabrication. I try to make stuff with my hands whenever I can both for our clients as well as in my own personal art practice. 

-Where did you grow up? What did your parents do?

I grew up mostly in Caracas, Venezuela but I spent a couple of years in Palo Alto California and spent most summers in Monterrey, Mexico visiting my mom’s family. My father is a Chemical Engineer who worked for the Venezuelan national oil company (PDVSA) for 35 years. he also taught in a couple of universities. My mother has a degree in interior design and combined staying at home with a modest interior design and florist business mostly doing weddings and church related events.   

-So what brought you to TUL?

Pure chance. I had been accepted into the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston but it was a bitt too expensive for my family and I had to wait almost a full year to start. So when a delegation from the University of Tulsa was in Caracas looking for petroleum engineering candidates, I ended up meeting with them and was able to secure a good scholarship to come to Tulsa to get my BFA majoring in Graphic Design.

-How did you first break into the world of design and branding?

As most designers do. I was that kid that could draw really well and got into graffiti for a while when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I started making band logos and flyers for money when I was a sophomore in high school. When one of my good friend’s parents hired me to design a logo for an actual company ( I think it was an industrial chemicals manufacturer) I had to actually learn how to prepare artwork for commercial printing, make negatives, set type,etc. This was the first time I actually saw the possibility of making a living through design. I really became aware of the term “graphic design” towards the end of my senior year in high school. I got into architecture school and also was looking into the idea of going to a traditional Art School and learn to be a painter or something. After much arguing with my parents about wanting to be a designer, I secured a scholarship from the Venezuelan government to study graphic design at the UDEM in Monterrey, Mexico. Their program integrated, industrial design, architecture and graphic design for the first 2 years and then you could choose a path for specialization for the remaining 2 years. Needless to say, I did not finish my education there… long story. 

-How do you chose what clients to take on?

I can’t say we chose our clients. Most times, clients chose us over other agencies or studios, once they get a sense of what they can expect from us creatively and operationally (workflow/process, pricing, team dynamics, etc). We do however, try to seek out projects and clients that we connect with and that trust us. It is critical that our clients have some level of risk tolerance and are willing to push some boundaries with us. 

-When do you decide that what you are doing is great and not crap?

Ha, ha! Well, I’m not sure it is even up to me to make that decision. I have been very intentional throughout my career in making sure that we approach our design practice with a focus on “desired outcomes”. So I suppose one could say that if the desired outcome is reached, the work is “not crap” ha-ha. We do try hard to find meaningful ways to measure the impact that our work has for our client’s business. In some cases, we can obtain solid-hard data that demonstrates that our work actually “worked”, some other times, that feedback is a bit harder to measure, becoming more anecdotal or “soft”. Just last week one of our clients sent us a very nice email saying that they have been seeing significant impact in their bottom line that can be directly linked to a brand strategy/ messaging campaign we developed for them months ago. Another way to get a hint that our work is “not crap” can come from receiving awards and other forms of peer recognition. We are not huge into entering a lot of design competitions but we do support a couple of local and national organizations that we believe in. We have consistently received between 8  and 15 awards from the Art Directors Club every year we’ve been in business for example.  In my personal art practice, however, it is much harder to know if what I’m doing is worthy of showing in public. Making art can really mess with your mind in that regard. I know I question my work constantly…  I think time does help create enough space between me and my work to even be able to see if the work was any good. I know I’ve produced a lot of crap over the years though. Still, I  like the idea of owning my mistakes and tend to be a bit stubborn about trying to resolve a certain subject matter or a specific technique… I feel there are a few constants in my work that have been with me since day one. 

-And when do you decide that something didn't work?

I once wrote some text for Cubic's “employee manual” where I talk about having an ability to "kill your babies”. I strongly believe that working in “commercial arts” is by definition, to have the ability to see if something works or not very quickly. The better you get at seeing bad work, the faster you will be at producing good work. Design is about iteration. People have called this “sketching, rapid prototyping, ideation, brain storming", etc but the bottom line is that success in this business comes from getting to a viable solution fast. This implies the need to be good at deciding if something works or not before it’s too late. 

-Who are your mentors?

Sadly, I don’t have any mentors. I have always wondered about this because I don’t even know how you can get a “mentor”. I would love to have a mentor but I’m not quite sure I even know what that relationship looks like, are there weekly meetings? Do you have to pay?, is there homework? What if you don’t like your mentor? ha- ha… I do have a short list of people that have helped me along the way in very significant ways and I will always be thankful to them for pushing me to do better. I suppose I do find a certain form of mentorship in my friends. I also have imaginary conversations with my heroes pretty regularly in my car. I am constantly channeling people like Jeff Koons, Max Plank, Lazlo Moholy Naggy, or Marcel Duchamp. I also imagine myself hanging out at Hans Wegner’s shop or at the Desingers Republic office. There’s a lot of “what would __(fill in the blank)__ do? in my day to day work. 

-What is the best advice you have ever received?

Don’t pee against the wind

-The worst advice?

I don’t remember

-What is your dream project?

I could say that every project is a dream project at the very beginning. The challenge is to maintain the same excitement and sense of wonder all the way through to completion. There have been rare occasions where a project that started out apparently being “just another project” ended up turning into a fun and and interesting endeavor… a lot of this comes in retrospect though. The opposite can also happen when you land a big account and you quickly realize that your expectations were completely wrong. I remember being in the middle of a very large project building several websites for ESPN and saying to myself: there are thousands of designers all over the world that would die to have this client and I was totally hating it. 

-So Torero? It's beautiful. Can you walk me through the process of this great Tulsa branding experience?

Torero has been a ton of fun. It was a bit of a non-traditional process because we were brought in a little later. Our client was already working with KKT architects and they already had a pretty solid idea for the overall concept. Our approach was to take it all in and see where we could add to that narrative. I was very happy when we got the call from Chip (Gaberino) inviting us to participate in developing a brand for them. They also had been thinking about doing a mural in the space so when that came up in our initial conversations, we totally jumped on the opportunity. But every project is more or less the same in that the process usually involves a certain degree of immersion (learning about the client, their goals, competitive landscape, expectations,  etc) than we proceed to outline an overall creative/brand strategy. This allows us to narrow our focus a bit so we can proceed with ideation with a clear idea of where we’re going from the start. The rest is executing on the approved concept and make sure that all our deliverables meet the criteria set forth in the original agreement. I officially started my design career designing restaurants so this was a great opportunity to revisit some of the industry-specific challenges I had encountered so many years ago. 

-What are your hobbies?

I am not super consistent with the things I involve myself with but there are a few activities that I love and try to do it as often as possible. Currently, we are totally loving going paddle boarding on Lake Oologah. I am also doing a lot of indoor cycling and yoga since my wife Abbie opened studio//POP// here in town and i truly love the cool vibe, the people, the music and everything about that place… it really is a new way to approach fitness and well being that is, in my opinion, more fun and approachable. I absolutely love most sports that involve a board. I used to skateboard and surf as a kid but discovered snowboarding later in my life and am still totally obsessed with it. I can’t wait for the winter! I love music, so I’m digging for new and interesting stuff to listen pretty regularly. Also, like I said earlier, I am interested in particle physics, so there’s a lot of digging around for books, articles and documentaries on the subject (That I can actually understand). Also, people that know me well will tell you that I’m a sucker for anything having to do with UFO’s and aliens, big-foot, and such questionable matters… ha- ha.

-What is next for Winston?

Well, lots happening for me lately. Seeing our oldest daughter Lucie going off to college at SAIC in Chicago is super exciting. Cubic is having its best and busiest year on record so things are exploding at the office as well and we are in the middle of several very interesting projects all over the country. I am also preparing for a one man show I have scheduled for January 2017 at Living Arts, plus I’m supposed to start a position on the board of directors at 108 Contemporary in September. So I think life is good and full for a while at least.