Motorcycle racer, automotive enthusiast, drone pilot and Clio-winning sports designer Alex Cohen is a Renaissance man, as well as one of the friendliest and hardest-working guys you’ll ever meet. Alex is the newest member of the Phoenix Suns design team, and the story of how that came to be is a tale worth telling.
Carlos Vazquez: What were you doing before you came to Miami Ad School @Portfolio Center to study graphic design?
Alex Cohen: Before PC, I was working for a medical coding company as an IT Associate and Director of Advertising. In reality, I was just a contract IT professional. As it was a small company, there wasn't really a whole lot of design going on so I was on call 24/7 for IT work. Sometimes there was a lot of work, but sometimes there was nothing. I was doing a little freelance on the side but not enough to keep me content.
CV: What was the most important thing you learned during your time here?
AC: The greatest thing I learned was the true meaning of hard work. There's something about Portfolio Center that makes you care. Care to do that additional research, to build just one more model, to pull one more all-nighter to make your work just a little bit better. PC taught me to push myself in a way that no place else ever has.
CV: Getting the job with the Suns seemed like a real whirlwind. From your perspective, what was it like?
AC: It was—and still is—very surreal. Most eighth-quarter students will tell you that in your final quarter all you can think about is work, so when I received a text from the Creative Director of the Suns one Friday night, I was caught completely off-guard. All it said was, "Yo." What followed was the craziest two weeks of my life. I knew this was where I wanted to be and did everything I could to get my work in order. I needed to show them that I was the right guy for the job. In no time at all, I went from working on my portfolio and classwork to packing all my things and moving to Phoenix. It was a whirlwind for sure but very exhilarating!
CV: What do you love most about your new job?
AC: Definitely, the team that I work with. I have a lot to still learn and they have been extremely patient and supportive. Any time someone needs help, we are all there for support. We’re all under the same deadlines and we get the job done as a team. One of the things I love most is lunch time. We all walk to lunch and eat together. It’s been a great way to get to know everyone and feel like a member of the family.
CV: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been able to work on so far?
AC: The Suns have a huge charity arm. Right now I am working on designing wall graphics for a play room in a home for low-income families. It feels amazing to bring design and positivity to the community and those who are in need.
CV: So, what do you really do, day-to-day, as a sports designer?
AC: The creative team at the Suns is very different from a lot of other NBA teams. We don’t just create work for the team, but also for our secondary teams and our corporate partners. I have created books in PowerPoint—yes, PowerPoint—so that marketing can edit content later on. I have made inserts for our season tickets holders and email templates for the arena, advertising upcoming events. One of the biggest projects I have been a part of so far is mocking up an entire level of luxury suites for one of our corporate partners. If it needs to be designed, we’re the ones who design it.
CV: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into sports design?
AC: Network, network, network. Get involved. You can’t just lock yourself in your design bubble, you have to get out and be a part of the design community. So I got involved with the AIGA. That led me to work the HOW conference where Hank (Richardson, PC Director of Opportunities and Design Coach) introduced me to Tru (Filyaw, Creative Director & Brand Manager for the Phoenix Suns, PC grad and one of Hank’s former students). If I had never met Tru, I wouldn’t have the job I have today.
CV: What were your favorite things about your school experience?
AC: I have so many fond memories. Something I always enjoyed was setting up graduation and the slideshow as well as for all the seminar speakers that came through PC. It was a challenge but I loved every minute of it. During our first quarter, Anna Reithman, Alessandra Rabellino, Millie Nicholson and I all hiked Stone Mountain to capture epic sunset pics for our iPhoneography class. I loved the perfectly executed red carpet AIGA Gala Showing Sam Jenkins, Anna, Sarah Asip, Carter Tindall and I put on. That same weekend Michael West and I went on the most terrifying and exciting photo shoot of Atlanta where we discovered Westview Cemetery, one of the most beautiful places in the city. Engineering and building the Lubalin table with Theo Rudnak was a real honor. He is an amazing teacher and an incredible craftsman. Finally, my two fondest memories: getting an Atlanta driving lesson from Hank in the middle of rush hour traffic and sharing the Clio awards experience with my Mom, in New York City, during Mother’s Day weekend.
CV: How is it working for a Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center grad?
AC: It’s Tru(ly) amazing. Tru is the epitome of a servant leader, not a boss. He is tough and sometimes the “rip zone” (picture giving the new guy a lot of good-natured grief) can be a lot to deal with but he pushes you to be a better designer. I feel that much is expected from me specifically because I made it through Portfolio Center.
CV: What other cool things have happened to you since you started?
AC: Well my cat and I live in our dream apartment. It’s a block away from the light rail so I no longer have to drive to work, which has always been an aspiration of mine. Most importantly, for the first time in two years, I’m being paid to design and not the other way around, which is pretty sweet.
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