WHAT IT TAKES TO GET HIRED AT FOUR32C
Mark Jarecke moved to New York City in the early 90s to pursue a career in modern dance choreography. Now he's the Founder and Creative Director of digital design studio Four32C. Mark discusses this transition, what makes Four32C a unique studio, and why the work you do when not clocked in is so important: "We’ve nurtured a culture of curiosity. It’s important to us that we don’t rest on pretty or settle for the easy road. Whenever I’m talking to potential hires, I’m much more interested in the ideas and experiences they bring that aren’t related directly to their professional work."
Mark also goes into what keeps him creatively inspired, from teaching and studying yoga, to the searching mind of John Cage. "[He] taught us to really see the world around us, everything is already present if we just listen and pay attention. We don’t have to try as hard as we think we do. As designers and creatives, possessing strong observational skills and understanding that power is very inspirational to me."
Tell us about your background and your career journey.
I studied dance and philosophy at the University of Nebraska (Go Huskers!), then moved to New York City in the early 1990s to pursue a career in modern dance choreography. While I was taking classes at Merce Cunningham Studio and showing my choreographic work at downtown venues, I worked part-time at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS), helping them with tech support. Back then, tech support meant connecting Mac desktops through LANs or setting up printers, but the experience gave me a good foundation for what would become a career in design and digital technologies.
After working at LIMS, I eventually landed design jobs at both small and not-so-small digital agencies in New York, which led to becoming a designer (then creative director) at Condé Nast Digital. These were early days of publishing websites and I had the opportunity to lead the creative teams that designed and built CN websites such as Style.com and Epicurious.com.
How did you end up starting FOUR32C?
After nearly 8 years of leading the creative teams at Condé Nast Digital, I decided to jump ship and start my own design studio in 2009. I met and worked with many talented people at Condé Nast Digital, and I was fortunate to have former CN colleagues Mike Lee, FOUR32C’s Design Director, and Elizabeth Stafford, FOUR32C’s Director of Strategy, join me at FOUR32C.
Describe FOUR32C in 3 words.
Question. Design. Make.
What does the name refer to?
The studio is named after a Pantone color that I like.
What about the culture of FOUR32C makes it an ideal place for potential hires to work?
Mike, Elizabeth, and I pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve nurtured a culture of curiosity. It’s important to us that we don’t rest on pretty or settle for the easy road. Whenever I’m talking to potential hires, I’m much more interested in the ideas and experiences they bring that aren’t related directly to their professional work.
I think many design skills can be taught, but having a point of view and passion are inherent in someone or they’re not. I always say that I like to hire people who’ve worked outside of the industry because they bring new perspectives without the baggage of assuming that there’s one way to do things. I especially like working with people who studied fine arts or have worked as artists or non-commercial researchers. People who are quirky and maybe a little bit bookish are the kinds of people who do well at FOUR32C. Plus, people who like to eat and like champagne.
What qualities are most important in a prospective hire?
A solid, thoughtful portfolio is a given, but creativity that goes beyond the portfolio—whether it’s a freelancer who likes travel or is a trained chef or writer or actor—those are the kinds of qualities that are exciting. Hard-working, curious, has a critical eye—those, too, are admirable qualities.
Which social networks do you prefer for stalking people, creative or otherwise?
Online portfolios are great, but I think Instagram is a terrific way to get a peek into what creative people are really like. Whether it’s a carefully curated presentation of their lives or it’s messier and more organic. The balance of words and images on Instagram offers an interesting peek into a creative person’s life. Plus, I’m always interested to see who they follow and who follows them.
What are you looking for in the portfolio of a potential hire that's unique to FOUR32C?
To start, I’m always interested in a careful consideration of typeface choices, coupled with a strong command of grid that is consciously broken. I appreciate patterns and scale choices, too. But I think what makes FOUR32C different is looking at the content of portfolio projects. What are these candidates thinking about besides type and grid? If they are thoughtful, passionate or have a weird streak, all the better.
How much time do you spend on each portfolio? And how long before you make a gut reaction on the portfolio?
It’s pretty quick. I usually get an immediate sense of who this person is and whether or not I want to know more. Starts with the gut first. Then the eye comes in and analyzes the choices they made. When first looking at a work by a designer, I notice where I look first, second, third to see if the designer understands how to call out hierarchy and guide my eye.
What do you judge first?
Taste. Everyone at FOUR32C needs a good sense of taste. Everything else can be taught.
What kind of talent makes you warm inside?
I’d say talent outside of design. If they’re interested in music, architecture, food—I’m interested in them.
What are some poortfolio trends you wish would go out of style? What drives you nuts, and what do you love seeing?
Over-designed resumes are terrible and I’m not a fan of SquareSpace portfolios. Either code the site yourself and let that be part of your portfolio or put it on WNW.
What's the best piece of advice you can share about portfolios, personal websites and resumes?
Show who you are as a person. Your interests and passions. The projects you choose to do are just as important as how well you did them.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I really love starting with nothing and finding my way to a solution that ultimately seems obvious. Of course, it isn’t obvious, but when all research ends up pointing to a concept and a design language that holds together completely, that’s exciting.
What’s your creative outlet?
What do you do when you’re not working?
I have a nine-year-old son and a 16-month-old daughter, so when I’m not working, I try to spend as much time with them as possible. More often than not, we end up eating or cooking together. I also teach yoga and specifically the Rajanaka philosophical tradition is something that I’m trying to learn more about.
Who's your most significant creative or entrepreneurial inspiration?
John Cage taught us to really see the world around us, everything is already present if we just listen and pay attention. We don’t have to try as hard as we think we do. As designers and creatives, possessing strong observational skills and understanding that power is very inspirational to me.
Anything we didn't ask that you'd like to add?
Yes, I can do the splits (both ways).