Designer Spotlight: Grandpa-George

Grandpa-George’s three owners stretch their design students at The Art Institutes International Minnesota well beyond their classrooms (yes, they are all instructors). Eleven interns—apprentices, actually—also make up Grandpa-George.

Matthew Luken, Douglas Brull and Derrin Evers have spent three years building a movement in Minneapolis that brings good design, competitive pricing, and quality business practice (i.e. delivering on your word) to the forefront.

“Our whole premise was that we wanted to bring back good design with the aesthetic of good business practices that we weren’t seeing in the Twin Cities or the industry,” Luken says, the firm’s MOM (mega office manager).

As a way to extend their belief to other local firms—and eventually much broader—the trio packs its office with apprentices from the Art Institute. While some stay up to two years, requests to fill one of the unpaid slots at Grandpa-George flock in to the studio.

With about half of each of the principals’ time in the office spent teaching and the other half working on projects, the apprentices learn every aspect of running a business, including finances, taxes, collections for non-paying clients and more. The apprentices, with nine in Minneapolis and two in San Francisco, cross-pollinate between web design and graphic design, soaking in both disciplines. “We don’t have any secrets,” claims Brull, the firm’s Grand Pubbah (also the lead in creative direction). “Well, maybe one [not that anyone could think of what that was].”

To take teaching a step further, apprentices learned about marketing their own brand and business when Grandpa-George launched Hi-BearNation in May, a company that creates well-designed, bear-themed T-shirts.

The firm’s vibe is now infiltrating to other firms too. “Agencies recognize us because they realize that the quality employees they are getting are coming from us, ” Brull says.

“We are hearing about it in weird ways,” Evers says, the chief bearded officer (also the lead developer). “Those business are communicating directly to us, thanking us for doing what we are doing.”

Tim Newcomb is a freelance magazine writer and newspaper editor based in Western Washington.





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