Center Stage: Sherwin Schwartzrock

For September’s Center Stage article, we chose to feature nationally awarded illustrator, designer and agency creative director of smARTer, Sherwin Schwartzrock. Based in Minneapolis, Sherwin has lead his design firm to success, by serving countless creative agencies around the globe.

Lilly Russian

Tell us a little about yourself: your background, your work and your firm, smARTer.

From the beginning, art, design, advertising… it all merged into one for me.

Over the years I’ve worked as a serious corporate graphic designer, a professional comic book illustrator, a fine artist, and a creative director/partner at a small Minneapolis advertising agency. Currently I have two jobs, I run a small commercial art studio called smARTer that provides other creative firms with anything illustrative (storyboards, logos, icons, spot illustrations), I am also part of a full-service collective called FloraFauna that offers mid-sized clients branding and advertising.

Arista Work


How would you describe your style? How does your aesthetic make you different from other designers?

I say this all the time, I’m not the world’s best designer, nor am I the best illustrator out there (there are so many talented people just here in Minneapolis!)… but where those two worlds overlap, I’m king. Amazingly there aren’t that many illustrative designers in this world who have been conditioned by both a serious design and illustration experience. I feel blessed.

The reason I rebranded under the smARTer name is because it identifies my value proposition. I’ve been a designer, AD, and CD. So when you want some illustration from me, I understand how you need it to fit into a larger strategy. Most illustrators are geeking out on the waves in the woman’s hair… I’m geeking out on reinforcing the brand objectives. With this perspective, I promise to deliver the right solution the first time.

Jessie’s Icons

What is your design process like?

Early in my career, we had time to explore. My boss had a huge library of design books all of us would soak in. Today, deadlines don’t allow for this luxury. This is when experience pays off… as a young designer I needed to explore every thumbnail idea. Today, I instinctively know which ones will work or not. I’m also a Nazi when it comes to strategy. Taking the time to understand the consumer, the positioning and the brand values will keep the creative focused in the right direction.

Delta Icon Cards

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? How did you come to this profession?

I was fortunate. I knew at a young age what I could do. I had friends in school who were multi-talented. They had a choice ahead of them. For me there was no choice. All I could do well was draw… but not so well that I imagined myself to be a serious painter. I knew as a teen that I would find my way in advertising. In high school I drew a small town newspaper comic strip and learned how to meet deadlines. In college, I learned traditional graphic design while working at an advertising agency in Fargo.

Christmas 2011

Which designers and creative minds were your biggest inspirations growing up?

As a Minnesotan, Chuck Anderson and the Duffy team were huge influencers. I love Michael Mignola’s comic art because he thought like a graphic designer. The advertising art/design of the 60s still blows my mind. We all stand on the shoulders of great men and women.

Scary Woods

According to your website you are a graphic designer, turned comic book illustrator, turned agency creative director. What can you tell us about this journey, and about what had steered you into those positions?

I’ve spoken to this in earlier paragraphs, but I’ll add that curiosity and the desire to learn new things has led to these detours. I self taught myself comic art and visual storytelling. I moved my illustration/design office to be inside an ad agency to learn positioning and marketing. These events changed my career and made me smarter even though they came at a significant cost. Even though I haven’t traveled as much as I would like, I think living overseas should also be on our bucket list. I don’t believe in the home office. Working alongside other creatives, being challenged (my design mentor would always start a conversation with, “What if…”) makes us better.

CCS Eagles

What work or works are you most proud of?

I do have favorite logos I’ve created. These may not be fan favorites, but for me they were a challenge with a sweet outcome in my opinion.

Savoir Faire

It was quite a bit of work to work the S, F and peacock into a pseudo crest for a men’s lifestyle brand, Savoir Faire.

Heimie’s Made

We spent quite a bit of effort making the Heimie’s Made logo look effortless. And it was ultimately rejected.

Holding Court

The logo for a radio show about pop culture and the law was clever...

Calvary Temple Worship Center

If you look closely, you’ll see the letters C, W, T, and C in the lion.

Mitt Romney

Mitt’s logo looks like so many political logos, but creating a word mark that has a stand alone symbol that really embodies his brand image was successful in my mind.


Finally, the simplicity of the 3,2,1 brand marketing firm says so much. Less is more.

I love all of these logos, but the project that was more satisfying to me was an opportunity I got to partner on from the very beginning. I was called in before any name or positioning decisions had been solidified. Our challenge was to gain marketshare in the paper products grocery aisle with a compostable towel made from bamboo. We had lots of market hurdles. American consumers aren’t familiar with bamboo. We identified our target market audience as environmentally conscious who were comfortable purchasing familiar recycled paper products.

We decided to take a page out of Tesla’s marketing handbook. Most recycled products guilt the consumer into purchasing. We decided to simply educate the consumer with all of the benefits of a superior product with a positive tone. We did this by using our valuable packaging surface area to educate consumers with a series of fun icons that can also be used with other marketing channels. We selected the name Bim Bam Boo because it incorporated the material in the name and it sounds fun like our messaging strategy.

Bim Bam Boo

Bim Bam Boo Work

The result you see here is packaging and branding that works seamlessly together to clearly identify the product value propositions and create a brand personality consumers would rather identify with.

Target Baby

What makes a successful design, a successful designer?

Pretty for the sake of pretty is art. Good design serves a specific purpose. Both art and design are wonderful, but knowing the difference can make a huge difference in career paths.

Good designers know that having a clear understanding of your end goal means you will know when you’ve successfully accomplished your job. I think we all start out in our careers falling in love with pretty stuff. But, when you are spending your client’s money, your work for them better bring tangible results. For instance, we all love the super creative commercials while watching the Super Bowl. The next day we may be discussing the funny ad with the birds pooping… but do we remember what product the ad was selling? Did that multi-million dollar commercial inch us toward a change in behavior?

Blackwood Card

Is there any advice you would like to give to those designers still in school or just starting out?

I’ve notices that graphic design and mass communication departments are usually separated in colleges and universities. I never understood why. Designers should get use to working with writers early on. Or, better yet, designers should take writing and mass comm classes themselves. It’s not true that designers can’t write or that writers can’t design.

BTS Work

What or who would be a dream project or client for you?

I know this may sound odd, but I don’t pursue specific industries. I love men’s fashion, cigars, and scotch, but I don’t try to find clients in that space. That doesn’t fulfill me. I really find fulfillment in solving problems for the people that are my clients… it’s not a brand thing. If you really think about this, it’s probably true for most everyone. The best jobs or clients in our careers are probably because we worked with great people. People that respected us, laughed with us, and challenged us. Great people make great clients.


To see more of Sherwin’s work, you can view his uploads to the Lounge here. You can also see his works, by visiting his firm’s website here. Be sure to check back with us next month, as we bring another designer superstar “Center Stage.”

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