37 Questions with Ryan McMullen

Originally published in November 2019

When Block Club senior designer Ryan McMullen isn’t concepting new logo ideas or animating videos for clients, he’s on stage or in studio, channeling his energy into music. In this installment of 37 Questions, a humble nod to Vogue’s 73, Ryan talks about creativity, design, and the chameleonic nature of his art (among other topics).

  1. What was the last song you listened to?

    “Southern Sky” by Alex G, a song I wasn’t crazy about on first listen but now I’m pretty stuck on

  2. What is the best song of all time?

    Truly impossible question to answer, but I have been using this music-tracking software for years now that tabulates everything I listen to, so I’ll defer to the data on this one. It tells me that I’ve listened to “Duke” by Cate Le Bon 182 times, which is more than any other song by quite a bit.

  3. Do you play any instruments?

    Over the years, I’ve learned to play a few different instruments. Recently, I’ve only been playing the guitar though, which has always been my primary focus.

  4. What instrument do you wish you could play?

    I wish I had a better singing voice. I can carry a tune all right, but I wouldn’t say I have a natural talent.

  5. What did you do last weekend?

    Last weekend was really great and more action-packed than most. I celebrated a special birthday with close friends, saw some amazing live music, had many delicious meals, went to a fun dance party, took a hike in the woods, and even caught a sunset at the beach.

  6. What are you passionate about?

    Equality, veganism, politics, relationships

  7. What makes you nervous?

    Climate change, fascism, America

  8. What keeps you busy outside of work?

    Making music, spending time with friends, and attempting to counteract the hours I spend sitting in a chair every day by trying to stay fit

  9. How do you stay active?

    I try to commute by bicycle as often as possible. I try to get to the gym a few times a week. And I’ve also gotten into doing yoga recently, which I am really enjoying as a tonic to the sedentary office lifestyle.

  10. What are you proud of?

    Any tangible document of something creative I’ve worked on that I can share with the world—most notably the records I have played on

  11. What’s your most recent tangible achievement?

    I play in a band that released our second LP over the summer. I love the process of writing and recording, but nothing beats the satisfaction of holding a record in your hands at the end of it all, dropping the needle down, and hearing it come back at you.

  12. What do you do for fun?

    I can’t think of anything I do that is more purely about leisure than spending time at the beach, which I got to do a record number of times this summer.

  13. How do you describe your art?

    It is a bit chameleonic and can span a wide stylistic spectrum, depending on the project. I have a natural predilection for the big, loud, intense, and energetic stuff, and I’m drawn to work that is dense and layered—same goes for the music I write.

  14. Can you describe your design style in three words?

    Conceptual, vibrant, functional

  15. What inspires you?

    The creativity and thoughtfulness of my friends

  16. What is the best thing you heard someone say today?

    “I had a dream I made a large fake hand out of sticks and reached for your shoulder from far away to scare you.”

  17. What makes you happy?

    Making other people laugh, Asian soups, a good pickle, and hanging out with dogs

  18. Where is your favorite place in the world?

    Macro: tie between Copenhagen and San Francisco
    Micro: Pho Lantern and a particular stretch of Lake Erie shoreline in Hamburg

  19. What was your favorite part about your residency in Copenhagen?

    That experience included a lot of exciting firsts for me, so it’s hard to pick one. Having the time and independence to explore someplace new on my own was really life-changing and affirming.

  20. Do you have any upcoming travel plans?

    This year, I am finally making good on my annual pledge to go somewhere warm during our winter break between the holidays. I’m traveling to Puerto Rico after Christmas.

  21. What is your best habit?

    Frequent tooth brusher and flosser, frequent hand-washer, daily showerer, eye-contact holder

  22. What is your worst habit?

    I have, let’s say, an unrealistic view of how long things actually take and chronically underestimate when budgeting my time.

  23. Who do you look up to?

    My close friends, my mother, and Bernie Sanders

  24. What does an ideal day off of work look like?

    Coffee and a bagel while doing a crossword, a good dog walk, spending time with friends, never driving a car, and ending with takeout and a movie

  25. What’s your preferred method of transportation?

    Cycling and walking. People often forget that they can walk most places they go, and when you take traffic and parking out of the equation, it doesn’t really take that much longer.

  26. What did you want to be when you grew up?

    An architect

  27. What inspired you to want to be an architect?

    I’ve always recognized that I exist in this duality of being a creative person who likes making things but one with a mind suited for figuring out details. In that way, architects and graphic designers are cut from the same cloth, so I guess I ended up in the right ballpark.

  28. How do you want to be remembered?

    As a kind person whose net effect was to make life on this planet at least a little better

  29. Where did you go to school?

    Canisius College

  30. What did you study?

    Media studies and visual art

  31. Who’s your favorite living artist?

    I think either David Shrigley or Liana Finck for the way they eschew all convention and just communicate raw ideas. The Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney a few years ago was probably the most powerful and inspiring exhibition I’ve ever seen in person.

  32. What did you do before you joined Block Club?

    I worked as a designer at another agency and briefly at a newspaper. I’ve also waited tables, painted houses, delivered pizzas, and worked in a photo lab.

  33. How has Block Club changed since you started working here?

    In 2014, we were still devoting time and resources to Block Club magazine in addition to client work, and I was only the eighth employee. Today, we’ve grown to 15 people and exclusively do client work. Naturally, that has brought a lot of change, yet a lot has remained the same—for the best on both accounts.

  34. How has your job evolved over time?

    When I started, I was the first new hire in several years, so I was the new guy on a pretty tight crew. With only a few people working at the company, we all had to share more of the day-to-day operational responsibilities, whereas now, I am no longer responsible for buying the coffee.

  35. What is challenging about your job?

    As part of a small design team that does a lot of different work, we can’t really specialize too much. I can be designing a web interface, animating a motion graphics video, designing a logo, brainstorming for a naming project, and writing content all in the same week, which forces me to always work different parts of my design brain.

  36. Do you have a favorite Block Club memory?

    Too many to choose from, but I think it would definitely involve the donning of wigs and/or dancing at one of our magazine release parties.

  37. What do you like about your job?

    I feel privileged that I can do what I do and make creative work for a company that is driven by strong values and a clear mission that mirrors my own beliefs. I get to leave the office every day knowing that my work is making a difference in the world and advancing causes that I care about.

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