Matt Houston | Creative Director

Our next guest is Creative Director, Matt Houston.

Tell us about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?

Right now I am a full-time independent creative working with clients throughout the sports industry. Prior to getting into the sports creative industry, I was working in marketing which I think helped grow my design accounts in the early days. Most importantly though there was a ton of hard work that went into it. I’d work my full-time gig in the day and then come home every night and spend hours working on design and building the @mh_design91 social accounts. In those early days as well, I spent a ton of time figuring out the types of organizations I’d like to work with and then figuring out how to get in contact with them. For every place that responded to me, probably 20x emails went unanswered so it’s always important to remember that and not get discouraged when getting started in this space.

I was fortunate enough to work with the LA Rams as a designer for the 2018 season where we made a run at the Super Bowl and then from there was the Manager of Content Innovation at COPA90. Both of those experiences helped me grow and learn what it takes to work within an organization and what types of design projects need to be done (many of which are not fun social posts).

As a full-time freelance creative, what does a normal week look like for you?

I think the fun in being a full-time independent creative is that there really isn’t a “normal” week for me. The start of 2021 was very slow for me so I spent a lot of time with my dog, going on walks, cooking and making sure I was doing other activities that I enjoy while doing some design work as it came across. I’ve learned that there are lots of ebbs and flows in terms of client work and general business so don’t feel the need to force yourself into designing when you might think that you don’t have a lot going on.

Right now, I’m back in a stretch of being quite busy so I am glad I didn’t burn myself out during those downtimes. I still start each day with a trip to the dog park then I get in a nice work block during the day but still find myself drawn to being a night owl. I like to do a lot of my work once the sun has gone down and the creative juices start flowing.

Since late 2019, you have gone full-time freelance, how did you find this transition?

I had been freelancing in a smaller capacity on the side of other gigs for a while leading up to that transition so I think that was a big help once I made the jump to doing it full-time. I had already established relationships with a lot of clients I had really enjoyed working with so there was a fairly smooth transition of just being able to up my hours working with those same organizations. I have added on some new clients as well but a lot of the people I consistently work with I have been with for years at this point and it’s something I enjoy and value a lot.

Some advice I always like to give is that you don’t need 10–15 clients you need 2–4 really good clients and that can sustain you. Find people that value you and that enjoy working with and your life will be a lot easier.

When did you know you wanted to work in sport?

I have been a sports fanatic for as long as I can remember and then some. I’ve been collecting cards, playing video games, playing sports, following sports, writing about sports and any other thing that involves sports since I could crawl. So for me, it was a no-brainer that I wanted to work in the industry where my passion lies. I am a person who wants to care and feel a sense of pride and attachment around the work that I do and sports is able to provide that for me. I went to the University of Miami with the intention of being a sports journalist but I quickly realized that I wanted to work a different side of sports and work more directly with the teams and organizations.

You’ve freelanced for several football companies/publications and your work has been featured by the likes of the Premier League, Inter Milan and The Players’ Tribune. Can you tell us more about this experience and your thoughts on the current freelance market for graphic designers?

Like anything, the more something happens the less “cool” it might feel, however seeing my work published on the social accounts of people like the Premier League, Wimbledon and other major sports teams and organizations always gets me hyped. I’ve been fortunate where I can pick clients for the most part where I know that I will get that sense of excitement by working with them since I have found those sorts of clients are the ones that really can push me creatively as well.

I think it’s great to see how the sports creative industry has grown even since I have been a part of it. The freelance market is booming and there seem to be more people making the jump into it in some capacity each day. If you do great work there will always be room for you in this space.

What tools/software would you recommend to aspiring designers?

I really have focused personally on sticking to one thing and making sure I do it really, really well. However, I like to advise others to focus on learning numerous programs and skills especially if you’d like to get involved full time working with a club/team. Photoshop obviously but there is so much value in knowing programs like Illustrator, InDesign, AE, Lightroom and Procreate.

What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in graphic design, specifically focused on sports? What are the key skills required?

I always recommend that designers focus on creating projects that revolve around themes or something that lends itself to creating something that is more than just a one-off hype piece with minimal to no text. These are the sorts of projects that stand out to me as a creative these days. Plenty of people can do cool-looking work using cutouts and minimal text but it’s important to think about how exactly that is going to be useful for an organization. Wallpapers are great and always fun to create but for a usage standpoint, teams are looking to post these maybe once a week.

Practice creating things that have more sustainable value to the clubs. On that same note, I see lots of people do “Team Branding Concept” which I think is great except a lot of them seem rushed or that they took under 24 hours to create. While it’s cool that you have created some Starting XI graphics I think it’s important to give yourself the proper time to do a project like this. Don’t just rush a quick branding project so you can get it on your Behance. Take the time to create something that you really think will help land you that next dream job you are looking for.

Outside of the design-specific advice I always advocate for maintaining a high level of professionalism throughout everything you do. Keep your design social media professional-looking, make sure your emails are well-thought-out and composed, interact with others and get in on conversations. To me, I think this can be even more important than the design work itself. There are a lot of talented creatives out there but agencies and teams want to work with somebody that they know is a professional and that they can count on.

Where do you see your career in the future? Are there any specific objectives you hope to achieve?

One day I’d love to create an agency of my own where I am able to empower other young designers in the industry and work with some of the biggest organizations in sport. For now, though I am content with where I am at and the balance I currently have with design and the other passions I have in my life and spending time with my family and the people I care about. It’s important to keep your priorities in check and remember that Photoshop will always be there — so take the time you need to spend with the people you care about. The single best thing about being an independent creative has been the flexibility I’ve been afforded and utilizing that time well in other areas of my life that I enjoy.

And finally Matt, where can people find you on social media?

You can find me on all social platforms at @MH_Design91 and my website is http://mhdesign91.com. I always love hearing from other creatives so never hesitate to reach out.

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