Adam J Kurtz Interview

This is the first in a new series of posts highlighting former commonvision student designers and animators. The work that commonvision alums create is remarkable. We want to share what they have been up to since graduating from UMBC. 

Adam J. Kurtz graduated in 2009. He currently is a graphic designer and artist living in NYC. He is interested in the ephemera of daily life and describes his work as , "really, really, personal." He was kind enough to answer some questions about his work, time at commonvision and thoughts about the future of print media. 


commonvision: When were you working with commonvision and what was your role?

Adam J Kurtz: I joined commonvision in January of 2008 as a designer. By the time I graduated two years later, I was the design manager.

cv: What skills and experiences did you gain at commonvision that has helped you out in the "real world"?

AJK: I think the majority of my UMBC education actually came from my time at commonvision. From practical design ideas and tools, to production methods, everything has a part, and we had to communicate it to each other and with the customers. We had to think not just about aesthetics but how to actually make things – an important lesson that many classmates often missed when we’d scramble to print course assignments.

One thing I took away in particular is how to do a lot with a little. We found creative ways to use black and white copying to maximize budgets for customers and ourselves, using different paper stocks and different tones. A lot of my personal work today still invokes those aesthetics, though I have a color printer, I find myself gravitating to the basics.

cv: Are there any projects you are particularly fond of having created while working at commonvision?

 AJK: I designed the 2009-2010 UMBC Student Handbook, a weekly planner that also contains the university policies and resources. It was an important project that needed to be functional and legible, and thousands of copies were distributed to all new students, with more on sale at the bookstore. UMBC often represents itself with tokens and ideas, but I chose to let the student body speak for itself by capturing students in a makeshift photo booth. The true diversity represented, not just defined by ethnicity, but in personal interests, from slogan tees to skateboards, is something I am really proud of. 

I’m in there, disguised in a wrestling hoodie.

cv: What have you been up to since you left UMBC?

 AJK: After graduation I rested my eyes for just one second and accidentally slept until yesterday.

Juuuuuust kidding! I’ve been with a few studios/agencies (video production, web development/marketing, traditional advertising) and done a whole mess of fun freelance work for clients like Urban Outfitters and The New York Times.

I’ve kept busy with personal projects, including my “internet gift shop” items, self-published paper goods like my popular “Unsolicited Advice” weekly planners, and subscription-based annual art clubs. I recently completed a sarcastic, self-aware creative journal, “1 Page at a Time,” to be released by Penguin Random House’s Perigee Books imprint later this year. I’m always sort of surprised by the response to the things I am pulling out of my brain and putting into the world. 

cv: You are currently based in NYC. Is this somewhere you knew you wanted to be?

AJK: When I was a student, I would go to NYC for weekends to go to parties, and it felt like the only place to be. Over time, the excitement wore off, and I lived in Baltimore for three years. I love Baltimore so much. I love the people. I love how possible everything feels. But I hit a point when I needed to change my living situation, and instead of moving to a new apartment, I moved to a new city.

I don’t go to a lot of parties anymore, but the potential here is incredible. It’s not the city, it’s everyone in it. You don’t really stay unless you’re excited about something, or too stubborn to leave. Either way, that’s a whole lot of motivated people.

cv: Regardless of the medium, commentary or subject matter of your work, it all seems to be text-based, at least a majority of it is text. Is this because you started out as a graphic designer?

AJK: I was an incredibly gifted illustrator but an evil witch cursed me at birth and I lost that ability when the clock struck twelve. I’m hoping to trade my voice for some sculpting abilities soon. Design Rules Everything Around Me (#DREAM). Sorry, I’ll stop.

cv: How do you come up with the projects that you create? 

AJK: Out of accident and necessity. Sometimes I just wish something would exist, such as a “SORRY I AM SUCH AN ASSHOLE” balloon, or an “AT LEAST YOU’RE STILL TRYING” ribbon, and I make it. Others, like the weekly planners, start with someone else, as a gift idea.

cv: What do you feel has been the most successful project of yours? Or, which one do you think speaks most to your ideas and concepts?

AJK: The balloons were the first to blow up, and they keep the operation afloat. They sell well enough that I don’t need to always get it right every time. The weekly planners feel the most significant though. I’m very interested in actual paper, in holding things, creating memories, and the passing of time. The planners are full of my humor and encouragement, but they’re also completely changed by whoever uses them. That’s the best part for me. I just want to make things that make other people feel good.

cv: You recently participated in the Brooklyn Zine Fest. How was that experience and how did you first get into making zines? 

AJK: Brooklyn Zine Fest, and events like it, is awesome because you interact with so many people online and then you get to actually meet them in person! I love connecting the dots between those worlds. I started making zines around the time I started with postcards – I just wanted to take all my Internet postings and make them tangible. Put feelings on paper and give them away, either to say something or just to get rid of them!

cv: What were some of the other zines that caught your eye?

AJK: I really love well-designed zines that bridge the gap a little. My own zines have so far been very rough, but I admire those that feel closer to professionally published goods. Those are the people who could be doing it for someone else and choose to make it themselves, and I love that so much. My favorite publication was SALT zine, a single page fold-out newsprint that collects stories about hurt and injury in food culture.

cv: What do you think of the future of print media? With more and more people relying on digital media and smart phones for information, how will print fit in? 

AJK: People say “print is dead,” but I think they mean, “sales are down.” News media is all about speed, so of course the shift to digital makes sense. We’re also more environmentally conscious and this shift is a good thing in the long run. That said, there are tons and tons of specialty publications, art books, quarterlies, journals… print media just needs to stop being disposable. The focus should be on quality and purpose, and that’s happening.

cv: Since you left commonvision you have been able to make a career doing what you want to do. What advice would you give the current commonvision student staff and UMBC students that are hoping to do the same?

AJK: Things are what you make of them! Take what you have, take what you know, and use it. One day you have a job and the next day you might not. All you really have is yourself, so learn what you can, make good friends, and remember what matters the most to you. That’s the thing to focus on as you figure the rest out for yourself.

cv: What is the one thing that commonvision student staff needs to know?

AJK: We accept payment via Campus Card, Department Card, or authorized Chartstring Number.

You can check out more of Adam's projects by visiting his website,