Jeffrey Steenbergen: Interview With An Entertainment Graphic Designer
Jeffrey Steenbergen is a Graphic Designer for Themed Entertainment and the Leisure Industry. In the 8 years Jeffrey’s worked as a Designer, he’s had a wide range of design experience ranging from attraction marquees and period based props to arcade interiors, using his passion for lettering and craftsmanship to create unique experiences through graphic design.
Hello Jeffrey, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing at the moment, and how are you coping with the pandemic?
Thanks for having me! I’m doing well during these difficult times. It’s a tough time for a lot of people in the industry including myself. A lot of areas in the creative world have been put on a long term stall which is a daunting sight to see sometimes. It’s for a better cause off course, but I hope it won’t be catastrophic to many businesses for the long term – after we go ‘back to normal’. At the moment I use my time to learn and explore new ways to be creative and try to stay positive about the situation.
How did you first realise that you were passionate about art, and how did you start your career?
Like many other designers probably, I grew up drawing most of the time. I kept a sketchbook with me everywhere I went, which was a great way to keep me occupied and be creative.
Even now with modern tools such as tablets and photoshop — a sketchbook is still something I tend to start with when I’m working on a project, as it is such a quick way to visualise an idea.
Even though illustrating was certainly something I enjoyed doing, I decided to pursue graphic design as I thought it was a more viable option when looking at the job market. My interest in graphic design really sparked when I noticed how logos at first sight can look simple, but could contain a hidden message while most people won’t even notice it. Some of them are so well thought of and it’s really inspiring – a well-known example is the FedEx logo, with an arrow in the negative space symbolising transport.
Another thing that got me excited were retro travel posters such as those from TWA, a style also used for classic Disneyland attraction posters, which are a perfect blend of illustration and graphic design.
So when I was looking for an internship I stumbled on a company that designed for theme parks — which sounded amazing. Until then I had never realised there was a whole industry based around it and was surprised Theme Park Design could actually be a profession.
What has been your career highlight so far? Why do you love what you do?
I don’t really like to rank my work as all projects are unique and have a special aspect to them no matter how big, but one highlight dear to me was the design of classic wall tapestries for an attraction called ‘Voletarium’ – themed after a 19th century adventure club. This was such a unique opportunity as I’m fascinated about this era in terms of design.
It was definitely a challenge to make them – I mean woven wall tapestries… I’d only imagine someone from the Middle Ages would do that for a job.
This is also one of the reasons I love what I do as I get to design such unusual stuff, from designing period ephemera to creating fantasy worlds. The thing that gets me excited is diving into a theme or a time period and figuring out things like what materials and typography were used or decide what looks logical when creating a fictional world.
I hope that the research and the detail that I put in my work will be discovered by the visitor, because these small details add to the immersion of a theme park. Even if a visitor doesn’t notice, it is still important to add as it makes a “world” genuine and logical and it improves the experience nonetheless.
And conversely, what has been your biggest learning curve or difficulty to overcome?
With projects that I’ve worked on I had to deal with a lot of different styles and themes. This has pushed me to be versatile and work on subjects I’d never really had an interest in or knowledge about. One day you can work on a horror/end of the world kinda thing, but the next day it can be a fairytale land.
Fortunately most of the projects I work on are very exciting, because I can often research different cultures and their design and building techniques – and ways of thinking. This is very useful in developing a storyline and tailoring the signs and graphics to make sense in this “world” you’re building.
The difficulty with this is to adapt and design artwork that fits well within a theme, especially when you want to recreate a place. For example if you design a themed world to the Victorian era, it usually means designing graphics with lots of beautiful embellishment and lettering – sounds fun!… But knowing back in the days these graphics were pieces of art, made by artisans that mastered their skills to perfection, you can imagine it’s quite the challenge to achieve the same aesthetics in a much shorter time.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out on their career in the art and design world and any aspiring graphic designers?
As the ‘design world’ is quite big there are so many ways to go and be creative. I can only advise to explore and try to understand every aspect of a design process, but stick with something you like to do and try to perfect it.
Don’t try to master everything cause it won’t work. There are plenty of others that do a better job.
I also want to animate, paint and be extraordinary in 3d modelling, but I chose to design signage and graphics and try to be good at that.
With larger projects you work together in a team and you combine each other’s expertise to get the best of everything. It’s good to have some knowledge of skills outside your profession, as this could only improve the workflow. Design is personal as it is based more based on opinions and not so much on facts, this makes the process more difficult, and you need to trust each other’s ability to keep things moving.
While I know things aren’t quite back to ‘normal’ yet around the world, have you been working on anything through this time, and what can we look forward to next from you?
An exciting project I contributed to that will open soon is Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, a project that is very dear to me and I think will be truly special and something to look forward to!
Due to the current situation, I have some time at hand to work on personal projects. One of them is a book about historical signs throughout The Netherlands. The book will be a collection of historical signs and lettering that still exist today. With the book I’m trying to create awareness that it is important to preserve these artworks as each of them is a little mirror into history.
By documenting them, I want to show the variety of styles and craftsmanship that went into signs from bygone eras. I will start sharing information about this project soon on my website, something I fortunately can still do during the lockdowns, because these signs are being replaced and erased as we speak!