The story of Ron & Pippa Seichrist and how they reimagined education. Reprinted from GRAPHIS.
Graphis featured the couple in the latest New Talent annual. In Ron’s interview (reprinted below) he answers questions about inspiration and the secret to living a creative life. In Pippa’s interview she answers the same questions but with her unique perspective. The book also features dozens of pieces of Miami Ad School student work.
“Working together over the last 25 years, Ron and Pippa have grown a global network of 14 schools with more than 10,000 graduates.They have each been committed to challenging creative innovation in education. Ron and Pippa, both artists and visionaries, share a passion for helping others achieve their full potential. Each and every day, where Pippa’s imagination meets Ron’s ever-evolving vision, they make magic happen.” Hank Richardson, Director of Opportunities and Outreach and Design Coach at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center
Q: Ron, what inspired or motivated you into your career in advertising, design—the creative world?
RON: I grew up in an immigrant family during WWII. The only way I could get money was to steal and return coke bottles for the two cent deposit or sell poorly drawn pornography to the other kids. I drew cartoons of Dagwood “doing” Blondie, etc. Better money than coke bottle deposits. And more fun. My first real commission was as a freshman in high school. A local businessman came to the principal and asked for someone to draw a label for his product. I got the job. I drew a terrible cartoon of a fisherman holding a big fish and a balloon over his head saying, “WOW! THEM BLOOD WORMS! Many years later a bunch of my NYC creative director friends and I went down to the Chesapeake Bay, rented a boat and captain and fished for four hours or more. And for bait we had cups with my label for bloodworms and my signature, of course, larger than the headline. Embarrassing. A lesson: never make your signature very large or legible. What is your work philosophy? Life is short. At 83 years––very short. If life is just a bowl of cherries, work is eating them.
Q: Where do you seek inspiration?
RON: When I was a boy, I had to work with my father in his woodworking shop until midnight. I helped him make stuff. At night we listened to a shortwave radio in both English and German and posted national flags on the progress of all the various armies in the war on a giant world map he had on the wall. He installed a morse code unit to next to my bed to call me into his shop whenever. In grade school I wrote stories and drew cartoons. In high school I wrote articles for the school newspaper. I won a contest for designing the uniforms for the high school football team. I learned taxidermy and made sculptures of dancing frogs and tried to sell them. Later I collected tombstones with typos. Did neon sculptures using old neon signs. I collected old telephone poles and made sculptures in the woods behind my house. I took photographs of flotsam and jetsam around storm sewers using a Rolleiflex camera a cousin brought back from the war. I customized my mother’s 50 Mercury using tons of Bondo (plastic compound for dents and re-shaping). Then I worked weekends for a welder to do more radical things on the Mercury. ■ After I got my first job, as a graphic designer in a pharmaceutical company, my inspiration skyrocketed. I designed everything from ads, direct mail, posters, packaging to gigantic exhibits. I could do anything I wanted. My life continued that way, with great times and rough times. It’s the way life goes for all of us. How do you define success? Living with my rescue dogs; a hound, a sorta pit bull, a doberman. Loving my wife.
Student Designed Table by Danner Washburn | Platinum Award | Graphis New Talent Annual
Q: Who is or was your greatest mentor?
RON: Perhaps my father. I thought he could make anything. He made me a toy that was an aircraft carrier. And an airplane that had a lever to drop a lead bomb onto one or two spots on the carrier. If you hit the spot, the carrier would fly apart in many pieces. Then I had to spend an hour or more putting it back together. In the meantime he could do his work. On the other hand—he wasGerman. So when the other kids were playing basketball after school I was breaking rocks into gravel. He did not believe you should pay for gravel.
Q: Who were some of your greatest past influences?
RON: As a young designer I liked the work of Celestino Patti, a Swiss poster artist. I was doing a lot of woodcuts and so I was influenced by the work of Rockwell Kent. Later on I was greatly impressed with Willy Fleckhaus and TWEN magazine. Takenobu Igarashi is a genius. And of course, Graphis Magazine.
Q: Who among your contemporaries today do you most admire?
RON: For a number of years now, I have followed the Outsider Artists. My wife and I collect folk art from South America and the USA. We have a collection of Howard Finster. Photography has always been important to me. At the moment I am very taken with the work of Nick Knight on his iPhone. And creative directors like Lee Clow, Helmut Krone (art director on the ground-breaking original DDB Volkswagen campaign of the sixties), and even the iconoclastic Alex Bogusky. The late Mike Hughes, of the Martin Agency, was certainly a rare human being.
Q: Who have been some of your favorite people or clients you have worked with?
RON: Pippa Seichrist. An incredibly talented, driven, supportive—difficult woman. Who pushed me and pulled me at the same time. What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work? Freedom to try.
Q: What is your greatest professional achievement?
RON: When I was a senior in high school I thought somehow I would be able to go to college.I loved learning. My parents who were poor said no way, I was crazy. I was dejected, morose. One of my teachers noticed and asked what was wrong. I told her. She said to meet her Saturday morning in front of Overton’s Market at 6am. I did. We went into the market and up a narrow stairway to meet Mr. Overton, the owner of the supermarket. He was a little man in a bowtie with a gruffy, unfriendly voice. “Ronnie Seichrist. Your teachers told me about you. I will send you to college and pay all your expenses. But you can never get less than a B, although I expect more than that. And you must make one promise. That someday you will send somebody else’s child to college. Yes or no!” That was the total conversation.
I have lived up to my promise to him many, many times over. Years later I discovered, that he had anonymously sent 27 other poor kids to college. I never knew the others.
Q: What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?
RON: Teaching. When I see the light come on in a student’s eyes.
Q: What part of your work do you find mostdemanding?
RON: 45 years ago I was profoundly deaf. Amplified phones hadn’t yet been invented. Even so, during that time I was a creative director and started my first school. Four hearing operations improved my hearing somewhat for many years. But now I am almost deaf again. However, I discovered how to use Google docs in my classes. It’s amazing how technology can change your life.
Q: What would be your dream assignment?
RON: To write a Netflix 13 episode story. The story would be about my childhood growing up during WWII, living in a military area in Norfolk, VA. Going with my dad, a German immigrant, to the POW camp where he translated for the American marine guards to the German prisoners. Living with an alcoholic mother who, when on a drunken binge, would forget my name or disappear for months at a time. My struggle to get into my father’s secret room. Wondering if my father was a Nazi. Not a far fetched idea; he worked in the Norfolk navy yard and according to a recent TV documentary, the shipyards were filled with spies who reported the ships’ coming and leaving the shipyards. German u-boats waited in the harbor entrance to the ocean. A great sport for my friends and me was to spend weekends at the beach finding wreckage from the torpedoed boats. When my father died my mother sent me his wallet. Pinned inside was a medal. A swastika and an eagle.
Q: What professional goals do you still have for yourself?
RON: With Pippa to invent the next kind of creative school.
Q: What advice would you have for students starting out today?
RON: To become a storyteller.
Q: What interests do you have outside of your work?
RON: I make slab, live edge furniture. I write stories. I take photographs. I carve. I’m restoring a vintage VW pickup, helping my wife restore a 49 chevy rat truck. I collect airstream trailers and restore them
Q: What do you value most?
RON: The success of a student. I wish I heard from them more often.
Q: What would you change if you had to do it all over again?
RON: Nothing. Fucking Up Big Time is the best incentive to success.
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Ron Seichrist started his career as a graphic designer. First with a pharmaceutical company and later with Xerox. In his mid-20s he was featured in Communication Art magazine. He shifted to art direction working in agencies in Richmond, VA and NYC. He left New York in the early 70’s to work in Frankfurt, Munich, and London. Coming back to the USA he spent a year as a photo journalist focusing on annual reports and his own personal work. He had a design company in Minneapolis and began teaching at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he became the youngest full professor and then Dean of the Design Division. After 10 winters Ron moved to a warmer climate, Atlanta, to start the first portfolio school in the world, Portfolio Center. Ron was featured in ADWEEK magazine as “one who changed advertising in the South.” After ten years he left the school he founded and with his wife, Pippa, started an agency specializing in German and Dutch companies doing business in the USA. In 1993 the duo moved farther south to start Miami Ad School. Ron was honored by the New York Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame for his commitment to education and also received the Mosiac Award for Diversity.
Pippa Seichrist is an art director, creative director, ad agency owner, and co-founder of Miami Ad School, a global network in fifteen cities. Pippa developed, with her husband Ron, an experiential educational model for creative education. Miami Ad School is the only school in our industry that encourages the cross-pollenization of ideas by allowing students to study and intern around the globe. The result is the most award-winning school in the world and a nearly perfect placement rate. Pippa’s students have been recognized by the One Club, Clios, Future Lions, D&AD, and in Graphis New Talent Annuals. Pippa is now a featured speaker at numerous conferences from 3% Conference, 4A’s Strategy, Facebook Summit, New York Festivals, AHAA, Google Agency Offsite, One Club––Here Are All The Black People, AdAge Small Agency Conference, and others. Her focus is now on increasing diversity in the creative fields. Miami Ad School reflects this with a student diversity rate that far exceeds that of the advertising industry today. Pippa is now based at the school in Atlanta. When she isn’t traveling to the other locations, she carves rustic furniture and does pottery at her studio in the mountains of North Georgia.
Hank Richardson is the Director of Opportunities and Outreach and Design Coach at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center. He is an AIGA FELLOW and recipient of the NY Art Director’s Club 2010 Grandmaster Teacher’s Award. He is the 2018 recipient of the Educator of the Year, Golden Apple Award from the Dallas Society of Visual Communicators, National Student Conference. He is a Director of the Museum of Design Atlanta and has served on the AIGA National Board and board of The Society of Typographic Aficionados. As an educator at Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center, Hank brings strategic design-thinking into his teaching, integrating design, business, and technology. Hank advises student leadership teams that translate design-led business development for start-up companies and products within a real-world context. He has contributed to such books as Design Wisdom, The Education of a Graphic Designer, Becoming a Graphic Designer, Design for Communications, The Education of a Typographer, Graphis