The Road to Happiness with Ryan Fitzgibbon

Written by in Profiles


2009 Command X Runner Up is Up…and Running

Keri Smith’s 2006 illustration “HOW TO FEEL MISERABLE AS AN ARTIST (OR, WHAT NOT TO DO)” gives ten traditional recipes for creative disaster such as self-paralysis, enslavement by client whim, and worse expecting your family to cheer you on your creative career choice. It’s a list of bummer jokes, with an incisive point

So when Ryan Fitzgibbon Blogged about Smith’s piece not long ago, he sounded disconsolate. “I instantly recognized myself in every line,” Fitzgibbon wrote, following with a fretful triple-maybe: “Maybe if I loosen up a little and stop setting unachievable/overwhelming goals, then maybe I will be happier and maybe my work will benefit from it.

But that was BEFORE young Ryan delivered a standout performance at Command X at AIGA’s Make/Think in Memphis, wowing Debbie Millman, blunting the sharp tongue of Chip Kidd, and winning Round 1 with a killer redesign of the Graceland logo with a pattern of golden circles evoking Elvis rhinestones or Vegas spotlights, overlain on the curved form of the Graceland’s iconic gates. Such a brief brush with fame would lift anyone’s spirits

Nowadays Fitzgibbon has a different idea of goal setting. “I wouldn’t say that I regret setting unachievable goals,” he told Against the Grain over the phone this week. “And I don’t think I’d call them unachievable anymore. I just gave some advice to Mig Reyes on his new website. My advice was: be ambitious.”

Ryan’s ambition has carried him fast and far from Allendale, Michigan where he graduated in 2009 from Grand Valley State with a BFA in graphic design. He now lives in San Francisco and works for IDEO in Palo Alto, commuting by Caltrain. “San Francisco’s great,” he said. “It’s full of inspiration. Beyond just the quirky things about it—the whole mentality of startup culture in Silicon Valley fuels ambition and drive throughout the entire Bay Area. It inspires new ways of thinking.” (And you can’t beat the climate — when its not 45 degrees and raining horizontally and rent’s due.)

Recently Fitzgibbon decided to put off graduate school while he gains some professional experience at IDEO. He told us that in the meanwhile, IDEO’s approach to its work—disciplined in philosophy, eclectic and flexible in execution—has been plenty educational. “IDEO has offered me new opportunities to get the advanced education I was looking for at the present,” Fitzgibbon said, “but I look forward to returning to school one day to gain more and different experiences as well.”

Ryan will, undoubtedly, be welcomed back to graduate school with open arms and great challenges.  In the meantime, whichever path Ryan chooses is a long way from his world of September 2009 when he related painfully to the misery satirized in Keri Smith’s amusing poster. Being happy can only help one up the next step in life. And it sure looks good in a headshot.

  1. 02
    Matt Porter said:

    Although Ryan Fitzgibbon proved at Command X that he can do the work of two, three, or four Fitzgibbons!!!, he is, alas, just one. Sorry for adding an S to his family name earlier today. It has been corrected. – Your Beloved Author

  2. 02
    Mig Reyes said:


    It’s great to hear you’re doing all sorts of amazing things life post Command X. I don’t think it’s any shock that you’re on the move, making things happen. Looking forward to hearing your next adventures, and better yet, a drink with the rest of us Chicagoans!