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Interview: Cody Peterson

Written by
Kristin DeKay
December 11, 2012

Cody James Petersen is the co-founder of Omahype, creator of Weird Nebraska, and drummer in Honeybee & Hers. Former experience director at Secret Penguin, he has recently taken the leap into self-employment. Read on as Cody gives us a look at his new lifestyle as an independent designer and developer.

What inspired you to be a designer?

Like a lot of folks, I stumbled around for a few years after high school, not sure what I wanted to do with myself. I had been doing code and design recreationally since the late 90s (CorelDRAW and QBasic count, right?) but the inspiration to turn it into a career came from seeing my friends Matt Linder, Chris Kollars, and others begin to make names for themselves in the industry.

How did you end up at Secret Penguin? Was that your first design job?

I was a skateboarder in junior high and high school so Dave Nelson (Owner of SecretPenguin) was someone I had looked up to in that world. When I got into design and web stuff I found out that Dave was talented in that area too and followed his progress. After my first year at a local “commercial art college,” I got in contact with Dave and he was helping me try to get an internship at a local ad agency. After I sent in my resume, Dave emailed me and told me that I should just intern with SecretPenguin instead. So I did that for the summer and it was great, so we just kept it going. I didn’t go back to school; hopefully they didn’t save my seat.

What are your other interests, and how have they have influenced your design style?

I am really into music. I listen to a lot of weird singer/songwriters like Adrian Orange, Kyle Field, Karl Blau, Phil Elverum or Michael Hurley. Kyle Field and Phil Elverum are also very talented visual artists; I am sure I could have a successful design career just biting their styles but they come here on tours sometimes and I wouldn’t want them to kick my ass. Hopefully their earnest and nuanced approach to art rubs off on me eventually, that’s the goal I guess.

What has your transition been like, going from small studio to freelancer?

The transition was pretty extreme. Working with a team (even a small team) is a lot different than working (mostly) alone. I get more of my own work done. When working in a leadership position in a team, a lot of your time is spent making sure others can get their work done. I like doing that, but I am at the point in my life where I want to see how far I can push my own work.

What were the greatest obstacles in stepping out on your own?

I got really lucky. I kind of just did it, without any work lined up, and was handed a bunch of projects by friends. Justin Kemerling helped me out a ton with some really great projects, as well as Jerod Santo, Caleb Coppock, Megan Hunt, and Chris Hughes III.

The obstacle will be keeping that momentum going. Hopefully Justin will keep finding me more work, that’s what I am banking on, maybe I need to give him some sort of commission, I don’t know how this works.

What is your favorite thing about being independent? Least favorite?

I think a lot of the things I have enjoyed so far are more about the projects I happen to be getting. I love doing microsites and smaller stuff; I love working fast and shipping stuff. So, I guess just more time for heads down work. That’s my favorite. My least favorite is that when I do lift my head, there isn’t anyone around, which can be a bummer. I hope to get out more and do some co-working or get some sort of shared space at some point.

What have you been working on lately? What are your goals for the future?

I am working really hard on a complete rewrite and redesign of Omahype. Jerod Santo (of Object Lateral) and I are tackling the heavy lifting of that with help from Jason Sawyer and the SecretPenguin team. I am also working on a web app side project with Jerod that should be out in a month or two. Jon Tvrdik, Chris Crum and I are also in the beginning stages of a kind of ambitious project that I am hopeful about. Ellen (Wilde) and I just wrapped up some wedding invites and print work for our friends Jenna and Bill which should be arriving in our mailbox within the next few days. And, you know, client work.

My goals for 2013 include: working with more new people (not babies, just people I haven’t worked with yet), finishing Vying Rivals (a small board game companion web app I made last year), getting a real office, hiring Caleb Coppock to ghost-paint my self-portrait, and growing the consulting side of my business.

Any nuggets of wisdom you can throw to those thinking about taking a dive off the steady employment cliff?

Work hard and talk about your friends in your interviews. Really, just take what you can get and try and build it. Deliver good work and be honest and open and then do it again. When you don’t have client work, make something cool and show it to people.

To keep up with Cody and his work, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Dribbble, or read his blog.

Are you considering the switch to freelance, or simply want to improve your existing efforts? Don’t forget to sign up for our next event, Freelance 101. A panel of accomplished independent designers will shed some light and share insight on best practices for freelance or independent designers.

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