Jonathan VanDerhoof is the graphic designer at the Mackinac Center, where he has worked for seven years. In his current role, he is responsible for the visual elements that define the Mackinac Center brand and manages the artistic process from concept to completion.
Where do you even begin to design a cover for a study titled, “A State Compact to End Corporate Welfare”? Some designers get to create books with puppies on the cover, for crying out loud!
Being a creative arts professional in the public policy world can be jarring and, at times, frustrating. There’s a nonstop supply of difficult topics and publications to create interesting designs for, and I always come across a new maddening but fixable policy issue I had never even considered. The job requires me to digest and learn about complex new subjects so I can create insightful designs — no easy task. To top it all off, there are only a couple of people I can send design jokes to (although I guess that’s true no matter where I work).
All that being said, I love my job here. While I’m oftentimes the dumbest guy in the room (not an insult when you’re working with the brilliant minds here), I bring a different skillset to the table. Our authors are great at breaking down and explaining their ideas, but that doesn’t mean anything if we can’t convince a person to read what they wrote. The age-old saying “Never judge a book by its cover” doesn’t work in our image-saturated world. It’s my job to make that study look interesting enough to pick up, or to design a website that makes you want to investigate a complex topic. Once we’ve convinced a person to take that step, my job is complete, and the Mackinac Center’s 30-plus years of research and expertise takes over.
It’s an amazing opportunity to play even a small part on a team that achieves victory after victory and to see firsthand the impact it has. Not to sing my own praises, but how many people can say their work has seen by the U.S. Supreme Court?
While the Mackinac Center may need me to come up with a simple way to explain a complicated problem, an easy-to-understand project can come along: Create a logo and a brand for a network where Michiganders from all walks of life can help make a difference. The logo for Opportunity Michigan needed to reflect several facets of what we aim to accomplish: a network with a profound ripple effect; an interconnected system representing the thousands of members who join it; and a sun shining brightly over Michigan’s future. With a little creativity, the logo for Opportunity Michigan now represents all those ideas and more.
Each day, I am surrounded by a team of people who work toward a goal of a better Michigan. Now, that’s something I’ll gladly choose to be a part of. It doesn’t hurt that I even met my wife here. But I do wish I could design at least one cover with puppies on it.