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2020 SEGD Chapter Chair Award | Zachary Kotel, Associate Design Director at ArtHouse Design
The SEGD Chapter Chair Award recognizes outstanding volunteer efforts while significantly contributing to the direction, growth, strength and excellence of SEGD Chapters both locally and throughout the organization. Zachary Kotel is the third recipient of this relatively new award.
At ArtHouse Design (Denver), Zach Kotel plays a key role in business development, preparing proposals, presenting work and conducting stakeholder workshops. Kotel has won multiple distinctions for his design talents from Graphis, UCDA, the GDUSA American Graphic Design Awards and the HOW International Design Awards. He has been diligently working to elevate, engage and showcase the Denver design community since 2015 through his involvement with AIGA and SEGD, and is currently serving as SEGD Denver Chapter Chair.
We recently caught up with Kotel and asked him questions about himself and his work with SEGD.
How did your relationship with SEGD or SEGD members begin?
One of my first experiences with SEGD was the annual conference in Seattle in 2016. I really enjoyed the speakers, meeting other designers in my field and especially how the conference uses its host cities as an experiential playground for design conversations.
From there, I began to participate in more local chapter events in Denver and eventually applied to become a chapter chair. I have since attended multiple conferences, made amazing connections and been inspired to continue to expand SEGD’s presence in Denver as an authority on and resource for design.
How and why did you become a chapter chair?
I was inspired to become a chapter chair so that I could be more actively involved in the design conversation in Denver and to hopefully help elevate the profile of overall design scene in Denver. I wanted to shine a light on the amazing EGD work happening in the Mountain West and by firms in Denver and Colorado and felt that without strong advocacy from the local chapter this key area of design was often being overlooked in local and national conversations.
After connecting with Kris Helmick at the 2015 ISA Sign Expo, he encouraged me to get more involved as a member and eventual co-chair of the Denver chapter. It has been exciting to see SEGD Denver become a valued leader in Denver’s design and creative scenes and to be engaging with a variety of different organizations, designers, firms and communities.
What are a few of your fondest chapter event memories?
Last year we teamed up with Denver’s annual Crush Walls mural festival to paint a ground mural in an intersection the RiNo Arts District. It was a gorgeous day and we had something around 50 volunteers help complete this new public art piece as part of the festival. We have also had some amazing events with local civic and cultural organizations like the Denver Botanic Gardens, the History Colorado Museum and the City of Denver. It has been really exciting to see new connections being made over our share passion for design (nerd alert!).
What makes a good SEGD chapter? A good chapter chair?
I think what makes a good SEGD chapter is dedication to contributing to the local design conversation. Each city is unique, with a unique creative community, facing unique challenges and there is so much to celebrate and highlight. The SEGD chapters have the power to draw attention to the people, places and work that make their cities special and accordingly encourage their clients, collaborators, friends, neighbors and stakeholders to further value design as a tool that can improve people’s lives.
A good chapter chair is essentially someone who can bring the diverse and multidisciplinary aspects of our field together in interesting combinations to tell these important design stories. What I find really amazing about being a chapter chair and working with both my local co-chairs and the other chapter chairs is how everyone can achieve this with such creativity, consistency and innovation. As a result, there is a truly rich layered effect to SEGD that makes it an organization that is rewarding to engage with, whether it’s on a hyper-local or international level.
What led you to a career in design and why EGD?
I have always been an artistic person and during college majored in studio art, with emphases in painting and sculpture (and a second major in French literature). When I graduated, I knew I wanted to pursue a creative career, but I wasn’t ready to commit to being a full-time fine artist.
I considered my options and thought design and specifically advertising would be a great way to have a creative, but more traditionally structured career. Having never taken a design class before (my university doesn’t offer graphic design), I took it upon myself to teach myself how to use design software, create a portfolio of self-directed design projects and apply what I learned as an artist to try to land a job as a designer.
After trying my hand with a first job in the advertising world, I decided it wasn’t for me and that I wanted to pursue a type of design that I felt impacted people’s lives in a more meaningful way. In applying for other opportunities, I discovered ArtHouse, an environmental graphic design firm that had done many recognizable projects around Denver. In working at ArtHouse, I have found a true passion for experiential design and am excited to be a part of this dynamic, emerging, and expanding field of design.
Why Denver? What are your favorite things/places/parts of living and working there?
I am a Denver native and returned to Colorado after living in a host of different places around the world (Miami, Paris, Maine to name a few) and have always had a particular fondness for Denver. Of course there are all of the classic reasons to love it here, the mountains, the winter sports, outdoor recreation, craft beer, sunshine etc., but I’ve also always felt like it’s a city where everyone is genuinely really happy to be there.
On the weekends, people are constantly out and about living their best lives. Some of my favorite spots around town (tips for your next post-COVID trip lol) are the Museum of Contemporary Art, Safta - an Israeli restaurant at the hip Source Hotel, the Death & Company rooftop at the Ramble Hotel, City Park for views of the skyline against the mountains - especially at sunset and coffee from Weathervane Cafe.
Tell us about your work and hobbies (maybe the fashion design competition?), we're dying to know more.
As a designer, I have a passion for branding and view it as integral to the overall experiential design process. I love designing logos, brand systems and collateral and then extending that experience to the built environment. I think that a good designer can handle any design challenge thrown at them and I love to get a chance to design something I’ve never done before.
Accordingly, at ArtHouse, we love to challenge ourselves creatively and last year participated in the One Club of Denver’s annual Paper Fashion Show competition. We had to create a garment that was 90% made of paper, centered on the theme “Flight Without Wings.” Our concept was inspired by air currents, wind and meteorological charts - essentially the factors that allow anything to fly. My good friend and stunning drag queen Amber Dextrous modeled our lewk for us - winning us the crowd favorite award.
Outside of work, I still practice art (most recently, I’ve been loving acrylic paint markers) and occasionally do public art commissions. Hobby-wise, I have a love for house plants (I have over 100) and gardening, as well as travel (when there aren’t global pandemics), hiking, photography and cooking. I would say travel is the number one thing that gives me the most inspiration to take back to my work.
>>> More about Zach Kotel
Congratulations to the 2020 SEGD Achievement Award winners!
See past Achievement Award winners.