Career Evolution Series: Paul Howalt

All it took was one glimpse at KISS’s “Rock and Roll Over” album cover to put Paul Howalt’s creative gears in motion. But it wasn’t until he took his first graphic design class in high school that he knew he was destined for design.

Throughout the years, Paul’s career has evolved from designing for a number of agencies to founding and running his very own multidisciplinary design studio, Tactix Creative, in Mesa, Ariz. When he’s not at the studio, he’s most likely busy with his side hustle — creating illustrations for publications and ad agencies around the globe.

As part of PHXDW’s “career evolution” blog series, Paul takes us through his design background, how his career has evolved over time, and what his secret sauce is when it comes to setting his work apart from others’. Take a peek:

Tell me a little about yourself and what you do.

I grew up in Minnesota as a pretty normal kid. In the late 80s, I attended college at Arizona State here in Tempe, Ariz. After graduating in 1991, I went back to Minneapolis to work for Charles S. Anderson (CSA Design Co.). I loved the bold, graphic, retro aesthetic over there, and nobody does that better than him. Designing promotions and swatch books for our biggest client, French Paper, was a designer’s dream — mostly because of all the artistic freedom its owner Jerry French gave us. 

The first professional logo job I did while there was designing the Turner Classic Movies logo. I remember rendering it with a black, felt tip flair pen and white-out. You’ve gotta laugh because back then we didn’t do everything on computers.

After a couple of years, I moved back to sunny Arizona. Ever since then, I’ve been designing and illustrating for different companies I’ve formed over the last 22 years. Currently, I run Tactix Creative with Cam Stewart. We are a multi-disciplinary design studio located in Mesa that does design and branding for local and national clients.

What was your first introduction to design?

In 5th grade, my mom brought home an album — KISS’s “Rock and Roll Over.” I took one look and was absolutely mesmerized! The cover, illustrated by Michael Doret, was hands down the most stunning thing I had ever laid my eyes upon. Even before I put it on my turntable, I spent a fair amount of time molesting it with my retinas. I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t know what this profession is, or who does it, but I could really get excited about doing this sort of thing when I grow up.”

In high school I took a class in graphic design without really knowing what it was — and from then on, all I could think about pursuing it as a career.

How has your career continued to evolve?

Like many other designers out there, I’ve tried my hand at designing my own physical retail products. As satisfying as it is to create something you can touch and hold (t-shirts, posters, hats, mousepads, etc.), I’m slowly letting go of that revenue stream to concentrate more on downloadable items I create and sell on Creative Market. The fact that you can just park your goods online, advertise and collect money while you sleep is an irresistibly slick and fun way to build an additional monthly income. 

I illustrate on the side as well. I’ve been represented by Three in a Box for quite a few years and have done some very enjoyable work with them over the years. What I like most about Three in a Box is that it provides clients with a way to seek out illustrators for a specific style—which often means there’s not a lot of revision work. Clients already know what vibe to expect from you and publication deadlines keep timelines short and sweet.

Why did you make the transition into design and what steps did you take to get where you are?

I never really considered any other profession actually. I remember when I was choosing what to study at ASU, my family was concerned that there really wasn’t any money to make in this industry. I think most of the world envisions the “starving artist” syndrome whenever people bring up design careers, unfortunately. 

As far as taking calculated steps to get where I am, I concentrate on being communicative, reliable, hard-working, and hit all my deadlines. These make any designer indispensable, even in an oversaturated market. So many clients you work with are visually illiterate, so I don’t assume my portfolio will speak for itself. I’ve found that clients seem to value reliability most of all.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

CSA Design Co. has obviously been a long-time favorite of mine. In the late 80s, Duffy Design always had offices full of unmatched talent. I think the entire industry at one time was crushing hard on the work of Sharon Werner, Haley Johnson, Dan Olson, Todd Waterbury, and Neil Powell. Nobody was doing anything else that was as inspiring and hard-hitting as that crew.

As a logo designer, I’ve always admired designers like Jay Vigon, Margo Chase, Art Chantry, Tracy Sabin as well as some of my buddies, Von Glitschka, Sherwin Schwartzrock, Tim Frame, Randy Heil, and Chris Parks. I’m also floored by the work of Emrich Office, Jay Fletcher, Trey Ingram, and Sean Heisler.

What do you hope people feel when they look at your creations?

I’d like people to see a well planned visual hierarchy that rewards and communicates at every level.

What would you say to someone who’s never been to PHXDW?

Designers should attend PHXDW simply to stay inspired and meet other designers who make Arizona their home. I’m extremely proud of all the talent I live and work amongst. My only wish is that the local clients here would be a bit more adventurous, allowing Arizona designers more creative latitude to do what they do best.

Interested in meeting some of the local talent Paul alluded to? Stop by the Evolve Design conference (October 12 and 13) or attend one of PHXDW’s community events, which will take place throughout the following week!