March 2, 2015

Forum Spotlight: Five Questions for Jeff A

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This is part of a series of short interviews with individual members of the Forum.

Forum name: Jeff A
Profession: Corporate User Interface Designer, Graphic/Web Design Freelancer
Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Forum member since: October, 2013
Favorite TB bag: Synapse 25, my jack-of-all-trades bag

Q: What are your design philosophies?

A: I’m a big fan of creating a simple canvas to direct the eye towards what is needed on a website, logo, or poster.

As far as styles go, I like the current flat design look but with a few tweaks, like adding subtle shadows and shading to create some depth, which I feel is very important. I’m a huge fan of white space because the content of a website or printed design has to be given the chance to breathe somewhat, and not feel all crammed together. The use of large photos these days is great but the photo must tie back to the overall message or call to action that the designer is trying to convey; otherwise, it creates a visual disconnect with the message.

Two more things: I love the use of custom icons and natural textures for backgrounds. Adding textures to an element or subject that does not normally have textures can be very cool in my opinion.

Q: You're currently involved with a start-up company, McCaffrey Audio. How did you get involved, and what has it been like to watch the company grow from the ground up?

A: McCaffrey Audio creates and manufactures high-end/boutique guitar pedals, and is based out of Wausau, Wisconsin. Ryan McCaffrey started building guitar pedals about three years ago in his basement as a hobby while he worked his main job as a firefighter.

Back in July of 2014, he came across me on LinkedIn when he was looking for a designer to help with some new guitar pedal layouts. When he saw my name he remembered that he sold me a guitar about 5 years ago through an online guitar forum called The Gear Page. I live about an hour from him so we met halfway, exchanged money and a guitar, and then went about our lives. Every so often we’d say hi because we both played in rock cover bands and were always buying or trying new guitar gear. Anyway, this past summer he noticed that I’m a graphic and web designer so he gave me a call to discuss the new guitar pedal. I was immediately interested at the thought of combining two of my favorite things: guitars and graphics!

By the fall I was firmly entrenched as Ryan’s right-hand man at McCaffrey Audio. We went through a company rebranding in November, as well as redesigning and re-releasing our three flagship pedals. We currently have around twelve guitar pedals in various stages of prototyping, manufacturing, and design—and we hope to release the next one this spring. Along with all things graphic and web-related, I also take on some of our artist endorsement deals, as well as product development. Ryan will come up with a new guitar pedal idea, create and ship the prototype to our testers, who provide feedback on the next prototype. Let me tell you, as a guitar gear junkie this is pure gold, haha! It’s so amazing to create something and see it come to fruition, plugged into a guitar amp and played by some of the biggest guitar names in music, both in live bands and studio session work.

We now have manufacturing set up in three different states with many U.S. and international dealers coming on board. We attended the annual winter NAMM show in Anaheim a few weeks ago and really made an impression on dealers/retailers and new artists.

The experience has been pure exhilaration, going from designing one pedal back in the summer to full production, attending trade shows and really getting the company off the ground. Late last year Ryan went all in on his company so he’s doing it full-time, which is very impressive! He believes in his product and his business plan, and it’s great to see everything happen so fast.


Q: What are some of your other professional and leisure interests? Do you see points of intersection amongst them?

A: My professional interests will probably come as no shock: I love all things graphic/web-related, new design trends, color schemes, and web technologies. Along with that, I’m involved in user interface/user experience, project management and organization—branding and business social media all tie into those things as well.

My love of organizing graphical interfaces and project management has led me to organize the clutter around me when it comes to everyday household items and my travel needs. Of course, this led me to Tom Bihn. I love Tom’s clean and simple but elegant design patterns and thought process, as well as the great color choices and amazing fabrics that are used in his bags and accessories. Everything has its place—the organization in my Synapse 25 is bar none, as well as my Co-Pilot and Western Flyer. I’ve had my Synapse 25 for two years this coming May and I’m still finding new ways to pack it. Feels like a new bag every time. The ability to keep adding on to our Tom Bihn bags is so important to me, whether through the various accessories or the expansive color options and coordination. I’m hoping someday to pick up an Aeronaut 45 for extended travel and longer trips, along with the suite of packing cubes!

Playing guitar is still fun for me, though recently it’s mostly a business thing, haha! I also love baking desserts: everything from cheesecakes to cream puffs, and pies to crepes. The more complicated the better! I love camping and have been doing that my whole life so I’m getting my girlfriend, Julie, into it, which is a lot of fun! Wisconsin is a beautiful state and my TOM BIHN bags love being outdoors. Of course family is a huge part of my life, as well.

Q: Speaking of family, between you and Julie, you have six kids. How do you balance the competing demands of work, your other hobbies, and family?

A: Honestly, it’s truly amazing! We have two sixth graders, a high school freshman, a sophomore, a senior, and a college freshman. Needless to say, we’re pretty busy with their school schedules and extracurricular activities, haha! As far as balance goes, it all comes down to a simple concept for me: passion. Everything that I’ve mentioned above I have a deep passion for so whatever needs focus at any given time gets elevated to my number one thing to work on or help out with. Be it running kids around for their activities, designing a new logo or planning a getaway weekend, passion creates my focus which I find is very instrumental to how I structure my life.

Q: What are your top three must-go travel destinations?

A: The first one is easy as I’ll be going there in early March: Cozumel, Mexico. There’s a big group of us going there for my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration! My parents have been going to Mexico for years so we figured it was time for us to enjoy it with them.

The second destination is a tourist thing: some type of European tour to see the various countries, figure out our likes and dislikes, then go back to our favorite cities and countries at a later date to really immerse ourselves. I have strong family ties to a bunch of European countries so I just need to go there and experience part of my heritage.

Third on my list would be a 2+ week adventure in New Zealand and Australia. That may overtake number two on the list!

I’m adding a fourth and that would be Hawaii. I’ve known many people who’ve spent considerable time there so once again I would love to experience what they love about Hawaii.



Jeff Abraham - November 19, 2019

Huge thanks to Badger and Tom Bihn staff for the forum spotlight!

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