Creative + Design

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This designer’s career, sparked by his appreciation for aesthetics, led to the formation of a successful, boutique design firm

Ultimately, a Pet Shop Boys album is what prompted Josh Finto to consider a career in design.

While figuring out which direction his professional life would take–he started out as a computer science major and thought about architecture or photography–this self-confessed music lover worked at different independent record shops for several years. In 1994, after a Pet Shop Boys album called Please came in, Finto was marveling about the packaging. it was a stark white, 12 by 12-inch vinyl with a tiny, postage-stamp-sized picture of the band in the center and the group/album name in simple Helvetica type below it.

“A friend said, ‘You know, Josh, you should check out the design program at the local college.’ I didn’t know there was a design program there,” Finto said. “I ’m grateful that he saw something in me that I couldn’t have formulated into a career path. I checked out this degree program and it was a hop, skip and a jump from there to where I am now.”

Finto worked various full-time gigs throughout his time at San Antonio College; after receiving his two-year degree in visual communication, he worked as an in-house designer at an architecture company. His plan to move to Austin and attend the university of Texas for his four-year degree took a detour when he interviewed with TKO advertising. “I learned more in my first two weeks there than I ever did in school,” Finto added.

His five-year tenure at TKO, what he called one of the biggest blessings of his career, taught him the value of being strategic and putting the needs of clients first. “It’s not just something that looks good,” Finto said. “It has to move people.”

Batman & Robin

1-6Finto grew up on a farm in the small, south Texas town of orange Grove, where pigs, cattle and chickens were raised. When he was in junior high, Finto’s tasks included repainting all the farm implements and machinery. In one of the earliest signs of his burgeoning eye for aesthetics, Finto decided to color code the items by season because it seemed logical. His father, however, didn’t think so.

“My father was like, ‘it’s all John Deere green, take it back.’ I always had this strange appreciation for art and design.”

Like many gay men who grew up in more conservative areas, Finto has grappled with reconciling his sexual orientation and his faith. Raised in an evangelical Christian household, Finto attended a private Christian school until junior high. Although he didn’t come out until many years later, an experience with his grandmother when he was in the first grade was telling. She’d asked him if he ever wanted to get married. Finto responded that yes, he did, and he knew who he would marry.

“When I told her robin, as in Batman and rob- in, she looked confused,” Finto said, noting that his grandmother wore one of those big sun hats that blocked the sun but also prevented him from seeing her face as he looked up at her. “That was it. She said that boys don’t marry other boys and she never mentioned it again or treated me differently. I think this was the day that life fundamentally changed for me.”

Fast forward to the present, with the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage, and Finto extolls the support he’s received from his parents. “My parents love me absolutely and unconditionally. it amazes me how open and loving they are when I  take my partner home,” he said, adding that his mother tried, to no avail, to coax him out of the closet when he was in high school–asking if there was anything important he needed to share with her.

Matters of faith have given Finto a lot to consider as his life evolved. Growing up, he attended church three times a week and heard his share of sermons that demonized gay people. ‘I used to pray on my birthday, ‘just one more year and I ’ll like girls, just one more year.’” now, he’s researching which church appeals to him and welcomes him and his partner, and diving into the writings of people like the author and teacher Wayne Dyer. Dyer’s books, which meld a self-help ethos with positive thinking and a Christian perspective, helped fuel Finto ’s curiosity about faith. This led Finto  to realize that it’s okay to be gay and be Christian.

F as in Frank

Even though he was learning a lot about the needs of his clients, Finto was itching for a change. a small design shop called Cartis Group was hiring and he made the jump, attaining the post of associate creative director. While working at TKO , Finto connected with Chris visit, who’d been interning at the ad agency; they stayed friends and after visit finished graduate school, their paths crossed again when visit worked at Cartis Group.

“One day, I said, ‘We do a lot of complaining. Do you think we can do better?’ Chris said, ‘we can,” said Finto . “We were too busy to be nervous. I can see how it would be scary, but I couldn’t not do it.”

“Working with Josh and his team is a breath of fresh air and I appreciate the humor and sense of whimsy that he injects into the work when it makes sense,” said Scott Simons, executive marketing director at Whole Foods Market southwest. “I use Josh and his team as a brain trust that I can access at any time. They get us and they deliver.”

With the encouragement of friends in the industry, they both quit Cartis Group and formed Frank + Victor design in November of 2006. The lean firm, with five employees, provides print, interactive and environmental graphics to such a wide range of clients as Whole foods Market and silicon labs. “I would say, ‘Finto , f as in Frank,’” said Finto. “His last name is visit, so he says v as in Victor.” Meanwhile, Frank + Victor has weathered the economic storm by staying small, efficient and nimble.

“My favorite thing is getting to know a client,” Finto said. “I ’m curious about people and I like to know what makes people tick. So, whatever the form of the project–it could be a trade show, package design, website or a logo–it’s engaging because when we’re working on those things back in the studio, they’re not detached design projects, there’s a human component.”

Adoptive Love

His appreciation for the human component also led Finto, who was adopted as a baby, to do some design work for families By choice, an organization that provides adoption services for LGBT people, single parents, traditional, and nontraditional families throughout Texas. “It’s nice that there are people doing it out of the kindness of their hearts and if my company can do some invitations or work on a website, that’s great.”
 Finto met his partner one day while reading a book at Lake Austin. “I was about to leave and I saw this guy sitting by himself,” recalled Finto. “I said hi and we just started chatting.” The couple has been together for a year, and they live in northwest hills with two dogs and two cats. A self-confessed homebody, Finto said they bonded over a love of science fiction and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Their shared appreciation of comic books helped prompt another big conversation. During a recent trip to the comic book store, Finto noticed a guy with a baby carrier. As Finto was checking out, he saw another guy with him and could tell they were a couple. “I went up and started talking to them about adoption,” he said, noting that he’s lately heard his own biological clock ticking. “I was so fascinated and encouraged. It’s something we’re definitely interested in.” additionally, Finto believes that, as a gay man, his professional perspective is unique and valuable. “It gave me an appreciation for differences other people and a sensitivity to nuance,” Finto said. “It’s made me more empathetic.”
In a way, Finto –who tells the stories that his clients share with him in compelling ways–is channeling all the storytelling he observed growing up in a small town. “Going into the beauty parlor with my grandma and hearing all those women talking,” Finto said, grinning at the memory. “I essentially tell visual stories to other people. It comes back to listening–and that’s the philosophy of Frank + Victor.”

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