Spokane Journal of Business

Taking design to the extreme

Jim Koch Design

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Jim Koch claims he has always worked in a very corporate world, but its hard to tell that from the markets he serves, which range from extreme sports and rock music to custom cars and trick bikes.


The 34-year-old Spokane artist owns an alternative-design firm, called Jim Koch Design, that is based in his small Brownes Addition apartment, but does work for clients in California, New York, Australia, China, and other distant locales.


He also is half-owner of two other companies, Room 13 and MotorCult, which design and distribute funky, imprinted apparel. Those businesses, both based near San Diego, together employ three people and are managed by his longtime friend, Kim Doran.


Summing up the unusual nature of his craft, Koch (pronounced cook) claims, I take on the design work that most ad agencies wont.


Over the last dozen years or so, he has designed marketing materials for rock performers from Marilyn Manson and Motley Crue to Vanilla Ice and Chubby Checker, T-shirts for the hot-selling No Fear label, wet suits for a major watercraft-apparel company called Jet Pilot, and artwork for Liquid Force wakeboards and Diamond Back bicycles.


Using pen, paint, canvas, camera, and computer, and sometimes blending the effects, he creates color-splashed, often radical images that are designed to appeal to Generation Xers, youth-sports enthusiasts, and alternative-lifestyle adherents.


In addition to posters, flyers, and apparel, Koch designs logos, brochures, catalogs, point-of-purchase displays, packaging, and even Web sites. He says his fees typically range from around $500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of the job.


A quick tour through his Web site, at www.jimkoch.com, reveals images that run the gamut from cartoons and commercial-product sketches to hot rods, drag cars, and motocross motorcycles and bicycles. However, skull-and-crossbones drawings of various types and darker, pseudo-satanic illustrations also make up a prominent part of his portfolio, reflecting his fascination with the horror genre. Sometimes he melds the disparate images, such as in one colorful cartoon that shows a Grim Reaper type of character driving a fire-breathing hot rod hearse, reminiscent of Ed Big Daddy Roths popular, auto-oriented Rat Fink cartoon drawings that first became popular in the 1960s.


A lot of people think what I do is not a real job, says Koch, whose dark-rimmed, 50s-style eyeglasses, slightly unruly hair, and mini-goatee give him a trendy retro look, befitting his profession.


He declines to divulge how much revenue his business interests generate, but says its enough to provide him with a comfortable living and that its continuing to grow.


Koch grew up in Hillyard, and says he became interested in art at an early age. At the urging of one of his elementary school teachers who was impressed by his abilities, his parents enrolled him in the Spokane School of Arts as a youngster, he says. He gained notoriety in junior high school by doodling on friends textbook covers, school lockers, and leather jackets, and turned his attention at Rogers High School to producing album covers, fliers for local bands, and T-shirts. Koch says he rode BMX bicycles competitively for a number of years while growing up, and his father built stock cars as a hobby during that time, both of which influenced his art in later years.


After graduating from Rogers in 1985, he studied at the Art Institute of Seattle and later headed to the San Diego area, where he says he shopped his art portfolio to potential employers while attempting briefly to compete on the BMX professional racing circuit there. Hanging out in a part of San Diego that was very surf-, skateboard-, and jet ski-oriented, he says, he garnered a job as art director with Jet Pilot, then in its infancy, designing wet suits and other watercraft apparel, and worked at that company for six years.


At the time, there was nobody else making that stuff, Koch asserts.


He later went to work for No Fear Inc., located nearby, where he says he and two other artists were responsible for designing all of the fashion graphics. He spent two years with that company, watching it grow into a sizable enterprise selling millions of T-shirts a year. After spending time on a couple of other short-term job pursuits, he and Doran started Room 13, which sells demonic and other shock-oriented apparel, and MotorCult, through which they design imprinted motor sports-related apparel and sell it at trade shows, custom-car and motorcycle exhibits, and racing events.


He founded Jim Koch Design in the San Diego area about two years ago and moved back to Spokane about eight months ago to be closer to his family after tiring of the Southern California rat race.


Hes happy to be back, and says he expects his California connections and Internet presence to keep him busy. He has done some work for Spokane ad agencies and other businesses here, such as WhiteRunkle Associates, Liberty Lake gauge maker Teltek Northwest Inc., and Local 77 board-sport retail stores, but says the vast majority of his work still is coming from clients located elsewhere around the country and, in some cases, overseas.


Given Kochs background, Internet skills, and eclectic tastes, his inconspicuous, second-story apartment in Brownes Addition doesnt seem an unusual headquarters for a tiny design firm doing business internationally. Its decorated as one might expectwith little attention to furniture, but all manner of unusual paintings, pictures, comic books, drawings, and posters covering most of its walls.


A lighted drawing tableit, too, adorned with artistic memorabiliaoccupies a space along one living room wall. Two computersa Macintosh for graphic-design work and a PC for more of the Internet-related taskssit next to each along another wall.


For now at least, the space suits Koch just fine.


I live here because Im very comfortable, and Im all about low overhead, he says. Hed like to move to a larger space at some point, partly to have room to work on a 1929 Ford sedan hes restoring, but he says hes in no hurry.

Kim Crompton
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