A Peek Behind the Curtain

There's no better way to learn why Šek started and the inner workings of the business than by chatting with the person who runs the show - Mike Smíšek!

We hope you enjoy this interview style blog where Mike, Šek's Founder and Creative Director, gives you a look into his back story all the way to where the business is today.

Let's start from the beginning. How did you get started as a designer?

Mike Smíšek: I've been creating paintings for people since the 3rd grade but I've been designing professionally for about 8 years. I realized a couple of years ago that I had been subconsciously choosing jobs that would prepare me to own a business in the creative field. After graduating from UMD, I moved to Maine where my first job was at an auto body shop. There I learned more about working with automotive paint, metal and finishes. I was a College Pro Painters franchise owner for 2 years. I managed a team that worked on large renovation projects and focused on customer service, sales and safety. Before leaving Maine, I held an internship at Portland Monthly Magazine where I studied print and editorial design. 

When I moved back to Minnesota, I took a job at a sign shop in Duluth where I learned more about large-scale printing and applications. Finally, I was the in-house designer for a couple small businesses. When one was sold, I took it as the chance to set off and start my own studio.


That's quite the path. So how do you describe what you do at Šek?

Mike: I primarily work as a graphic designer but my background is in drawing and painting. I have a degree in Fine Art and I find that a lot of my work still takes on a 'painterly' quality - especially when designing posters and other collateral for print. I tell all of our clients that I begin every project with open ears and a pencil in hand. I know it sounds corny but it's absolutely true. Some designers jump right on the computer and use Photoshop tricks and things before truly thinking through the goals or issues that a client faces. If you look at our Šek logo, you can see that the accent above the 'S' actually doubles as the tip of a pencil.

Šek Design Studio logos stacked


Very clever. Is there something that you feel makes you stand apart as a designer?

Mike: My style depends on the project that I'm working on, but I'd say that I'm a minimalist at heart. I try to distill things down to their most basic elements by using only the necessary shapes, words and images to represent whatever it is that I'm working on. There's also a fair degree of witty or clever wordplay and symbolism in my work and that's definitely evident in a lot of the DLH Clothing designs that I've created. However, creating work for myself as a form of individual expression is a rarity these days, as most of my energy is poured into Šek Design projects, DLH Clothing ideas and our little family.

Mike Smisek sketching on ipad


I'm glad you brought it up. We can't really talk about you and Šek without talking about your other business and Šek's most close-to-home "client", DLH Clothing.

Mike: Yes, DLH Clothing was created by my wife Sarah and I in 2014 while sitting on our couch. We wanted to create a brand of clothing that could show our pride for this area without feeling touristy or gimmicky. It's been an amazing experience and our biggest take-away from that business has been the relationships we've forged with so many of the other wonderful small, craft-type businesses here in Duluth. If you're out and about in town you can find a variety of DLH items at Trailfitters, Electric Fetus, Duluth Coffee, and Glensheen, just to name a few. 

dlh clothing women's tank top
dlh clothing waffle beanie
dlh clothing men's and women's clothes


Jumping back to Šek, what do you find most rewarding about the work you and your team do?

Mike: There are many rewards in the work that we do. Of course, I love the feeling of finding a creative solution for a client and helping them discover how their brand can be the best version of itself. The process of creative problem solving can be an eye-opening experience for most people and it doesn't actually always require design. Like most artists or designers, there's a certain pride in seeing our work around town or hearing about something we've helped launch becoming successful. The project wins and happy clients keep us moving forward and constantly pushing ourself to be better. 

Finally, I love the autonomy that owning my own business brings. My schedule is packed but flexible so I don't have to miss out on as much with our family.

Šek Design Studio logo wall


Sounds pretty dreamy. What about the challenges? 

The challenges that I face in my line of work mostly have to do with the day-to-day operations of running a business. Balancing the attention that I give to employees and contractors as well as our clients and what they have coming up in the future. If you've ever worked from home it's similar: You can't really start getting into your work if you've got dishes in the sink or toys on the floor. Organizing my time so that I can have the 'house' clean before diving into deep work, is one of the things I'm constantly trying to improve upon.

Sek Services Illustration


As we wrap up, are there any fun projects you want to give readers the inside scoop on? 

Mike: I'm really excited about all of the projects that we have going on right now but unfortunately we can't share most of them until they're unveiled by the organization. We don't want to take the fun announcement away from them. However, we are currently working with the Duluth's Children's Museum and we're very excited about that partnership. More to come on that soon!


Šek Design Studio, thoughtful design with your story in mind