Words Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography Eric Slyfield
Social media could be compared to a high school filled with different personalities. You have the jocks, the nerds, the weirdos and the geeks, and everyone is looking to stand out. This analogy might not apply to everyone that uses social media, but for those who are creative, social media is the new platform which we use to share our work, hoping to get noticed and in turn leading to paid jobs.
Dilan Manahan, graphic designer and all round creative, popularly known on the Internet by his moniker, Dead Dilly is one of them. Dilly’s irreverent approach to design has gained him a huge social following and has allowed him to work on design projects for Jazz Cartier, Childish Gambino, Keys N’Krates and many more. Scroll down his Instagram page and you’ll find flips on logos, popular album covers and the pure simplicity in concept and design will make you chuckle and think ‘How come I didn’t think of that?’
With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, many of them heaping praises on his work, he’s still humble. One follower comments, “You’re one of a kind”, another follower writes, “Jeez, Dilly kills it again,” and I myself drop fire emojis whenever he posts stuff that catches my eye. We met at a coffee shop on a cold February; he’s wearing a basketball jersey, which doesn’t surprise me. He’s always showing his allegiance to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Twitter.
It’s Fashion Week in New York now and the universe (the Internet) is talking about the Yeezy Boosts. And then you put out this alternative logo and you’re known to put out culturally relevant images. What’s your relationship with the Internet?
I see the Internet as an audience to an endless show & tell session. As a kid I used to sketch shoes or imaginary Dragon Ball Z characters on paper and play with them with my homies. We used to do all these innocent, creative things. And to me, what I’m doing now is no different. I just learned to use programs that allow me to make that applicable today. Creating through the lens of childhood innocence is the easiest way to get through to people.
On your Twitter the other day, you mentioned you were, “raised by Internet idols”. What do you mean by that?
I grew up in small towns my whole life so the Internet was where I installed culture into my life. As I started to mature I realized how scary/powerful the Internet could be for an artist. It is the most disheartening thing when you pit yourself against the gallery of the Internet as a whole. So I found select people I followed and mimicked. From there I found my way and my style. I’m still learning every day.
I remember seeing that picture that was making rounds on the Internet. I know sole collector posted it.
You mean the circle of Jordan 1s? That post did exactly what it was meant to do. For people who don’t know, I do not have any connects at Nike. That is just 1 pair of Melo 1s I bought the day before I rotated it and composed it together.
Do you think the Internet allows us to make unnecessary noise, whereas there’s a lot of quantity versus quality going on?
I could definitely see that. You can tell when someone is trying to be really Internet. Their work comes off as too obvious. Although all noise is unnecessary to some.
“Design is not about being the best at using your tools. You become good at using your tools by doing creatively satisfying projects that may have no external merit.”
How did you get into design?
My dad always had me on the computers puttin’. I wanted to be in the NBA until I was 12. I wanted to be a magician until I was 15.
Did you go to school for it?
I went to York University for like a year and then I got a job. Design at its core is thinking and problem solving so at the end of the day if you know what you’re doing, you know what you’re doing. I just didn’t fit into that system.
So you don’t think school is important when it comes to design?
It really depends on how you were raised and how your mindset is-I was in a position where I felt like I could be good without it. That’s just who I am, I can’t speak for anybody else. But really, it does depend on the person. I would never tell anyone not to go to school, but I mean there are definitely certain aspects I don’t agree with when it comes to school.
What is that aspect?
If everyone is doing the same project, it’s like, how do you stand out? By following the rules the best? There is so much creative freedom lost, design shouldn’t be treated competitively.
Yeah, it’s just like when I went to ad school and everyone did the same coffee campaign. I remember going into an ad agency for feedback and the creative director was like, “ah, another coffee campaign” He was sorta like angry about why students aren’t branching out and doing their own projects.
Yeah exactly, and in my opinion a great designer/artist should rebel from that. Honestly, all of my best ideas have come when I wasn’t trying really hard to get my best ideas. It sounds cliche as fuck but it’s true. That’s why when people ask me “What program do you use?” or “How can I improve on Illustrator/Photoshop?” I tell them they have the wrong mindset. Design is not about being the best at using your tools. You become good at using your tools by doing creatively satisfying projects that may have no external merit.
Do you have a specific place where you draw inspiration?
Yeah, I browse a lot. I read a lot. I’m always reading. I think reading is the thing that allows your visual imagination to open up the widest. Couple that with studying people you admire and their tendencies. You definitely have to be a little creepy and obsessive in order to really get it and not become a copy of somebody. Just stare at anything other than a blank canvas.
So do you think all the ideas in general have been done?
No, ideas are inherently infinite. However I do believe we see a lot of the same because of the influence of the Internet. When you study someone you can easily take the easy route and create b-grade replicas of their work. The real challenge is to pit yourself against them creatively and see how you can create from the digital landscape they have set.
“If everyone is doing the same project, it’s like, how do you stand out? By following the rules the best? There is so much creative freedom lost, design shouldn’t be treated competitively”.
Do you believe in the idea of ‘do what you love’?
Of course. It is in human nature to stop doing things you hate, unless you’re a weak person and I can’t let myself be that. We’re all just passing through. Alternatively, trying too hard to perfect something you love can make you hate it. The goal is to always create in a positive space.
What would you say to a 15-year-old who wants to get into your shoes?
Just do it. Keep going. I hate most of my old work but I also understand that it was essential in building my repertoire. At the end of the day pure ideas are all that matters. Way too many kids are focused on the final product or becoming some time of design-machine. Being human sells. Focus on ideas, then composition, and only then worry about finessing everything else.
How did sneaker melt come about?
It was another random thing I came up with while bored at an office job. The original idea, and the first Sneakermelt, was to compose a shoe made entirely of soles from popular runners. After the response I got I decided to make it more of a social experience and create Frankenstein shoes out of people’s collections. It was fun for a while and I had a bunch of people thinking they were real releases. But it got old eventually and I stopped, it was fun while it lasted.
Does creativity run in your family?
I would say so. All the Filipino men in my family are extremely resourceful and multi-talented. They do everything, literally. I would list some of the jobs but its actually just all things ever… I also learned to procrastinate from them.