It’s been a while since we’ve visited our “Small But Mighty” series, profiling the many “Mom & Pop companies” run by PWDs for the good of the community. Today we talk with Ryan Brown, a 26-year-old from Tennessee who was dealt a surprising blow when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 25. Not not one to sit on his laurels (or sorrows), Ryan decided to use his graphic design talents to launch Type 1 Design, a graphic design business that supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation with its proceeds.
A self-taught designer, Ryan does everything from logo and brand work to promotional items, and is also a talented photographer. Ryan shares a little about how designing for good has helped him in the quest for a cure:
DM) We always like to start with people’s diagnosis story. What’s yours?
RB) I was diagnosed in May 2009, when I was 25. This was two months after I was married to my beautiful wife, Rachel. She was the one who noticed each and every symptom as we began our life as a married couple. She saw me going to the bathroom several times in the middle of the night, and always being thirsty, drinking 2 Liters of Diet Coke like it was nothing! My eyesight often became blurry and I was extremely tired everyday after work.
She knew something was up and begged me to go in for a routine check-up. So I got the blood work done, and within a day I got a call from the doctor telling me to come in immediately. My blood sugar was 550mg/dL yesterday and triglycerides were over 7000. Triglycerides are supposed to be in the 100ish range, I hear. When I went in, I already knew what I had and just started putting all of the pieces together. All of the thirst, frequent urination, sluggishness, and blurry eye-sight, not to mention my weight loss. When I went in to the check-up I weighed 145lbs. I am 6 feet tall. Just the prior year I was 175lbs and healthy.
Most people are so overwhelmed early on that they can’t think straight. What inspired you right away to start using your graphic design talents to benefit diabetes?
When I was diagnosed, I immediately became involved with the ADA and their Cure Walks. The next year, my wife and I discovered JDRF, and were blown away by their programs and direct research for a cure. We made a team for the JDRF walk and raised a couple thousand dollars for the cure with friends. But when I thought about it, the walks were only once a year. I knew that me and my disease were in it for the long run. I needed to do more. But I am not a wealthy guy in any sense at all, and that is exactly what I wrote to the generic JDRF email address. I told them that I wanted to help them achieve their goals, but I couldn’t monetarily. I told them that I was a graphic designer by trade and would love to hear back from them about what I could do. Then I received a reply saying they would absolutely LOVE my help!
I designed a JDRF walk banner to hang up at 12 different Panera Bread locations in Nashville, and also am now working on redesigning the entire Mid-Tennessee Chapter’s website. Soon after, I came up with the idea to turn my graphic design business into a profitable AND charitable entity. I am doing what I love and supporting the right people and effort at the same time. It is a blessing.
How long have you been doing graphic design work?
Since college, self-taught for the fun of it. I had my own graphic design freelance site up and running for a long while and business is going great.
What type of businesses do you typically do design work for?
In Nashville, I mostly work with small businesses, local non-profits, bands, and artists on logo and identity design, brochures, posters, flyers, merchandise, shirts, CD’s and albums. I do a lot of business card design and website design. Most of the web design is through WordPress. I also design sites for people and then have them contract someone to code it.
So have more people approached you since hearing that profits go to JDRF?
I have had many people send in messages through my site, ask for quotes, and do business with me based on the fact that this is ‘design with a cause.’ It hits home with those who have loved ones with diabetes, have it themselves, or even those who are connected to any other disease. I believe if you had a choice between two great designers, anyone would choose the one who pays it forward.
How have you personally coped since your diagnosis?
My wife has helped me more than anyone can ever know. She is truly my rock. She is now a Registered Dietitian and has a goal of becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator. She certainly has the experience, being married to a type 1 diabetic! With her guidance and tons and tons of research on the disease, efforts towards a cure, and diabetic communities to lean on and help others, I know I can make it through and hopefully make a difference in the process.
Has your graphic design work helped as well?
Through Type 1 Design, I have been able to connect with all kinds of people from all different backgrounds, including plenty who share this illness. It is comforting to relate to another person on that level. It helps me cope because by running this site, helping the JDRF, and participating in walks, I know that I am making a fair man’s effort. I am hopefully making a difference. And that’s what matters.
It’s always great to see folks using their talents for good. To get more information on how Ryan can help your business, visit his website to get a quote. You can also find Ryan on Twitter at @RyanBrownDesign.