Next Level Design

As a kid, Michael Auer ’12 could often be found with a pen in hand, covering notebooks, school folders, and t-shirts in doodles and drawings. He remembers collaborating with friends on comic book creations and collecting skateboarding magazines, inspired by their bold graphics and dynamic photography.

“I was obsessed with how their graphics looked, and I always tried to replicate them,” he recalls. “I soon realized this medium was graphic design, but the only problem was I had no idea how to use design software–until MSJ.” At Mount Saint Joseph, Michael learned how to use programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and his longtime interest in art broadened to include an exciting, new digital toolbox.

“Bryan Bieniek, Ryan Foti, and Ken Pittman really helped me grow as an artist at MSJ and kickstarted my career as a designer. I’m very grateful for everything the Art Department taught me and helped me accomplish,” he says.

Michael went on to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art, majoring in graphic design. After graduating, he set out to find his footing in the world’s most prominent design hub, New York City. 

He started out freelancing for J.Crew, where he designed seasonal digital and print collateral. A few months later, he landed another freelance gig at an award-winning creative agency called GrandArmy and his responsibilities soon developed into a full-time position. Over the course of more than four years with the agency, Michael served as a designer and art director on a number of comprehensive projects for clients such as Adidas, Apple Music, Ford, Justin Timberlake, and Vans, among others.

Some of Michael’s favorite projects came to life during this time, including an Adidas Basketball campaign for NBA player Donovan Mitchell’s debut shoe, the “D.O.N. Issue #1.” The result of the project serendipitously pays homage to Michael’s first exploration into design–the doodles and comic book creations of his youth.

He explains, “My partner on this project and I came up with a visual system that deconstructed Spiderman comics to play into Donovan’s nickname, ‘Spida.’ It was a lot of fun to put on our Stan Lee and Steve Ditko hats to make our own comic book world starring Donovan Mitchell.” 

For a different project with the same client, Michael was tasked with creating a completely overhauled identity for Adidas Basketball. The Next Level campaign comprised of a lot of moving parts, but Michael was especially proud of the cohesiveness of the final product. “A lot of my personal taste and style of design came out in this project,” he says. 

When it comes to his personal design style, Michael explains, “I try to tune out the design trends that I see on social media and make something that genuinely surprises me. I also try to make whatever I design feel human too, like someone actually crafted it, not a computer. I usually do this by looking at whatever I'm trying to design through a fine art artist lens.” 

In May 2021, Michael moved to L.A. to take on a new role as senior designer at Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy, an independent, global creative agency. He’s working with a new portfolio of top-tier clients, enjoying stretching his creativity to new lengths.

While designing the 10th anniversary campaign for the video game “Clash of Clans,” he and his team decided to rewrite Clash's history to make the internet believe it was their 40th–not 10th– anniversary by creating a fake 20-minute documentary. “This was one of the funniest things I’ve worked on to date, and it involved an array of wild design tasks, ranging from fake video game branding to ’90s-era cereal boxes,” he says.

Michael’s medium and canvas may have evolved over the years, from sketches on school folders to digitally designed billboards and branded cereal boxes, but one thing that will never change is his passion for creating.
    • Adidas Basketball "D.O.N. Issue #1" campaign, designed by Michael Auer

    • Adidas Basketball Next Level campaign, designed by Michael Auer '12

Mount Saint Joseph High School

Mount Saint Joseph is a Catholic, college preparatory school for young men sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers.