Are you an Outlaw? Meet Burkey Belser

Who has redefined what it means to think outside the law (aka OUTLAW) and is helping each of us in the process?


Meet Burkey Belser, president and creative director of Greenfield/Belser, an interactive brand design agency focused entirely on services marketing. He has won hundreds of awards in every major field of graphic design: identity, collateral, Web, periodicals—you name it.

Enjoy getting to know this Outlaw!

Q: What is your motto?
A: My email signature ends with a Tom Waits quote, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” If I say it around my wife one more time she will throttle me, and I don’t blame her. However, I’ve never heard anything truer. In large measure, this is reflection on the tyranny of habit. The habits of our personality begin so damned early that by the time you realize you’d sure like the change that, the habit is part of you. For me, Waits’ quote is a mantra to drive excellence. Not perfection, but excellence. If I allow myself to do something mediocre in one part of my life, mediocrity will creep in to other parts of my life. Of course, this is nowhere more present than in one’s work. My staff tells me I’m worse than any client in my demands for great work. But I know that our next job depends on the one we just finished. We can’t let up. We may not be able to control much—the market, clients, a barrel of monkeys or a herd of cats—but we can control the quality of the work. “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

Q: Who would you have liked to be?
A: Honestly, Joe Cocker. For me, music is the greatest of all the arts—more powerful than design, painting, sculpture, architecture—because it’s the only one that rile up so many emotions with such overwhelming power. Music is my emotional support dog. I can stand up and dance; I can weep; I can be transported. But nobody does it better than Joe Cocker pulling music up from the soles of his feet. And he looks so unimaginably insane while doing it, the crazy air-guitar thing, the hair, the ridiculous sideburns. Yeah, I think Joe Cocker.

Q: What got you into working in the legal industry?
A: It’s a pretty good story, really. I started my career as an illustrator at age 24. Hated what designers did with my illustration, so I became a designer. Hated the lousy headlines writers stuck on the material, so I took my writing past (I began life as a poet in New York City and was doing well, publishing, but I realized it was a sure route to poverty and oblivion) and applied it to copywriting. In a couple of years, I had a little business of me, a production artist and a part-time bookkeeper. Then I married a lawyer, Donna Greenfield. Not just a lawyer but a litigator with the Federal Trade Commission. Awesome! My meal ticket, right? She promptly quit after the wedding because she easily intuited that I loved my work and she didn’t. It was 1978. Bates v. Arizona. Lawyers could “advertise.” In many ways, I believe marketing for lawyers was born in Washington, DC, not by me but by a couple of ambitious consultants. Donna schlepped my portfolio around to them, they hired us, and the rest is…well, you know. No one could ever resist Donna. Me either. BTW, in those early days, I HATED working with lawyers. Lawyers were hateful then. Beyond arrogant and self-righteous. There must be a term for it but probably not printable.

Q: Finish this sentence, If I could have one super-power, it would be ….
A: C’mon, this is a no-brainer. I would fly. In my most wonderful dreams, I fly. As a much younger man, I would have to run across the dream field and bound up…and down…then up…and down…then up and up and I would be flying. Soaring over the landscape. Back then I was careful to steer clear of people below, thinking, I don’t know, they would have a heart attack seeing me flying. Now, I just rise up in the air like Ironman in my dreams, lean forward, fly and watch people be amazed. Now, also, I am encouraging others to try to fly, “It’s so easy! C’mon!” but no one takes me up on it. Sometimes, I think I would rather be asleep than awake even though I fly in my dreams very seldom. I studied the psychology of dreams for so long and practiced so faithfully, I was able to become a lucid dreamer. Today, I don’t care so much about that skill. Waking and sleeping are both and equally remarkable realities. Let’s fly!

Q: Where would you like to live?
A: Somewhere warm. I’m done with shitty winters. The winter burn in my garden this year has crippled all my English laurels. The leaves on the larger Appalachian laurels curl up tighter than a cigar simply trying to defend themselves against this icy chill. I find myself shopping for red shirts thinking they’ll keep me warm. I’m convinced I have seasonal affective disorder because I hate winter. Ezra Pound wrote this poem called Ancient Music:

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

‘Nuff said.

Q: Finish this sentence- if I won the lottery tomorrow I would…
A: Not change a thing. Money, fame, power? I pursued fame, which is the silliest of them all. I can’t believe I was that stupid. As for money, I don’t even need what I have. Power, it seems to me, is a Faustian bargain. All of these pull us off center. Me, I’m a lucky guy.
I got my hair
I got my head
I got my brains
I got my ears
I got my eyes
I got my nose
I got my mouth
I got my teeth
I got my tongue
I got my chin
I got my neck
I got my tits
I got my heart
I got my soul
I got my back
I got my ass
I got my arms
I got my hands
I got my fingers
Got my legs
I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood
I got my guts (I got my guts)
I got my muscles (muscles)
I got life (life)
Life (life)
Life (life)
LIFE!

Burkey Belser is the president and creative director of Greenfield/Belser, an interactive brand design agency focused entirely on services marketing. He has won hundreds of awards in every major field of graphic design: identity, collateral, Web, periodicals—you name it.
Burkey has been a judge for many of the most prestigious award shows in the industry— the Communication Arts Design Annual , the Webby Awards and the Creativity Awards. In 2005, he was awarded the only Lifetime Achievement Award for the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) following the publication of 25 Years of Legal Branding, and in 2008, he was inducted into LMA’s Hall of Fame and the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington’s Hall of Fame. In 1997, Burkey was awarded a Presidential Design Award by President Bill Clinton for his design of Nutrition Facts, the nation’s food labeling system, which the New York Times reported to be the most frequently published design of the 20th century (and now the 21st).
Greenfield/Belser’s work and studio has been featured in over a dozen books. Burkey has been quoted on brand design topics by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and dozens of industry publications.
The American City Business Journals has twice sponsored “Brand on the Run” tours with Burkey speaking on business-to-business marketing in as many as 18 cities. Greenfield Belser