NORTH LOS ANGELES — Like so many of today‘s most successful designers, Steve Strondler started as a rock & roll musician. “I was in two pretty decent bands,” Strondler tells me from across his IKEA Effektiv desk combination with beech-veneer finish and black legs. The desk matches the rest of the office furniture and is depicted prominently in a 6-by-8-foot painting that occupies the wall behind it. Strondler slides a CD into his G4, and, after a brief pause, the familiar opening of Ray Dougela’s “Flat Bacon and Toast” gently fills the room: “The chick that I think is the mostIs the one that makes me flat bacon and toast.”

“The first band,” Strondler continues, “which you might‘ve heard of, was Cold Cheeseburger Breakfast. We were pretty popular . . . People we didn’t even know would come to our shows. A lot of times someone would come up at the end wearing a Cold Cheeseburger Breakfast T-shirt and say, ‘You guys are good. I mean that. You guys are really good.’ Then Carl Adams, our lead singer and main songwriter, was shot dead after an argument with a garbage . . . uh, with a sanitation worker, and we changed the band name to Garbage Shoot Rules.”

But Garbage Shoot Rules failed to attract the audience or critical acclaim enjoyed by Cold Cheeseburger Breakfast, and Strondler was forced back into the day-job work force. “It was 1996,” he recalls, “or 1997. Paul Content, the bass player from Breakfast, had had this gig in human resources at an airplane factory for, like, three years. And he basically created a new position and hired me. Sixteen bucks an hour to salvage parts from old airplanes, clean ‘em up and install them as new parts on new airplanes. But then, after just two months, there was some kind of government sting, and I got laid off.”

After losing his job, Strondler survived by selling profoundly diluted methamphetamine to former co-workers and their children. “I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I needed a life, but I didn’t have any experience. Then, for my 40th birthday, one of my speed clients gave me a bootleg copy of Photoshop, and, well . . . here we are.”

By simply installing the Photoshop bootleg and reading Deke McClelland‘s The Photoshop Bible, Strondler was able to stop dealing meth and start dealing designs. Now an award-winning designer of Web-site banners and outdoor signs, Strondler recently founded SSD School of Graphic Design, an independent college offering a certification program in Transactional Orthography. On this, a late Tuesday morning, Strondler is finishing up a lecture to a class of 200 students, many of them former rock musicians, in SSD’s most popular course, “Spelling for Design.” Each student has an identical laptop computer, provided by the school.

“And finally,” says Strondler, drawing the number 2 beneath the number 1 on an otherwise empty chalkboard, “some words have very specific spellings. These words must contain only certain letters and, just as certainly, not contain others. The letters that constitute such words must fall in a specific order. For example, the word tarp. If even one letter is not where it‘s supposed to be — the t, for example — technically it would not be the word tarp any longer, and your client could decide not to pay you for your work. You don’t want to fall into that . . . trap.” He pauses for laughter, but it does not come. “I learned this part the hard way.” Pauses again. A few students in the front row look at each other and pretend to chuckle. Strondler chuckles along and continues. “Remember what we talked about last week. If you‘re not a good speller, seek out clients who have recently emigrated to this country and have not had time to learn the nuances of our language. If that doesn’t work, you can look up words in a dictionary.” Strondler writes the word dictionary on the chalkboard and underlines it, then turns to face his students. “If you know the word in question to be a common one — for example, again, the word tarp — but you can‘t find it in the dictionary, it’s possible that you are spelling it incorrectly.”

The students tap vigorously at their laptop keyboards; a few begin gathering up their belongings to leave. “Now, before you unplug,” Strondler adds, “I‘d like you to quickly take a look at Sal’s Flaming Text Effect for Photoshop. Apart from the Chrome filter and Kai‘s Page Curl, Sal’s Flaming Text Effect will most likely be the effect you use most often in your work.

”Go to the following address: www.rashkie.comsalpflame. Just take a peek at the site today, get familiar with the site, and then you can leave. For Thursday, I‘d like you to select one of Sal’s Flaming Text Effects to create a banner using a single common word of your own choosing — for example, dictionary or tarp.“

Strondler has yet to pay for Photoshop.

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