This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

February 25, 2021

Johnny Martinez (BA ’08) jumped at an invitation to travel to Shanghai.

“I had been living with roommates and doing the same drill for a few years and I wanted to change it up,” Martinez said. “I had a friend who was in Shanghai who said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a couch. Come on over.’ Originally, it was a six-month trip to see the city, skateboard and work a little with my own design.”

Six months turned into nearly a dozen years. After going to Shanghai in 2008, freelance graphic design work led to a full-time gig with Nike in 2014, and he is now the creative lead for the Nike Sportswear category. This past spring, Martinez was traveling through Asia-Pacific during Chinese New Year. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated quickly, and he temporarily returned to Angola, Indiana, to work remotely.

“It’s very multi-dimensional,” Martinez said of his role with Nike. “When someone asks me what I do, I’m a designer, communicator, facilitator, and I bridge conversations and thinking. I’ll help the team craft a story. It’s more than design—there’s a lot of communication and holistically understanding the brand and the story.”

Martinez hadn’t planned on the Nike career path or staying in Shanghai. But he found a fit with the international company and a love for the municipality.

“It’s one of those places that generates a 50-50 response,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who’s in the middle about Shanghai. You either love it or you don’t. If you don’t, that’s cool, you leave. Different parts of Asia have their own feel. I like that it’s 24/7 convenient. It’s super safe. You can let loose completely. Nowadays it’s tightening up some, as happens when governments and cities evolve. A decade ago, it was the wild, wild east.”

Martinez earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design at USF, graduating in 2008, and worked for Paint The Town Graphics in Fort Wayne, “a pretty fun gig.” But his urge to travel and explore life meant he wasn’t destined to remain in northeast Indiana forever. He’s an avid skateboarder, which reflects his need to always be on the move. He worked on a clothing design passion project for several years, further developing his skills.

He loves the team aspect of working at Nike, even though his team can be scattered across the world, brought together through technology and a shared vision.

“I work with the creatives and kind of create more the tone and mood, the voice or creative direction—and then we work as a team to bring it to life,” Martinez said. “I work with multi-functions that range from retail to digital to events, etc. We might need to create from scratch what will go inside the retail space in photography, physical design of space, big windows, billboards, things like that.”

As Martinez talks about his career, the passion comes through.

“I would say it’s fun,” he said. “Some projects are tougher than others. But I work with such a great team, and work with so many great creatives, that we know we’re going to achieve that goal. Sometimes it’s harder to get there, but it’s fun in the process.”

He credits USF and the professors he worked with for cultivating his creative drive.

“A lot of the learning was important, foundational stuff, like presenting your work in front of the classroom and having that work critiqued, as well as giving your work a purpose or finding a solution,” he said.

Martinez hasn’t decided whether he’ll remain in Shanghai or explore a different city in the future. He happened to be traveling when the first wave of COVID-19 hit China and stayed on the move, taking a trip to Australia before ultimately returning to Indiana, where he continued to work remotely.

Being back in Indiana rekindled a few familiar loves, such as boating, fishing and hiking in the woods.

“I don’t have that in Shanghai so much. That piece, I do miss,” he said. “Eventually, I’d like to have a bit more of nature. Where and when, I’m not sure. Work is great. I’m part of a solid team. Being in China, especially now, it’s changing and evolving so much.

“Life just happens, and things can change quickly.”