Austin Advertising Legend Michael Hicks Passes Away

Michael Galen Hicks, a creative genius who lived life large, and knew no limits, encountered his own limits when he succumbed to complications from a heart procedure on July 17, 2016.

Mike was born in Illinois, but he and his family got to Texas as quickly as they could. He had two lovingly quirky parents, younger brother and fellow musician Guy, and older brother John. Torn between choosing a career as a musician, designer, or writer while studying at Texas Tech University, Mike characteristically chose all three.

Mike cut his design teeth in boomtown Houston in the early ’70s, working with his partner Dan Glidden and Mike’s wife, Suzi Sands, at Flat Lizard Graphics – designing rock posters for Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers Band, hitting pay dirt with oil service giants Halliburton and Brown & Root, and creating a signature look for Houston’s temple of haute fashion, Tootsies

In the mid ’70s, Mike was lured to Austin by TEXAS MONTHLY Magazine and GSD&M Advertising. Never one to haggle, Mike took both jobs. Among his many award-winning endeavors, Mike created Mike’s Toad Cups for the magazine’s founder-publisher, Mike Levy, and some of the most memorable ads of the day for the ad agency’s blue chip client, Southwest Airlines.

By the mid-’80s, Mike founded Hixo, Inc., a high-end design firm with a penchant for witty, intelligent solutions. Mike spent the next few years commuting between offices in Austin and Santa Monica, California. His clients included Forbes 500 corporations and emerging companies alike – big city art museums, national airlines, and international oil companies on the one hand; a small Austin book store, a soon-to-be-legendary film company, and a fledgling Whole Foods Market, on the other. His branding and advertising work for Whole Foods gained national attention, won numerous awards and was published in multiple design publications. Mike created the logo they still use today. He did the same for Seton Hospital and Sweetish Hill bakery who utilized his talents for over 30 years. Wherever you go in Austin, you can still see Mike’s tremendous design influence. It was during this period that Mike met and married Ellen McLean, with whom he had a daughter, Katherine “Annie” Hicks.

At the turn of the Millennium, Mike re-established Hixo as a nationally-recognized boutique creative firm. As a fellow designer once remarked, “If a great sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, then Mike Hicks has to be one of the smartest graphic designers to ever pick up an X-Acto knife.” Several years later, he fell madly in love with his soul mate and fellow designer Gretchen Garven, who he first met in 1990. They had worked together for a few years in the late 90’s, and had remained friends. Their storybook marriage these past 10 years has included raising his step-daughter, Grace, and making up bedtime stories for their younger daughter, Piper.

Most creative types are familiar with Mike’s impressive body of brilliant design. Fewer know what an amazingly talented musician and songwriter hid beneath his complicated persona. Fewer still are aware that Mike was an extremely gifted writer. One of his closest friends said it best: “Mike took up his digital lance to skewer anything too pompous, too politically correct, or too holier-than-thou.” Indulge yourself in his op-eds about his fabled 88-year-young grandfather, his tongue-in-cheek book How To Be Texan, and his infamous diatribe, Kill the Weasels: Things I Abhor About Graphic Design.

An author of two books and numerous articles, Mike’s writing will likely spur the imaginations of future creative writing classes. Design students will no doubt study his characteristic “Austin Style.” And his extensive musical archive may well earn him posthumous consideration by the Texas Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Mike has won virtually every award given in his industry. In 2007 Mike was honored by the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) when he was selected to be the Austin Chapter’s first Fellow Award recipient for his significant contributions to the graphic design profession. He has been an important, beloved part of the Austin community and has inspired and mentored countless young designers and seasoned pros to boot.

We will miss most Mike’s wry sense of humor and piercing sense of humanity. In his own words: “Our bodies can only endure so much. Only so many cheeseburgers, so many cigarettes, so many Cuba Libres, greasy enchiladas and steaming plates of Eggs Benedict. Only so much fun or sex or excitement or feeling. Too much and…POP! So we certainly don’t need an extra supply of unnecessary dread or worry. We’re only human after all, though some are stronger and luckier than others.”

Michael Galen Hicks has Gone On Ahead, only human after all.

Michael Galen Hicks is survived by his wife Gretchen; his two daughters, Annie, and Piper; his step-daughter, Grace Garven who he loved as his own; and his brother, John Hicks. He was preceded in death by his father, Jack Hicks, his mother, Mary Whybark Hicks; his brother, Guy Hicks; and his favorite niece, Corey Hart. Mike taught design at the University of Texas School of Art, Kent State University, and the University of Montana. His work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in Cali, Columbia.

A celebration of Mike’s life will occur in early fall. In the meantime, family and friends can share their memories and stories of Mike at