Angela Stiff

BFA in Visual Communication, 1991
Montgomery, AL


What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? I’ve recently discovered the work of late artist Norman Lewis. (I’m a little late to the party.) His layering techniques are very interesting to me. I’m not sure how this might manifest itself in my work but it’s trending in my mind.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? I cannot really point to just one. Every experience has been a building block. There have been so many influences from professors, peers and artists in other applied art disciplines. I also read and research all of the time, especially business management books and design magazines.

“I’ve noticed that the people that seem to rise to the top have a balance of three main qualities and they are: capability, confidence and humility.”

You are the Founder and Creative Director of a design firm in Montgomery, Alabama called Copperwing. Copperwing has handled all types of projects from a variety of industries. Is there a specific project that stands out in your mind as the most interesting design challenge you and your team have ever faced? Working as the original agency of record for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing (HMMA) was exciting. We were working with them before there was even a plant built. There was definitely a feeling that we were part of something that would have a broad impact for Alabama. When the brand standards guide we created for HMMA was sent to Korea and approved on the first pass, we were thrilled. Being able to help the company launch their brand presence in Alabama was a welcomed challenge and rewarding one.

You are clearly a successful designer and business owner. Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful business owners in the design field? I don’t think so. I think the things that affect my business are generally the same issues that men face. I used to believe that if I worked really hard there wasn’t anything that could stand in my way. The 2008 Recession proved that wasn’t true. There are forces beyond your control that can affect the economy and your business. It didn’t matter whether I was a man or a woman or even what industry that I was in, everyone was affected. What mattered was perseverance and good decision-making.

Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? I haven’t experienced being treated differently. I really think it’s about personalities. I’ve noticed that the people that seem to rise to the top have a balance of three main qualities and they are: capability, confidence and humility.

Are there any rules or habits that help you run your design business and do your work more efficiently? Yes, I’m a list maker. If I ever feel like things are too hectic, I can always make a prioritized task list and get a sense of order back.

While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? One of my first comprehensive design projects for Prof. Ray Dugas seemed overwhelming at the time. I thought about it obsessively. I practically slept with my project under my pillow. But, it was the beginning of learning how to manage my own creative process.

Before founding Copperwing in 1999, did you work as a designer in other firms? I worked for an advertising agency and I also worked on the corporate side with in-house marketing. Did those experiences help you learn the business of design? Absolutely. Every experience has been valuable. I paid close attention to administrative processes. What advice do you have for young designers interested in starting their own business? Surround yourself with a team of business professionals that you trust and with whom you feel comfortable sharing your goals and challenges. A great accountant, banker, attorney and general business consultant should all be a phone call away.

Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) Dana Perino’s book And the Good New Is… contains some great, practical advice to anyone entering the job market. I’d also recommend the SkillShare videos offered through HighTail.

“Just relax, soak in every experience and take time to explore, learn and grow as a designer.” 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I wish I had known there was no reason to be in a rush to get where I thought I wanted to be. Just relax, soak in every experience and take time to explore, learn and grow as a designer.

What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? The most common mistake I see in resumes is an applicant sharing what my team or firm can do for them rather than what they offer the team/firm. Be sure to outline concisely what strengths you feel are an advantage that you can contribute to the job or company.

Design Samples

Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.