What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? My obsessions change regularly but my most recent obsession is collecting unique items from upscale estate sales, that demonstrate strong design thinking, and prove that the power of design is not a new thing, but rather a distinct business advantage that has existed for a long time.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? My Father would have to be the single biggest influence on my thought patterns. He is extremely practical, optimistic and mentoring. Since I have been in the business for 3 decades, it is rewarding for me to relay what I’ve learned along the path with others who are just beginning.
What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but actually turned out to be an extremely valuable experience? Our most recent endeavor for Diet Coke has been to leverage the power of digital printing for millions of unique designs on packaging. We have encountered many failures trail blazing this mega trend, all of which have pushed the boundaries of current technology. We, and our suppliers have learned what can be done, what needs to be done, and what the future could hold in this arena. This era of self expression and personalization is something to pay close attention to, between this movement and evolving digital technologies, the combination will drive design in ways it has never been able to go before.
You have thirty years of experience in the field of Design and many years of experience working with The Coca-Cola Company. What is it about your job as a Design Director at Coca-Cola North America that you enjoy the most? Clearly what keeps me at Coke is the ever changing environment. We have participated in many personality tests at KO, such as Myers Briggs and others, that teach you a lot about yourself and your interaction with others. Through these experiences I’ve learned that I am strongly motivated by change, aesthetics (of course) and analytics. Change can be a good thing or a bad thing, but I have found that Coke is the perfect environment for my personality type.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job as a Design Director more efficiently? Yes, strict time management, collaboration with people smarter than me, and maintaining work life balance have all had to exist in order for me to succeed. This doesn’t mean working 9 – 5 all the time, but it means to listen to your internal warning flag if you’re working too hard. You have to get away from your business and experience the world in order to continue to grow.
“...strict time management, collaboration with people smarter than me, and maintaining work life balance have all had to exist in order for me to succeed.”
Do you believe that it is more challenging for women to become successful in certain aspects of the design field? No, I believe that there is always room at the top for the best. Being great in your career is a combination of talent, hard work and luck. You have to be ready to take advantage of the luck when it appears, because those opportunities are few and far between. When they arise, your hard work in your skilled area will pay off.
Is there a difference between working with women or with men in your field? No, not really. There probably used to be, social norms and expectations have changed radically in the past 10 years, so I really regard both as equals at work.
In addition to your job as Design Director, I’m sure much of your life and time includes caring for your family. What helps you maintain a good work/life/family balance? Interesting question. Maintaining this balance gets tougher the more you climb up in your career. Technology is very helpful in this area, because one can almost work from anywhere today. When needed, I have taken advantage of this, and multitasked often. Any technological advancements that help me here, I jump on them.
You triple majored in design, illustration and painting while at Auburn. Would you encourage students today to build skills in these specific areas as well? And what other skills do you suggest student designers focus if they are interested in breaking into the strategic branding and marketing segment of the design field today? I had many creative interests during school, but Graphic Design is the lynch pin that has held my career together the most. There are two schools of thought here, one that says ‘be a purist and pick one area of expertise’, there is another that says ‘cast a wide net, and be able to jump from discipline to discipline. I chose the first school of thought, but if I were to do this over, I might suggest to fall somewhere in the middle, whereby you know enough about different disciplines to be dangerous, but that you have one area of focus and strength.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I think I knew this instinctively during school, but those fundamentals that you learn in the basic 100 level classes are the very core of what we do every day. Don’t skip any classes. (I missed very few during school)
Would you recommend some resources that recent graduates/young designers might find useful? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) Yes, I love Designspiration and The Dieline. We didn’t study packaging while I was in school, it wasn’t offered then, but The Dieline shows what can be done in this space, its amazing. Designspiration is awesome when looking for pure inspiration.
What should a recent graduate/young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? Worrying too much about what job to take, when early in your career, get as much variation in experiences as you can, you can always shift gears. Also, treat your resume as a design project, it should look as good as a logo in your portfolio. Make sure you have an online portfolio, and send a link in any application you send. Not doing this says “I am not proud of my work”.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.