What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Currently I've really been interested in the way we as "designers" can be the conduit to so many other industries, markets, and knowledge. Because we are communicators, we have the power to connect and forge relationships that can solve big problems through design. From science to education, from healthcare to politics, we have the power to help tell stories, change perceptions, and move people to action.
“Learning to use research and apply strategy as a way to truly inform design has been liberating as a designer.”
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? Keith Curtis, the leader of the Branded Environments discipline at Perkins+Will Atlanta has been my biggest influence and supporter of my career. Keith has a sincere passion for design, his team, his family, and life in general! Keith has taught me to think strategically, thoughtfully, and then design BIG! Laying out an approach and concept deeply rooted in research allows for the creative process to flourish. Instead of restricting yourself creatively because of budgets or time constraints, think and design in a big way first—then figure out the details of what can realistically be done. More often than not, better ideas are vetted, more design is explored, and the end product is more successful.
You have worked in environmental graphics and design for many years now, correct? What is it about this segment of the industry that interests you the most? Yes, actually all of my time in the industry has been focused in the environmental graphics and design field. However, it’s the variety of work that this market sector opens up that has been the most interesting and rewarding. Because of the wide range of possible project types (healthcare, higher education, civic, corporate interiors, urban design, etc.) the scope of work is always growing and changing. One day I could be working on the brand communications strategy for a new hospital, and the next I could be working on the design elevations for a commercial showroom’s feature brand wall. Working within a global architecture firm has exposed me to so many other disciplines of design.
You are currently a Designer in the Branded Environments segment of Perkins+Will in Atlanta. It seems that this position requires working with many different experts in various fields and involves substantial research and strategy-based design, correct? What advice would you give to student designers today who are preparing themselves and their portfolios for a career in graphic design and branded environments? Being able to deepen my perspective and knowledge around design because of the exposure to other disciplines has been one of the most interesting and beneficial aspects of my career so far. I would encourage young designers to leverage other designers—architects, industrial designers, interior designers, urban designers, etc. to enrich their own perspectives and attitudes about design.
Learning to use research and apply strategy as a way to truly inform design has been liberating as a designer. Evidence, purpose, and clear intent sets the designer up for the opportunity to be creatively successful, and most importantly, the client’s goals to be met.
I would encourage graduates to craft their portfolio in a way that shows you can THINK. Show process, strategy, design directions, etc. that lead to the final product. Employers want to know that you can be strategic, flexible, and agile in order to deliver for multiple types of clients and projects.
You are clearly a successful designer in your field of expertise. Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful in the design field? I don’t think I’ve encountered gender inequality. However, if anything, I think the perception of the graphic design field might be viewed as something anyone can do. There are so many programs nowadays that make it easy for anyone to “do graphic design.” It devalues what we do, and it adds to the perception that we are not valuable as part of the design process. We constantly have to earn people’s trust by showing them the added value we bring to their brand, future, and success. We do this by creating strategic solutions—not just a pretty logo.
In your opinion, is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? I can’t think of a specific moment when I was treated differently because I’m a woman. However, I do think there is a difference in working with men and women. I find that men are more direct and candid—and that can be refreshing and helpful.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? Not suprising, but my Senior Project was most challenging. The most difficult part was figuring out the concept. I had actually settled on one direction, but never felt comfortable with it. The night before my design statement was due, I completely changed my concept. However, I knew it was one that I could run with and push myself to be creative—thus successful.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) I love designspiration.net. I pull a lot of inspiration images before I ever start designing. We also ask our clients to “tag” images that represent their “likes” and “dislikes” before we start designing. Part of this process is getting their feedback, but part of it is to inspire us as designers. Creating mood and art direction boards gets everyone on the same page, and jumpstarts the project in the right direction. I also like design-milk.com, designboom.com, and of course, there’s always pinterest.com.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? College has ended, but your education has just begun! The graphic design program at Auburn is excellent, and it provided me with all of the right tools in order to compete in the field. However, most of my growing has been because of the failures and successes working out in the industry. Each project is another learning experience and chance to stretch your self as a designer. Be open to these experiences, and be open to learning. Be a sponge and surround yourself with people and places that want to teach you and help you grow as a designer.
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? Avoid places that don’t celebrate design. Surround yourself with creative people that value what you do. So often “graphic design” is embedded within companies or organizations where it isn’t celebrated or acknowledged properly. Right after college, I would encourage graduates to search for places that will help you learn, grow, and succeed.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.