Renae Nicole Rodriguez
GRAPHIC DESIGNER at BRAINPOP
BFA in Graphic Design 2014
What are you currently interested in and how is it feeding into your work? One thing that I’m starting to venture into that will probably be shocking for anyone who knows me is actually color. Despite the fact that my closet is filled with 50 shades of black, I’ve learned that I’m actually happiest when surrounded by (and working with) color, so I’ve been collecting a lot of inspiration wherever I can find it. My workspace has a big impact on my frame of mind when I’m designing, so I’ve also been trying to fill my room (my current ‘studio’) with pops of mint greens, warm pinks, and yellows.
In a broader sense though, I’ve been exploring different styles of geometric-based illustration, as well as embracing a sense of humor, sarcasm, and femininity in my personal work. For example, around Valentine’s Day, I did a small set of quick illustrations that I dubbed the Sad Girls Valentine’s Day Starter Pack. I’ve really been enjoying the challenge of simplifying complex themes into succinct sets of icons, so I’m hoping that path will lead me to something fun.
“I’ve finally come to terms with the idea that those I admire most are those who are just constantly doing and making and not giving a damn about anything else. They’re constantly creating things because they can’t bear the idea of doing anything else, and in the process they’re making mistakes, learning from them, and refining their craft.”
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? I think the idea that has had the biggest impact on me thus far is the simple realization that not everything I do has to be perfect. Once you leave school, you realize that you’ve spent the past four years of your life designing in an ideal environment; You’re surrounded by passionate and like-minded peers, seasoned mentors, and the only one making your design decisions is you. When you leave school, the transition you face as a designer can be a bit jarring: suddenly you have a lot of obstacles that weren’t there before. You have clients to please, higher-ups that have to approve your work, and all the while you’re trying to create work that’s even stronger than the work you completed in school, often in the middle of transitioning into full-blown adulthood. On top of that, by being involved in the design community in the millennial age, you’re also being hit from every direction with amazing work that often feels more threatening than inspiring. For quite a while, I felt like everything I put out into the world HAD to be perfect in order for me to keep up with everyone else. Not surprisingly though, this notion actually had the opposite effect that I was hoping for: instead of producing a ton of kick ass work, I essentially just stopped doing much of anything. I was so daunted by the idea of not being good enough that I rarely put anything out into the world at all, which is insane, because that’s how you get better. I’ve finally come to terms with the idea that those I admire most are those who are just constantly doing and making and not giving a damn about anything else. They’re constantly creating things because they can’t bear the idea of doing anything else, and in the process they’re making mistakes, learning from them, and refining their craft. Coming to terms with this has completely changed the way I think as a designer.
You started as a Junior Designer and are now the Lead Graphic Designer at BrainPOP in New York. It seems you have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your daily design work? I think that the most rewarding part of my work isn’t necessarily the things that I’m doing, but the reasons that I’m doing them. It’s a wonderful feeling to be creating work for a company that has such strong ideals and such a wonderful mission. I’ve always felt very passionately about the power of education, especially in the current political climate, so it’s very fulfilling to be working alongside a group of colleagues who feel the same way.
How did you find your current position? So, there’s finding a design position, and then there’s finding a design position in New York. Unfortunately, those students who dream about working in the city will quickly find that it’s next to impossible to stumble across a company who is willing to relocate a designer for a Junior role. It’s possible, but the cold, hard truth is that you dramatically increase the odds that are stacked against you when applying to a job in the city from out-of-state (this is mostly for your own sake; no company wants to move someone to the big bad city, get them locked into a lease that costs an arm, a leg, and their firstborn, and then have to let them go because it doesn’t work out). I, personally, have had my eyes set on New York since I was about three; so I remedied this situation by shoving my life into a U-Haul and hoping for the best.
I wouldn’t advise doing exactly what I did, but most people who move here have a similar story. Some people stay with a friend (or pay to stay on a friend’s couch for an extended amount of time) while they apply for jobs and rack up interviews, some people find short term rentals, and a bold few save up enough to actually take the plunge and lease an apartment. I worked part-time in high-end retail in Soho and spent the rest of my time scouring the internet (Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, AIGA, Behance, Dribbble) for job listings. I applied to anything I was even remotely interested in and took as many interviews as I could, and I started learning what was really important to me in a design job.
Interviewing itself was pretty straightforward: I put together a few outfits I felt really confident in beforehand, printed out several copies of my resume, gathered my most precious print pieces (books, etc.) and used an iPad and an offline portfolio viewer app to showcase the rest of my work (when you’re already nervous, the last thing you want is for your presentation to be dependent on shoddy wifi). More than anything, the right place will want to hear about your process as a designer and get a glimpse into the way your mind works. Why did you make that decision? What was your inspiration? Why did you choose these colors? What was your goal? Being able to talk about your work with this level of depth will already set you apart from other designers. I’d also advise adding at least one personal project to your portfolio, even if it’s something small. Many companies that I interviewed with were most impressed with a small series of daily illustration design warm-ups I had been doing – I was just learning to illustrate (teaching myself, really), but prospective employers were really impressed with the fact that I was passionate enough to do something in my free time, for no other purpose than to create.
The last bit I’ll say on this is don’t be surprised if the jobs offers you’re juggling don’t quite match up with your expectations, and try not to hold it against them. Many young designers hope to graduate and immediately land a glamorous agency or editorial job, but every job comes with its own unique set of pros and cons. What will your work/life balance be like? Will you be allowed to take on freelance projects? How much is the company willing to contribute to your professional development? How much creative freedom will you have? What is the office culture like? These are important questions to ask. As young designers, we still have a lot to learn, and every environment has something of its own to offer.
In your opinion is it more difficult for women to become “successful” in the design field? I’m incredibly lucky in that the only real design job that I’ve had thus far is filled wall to wall with very supportive, open-minded, and intelligent individuals. I’m fairly certain that we actually have a female-majority office, and I’ve never felt as if my being a woman has held me back in any way at my current job.
With that said though, I do think it’s more difficult for women to become successful as designers, because I think it’s more difficult for women to be taken seriously in general. There’s something about being a woman that makes other people subconsciously more comfortable in questioning anything that you do or say – even if they don’t realize it. That’s difficult as a designer especially, because a very large part of your job is convincing people that the work you’re doing is sound, and that they should trust your opinion. You have to be unwaveringly confident, yet flexible enough to be perceived as reasonable. It’s no easy feat.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your design work more efficiently? Everyone works differently, but one of my favorite exercises during the brainstorming process is word association – I start every project with a word list and jot down every related word or image that comes to mind. For example, if I were doing a logo for a Halloween Costume Store I might start my list with a string of words like “pumpkin, orange, purple, black, bat, clothing hanger, makeup, mask, candy, jack-o-lantern, cat, spooky, ghost, coffin, witch, tombstone, knife, blood” until I completely filled the page. Obviously a lot of these things will end up not being useful, but it helps me to combine things that I might not have thought of otherwise. For example, maybe I’d decide I really liked the cheesiness of “blood” and I’d turn the l’s in “Halloween” into blades with blood drops. Maybe the entire wordmark would be totally quirky and each letter would reference something Halloween-like. This is obviously totally lame and off the top of my head, but you never know what ideas you’ll come up with that end up turning into something great, and it really helps you get into a playful mindset.
“My best advice would be to never stop learning, and never let intimidation get in the way of that. Work hard. Stay true to yourself. Immerse yourself in things that keep you passionate as a designer.”
What advice would you give to student designers preparing to enter into the design field? My best advice would be to never stop learning, and never let intimidation get in the way of that. Work hard. Stay true to yourself. Immerse yourself in things that keep you passionate as a designer. Stay inspired. Dabble in new fields of design. Keep up with design media. Read books. Make things for fun. Remember that there’s nothing more valuable than having no idea what you’re doing, because it grants you permission to make mistakes.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? Well, the infamous Gradation Project definitely challenged me the most in terms of stress and stamina, but I’m not sure I can think of one specific project that I struggled on more so than others. Truthfully, there were a lot of projects that ended up really testing me, and I didn’t always come out on the other side with something I was completely happy with. However, I learned something really valuable from every project, even the ones I would consider less than successful.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) My favorite online resources for inspiration as of late have been Dribbble, Panda (an extension for Chrome), Designspiration, The Noun Project, and Pinterest. Dribbble is an awesome invite-only illustration community, Panda is a dashboard for your web browser that curates feeds from different design media sources, Designspiration is exactly what you’d think it is, The Noun Project is a great resource for icon research, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with Pinterest. I actually love Pinterest not only for organizing my visual research, but also for researching itself. Since Pinterest is filled with designers that are also all cataloguing their inspiration, it’s become a great hub for solid reference material (plus their related pins for any given pin you click on are so on point that it’s ridiculous).
As far as print resources, I’m really into curated collections of design like Print Matters: The Cutting Edge of Print. Viction:ary actually has a whole series of awesome books like this one based on color palettes that I’m hoping to get my hands on one at a time (monotone, neon, transparent, pastel, be still my beating heart). I’m also really enjoying Mary Kate McDevitt’s Hand-Lettering Ledger, Jessica Hische’s In Progress, and Aaron Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything. Oh, and if you haven’t heard of Counter-Print, definitely check them out. They’re an art and design bookstore and publisher, and everything they have is mind-blowingly beautiful.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? My biggest regret about school is actually failing to fully take advantage of all of the resources I had at my disposal while in school. School provides you with such an amazing opportunity to focus intently on your work while being surrounded by like-minded people and thoughtful mentors who all want to help you succeed. You also have a huge typeface library, a great workspace, paper cutters, laser cutters, large format printers, photo studios… the possibilities are endless for you as a student. You have everything at your disposal, so go the extra mile and think big. Don’t just design, but think about the presentation of your work as well. Your portfolio will thank you later.
Designer responded to questions in 2017 via email.