What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Right now I’m most fascinated by how technology is influencing design. As our lives become increasingly digital, there are new and changing demands on the graphic design industry. For me, design is all about creating experiences and engaging emotions, which is why virtual reality is such an exciting arena in which to play.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? My senior year I was in a class with Professor Wang when he said, “Your work is only as dimensional as your life.” These words have stuck with me ever since. In college it at times felt like the only people I hung out with were other designers and that whoever pulled the most “all- nighters” would by default be the most successful. In the professional world it often feels like my entire life needs to revolve around my career development and learning the newest adobe software. These words are a reminder to me that the fact that I have interests outside of design is a good thing and that developing passions will not detract from my work, but will instead add dimension to it.
“In my professional experience I’ve had the opportunity to work at both in-house design departments and larger agencies. In both these roles, my work is never about me. My clients have their own aesthetics and personalities that are vastly different from my own, which forces me to explore new ways of visualizing information.”
How has your design work evolved from a former student at Auburn University to a full-time graphic designer? I would like to think that my work has grown in its diversity since graduation from Auburn. I know that while in college I settled into my own style– there were certain aesthetics towards which I gravitated, and you could distinctly tell that my projects belonged to me. While that was great and definitely gave me a greater knowledge of my strengths, weaknesses, and interests, it resulted in a portfolio that was very one-dimensional. In my professional experience I’ve had the opportunity to work at both in-house design departments and larger agencies. In both these roles, my work is never about me. My clients have their own aesthetics and personalities that are vastly different from my own, which forces me to explore new ways of visualizing information. Most days I’ll find myself jumping between many different styles based on the needs of specific clients. While I was once intimidated by stepping out of my own signature style, I now enjoy the challenge of creating work that speaks to a variety of audiences.
Are there any specific projects you are extremely proud of that have pushed your growth as a designer? In my first job out of college I worked as a product and packaging designer for Gildan USA, and was assigned specifically to their Goldtoe brand. At the time I was the only graphic designer in the department. A few weeks into the job, I was approached by a team of marketing executives and told that Goldtoe would be “refreshing” their brand. I was completely overwhelmed and immensely excited when I found out that I would be the graphic designer leading the rebranding of a multi-million dollar iconic brand that had been around since 1934. It was quite a challenge, and not without its bumps in the road, but also a great opportunity. The end result is the project of which I’m most proud in my portfolio to date. The rebranded packaging I created is just now starting to be seen on the shelves across the country; it’s incredibly satisfying to see my work produced on such a massive scale.
It’s clear you have been successfully working in the field of design. In your opinion is it more difficult for women to become “successful” in the design field? This is a tough question. I’m not sure if it’s any more or less difficult for a woman to be successful in design, but it certainly isn’t easy. In my experience, I had to learn to have faith in my abilities. I had the training and the talent, but it took a while for me to feel confident in speaking with authority, especially to more senior (and oftentimes male) professionals. Learning to communicate authoritatively has been the biggest key to my success thus far. I feel that as a woman, it’s instinctual for me to engage in conversations with phrases such as, “I may be wrong, but” or “I’m not sure, but…” I would apologize for things that weren’t my fault, and I really didn’t like confrontation (who does?). While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t serve to create the best work. It took a conscious effort for me to filter out this vocabulary. However, once I did, I began having deeper conversations about my work and producing higher quality materials.
That being said, there are some times when women will find themselves in a situation that is downright uncomfortable. For example, I once had my manager thank me for my “female opinion” in the middle of a meeting with our top creative executives. I was stunned, but even more shocked that the meeting continued without anyone acknowledging the slight. Needless to say, it shook my confidence at first, but it also taught me a valuable lesson. There will be people who for whatever reason don’t value your opinion. My advice when you find yourself in this situation is to leave. Find a new position, a new company, or whatever it takes for you to be in an environment that builds you up and propels you forward instead of tearing you down. Working anywhere else is a waste of time. I now work at a company where the idea of making a comment like the one above would never even cross my coworker’s and manager’s minds. That is the environment to insist upon.
As a young designer, how do you approach and balance different career goals for yourself? One of the most difficult things for me has been answering the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?” I’m a very goal-oriented person, but it’s often difficult for me to decide what specific things I want to achieve. At first it was an issue of being interested in so many areas of design that I didn’t know upon what I wanted to focus. Then it became an issue of living up to what I thought my career “should” look like. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve been able to let go of the “shoulds.” I feel like there’s a stereotype that every designer’s ultimate goal is to support themselves entirely through freelance work or to open their own studio. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I would completely hate that life. Yes, I do enjoy freelance work, and I currently accept about 10 hours a week of projects. But I much prefer having a salary and a regular paycheck where someone else handles the business side of things. It gives me more time to explore creatively and to concentrate on design.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your design work more efficiently? I find that when it comes to working efficiently, it’s all about time management. I have set work hours at my agency job, and I also block out specific times for studio hours that stay consistent each week. I don’t do freelance work while I’m at the agency, and I don’t answer work calls or emails after a certain time each night. Having a set schedule enables me to better communicate my availability to clients and to save enough time for everything else that I have going on in my life.
“If I get stuck on a project, it’s most likely because I haven’t sketched out the concept enough. It’s a step that a number of designers I know skip, but for me it’s the only way to organize my thoughts so that I get to the best possible final product.”
While you were in school at Auburn, was there one particular skill, lesson, or project that you refer back to now in your approach to work or design challenges? I use the grid system every single day, on every single project– thanks Professor Bryant! For me, the grid system is a tool to help solve all the tricky problems of alignment, white space, and placement that will inevitably pop up on every project. The other practice that I use regularly is thumbnailing and sketching out my designs before moving things onto the computer. If I get stuck on a project, it’s most likely because I haven’t sketched out the concept enough. It’s a step that a number of designers I know skip, but for me it’s the only way to organize my thoughts so that I get to the best possible final product.
What advice would you give to students looking for jobs in the competitive design field? Spend time developing your portfolio site and beef up your LinkedIn profile. Design has become more and more digital, so even if you want to work primarily in print media, you have to prove that you’re at least competent in web design. That’s why having a portfolio site is so important. Don’t just throw your work up on Behance and call it a day. Take the time to create and curate a beautiful website to showcase your work. After your portfolio site, LinkedIn is your next best friend. My past two jobs have come about due to the fact that a recruiter found my LinkedIn profile and decided to give me a call. You don’t need a massively long resume, but you do need a profile that has an accurate record of your qualifications along with a link to your portfolio.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? Skillshare.com is by far my favorite resource to use when it comes to continuing my education. I’m in the process of learning After Effects, and being able to take a structured online course that I can pause and come back to based on my availability has been extremely valuable to me.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? Some people just don’t care about design. In school you’re constantly surrounded by people who are fascinated by design and passionate about aesthetics. In the professional world, you will encounter people who have never thought about the way things look. These people can be exceptionally difficult to deal with at times, but every so often you get to see when it clicks for someone and that’s definitely a rewarding experience.
Designer responded to questions in 2017 via email.