Virginia Patterson

BFA in Graphic Design 2013
Delray Beach, FL


What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Food (no pun intended). I recently started working at a branding and package design agency that focuses on produce and natural products. I have always been interested in the intersection of food and design, but have a heightened awareness now that this is part of my practice. I am fascinated by how design speaks on a shelf and influences purchase decisions, and particularly fascinated by how information is communicated and organized in the small real estate of food packaging.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? Undeniably, my dad. He has always challenged me intellectually, has always acted thoughtfully, and has always communicated clearly and graciously. These characteristics definitely influence my thinking and come across in my work; when they’re not, I strive for these qualities.

“Success or failure, I believe all creative efforts are fruitful experiences.”

What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but turned out to be an extremely valuable experience? My graduate school research. I attended graduate school right after I completed my undergraduate degree. I ended up leaving halfway through. I was pursuing design research (no surprise) involving information accessibility and consumer food choices. Leaving my program was a good decision, but I certainly felt like I had failed in my research and 1.5 years of creative effort. That research, however, did help me get this recent job, and that experience also taught me that quitting can be okay, an idea I was largely uncomfortable with at the time. Success or failure, I believe all creative efforts are fruitful experiences.

While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific graphic design project that challenged you the most? It’s hard to pick just one project, but two courses stand out distinctly: Image I with Ray Dugas and Designer as Author with Robert Finkel. Professor Dugas’ image course was uncomfortable for me. I had never explored image-making or illustration in the way he encouraged. It was really challenging and I remember feeling a great deal of vulnerability, but some of the processes I developed turned out to be processes I use to this day. I took Professor Finkel’s Designer as Author course in my last semester, during senior project. It was unlike any course I had taken at Auburn. It challenged me to view my work through a less traditional and practical lens, and approach design as a more introspective, yet research-driven practice. 

You decided to attend graduate school following your degree at Auburn. How has your grad school experience influenced your design thinking? I’ll have to answer once I attend another program and complete my degree! Actually, no—my experience did influence my thinking. I have discovered my Auburn design education to be a very traditional, technical, and practical one. My graduate school program was completely different. It was not research-based, but rather encouraged a more exploratory and expressive approach to design, perhaps more of a studio art approach. While this did not necessarily fit my needs and expectations, it did broaden my perception of what exactly design can be. It gave me access to an understanding of design through a more abstract lens, and broadened my understanding of how designers can communicate information and ideas.

While attending Auburn, it seems you did several internships and conducted freelance on the side, correct? How did these experiences during school help you develop as a designer? Yes, I did. These opportunities certainly gave me practical experience in the field of design, but they also helped me develop interpersonal, communication, business, and marketing skills...skills you can’t or don’t learn in an academic setting. Design school is somewhat of a creative playground, with few limitations in terms of budget, deadlines, audience, and scalability. My internships and freelance work were my first introduction to production budgets, adhering to brand guidelines, and all of the other aforementioned considerations. Although the Auburn design program prepares students well for the real world, there is a lot that can only be learned by experience.

“These opportunities (freelance & internships) certainly gave me practical experience in the field of design, but they also helped me develop interpersonal, communication, business, and marketing skills...skills you can’t or don’t learn in an academic setting.”

Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful in the design field? I do not. However, I realize this still persists in some environments. Fortunately, I have had very positive professional experiences in regards to gender equality and I have an optimistic expectation for future women in the design field.

Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? It’s easy to stereotype this situation. It’s hard to distinguish gender biases versus personality differences. Generally speaking (keyword being generally), the men I have worked with have often been more confident in their work, and more aggressive with their ideas or creative pitches, but I have also worked with women who share these qualities. I personally tend to have a more reserved disposition—I’m actively working towards that perfect intersection of confidence and humility. I don’t believe I have ever been treated differently because I am female.

Are there any rules or habits that help you do your work more efficiently? My top five: Get enough sleep. Take breaks. Go on walks. Use actual paper and pencil. Enjoy activities beyond design. My best ideas never come while staring at a screen. I am much more efficient if I follow these habits, especially when I feel stumped or overwhelmed.

Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) (1) Design Observer, (2) AIGA (not just the site, but being an active chapter member), (3) Brand New (, (4) Creative Confidence, David M. Kelley and Tom Kelley, (5) The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst, (6) This is forever useful:, (7) Skillshare (, (8) New York Times, NPR, or your choice of news (keep up with the world).

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? (1) How to write (proposals, emails, etc.), (2) Basic principles of marketing/psychology, (3) Wordpress, (4) Print production terms and how to write production specs (this might just take practical experience; I remember this seeming so abstract in my Production Processes class).

What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? (1) Don’t go for money. (2) Don’t go for title or status. (3) Don’t limit yourself geographically. (4) Find a place (even if they don’t produce the best work) where you’ll have experienced mentors and work with good people. At the end of the day, designers are people, not awards. It’s much easier to change and influence design than people, so find good people to win awards with. That said, a first job might not be a dream job, but I believe you can find ways to make any experience valuable; there is always the possibility of moving on.

Please add any additional thoughts if you feel they need to be shared. During undergraduate and graduate school, I remember feeling a need to specialize in a design area or define a specific interest—to be a publication designer or an illustrator or focus on UI/UX. I don’t think there is any urgency to specialize during or right after school. I encourage young designers to keep an open mind and explore different design avenues through work opportunities. Finally, learn or understand WordPress. Throughout my design practice, this has been an incredibly useful skill, and just one more resume line. 


Design Samples

Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.