20 Aug Everything You Wanted to Know About Graphic Design and Were Too Afraid to Ask
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the incredibly talented designers we use to bring our clients marketing materials to life. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, Kristen and I have been friends for 13 years – and got to know each other when we both worked at Strayer University – she doing design, me doing communications.
I thought that it would be a nice change to do a Q&A with Kristen and get her thoughts on how she likes to work on design projects, how she approaches the creative process and what does she really just wish people knew about her work.
- Tell me a bit about yourself. What’s your design background, what sort of design projects do you do and what sort of clients do you work with?
I have been a freelance print graphic designer for 10 years. I have a BFA in Graphic Design from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and after graduating I moved to the DC area where I worked for larger established companies in their in-house design department. In 2007, I moved to Boston and continued working with the same company I had been with but now as a freelancer. I, amazingly, STILL work with that client regularly but through their project managers leaving there for new companies, word of mouth recommendations and once even through my Behance (Adobe’s online portfolio network), I have gained new clients over the years. I work with all sorts of organizations on a wide variety of jobs. I’m currently working on a conference program, a foldable map, booklets and bag for a company’s upcoming annual conference; a new season of show logos for a theater company; two white papers; an apron design with custom icon patterns; a holiday card; a magazine that highlights a company’s book offerings which we call a “magalog”; and if you threw in booth graphics and an infographic it covers just about all the bases.
- When people hear that you are a graphic designer they assume they know what that means. Can you describe for us exactly what a graphic designer does and what’s the biggest misconception about your job?
I really have no idea what people think when they hear I’m a graphic designer! I think that those who know I have a flexible schedule (I have two children, ages 7 and 3) assume that it’s some sort of crafty hobby. What I actually do is visually problem solve… or at least that’s how I like to think of it. In a perfect world what I do is listen to what problems the client is having or what they want to achieve and make it happen. But what normally happens is people say, “OHMYGOD, I need this brochure/white paper/mailer/infographic/etc. ASAP for a campaign/conference happening next month, can you do this?” and then I take the copy and try to make it as organized and clear to the reader and match the style that the company has already established. The goal isn’t purely artistic but to convey information clearly… with bonus points for style.
- When you are working on a design project, what’s your process and how much input do you want/need from the client up front about their vision?
I can go back to my perfect world scenario here and say that a great process involves the client explaining the problem they are having and what they’d like to portray without then dictating what it should be. An easy example would be that you may have an area that you’d like to highlight because that’s the call to action and your readers have been missing it but then don’t turn around and say, “…so put that in a starburst and make it red because our CEO loves red.” I know there are always picky people in the chain of command but me finding the best solution is better than pigeonholing me in how you think it could work. Some of my best projects have been from clients who have minimal input and say “have fun!”
4. What goes into producing the projects you design? While it may seem straightforward, what does your creative process look like when you are actively working on a new design?
I’ve tried to have a dedicated sketchbook for when I’m not by my computer but usually, I end up jotting things down on the back of receipts and envelopes. And those sketches are not anything that gets passed along because they look like this: But mainly I start as plainly as possible laying out the copy in Adobe InDesign if it’s text-driven or Adobe Illustrator if it’s a logo or graphic. I see how much the text is grouped and how it fits best page to page then set up a grid to accommodate that and slowly add in elements (different fonts, spacing, callouts, colors, shaded areas, photographs). I NEVER work on the cover first which can be frustrating when clients want to see cover options first. Covers tend to be pretty pictures with maybe 15 words on them that have little to do with ALL THE REST that is inside. I like to get the inside scaffolded and then find a fun element to highlight with the cover.
5. What advice would you offer to prospective clients?
I have lots of advice but it’s kind of like buckshot so here it goes: Less copy. People don’t read, they skim. But everything can’t be the most important thing. A great way to tell if your page looks good is to hang it on the other side of the room and see if you can still tell what the important parts are. A good way to check spacing in logos is to look at it upside down. Design by committee still renders you a camel instead of a horse. The page count in print pieces must be divisible by 4. It is getting better but you generally can’t use images you’ve pulled off the web although LinkedIn is a great place to get speaker headshots when people don’t get back to you.