Owner and Creative Director at Hello Big Idea
What made you decide to quit teaching, and what pushed you to go into something more creative?I was always that creative person in college. At the time my best friend was the president of the union, and she was looking for a graphic designer and told me it paid minimum wage, you’ll work in this tiny office, but we need someone to make things for us on campus. I hadn’t really done that before, but she said she didn’t care and wanted me to try, so I said ok. I was basically getting paid to Google and figure things out, and that’s kind of where I started. I was studying business education, so you could teach anything from accounting to web design in the business department so you have to be fairly well versed, and you would take a variety of different classes with your degree. I got to play around in it a little more, and my first teaching job had to do with it, so I really had to learn more and it was a bit of a progression, and then I figured out I was actually fairly good at it and I really liked it.
I started my side blog and at the time everybody and their mom was starting a blog, but was something I wanted to do, so I started designing blogs and it became my side money, with people wanting me to design their blogs for them. It was dirt cheap, and I put far more hours into it than it was ever worth, but it taught me so much about the process and what people want. It was just this kind of progression along the way, and by the time I was teaching I got divorced, no kids no nothing and decided to split, and it was that time of my life that was like now or never, jump ship teaching this is it and now here we are. Hello Big Idea is my baby now, and I have an employee and I’m trying to hire some interns and go from there.
Did you take anything you learned from being a teacher and apply it to Hello Big Idea?Oh yeah, absolutely, we just launched a website workshop for 12 people locally in Kansas City, and it’s kind of combining that love of still wanting to teach a little bit and let people learn from you and teaching what I really want to teach, which is making you capable of creating a website for yourself. I think leadership really helped me out with teaching, knowing how I want to be approached and how to approach others and that goes a long way now that I have people underneath me. I have to figure out if I’m creating a culture I want to exist in as this business grows, and I always had to be prepared for every lesson, so if it was something I didn’t know I figured it out.
Where did the name Hello Big Idea come from?When I first started I saw other people making these blogs and I thought to myself I could do this, so I just played off of my blog name which was Ashley Ella Design at the time and started an Etsy shop, because I didn’t have a platform. I started this Etsy shop and started making some blog designs for literally pennies for people and then I quickly figured out the fees on Etsy and the hours I was putting into this was bonkers. I grew and learned and branched out to my own website and eventually I re-branded once I felt like I had a good grasp on things, and called it the Blog Salon. It was my idea of people that go to the salon and feel better, and get your hair done, get your eyebrows waxed and come out a little prettier, it was the same idea for your blog, so it was very girly, very interesting feel, and I kept that up while I was teaching. But I realized I had really pigeonholed myself into just blog design and I was so much more than that. I needed to refine my process and just be all around better. So I branched out while I was in Jamaica for Hello Big Idea and when I got back I launched it, and I think that I wanted it to be originally The Big Idea, but that domain was taken, so it turned into Hello Big Idea which I ended up liking a little bit better and it still fits and still sticks, and it doesn’t pigeonhole me into one thing or another and it’s not to girly if I don’t want it to be, even though I still do girly design, and that’s the evolution of the name.
What would you say your strengths and weaknesses are?The funny thing is that I know way more than I think I know. That’s weird to say, but when my other designer Audrey, and I work side by side she will do things and I’m like “wait how did you do that?”, and she does great work but at the same time people work so differently when you come from different backgrounds. I think one of my strengths is the ability to figure things out, if I don’t know how to do it I’m going to Google or find an article and teach myself. You know I think not having a formal degree can definitely play into weaknesses, because I was never formally taught how to do anything, so I’m not sure whether what I’m doing is the right way to do things, and it can make me second guess myself. Another one is comparing myself to others, which is a terrible thing to do and sometimes I just have to shut that down hard core, because you’ll see something online and start looking at all of their work and just say “oh I’m not as good as them”, and I can be really hard on myself about that.
Do you think its important for someone to have a degree in graphic design? or when it comes to following your dreams does passion trump degree?I feel like I’m case in point that a degree does not matter. I believe there is this unicorn that exists in human beings, there are very few unicorns in the world, and you could make a venn diagram, the right side would be the doer’s, they can get the work done but they aren’t going to be the idea generators because they think one dimensionally. The left side would be the creative ones, the big idea people, the wouldn’t it be cool if we did that, they constantly dream, but they cant implement anything. In the middle, there’s this unicorn that exists of people that can not only think it up and make the to do lists, but also figure out how to do it and implement it. I believe that exists in the world and there’s no degree that can teach that. I think that its something that lives within you as a person and what type of person you are.
What are the five skills you think all designers need?Paying attention to detail is a big one, I think authenticity is so huge, you know be different and do something really amazing but be totally authentic with it. I don’t know if this is a skill or not, but the desire to not be mediocre, if anything drives me in life its the idea that I never want to be mediocre. I never want to be just average, and I was interviewing a girl not too long ago and I told her that I wanted people that weren’t mediocre, that would show up and do things unbelievably well, blow people out of the water, and she said, “oh I’m shocked that you want to interview me then”, and that’s the wrong thing to say, have confidence in yourself and your ability to design. You need to have the basic knowledge of being a designer with these ideas of having authenticity, not wanting to be mediocre, paying attention to detail and having confidence in yourself, if those work together that creates something truly awesome.
"I believe there is this unicorn that exists in human beings, and there are very few unicorns in the world"
Do you feel that your drive of not wanting to be mediocre has aided in your success?Yeah, while I was teaching I was so unfulfilled, I was juggling so many things and I wasn’t passionately putting myself towards anything that I truly loved. For the longest time I thought I wanted to be a girls basketball coach, and those cards didn’t pan out for me. I hit 6 years of teaching and felt like I had plateaued; I had reached the peak of my career at 26 years old, and I looked around like you’ve got to be kidding me, I was meant for so much more than this. That was that moment of telling myself you’re divorced so you don’t have to worry about someone else, it was a moment of freedom and if I didn’t make the leap now I would regret it, so I gave myself 6 months and if I didn’t make it then I would freshen up the resume and head out on the job hunt.
How important is it to know the ways around the web for aspiring graphic designers?You know another unicorn is if you’re a designer and a developer, if you overlap you would become much more hireable. Early on when I was doing blogs it was all about WordPress, and I hated it, but I was willing to figure it out to further my business. When I launched Hello Big Idea I wanted to do what I loved and WordPress just wasn’t it, so I dropped it and Squarespace seemed to be the way so many people were going and I wanted to be more in the web world than just the blogging world. Now we don’t do WordPress, but you always get maybe one inquiry a month asking if we do and now I have no problem telling them no, but early on I wouldn’t, and I would just figure it out, and now my team kind of plays off each other to help create new websites for clients.
When it comes to logo design, do you start
digitally, or by hand?You know everyone has a different process, some people are taught to sit down and sketch it out and go through a process, but for me that just seems so inefficient. Maybe give yourself an hour or so to sketch if you really need it, but I don’t sketch, unless I’m hand lettering and need it, but for the most part I start digitally for the efficiency of it and right now if I need to turn projects over in a timely manner I have to start digitally and get moving.
Do you try and follow design trends? Or do you prefer to follow your own instinct?I think that just naturally happens a little bit with the world that we exist in, and I think a lot of the people that come to us are trying to be a little bit trendy, so there’s definitely a little bit of that trendiness that comes into play but I like to convince people that they don’t want to be too trendy because it’s gonna go out of date in a year or two. If it’s a brand that they want to last and stand the test of time, it has to have that classic quality.
How important is social media to your brand?Hello Big Idea really has three parts, the branding which is probably my favorite to be honest, the web side, which often starts with the branding and leads into the web, and then theres the social media side. Sometimes they all three play together and sometimes its just one or two. They all exist out there, and on my inquiry form I always ask people how they found us and I would say its 1/3 referral, 1/3 Google, and 1/3 is some form of social media. If we eliminated social media as a form of people trying to find us it would be crazy.
Where do you draw your inspirations from when designing for your clients?We really want our designs to feel like a partnership between us and our clients and a way to get them involved was for them to create a Pinterest board, but it turns out it’s doing us more harm than good. They’re not designers and they don’t know what to look for, and I have to trust myself more in the mood board process and put more faith in my own ideas. I always try and pull a color in that they didn’t request but goes really well to kind of open their minds a bit, and something that’s different than what so many other people have out there.
How do you handle the creative process?
That is something that is always being developed. I feel like we’re getting better and better as time goes on and we’re figuring out what clients need, and how to automate things to make it easier. There’s something about being efficient as designers that exists when working with a client, and I never want it to be us that’s holding up the process. All of our emails are already written out and we use a program where we can enter in the name and subject and add something in to make it feel not so automated and send it off. We have one brand template that we pull from illustrator that we start working with that has the 5-6 pieces we end up presenting to the client so it already exists for you and gives some consistency for us and the clients. Our design process is kind of crazy, when someone inquires we give them the basic information of what they can expect, if they give us the thumbs up we start with the first 3 steps: Pinterest board, a questionnaire to get some input of what they want from their brand, and an invoice. So I’ll send over those three things and once we have those we can kind of rock ‘n’ roll on thier brand, and once we have all their info we can send them a mood board and 6 logo concepts. The mood board just gives this visual look and style for their brand to make sure we’re on the same page, and three things usually happen from the logos, they pick one and love it, they have feedback on a few, or none of them hit the target and we start again. Usually we never just start over, so then after that we take it into a brand board and then at the end we deliver everything in a Dropbox folder and they have the liberty to do what they want with it. We can even start with all of the branding and website design and then help them out with any social media aspects if they need us to, to further develop the brand.
Were you a creative kid growing up, and did you always know you would end up in the creative profession?
Both, I just didn’t know at the time. So my mom is a teacher and I think that’s what led me into the teaching world a little bit, but when I was younger and in college, I wish I would have been advised better or had more time to figure it out. My first semester in college I was an art major but I didn’t know what that exactly meant, it’s one of those things where they tell you you’re creative and you like creative things so lets stick you in some art classes. Then I remembered that I had a teacher in high school that taught me some of those computer things and I emailed her and asked what she majored in and how you get to teach those things, and she said business education and that was kind of when I decided on teaching. I was at Emporia state which is an amazing school for education and I knew I liked computers and wanted to teach those kinds of things, so I decided to go into business education and that’s just kind of where I went, and you know I never disliked being a teacher because having your summers off and winter breaks and spring break is great. But now I love more than anything that I make my own schedule. I have more freedom, and I’m doing something creative that I love. Don’t get me wrong though, I probably work 80 hours a week, so way more than teaching, but it’s something that I enjoy, and now I never want to stop working.