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DESIGNER AT HALLMARK

Many students of art and design far and wide aspire to someday work in the creativity-rich offices at Hallmark’s headquarters, conveniently located right here in Kansas City. I sat down with JCCC alum Katie Kramer (who is doing just that) and picked her brain to learn more about her background as well as her current state of affairs. Backed by a portfolio of lush handlettering, fantastical illustrations, and a repertoire including other top-notch Kansas City-based design firms, it’s no wonder that Kramer is now working among the best at America’s number one greeting card company.

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HOW DID YOU GET INTO GRAPHIC DESIGN?
I kind of fell into it actually. Surprisingly, I had no idea that people could make money doing it at all. I went to KU right out of high school, didn’t know what I wanted to do, decided I wanted to get a sociology degree. I basically dropped out of school because I didn’t have a goal. I started working as a veterinary technician and did that for five years. I realized I didn’t want to do that forever and decided to go back to school at Johnson County. I ended up in intro to graphic design. I immediately fell in love with it. People came to talk to our class and I was like, “I wanna do what they do!”

DID YOU DO AN INTERNSHIP WHILE AT JCCC?
I did, yeah. I interned at Design Ranch during my spring graduating semester. It was a paid internship so I worked with them during the summer after graduation too. And then I got hired at 360 Architecture during the summer, so basically my last day at Design Ranch I jumped over to 360. The internship prepared me a lot. It gets your name and your face out there. Anything you can do to get a leg up on the next guy is the best thing you can do. If you have a little bit of real-world experience, it means you’re not crazy and you can actually work.

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WAS THE INTERNSHIP WHAT YOU EXPECTED THE "REAL WORLD" TO BE LIKE?
I feel like because the program is so intensive and short you kind of have to work hard. I don’t think people understand how hard that program is. What I’ve heard outside in the professional world, Johnson County students are thought of as people who can execute those deadlines. For branding projects at JCCC you may have three or four weeks to turn that around, whereas at a four year university you might have the whole semester to work on that. I think it’s probably easier for Johnson County students to transition into the real world because we’ve already lived those crazy deadlines. Nothing against any of the four year schools, but they do have a lot longer time and they’ll stop in the middle and redo a whole branding project. There’s no time for that.

YOU HAVE A LOT OF ILLUSTRATION IN YOUR WORK. DID YOU STUDY ILLUSTRATION IN SCHOOL?
I didn’t. I’ve never studied it formally. I would love to get formal training because I love doing it, like from when I was a little kid. When I was in school, I incorporated it a lot into my work. The faculty was like, if you can do it, make that be your edge. I love to work it in whenever I can. If I’m doing so much stuff on a computer and I don’t have time to do it, I’ll do it on my own. If you’ve got something you’re really good at that sets you apart, go for it because that helps you a lot. It shows you can adapt to different situations. I don’t do it so much here because we have people specifically for illustration, but just the fact that I know how to use illustration in traditional design is huge. I can talk to the illustrators and we work back and forth on how it’ll work with layout. It’s a huge plus.

There's a level of confident and humble and hungry.

HOW DID YOU COME INTO WORKING AT HALLMARK?
So, I’ve been here since January. I’m still a newbie. I got offered a position at 360 after the senior show and worked in their marketing department as a graphic designer with a good group of designers for three years, and then, since I was working in house, I started getting a little worried that I was getting pigeonholed and that my portfolio wouldn’t have a lot of good work in it. I was thinking I needed outside experience, not just in house, so I looked at Blacktop. I knew a couple people who worked there and got hired. It was amazing too. I was there for almost two years and ad agency is a crazy life. It’s 24/7 on call. That on top of commuting to Lawrence, I wasn’t sure how long I could do that. And then this position came open at Hallmark. It had always kind of been the dream. So I applied for that and, networking with people, going to AIGA events, knowing people around town, they totally helped me up the ladder and helped me get hired.

WHAT'S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE AT HALLMARK?
I’m not sure if there is one! A really typical day…I usually get here around 9 and then I get settled at my desk. Then we usually have a status review with my team around 9:30 or 10. We go over everything that’s going on and get a to-do list for the day. I do have a lot of meetings here. I work in a department with people who crack me up and I genuinely like so we go down to The Crown around 11:30, we get our food, we go back up to our main table and have lunch together for a good little social hour. Then I go back to work. It could be anything; sending out emails about back to school stuff, a catalog, photoshoots. Right now we’re getting ready to do the Dream Book and starting concept work for that. It’s a huge catalog showcasing all the Hallmark ornaments. Last year we had hundreds and hundreds of ornaments that had to go into it. It’s a huge undertaking. We shoot a lot of them in our photo studio here.

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WHAT ARE YOU FAVORITE CREATIVE PROJECTS TO WORK ON?
Sometimes I really don’t mind the boring ones. Sometimes I just need a brain break and I’m just gonna push some stuff around. I really like working on the Dream Book. I love working on photo shoots and styling stuff. I don’t have a ton of experience but I feel like it’s valuable experience. I’ve also been working on a bunch of social media stuff lately. I work with a group here called Trends; they focus on upcoming trends, do forecasting, they know what’s the newest, coolest, best. A really nice thing about Hallmark is that they’ve been able to identify that I like to do illustrative and crafty stuff so they’ve been pulling me to that side. The creative community here is amazing. They’re inspired and renewed and they’re all working together

WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR INSPIRATION?
I look at a ton of blogs and search the internet. I mostly use Pinterest just to collect everything. We share a board here a lot. We also have a creative resource library upstairs. There’s hundreds of books on hand lettering, illustration, strategy, writing books, anything you can think of. Hallmark also recently announced a creative renewal program where we pick five days to have off and go do something creative and get paid for it. It’s the coolest thing ever.

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DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AN ASPIRING GRAPHIC DESIGNER?
I think an internship is huge. Being able to speak your ideas is big too…I’m still working on it, I still get nervous. But it sets you apart. And then network, network, network! Go to all the fun stuff, the AIGA events, studio crawls, Design and Coffee. It’s such a good community to be apart of. But always be aware that you can wreck your reputation really fast. I also stayed friends with a lot of the faculty at Johnson County and that has served me really well. It’s good to do as much as you can to stay in touch with your teachers. They can tell when you’re hungry for it. There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness. People don’t want to deal with that. There’s a level of confident and humble and hungry. People who want to work hard but can also talk about their work as a team.

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