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Senior Creative Director at Blacktop Creative

Oh, graphic design is a thing.

Do you have an early memory of being creative?

In grade school I would draw logos and all kinds of stuff. My parents, neither of them went to universities, my mom went into nursing and my dad went into the family business. They didn’t know how to foster that within me. I would do that, but I was also really good at science, in their mind that was the more practical thing to push me toward. In high school I remember my teacher coming up to me and saying that I really should consider getting a degree in art, and I thought “no way, you crazy woman. There’s no way I could get a job with this.” No way - my parents would never let me do it.


What’s your educational background?

Studied biology at a private liberal arts school in Memphis, through being in that program I realized 3/4s of the way through I did not want to do biology anymore. But I was kind of too far down the road to change things, and my school was a liberal arts school, just didn’t offer a design program. At the time I just didn’t even know that was a career path. I stuck it out and finished up with biology, and then moved to Los Angeles, and worked in the automotive industry. Worked there for a few years, then moved to San Francisco and got a job at an Art school. That’s when I realized “Oh, graphic design is a thing,” all the things I loved doing I can actually have a career in. So I moved home which is Kansas City and here I am.

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How do you keep up with current design trends?

I’m lucky to work at a place that fosters that. We factor in time for that into our projects. As a professional designer you automatically get into the habit of, no matter what you’re doing, you are always looking. And on a subconscious level you’ll be walking down the street and see bricks and think, “oh that’s a great pattern,” and take a picture of it so I can use it later. It just kind of becomes an “always-on,” thing for you. Design trends are tricky, and you never want to go too far down the road. Otherwise you look like you’re following. That’s why it’s so good to get inspiration from life and the world. There’s a fair amount of Pinterest searching I do so trying to find the balance between the two.

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What would you say is your strongest skill?

Probably art direction combined with design strategy. As far as a soft skill for my job I would say communication and facilitation. Working with my team and getting everyone to row in the same direction.

What are you curious about outside of design and work?

So, I love to travel. I try to travel as much as I can. I’m just curious about what’s going on everywhere. I just spent a week long vacation in Disney World. They seem like they’re really awesome at design. I went when I was a child, but it was a different experience. This time it was cool to learn about the guest experience and the design. I just like to see what’s going on in other places. Be an observer.

It’s a whirlwind and it’s crazy, but you learn a lot.

What kind of design projects interest you the most?
It’s all over the place, and it kinda depends on the day. I was thinking today it would be really cool to do a big installation like an environmental graphics piece. I saw some stuff that somebody did and thought, that could be fun to work on for awhile. I love art direction, that’s a huge part of my day to day job. Working with food is what I love. When it comes to the creation of food, I think the creative process chefs go through is very similar to ours and that interests me. Motion graphics are starting to pique my interest a little bit. There are all these things on my to-do list that interest me. The good thing is that Blacktop really is a place that nurtures that. I’m not stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. If I wanted to do a motion graphics project I could.

When dealing with clients do you have any pet peeves?
Every client is different, and every client has their own challenges. I find that if you just explain something to them enough they get it. They’re dealing with so many other forces in their job, in their day, and in their life. If they’re telling me to make the logo bigger and I explain to them why that’s not a good idea, and they’re still telling me to do it. I trust in my clients. I trust that they know what they are talking about, that they’re getting that information from another source. My job isn’t to make their job difficult. My job is to do great work for them, and make their day less difficult. I’m going to help them, and stand by my work, stand by the design.

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What does your design process look like?

Depends on the time line of the project. I still like to spend a fair amount of time up front thinking. For me that involves writing and sketching, and my whole team pretty much sticks to that. Not because it’s mandated, but because it seems to be the best way for us. If we go straight to the computer a lot of times our work can get a little boring and safe. A lot of times we’ll show the clients wire frames or sketches, and that helps us to slow down and back up a little bit. It also depends on the project. If its a logo project then we’ll do tons and tons of sketches.

What advice would you give to a new and up and coming designer?

Be really flexible and adaptable. Going back to curiosity, just be open to learning whatever. Check your ego at the door. The second that behavior starts to show you’re not going to make friends and there will be issues. Be nice is a big thing. The graphic design community in Kansas City is actually quite large, but it is very tight knit. We all know each other, and have worked at all these different agencies together. Being nice and having a great reputation is huge. You don’t want to be that person that no one wants to work with. You’ll learn about page layout and more about Photoshop, but if you’re willing to be nice a lot will happen.

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What’s a tough lesson you’ve learned about design?

This is a lesson I learned my first year. I learned to set boundaries on what I can and can’t do within reason. I’ll give you an example. One night, it was eleven o’clock, almost midnight on a Friday. I had to send out a file to the printer for Applebee’s. No one else was at the office it was just me. So I sent this file out, and it gets printed. Thousands and thousands of copies, and the wrong image was printed on the cover of the menu. That sucked obviously. It was super embarrassing, and super frustrating. I learned to double check my files before I send them out. Two, it wasn’t appropriate to be sending files that late, by myself. So setting boundaries with my team, and having better communication with them. That was really tough, but it all worked out. We actually implemented a set process for the team. There is now a check list before something goes out to the printer. No one will be sending files at midnight anymore.

What does that first year look like after graduation?

It’s tough, it’s really tough. I have a new person on my team and he just graduated in May, and everyday it reminds me of how tough it is. You learn more in that first year than you learn all through school. It is an even mixture between really exciting and really tough. I’ve never worked so many late nights, over nights, been so frustrated because what I wanted to do at the time exceeded my skill level at the time. What I wanted to do I didn’t know how to do and that was frustrating. Then you work through it to make it happen. Working with clients can be really tough if you go into an agency setting with the expectations set upon you. It’s a whirlwind and it’s crazy, but you learn a lot.