Nelson Atkins Museum Designer

Shirley's Workspace
Image of hallway outside of office
Shirley working at her desk
Image of the design studio outside

Shirly Harryman currently works for the Nelson Atkins Museum. It was a pleasure interviewing her and hearing what she had to say. The passion she feels for her job is proof that we can find employment that we love.

I grew up here in Kansas City but I went to Central Missouri State University for the graphic design department. I have always been drawing and designing since as long as I can remember. I went back and forward between fine art and graphic design. I knew I needed to make a living so I pursued this. At one point I had a choice at school to continue taking band and I played clarinet very badly or take an art class and that was the pivotal moment… I still don’t play an instrument.

I worked for Hungry Graphics years ago, it was a tiny little design house; we did a lot of design work for the music industry. I did a lot of work for the Uptown Theatre, Chris fritz, a lot of concert promoters and design t-shirts and some posters. I also worked at a place called Downtown Graphics, which was also a small firm. That’s where I learned the basics. It wasn’t very exciting work but I learned a lot. When I was freelancing I did a lot of work for small non-for profits, arts oriented places.

Hand painted skulls

For the day of the dead events, the Nelson has children in the area paint and decorate sugar skulls and uses them as decorations for the exhibit. To the left is a photo of the skulls that Shirley decorated herself.

Image of the Nelson

How would you describe graphic design to someone?

Graphic design is anything you see printed, any packaging, signage; it all has to be designed by someone. Making it inviting or telling its story and making it visual, that’s graphic design.

What do you love about graphic design? What do you not like about it?

I love the design process. Well for instance working here is incredible because there is so many amazing images we get to work with. For example: working with the Geldman project. I’ve got photos of these original paintings up on my screen and that is what I get to play with. Designing the type that expresses that idea and learning something knew with every project, that’s really exciting for me. I worked at Sprint and worked in house for their department for many years. A one client, corporate atmosphere it wasn’t nearly as much fun. And then I was freelance for many years. Everything was different. Every project was different. I started freelancing here and it got to the point where I didn’t want to work for any one else. This is my dream client. I kind of love my job. There’s always-different clients you need to learn how to handle and all the changes and that sort of thing but that doesn’t really bother me. It’s all just apart of the project. There are so many aspects to it: from the design side to the production and working with the printers there’s just so many things to it.

What makes you stand out from another designer?

In this environment we all have our specialties that we all work on. Susan does all the labels. She is a total type nerd. I kind of gravitate to Latin American kinds of things. I love black and white photography so I like working on the photography shows. We find our niches where we like to work and as best as we can work it out, we get to work on the shows that best suit us.

Do you feel like it is hard to stand out among the other designers at times?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. I think there is always a little bit of doubt. You see other peoples work, you see award winning work and you think “oh I could never do that, how did they come up with that?” You just have to keep lugging away at it. That feeling never goes away, and I think that’s a good thing, it keeps you driving forward. You don’t want to rest on your lorals and then other people start passing you by. After awhile you start to feel more comfortable but there are still those moments of doubt. I look to my peers here to bounce things around to get clarity, to make sure you’re on the right path, or to make sure you didn’t miss something. “Does this make sense to you?” Sometimes you get in your head and think this is working and somebody comes a long and says they don’t get it. We have to make things very clear to our visitors. Being freelance for years and working by myself, I enjoyed that, I loved the freedom of it, and it was great. Of course you don’t always know where your next check is coming from; you are always wondering. I think the biggest joy of coming in and working in this environment again in, is to have peers that you can bounce ideas around, learn from each other. And it gives you a confidence that yeah, you do know what you’re doing.

Image Name Here
It got to the point where I didn’t want to work for any one else. This is my dream client.