Mary Lim

Thursday, April 09, 2015

pp: interviews + reading

For my informational interviews, I wanted to ask professionals in fields in either motion graphics or environmental graphic design. I'm leaning towards the latter, but I'm still open to motion graphics. Generally, the interviews were a little awkward at first, but it later sparked good conversations about design and their personal experiences. I interviewed four people over the semester, but I plan on interviewing a couple more people as I move on in the year, in order to get a better sense of what's out there. Below are summaries of my interviews with these professionals:

Taylor Pruitt | Intern at Gensler

Taylor Pruitt is our adjunct professor in our User Experience class, but she also is currently working at MindMixer and previously interned at Gensler. When I asked Kidwell about environmental graphic design, he referred me to a couple of people, including Taylor. I first asked her what her story was, starting from graduating KCAI. She explained that during her junior year, she applied to Gensler in Chicago and was selected out of 300 other applicants. Afterwards, she applied to other places like Hallmark, Barkley, and Meers. Her first choice was Hallmark, however Meers sought her out and gave her the job. She went on to work at MindMixer, and is still there today. Specifically at Gensler, she worked mostly around branding. A lot of the internship was about researching about how people will react with the space, and idea generation in teams. Architecture allows for more possibilities than strictly graphic design, in terms of scale and scope. She explained that spatial design in general has a much slower process, which often happens in architecture firms. When I asked about the pros and cons, I was surprised to hear that one boring aspect of the field was wayfinding. It can be dull due to its highly technical and meticulous nature.

Finally, some advice from Taylor:
-be open-minded
-look anywhere to apply, and apply early
-the thing you stay with right after graduation is what you'll probably end up with

Other people/studios she referred me to:
-Keitra Dickson
-Bethany Joy Foss
-Ian Spaeth
-Eisterhold Studio

Bethany Joy Foss | Studio Tilt

Another person Kidwell (and Taylor) referred me to for environmental graphic design was Bethany Joy Foss. After researching about her background, I understood why Kidwell suggested her. I realized we have a lot of things in common, in terms of experience and interests. We both are double-majoring in graphic design and art history, we both interned (will intern) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and we both have an interest in spatial design. Growing up, she was interested in architecture from the beginning. Even from 10 years old, she drew architectural floor plans of buildings. As she grew older, she became intrigued with painting, and decided to attend KCAI for a BFA with an emphasis in painting. Not long after, she switched her major to graphic design. Currently, she works at Studio Tilt and is working on recreational centers, specifically the Chicago Bulls.

In terms of spatial design, she explained that its mostly about how people feel in a space and creating atmospheres/environments. There is a common misconception that environmental graphic design just started recently, however, in actuality it began with Deborah Sussman and her designs for the L.A. Olympics. When I asked her to elaborate on her experience at HOK, similar to Taylor's observation about wayfinding, she replied that signage and wayfinding was the most dull. The most exciting projects for her were branding experiences, which is very much like "regular" graphic design branding. Another engaging aspect of spatial design that Bethany pointed out was the ideation process, where there are no constraints and where they are free of the clients opinion. The most challenging aspect for her were creating/understanding construction documents, which are usually for architects. As a spatial designer, her team is involved in the whole process of the design. Ideally, the client will come to the design team first, then fabrication, and then the client. In between these relationships are project managers who facilitate communication. She observed that clients do not usually think about adding graphics to their spaces until the end, which places limitations for the designers.

One thing she told me to be wary of was being a designer for architecture firms. As the designer, she cautioned me that they mostly only do marketing and don't offer opportunities to create spaces. She also said that these firms sometimes do not value graphic designers as a vital part of their firm.

-talk to people at architecture firms
-start to know key players in the area and get to know faces
-have a strong portfolio (environmental graphic design firms are not necessarily looking for experience in the field because it's relatively new - just looking for type and design sensibilities)
-intern at architecture firms
-apply for competitions on SEGD

Other studios she told me to look at:

Kelly Furlong | Populous

Kelly and I held the interview at Thou Mayest Cafe. Meeting with her was really helpful in learning about experiential design and how to get where she is today. Kelly has a really impressive resume, abundant with awards and public recognition. Despite not having as much experience, she's already a senior graphic designer.

Upon graduation, Kelly knew that she did not want to work with an advertising firm; She wanted to work with non-profit clients. Using her senior degree project, which involved using graphic wit for a cause (gender and racial equality), as a springboard for her career, Kelly was able to intern at the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. She then worked at Eisterhold for six years, and now works at Populous.

Kelly described her experience at Eisterhold as a good learning process. As it was a smaller firm, she was exposed to other sects of the company such as budgeting and management. She explained that as a designer, she was the last to receive the content of the project, which she would later have to distribute throughout the space. The job was mostly about organizing the content in an engaging way. However, she wanted to explore the "wow" factor. In other words, she wanted to have more creative freedom with her projects.

She then moved on to Populous, a firm that designs spaces for sports centers, airports, convention centers, etc. Basically, the firm draws people together for a shared experience. In comparison to Eisterhold, she said that projects at Populous were more "superficial" in that the content was not as deeply thought out in relation to the museum context. She expressed her love for Populous, and said that it is a really fun environment to work in. In terms of environmental design in general, having an understanding of the culture you're designing for is key.

-use senior degree project to narrow your focus
-apply for internships everywhere
-work in 3D, and understand how things are built
-gear portfolio to environmental design
-have a general understanding of ADA (though not crucial)

Other firms to look at:
-Workshop Design
-Dimensional Innovations
-Gensler, HOK, etc.

John Baker | previous animator at MK12

view previous post to read the interview summary


Open Letter to Design Students Everywhere | Jessica Helfand
My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned to myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the claims that shackle the spirit. - Ignor Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music

  • What is your Thesis?
    • less is more!
      • big implications, big public spaces, big audiences may work against you - try being more specific
      • start simply and go from there
    • with structure comes freedom
      • don't be afraid to start small, never stop learning
Helfand offers some advice to all designers in her article. For freshmen in college, she suggests writing down everything and carrying around a sketchbook. For juniors and seniors, she asks, "What is your thesis?" She emphasizes two things: less is more and freedom is found in structure. From education to creative briefs, limitations should be invited and embraced. Working around limitations leads to new ideas, solving limitations leads to innovation, and defining limitations and breaking them leads to change. College specifically offers a space where students can learn not only academically but in relationships, from having discussions and experimenting. 

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