"Be different and stand out from the average crowd."
The New York City art director shares how graffiti kickstarts her creativity, why walking away from a design can actually help improve them, and -- most importantly -- how to beat that tricky job market and land a stellar design job.
DesignRush: How did you become a designer?
Julia Abbott: I first began involved in design during my college years at Quinnipiac University, where I studied the basics on how color and other forms of imagery play out in our everyday lives. I was taught how even specific color choices make a difference in how someone subliminally translates a message; for example, many do not know that the color red, psychologically, can make one hungry. I engrossed myself in learning many of these essential skills along with many of the Adobe programs, which have now become most valuable to me in the professional world.
Shortly after graduation, I placed my first job as a Web Production Artist at Simplicity Creative Group. 5 years later, I am still working here, but playing a very different role. I was fortunate enough, and still am, to be surrounded by creativity. This environment has played a huge role in my creative growth and has opened many opportunities for me along the way. Due to my overwhelming dedication to my work, it wasn’t long before I was able to grow into a more advanced position.
DR: Where do you look for inspiration in your day-to-day work?
JA: As an Art Director working and living in New York City, I look for my inspiration by a simple walk down the street. The huge billboards and beautiful display windows from all the stores, even the small signs found on taxi’s or buses driving by can spark my inspiration. Colors made with graffiti - especially on moving trucks, have inspired me. I also try to collect as many magazines, posters, and even business cards from fellow artists so that when I don’t have the chance to walk outside, I could still catch up on the hottest trends (or maybe bring some old ones back).
DR: What does a person entering the field need to know?
JA: The job market is pretty competitive, but there is a necessity for us everywhere! The digital world is only growing, increasing the demand for more and more designers. Technology is changing at an incredibly fast pace, and it’s truly vital that you keep up. Staying up to date on the latest programs and other software are all really important if you want to stand out in this overly designer-saturated world. Also, make sure to do your research! Make sure to get a little personal and take time out to research the company you are interviewing for. Lastly, never walk into a job looking casual, unprepared, and without your portfolio. Be sure to display confidence, but remain humble.
DR: What makes a great work environment for you?
JA: Most importantly, as a designer, the greatest work environment you could be in is one that promotes creativity and challenges you every day. Surround yourself with creative minds and others who share the same values as you. A great work environment, in general, should be a place where someone feels safe and respected. From a social standpoint, having good relationships with your co-workers will also improve the atmosphere. Having negative energy when walking into your work will eventually end up being physically and mentally draining.
DR: Are there any things that specifically help with design-block?
JA: My best advice for design block is to walk away! This has been the most valuable cure for not only myself but other fellow designers I have met throughout my career. Sometimes your brain maximizes out its creativity for the day, the hour, or even a few minutes and that is ok. If you want your work to be its best sometimes it doesn’t hurt to try again tomorrow. If you don’t have the time for that try drinking a cup of coffee, take that walk… even if it’s for 5 minutes around your house. If that doesn’t work either, try discovering new artists using the internet, or research ones you may have been inspired by before. Pinterest is also a very valuable tool in finding that spark you may be missing.
DR: Describe your creative process.
JA: For me, the creative process begins the second the project begins. Communication is always the first rule to keep in mind in order to get the job done right. Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions, or any that may seem mundane. You must communicate with the person you are working for in order to avoid any lost time. Bringing a notepad and a pen everywhere you go also goes hand in hand. As much information as you believe you can retain, imagine what you could do with a pen and paper!
Once I meet with and discuss the needs of my client, my next step is to ask those questions! Make sure to come prepared: What is the overall look you are going for? Will there be assets supplied? How will I receive these assets? Most importantly I want to ask if they have any inspiration of their own they would like to share. This “inspiration" could include screenshots, photography, magazine tears, web graphics, basically anything at all that may influence your end design. Once I communicate effectively with my client, I will then begin my online research. Pinterest, as noted before, has been a very valuable tool for me for inspiration. Also being a hands-on artist, I find it helpful to sketch my ideas out before starting on the computer. Call me old-fashioned but there is something about putting a pencil to paper that allows you a bit more creative control.
Once I feel like I have gotten my ideas down on paper, I then sometimes scan in my sketches to the computer and build up my design from there. When creating my own design elements or logos, having a base drawing could be very helpful. If sketching isn’t necessary, I go straight to the Adobe programs. Depending on my job, I have to figure out which programs will work to my advantage. I usually end up using all three Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, especially when designing for catalog layout. After staring at a screen for a few hours, I try to every day at lunch take a walk across New York City from Broadway to Second Avenue. This gives me the opportunity to breathe in fresh air, clear my mind and look at all the hustle and bustle the city has to offer. Everywhere you turn is something else that triggers inspiration.
DR: Any final thoughts, comments or words of wisdom you’d share with someone in the industry?
JA: Be yourself-- In a world of color, so many people can only see in black and white. If you have the ability to see things deeper, take advantage of it. Be different and stand out from the average crowd. Try to surround yourself with people who have an absolute love for life, appreciate art and share your common values. Do not get too caught up in what’s happening in the virtual world because what’s inspiring us is out in the physical world. Emerge yourself in nature and many different experiences. All of these things will help continue to expand your mind and inevitably make you into the most creative being you were born to be!
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