Interview with Justina Simon, Graphic Designer

As promised, this week I’m sharing an interview with a technical communication professional–in this case, Justina Simon, a graphic designer. Technical writers interact with designers often, especially in larger organizations with separate graphics departments. Read on and learn how that relationship looks from the designer’s perspective!How did you get into graphic design as a career?

When I was around 9 years old, I had talent for drawing. As I grew older the classes in school that interested me, and I excelled in the most, were art classes. I think during middle school is when I decided I wanted to be in some form of art as a career.

I also had an interest in mechanical and electronic items (i.e., radios, small motorized toys, etc.). My dad said I should be a mechanical engineer, but I wasn’t great at math. Since graphic design is more of a linear and defined art form (as opposed to fine art such as painting), I thought graphic design was a perfect solution.

What sort of work/tasks have you done?

I have worked on a variety of projects ranging from small business fliers and websites to conferences. One of the biggest and successful projects was the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in 2011. My tasks were coordination and designing all printing materials for the conference. This included signs, logos, business cards, and other designed and printed materials relating to the conference.

Another job I had as an employee was when I worked at NASA as a contractor. I was immersed in the space arena. I had the privilege of working on a project to get humans back to the moon. Since the rocket itself did not exist yet, I was part of creating imagery for the public to promote the rocket that NASA was going to use to go back to the moon.

If a customer comes to you with an assignment/request/job, what are the key things you need to know?

I think the first and probably most important thing I need to know about a new project is what does the client wish to accomplish with their project? Once I know what they hope to achieve with the end result, I can go from there. Of course, it’s always a good thing to know what their budget is. Knowing their budget ahead of time helps in determining what route to go, whether it is only printing materials such as brochures or if it’s building an entire company campaign that includes logo design, business package (business cards, letterhead, etc.), along with a website. From there I can direct the project in the right direction.

Realistically, how much lead time do you need for the things that you do (and how much time do you usually get)?

Realistically… timeframes typically differ depending on the project itself. If someone comes to me and they need a flyer, I can confidently give a turnaround in less than a day. If someone needs a brand new image for their company then that will take more time to allow for research as well as all design work. Websites on average take 3-4 weeks to design and implement. Again, the timeframes for any project can vary due to many factors.

And honestly, many clients seem to wait until the last minute to have design work done just because it sometimes is not a high priority on their lists of things to do.

Do you prefer for the customer to have some idea of what they want or that they leave it up to you?

Either way is totally fine. If someone already has an idea of what they want or has examples of how they would like their project to look it definitely makes the turnaround quicker. With that kind of information, I can typically get started on their project right away. If they don’t know what they want, then their project could involve research and a questionnaire about their project to better understand what they want and that their final project meets their needs.

Sometimes I prefer for clients to give me a few parameters of what they are looking (i.e., color(s), images, etc.) and then let me use my creativity to come up with something for them.

What are the key skills for a graphic designer?

First and foremost, keeping up with the latest design software, trends, and techniques. Having outdated software is not good because you could be missing out on the newest features and capabilities in software. Being proficient in all the latest software is key, too. Proficiency in the software affects how fast one can work.

Second is having access to stock photography. Not all projects will work with just a couple of geometric shapes and some text. If the client needs people represented, then stock photography is a good resource.

Third, be willing to take on almost any project even if you think it’s below your skill level. That one simple flyer project that you turned down could cause that potential client to go elsewhere, in turn giving more business to your competition and less potential business for you from word of mouth.

You’ve worked in corporate environments and now work as a freelancer. What are the big differences between the two environments?

I think the biggest difference between working in a corporate environment and freelance is managing time. Knowing when projects are due and how long you anticipate the project taking to complete. Scheduling all projects to ensure they are completed when promised. In a corporate environment I was basically told what projects had the high priority and I checked on what projects needed to be worked on first and which could wait. As a freelancer, I had to buy a dry-erase schedule board where I write all of the current projects. I have colored magnets to indicate how long until the project is due, and I move that magnet accordingly to the current stage that project is in. This is the best way for me to keep track of what I have going on and what is a high-priority project.

What are the biggest advantages/challenges for these two work environments?

I think one of the biggest advantages of working in a corporate environment is bouncing ideas off of coworkers and getting feedback. As a freelancer I work alone in my office and the only officemates I have are my two cats and they don’t give very good feedback.

The biggest advantage of being freelance is being able to make my own schedule. If I have to go to the doctor then I don’t need to request time off, I just go. Two other big advantages: I don’t have to deal with rush hour traffic and I can sleep in.

Who/what are your primary influences when it comes to creating new looks/designs?

I don’t have anyone in particular that I immediately go to for inspiration. Sometimes Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture designs help me get the creative juices going. If I have design blocks, I Google similar project types to look at what other people might be doing at that time. This usually helps spark ideas in me and the creativity begins to flow.

What are your favorite types of projects?

I love designing logos. I think a logo is the first impression potential clients get about a business. The logo can display whether the company is a serious company such as a law firm (typically only uses 1 or 2 colors in the logo) or whether the company is a non-standard type company like Google, Ebay, or Apple (typically logos with more than 2-3 colors).

Generally, a logo sets the tone for all other printed materials relating to the business as well as the website.

Cool. Thanks for taking the time!

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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