Dear Abby: What napkin dispensers and journalism have to do with graphic design

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Inspiration, Two Cents
Dear Abby: What napkin dispensers and journalism have to do with graphic design

As part of their final projects, graphic design students at Mohawk Valley Community College interview a professional in the design field. Last month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Abby Giannatelli.

Want to know more about what makes Joanna tick? Read on for the complete Q&A.

Lettering for Reproduction book

Sparking an early obsession with typography was this classic: Lettering for Reproduction, by David Gates (Watson Guptill, 1969).

How did you get into graphic design?
The essay answer is that I took a mighty circuitous path to get to where I am today. As a kid I was fascinated with Scotch tape and type, and even published a family magazine. But I never thought I could make a living as an artist and knew I needed a job right after college. So I took design, art, and photography classes while I majored in political science and magazine journalism. Initially, I worked as a writer/editor/communications manager, always doing design projects on the side. Eventually, design won out full time. I jokingly call myself as a ‘well-rounded designer,’ but the roundabout way I got here has served me well.

What is your proudest design/achievement so far?
Does quitting my day job to open my own studio 12 years ago count?

What do you find works best when dealing with a difficult client?
Take a deep breath and put myself in their shoes. Most of the time, the person hiring me is not a creative person. They’re an administrative person who’s charged with making sure their company’s publications come out on time and on budget. The process can be pretty stressful since they are trusting you to tell them how to spend large amounts of their company’s money and yet, especially with print design, nowhere along the line can you show them exactly what the finished piece will look like until it is done. They’re taking a giant leap of faith. Keeping that in mind smooths many a bumpy patch.

Why did you decide to start your own business, and was it difficult to do so?
I’d gone about as far as I could in communications management with my employer at the time and really wanted to expand the types of projects I worked on. So, I made a list of all the equipment I needed and acquired it, got debt-free (crucial), lined up a few clients, and took the leap. Scary, indeed! But it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Which aspects of designing (process, programs, etc) do you enjoy the most, or are the most comfortable with?
I love that early part in the process when you’re sketching something out (yes, I still do that!) or pushing things around on the screen and you see something that wasn’t there before—that eureka moment. I’d have to say my comfort zone is identity and print design.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
99% of the time, it’s when I’m away from my computer screen and totally offline. Not that long ago, I was in a diner having lunch with friends and saw the solution to a logo I’d been working on in the lines of the napkin dispenser! I love to look at architecture, mid-century modern anything, classic cars and boats, old books, found type, and nature. I keep up with the work of other designers of all kinds. Seeing how they approach design can be inspiring—not to imitate but to open the mind to other possibilities. I love clicking on a link to a new website or opening a well-designed package and thinking, Oh. My. God. Brilliant!

Thank you for the honor, Abby! Best of luck as you continue your studies and hope to meet you at an upcoming Upstate New York AIGA Portfolio workshop/review :)