Here’s our first in a series of designer interviews! Get to know Lise, one of the Designlab mentors for our upcoming Design 101 course.
Lise graduated from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Afterwards, she spent time in Boston doing Web and Graphic Design work. She was most recently the lead designer at Media Armor in Boston and is now the Visual and UI Designer atKloudless in Berkeley. Check out her portfolio, and send her a tweet @leez!
How did you get into design?
In middle school I started making websites for fun using Dreamweaver and Photoshop. I also got involved with working on the yearbook and brought that interest into high school, where I became the design editor.
I went to Northeastern University in Boston for undergrad. I started as a Communications major before I made the switch to Graphic Design after my first year. Northeastern is a pretty unique school that has a 5-year program and the option to do up to three 6-month co-op jobs.
During my first co-op, I did design work for The Patriot Ledger, a Massachusetts newspaper. For my second co-op, I led design for a Boston startup called Media Armor, which handled web/mobile ad analytics. It was a great experience where I was able to work closely with the founders to completely rebrand the corporate identity, designing a logo, business cards, letterheads, and other marketing materials. I also designed and built their website.
I always had an interest in web design, but it’s hard to have all the skills of both a developer and designer. I think knowing HTML and CSS can help a designer bridge the gap to communicate better with developers, especially on the front-end. Learning HTML and CSS is relatively easy, but it’s a bit like learning a language; you have to practice and keep up with it. I love that I get to touch the code. It’s important that a designer follows up on his or her vision (or the mockups).
I joined Kloudless in Berkeley a little over a year ago. They were looking for a designer with skills in traditional graphic design, as well as web and UI design, somewhat of a generalist. The team here is really great and as the only designer I have a lot of freedom in decision-making, which is both good and bad. Bad because I have no other designers to collaborate with and be extra critical of my work—it would be helpful to learn from other design peers. Good because we can move faster as a team without needing too many unnecessary debates. It’s great comparing the early mockups with where we are now. Our brand and our product have definitely improved over time.
How do you view the design world?
I see the design field as fitting into different types of media. Anything can be designed. There are areas of design involving print or packaging, physical product design, environmental design like signage and wayfinding systems, and of course digital and interactive media. I spend most of my time in the digital space, which is a spectrum in itself. You can be interacting via touch, or with a mouse and cursor, or something else in a 3D space. The variable screen sizes we have now, from computer monitors to different smartphones and tablets, have added a new layer of complexity to the design world.
How do you see design changing over the next few years? What areas are hot right now?
There has been a fairly recent rise in designing for interactive media given all the technological advancements we have made. Because of that there has been a ‘new’ focus on UX and UI design, or user experience and user interface design. Even though UX has always been around, it existed without a name, but now it’s a really hot area in design.
Thinking about UX means being analytical. I see it as being composed of:
- Information architecture – to decide what needs to be presented and where
- Research and cognitive psychology – to understand user behaviors
- Wireframing – to go through each potential user step
In line with the focus on UI/UX, responsive design (another buzz word that’s been around for a while) has been a big area of change in design. We are at a point now where the screen size and resolution of our end-users is so varied, that we have to solve some new problems and think of our designs as being more flexible or device-agnostic.
What do you think every aspiring designer should know?
All designers need a good eye, or the ability to be sensitive to small details. At the same time, a designer should be able to step back and look at a project holistically and evaluate if the problem is being solved, or the message communicated well.
I think its essential that (aspiring) designers learn about and gain an appreciation for typography. You can learn a lot about the essentials of graphic design through the study of typography, like visual hierarchy, contrast, and dealing with white space. It also helps to know about the history of graphic design.
As for software, Photoshop is the quintessential program for making website layouts (it’s great with pixel-grid alignment). I’ve used Illustrator for mocking up layouts as well, but it’s better for vector graphics and logos that need easy scaling. Starting out with these two programs is beneficial… and many of their keyboard shortcuts carry over! I should also mention InDesign as the key choice for printed layouts and materials. If you ever have to design a magazine or book, InDesign is your choice.
I personally like to wireframe first on paper then bring it into Photoshop. Actually, I’d advise that designers learn to draw and practice sketching on paper in general. For wireframing on the computer, there are a lot of programs you can choose from like Balsalmiq and OmniGraffle.
How long do you think it takes to become proficient at design?
There are so many areas within design it’s almost impossible to be a master of all. You can probably become proficient in certain areas in as fast as a year. If you want to be really proficient, focus on specific areas you prefer, like web design, then you’ll naturally become a specialist.
How do you get inspired?
Sometimes it’s good to stop doing design or whatever it is you’re doing and just shut your brain off. It helps you take a step back.
Nature is pretty inspiring. It removes me from the screens I’m glued to all day, and it’s just natural and beautiful.
Traveling, seeing other cultures, new cities, and meeting different people helps keep my mind fresh too. When I visited Japan, there was so much to inspire me from the balance between traditional and modern parts of society, to Japanese textile prints and even the ‘cute’ culture. Life sort of becomes a visual library full of fodder for new ideas.
What do you think is vital to know as an aspiring designer?
It seems like a lot of people are interested in design and don’t know where to start.
Dive into a project that gets you excited and ask for feedback from real designers!
Check out Designlab’s new course: Design 101 if you’re interested in learning more about design concepts and bridging the gap from developer to designer!
Slightly modified and republished from The Balanced Designer (with permission).