creative juice

a career in visual design

Images by Karen Chappell

Allovus offers many different types of creative roles for designers. One such role is visual design, which comprises roughly half of the design force working for our company. (Including UI and icon design.)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a visual designer?

We talked with Allovus Visual Designer Karen Chappell. Karen has worked with Allovus for 2 years, and is well known for her versatility and excellent design skills.

What kind of education, training, or preparation do you have to do to become a visual designer?

Many colleges and universities now have specific programs for design majors. Schools like University of Washington offer a variety of disciplines under the umbrella of design. Specifically, UW offers: Industrial Design, Interaction Design, and Visual Communication. But not all designers have a formal education.

In Karen’s case, she gained her design experience not through education, but rather from opportunities she discovered on the job.

“I was working for a specialist attorney and educator in Berkeley, California as a young adult. He gave me the opportunity to try my hand at a ton of flyers, leaflets, posters, and legal publications. (Boy, did I get to know the capabilities of MS Word as a layout program!) I started to see how my creativity could transfer to the digital world. In that context, I also worked on a brand identity for the educational leg of the business with a professional graphic designer. I learned a lot from the process. A seed was planted. From there, it was simply a matter of acquiring the technical skills and learning the basics. I spent A LOT of time combing through the AIGA design archives, studying the work of respected designers – lots from big brands. I spent another three years working for small businesses that allowed me to tinker, and then in 2003 or 04, I started my own tiny freelance business. I did lots of free work for family and friends, depending entirely on organic growth and word of mouth to establish a client base. It worked!”

What kind of work does a visual designer do?

It’s really a mixed bag. Many kinds of design jobs are grouped in the visual design category, making this position very versatile and broad. For example, UI design, icon design, and print design are all considered visual design.

In Karen’s current role at Microsoft, she’s handling quite a variety of work.

“I don’t know that there is a typical day. Here at Artificial Intelligence, I’ve been spending the last 2 weeks exploring geometric shapes, primarily pyramids, some four-sided, some six-sided, for an internal logo and brand identity system. But that’s just one project. When I first joined Microsoft, I spent 3 weeks designing paper house templates that could be made from an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. At first with pencil, a ruler, and a utility blade. Later with a desktop cutter. I spent another 1.5 months designing a template to make a paper glove that could fit nearly any hand, and hold highly flexible hand made sensors, to read movement. Other days I’m illustrating all day – Digital web assets. On another day, I’m storyboarding, or designing a poster campaign, or creating a highly polished PP deck to be shown with a talk at Stanford, or making buttons, or t-shirts, or creating a complex data visualization to help engineers explain a complex internal tool. It really all depends on the day.”

What qualities and processes are important in a visual design role?

“I have found that one of the most important qualities a designer can have is agility and adaptability. This applies to my process as well. Being in tech, and working with a wide range of stakeholders, I need to be able to acclimate to the client, and not be too set in my own process. There are several essentials I cling to as the backbone of my process:

  • Listen very carefully to the vision and goal.
  • Ask a lot of questions, and uncover the purpose. This can be hard when everyone is moving so fast, but design should be purpose-driven, not just an aesthetic top-layer solution.
  • Set a baseline/look and feel with comparable design work from others to repeat back to the client or project leader what you’ve learned (Pinterest is great for this)
  • Dig deep. Create proposals that you can feel good about. GO WITH YOUR GUT. Don’t belabor it, but don’t compromise. I believe we instinctively know when something is not quite right or ready.
  • Listen again very attentively to feedback. Be open and willing to try out suggestions or create resolutions based on comments.
  • Give it your best again, and produce! Quickly, if you can.”

Perks of being a visual designer

“I feel extremely grateful to be in my field as a designer,” Karen said. “I love what I do. I love being able to problem solve. I love transformations – being a part of the before and after. I love being a conduit for someone’s hard work when they need a polish pass before presenting it. I feel like a magician sometimes. I love being able to have difficult conversations about my work, design work in general, what and why we’re doing what we’re doing in tech. What the real needs are in the marketplace, the complexities and pitfalls of branding and marketing, the way that human behavior and psychology informs the decisions that drive our work. I love meeting and learning from other designers, engineers, copy writers, project managers – great thinkers and hard workers.”

If you’re a visual designer and are looking for work, don’t hesitate to reach out to our recruiting team at work@allovus.com. Likewise, if you’re interested in hiring some of the best designers in the Pacific Northwest, check in with info@allovus.com to talk with our creative recruiting team! 

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