12 Questions: Meet MJ (USA)

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature MJ (crowdSPRING username: UpQuark) today. MJ lives and works in the desert southwest of the US.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is MJ (I’m a female “Junior”). Contrary to popular belief, I was not spawned, but rather hatched in the northeast region of the US. I live in the desert southwest US, and am the youngest of four girls who, oddly and inexplicably, were not hatched. The explanation is classified, even to me.

Okay, so random tidbit (or is it random? We’ll see…): I’m ambidextrous. Not in a perfect-handwriting-with-either-hand kind of way, because my handwriting isn’t… oh wait! My handwriting is equally bad with either hand, so there ya have it. Clarification issue solved.

I actually do believe that my ambidexterity translates into everything I do, in that my logical and creative sides tend to balance each other out, or slap each other around, depending on what’s needed. I’m often frenetically creative and possess hyperfocus superpowers (unless I see something shiny, and not in a girly way; I mean like futuristic spacecraft shiny. Or escaped mercury). My sister and I can riff on creative ideas faster than a… something really fast, or get extremely excited about something really geeky. If I get too hyped, there’s cheap entertainment to be had. Think superball let loose on a vibrating surface.

So, linear background.

Inside voice: I wanted to be a superhero first, then a wizard, then a land conservationist, astronaut or other off-the-ground profession, vet, psychotherapist, civil rights lawyer, music therapist, community service professional… ew. See how these just went downhill into reality?

Outside voice (a.k.a. reality): I did actually go to agricultural school to study land conservation. Then I studied ethnomusicology on the west coast, moved to Boston and attended New England Conservatory of Music, decided I loved music too much to get into the business of it and went to UMass Boston majoring in human service management. Other education includes shiatsu, eastern medicine, and auricular acupuncture, and that all got woven into my human service career.

No matter what the combination is at the time, I mix things I love. My days are filled with design, editing/copywriting, and working as an Apple specialist. And, in this economy, I wake up every day extremely grateful that I’m lucky enough to be working.

2. How did you become interested in design?

That is really hard to pin down, since design is an integral part of daily life. I guess I got interested in applying design techniques when I started receiving requests, and it just kind of went from there. I derive tremendous joy and satisfaction in assisting someone to communicate effectively with words and images, which is why I love jobs involving both writing/editing and design.

I started focusing on design as an actual professional service around 2004-2005, after a lot of practice and study. Oh! One of the things that keeps me interested in design is that the field is constantly changing and growing, so there’s always something new to learn.

3. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Where art becomes a favorite because of my internal reaction and creative process, designs become favorites because of whether or not I meet or exceed the clients’ expectations. If there is a good interchange and the client walks away with a smile, and the work does what it’s supposed to do, that’s a definite criterion for favorite.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

The whos: my mom is an artist (and writer and editor), and all of those elements that bring art together are seeped into my pores. The tactile elasticity of oil paint, the smell of turpentine, the meditative state of bringing something to life and pulling it out of canvas, paper, stone, wood, metal, earth.

My sister, who is a writer, is also an artist (although she’ll deny it). She’ll draw an awesome character off the top of her head and it’ll have an instant personality. Bringing something to life is what fascinates me most. There are also a lot of artists, architects, and designers who I find… well, inspiring.

The whats: absolutely everything. Nature, cities, piles of junk, chocolate stains on a kid’s face (Rorschach with a mouth centerpiece). I love clean lines to organic chaos and everything in between. I love grunge, mid-century modern, retro, minimalist, they all have awesome elements. A hand, for instance, is like a landscape for all of a person’s life experiences. Those kinds of things are a big influence.

5. What draws you to certain projects?

In terms of crowdsourcing? That’s a combination of whether or not something pops into my head when I read the brief, and whether the context is something I can relate to on some level, whether I’m inspired to contribute.

I’m not a mainstream designer, so I don’t necessarily enter projects with a goal of winning, but more of participating. Almost all of my design work happens outside the crowdsourcing venue.

What draws me to certain projects outside of crowdsourcing is my initial contact with the client, and again the context and content of what they’re looking for. I do a few pro bono projects each year, and those are pure draw, usually a connection both with the client and with what they’re doing. I love the follow-through, the process, and the satisfaction of a completed project.

6. Mac or PC?

Mac. When I was a PC person I used to make fun of my sister for using a Mac. Then I used one, and I shut up. I’m proficient on both platforms, but I prefer Mac, hands down. I use Adobe products almost exclusively, not because I think they’re the best, but because they get the job done, and I haven’t taken the time to learn new programs. I also use a Wacom tablet pretty heavily.

7. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Do you love it enough to deal with the less fun stuff? Can you handle, or learn to handle, criticism, with regard to your work? Can you weather repetition and tedium to get some jobs done? Can you pull an idea (or usually several) out of your… head on a deadline? If the ups outweigh the downs, then go for it. Find your niche. Find what inspires you about design. Are you drawn to mainstream design, where you’ll get the largest volume of work? If you lean more toward context, purpose, and artistry, will you be able to make a living at it full-time?

If you work for a design firm, it is best to be attracted to mainstream design, I believe. That’s mostly what you’ll encounter. If you work freelance, again, mainstream will get you the most work, but if it’s not in your DNA to do it, you’ve got to think outside the box, and define that outside-the-box space well. Those of us who are not mainstream don’t do well when we try to mold ourselves into something we just don’t relate to, so define your niche and define it well. And then, persevere until your brain hurts, and then persevere some more.

Also, outside-the-box design doesn’t always get rave reviews, so learn to say thank you while trusting your gut, and frequent the sites of successful outside-the-box designers. Often.

8. Please talk a little about the client-designer relationship. Can you talk about an example or two to illustrate how you’ve managed this relationship in online projects? How does this relationship differ when you work for clients offline?

This is my biggest challenge in crowdsourcing. My natural way of working is to meet the client, see their space, observe and absorb other aspects of their work identity and environment, discuss (and sometimes help define, for startups) their mission statement, and incorporate those into the branding and collateral. I have a flexible framework that helps guide the client through a very holistic process.

Within that communication, there’s also another process. I already have the job, so I’m focused entirely on all elements relating to the project. They’re also coming to me for my advice and guidance, from smaller elements to trademark issues and all those other things we don’t necessarily think about relating to design, but in a holistically-framed design job, falls under my purview.

It’s my responsibility to make sure nothing is being used without permission, that nothing gets missed, and all that good stuff. I’m the person who makes sure all of their brand-related materials, from signage to web elements to print production, have the right file formats and dimensions for optimal production, get produced well, and are delivered without issue. From creation to information to quality control, it’s all incorporated into the job.

So, in my offline career, which I’ll call non-crowdsourcing because I certainly have ongoing clients that are not local and therefore online, there is a holistic process and utilization of/reliance on my expertise in all aspects of the design process, and I see it through from start to finish and beyond. In a sense, I become the client’s guide and protector through what is often a daunting process.

Having said all that, my crowdsourcing relationships I approach in much the same way within the limitations of the venue. I focus on the brief and ask questions that may help fill in some gaps, and maintain good, consistent communication. Whether or not the client responds is the unknown. Sometimes they’re really appreciative of the communication, and sometimes there’s simply no response.

9. Please describe your typical workday.

Ooh. Summer or not summer? Those are our two seasons here. Summer mornings start earlier, around 5:30. I check emails, take care of any odds and ends from the previous day, and set up my space. You know, the usual, mundane stuff. This is when I’m in my home office, which is generally Monday through Wednesday. Thursday through Saturday I’m off-planet, doing crazy things with computers and such. I do some work late evening or early morning on those days, but nothing heavy-duty. I always have pens, pencils, and paper at my side. The occasional crayon never hurts, either. Oh, and a whiteboard on the wall. And my big red theraball, ‘cause sometimes you’ve just got to bounce those ideas into existence.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a graphic designer?

Squeezing creative juice out of my head that’s actually applicable to the job. Shifting my 2am creativity into a more doable timeslot. Dealing graciously with interruptions when I’m hyperfocusing. Remembering to eat.

The rewarding aspects are combining creativity with productivity and bringing something relevant, satisfying, and even inspiring to a client. It’s all connected, so if my work inspires the client and staff in their mission and goals, that’s just an awesome, viral experience to be part of.

11. If you weren’t designing, what would you be doing?

I’d probably still go with superhero or wizard. Also, knife-making and sharpening.

12. What do you do with your free time?

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Free time, you ask? I mostly spend it with family/friends/dog. That minute goes by fast, lemme tellya. I also need chunks of solitude, because that’s how I refuel. I’m still waiting for someone to bottle that.


Thanks MJ!