12 Questions: Meet Shawndra Cox (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 Shawndra Renée Cox (crowdSPRING username: OOPS) today. Shawndra lives and works in Lodi, NJ.

1. Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Shawndra Renée Cox. I currently live and work in Lodi, NJ, but I was born and raised in Queens, NY. I am a single mother, a lover of all things creative and became a registered business owner at the age of 26 (technically, I was still 25 but turned 26, twenty-nine days later). I can’t say that my path to running my own business was something I knowingly set out on so much as it was a really cool, unexpected place I ended up at after taking a wrong turn somewhere. Well, maybe not a wrong turn. It was more like being forced to taking a detour due to major road construction.

As soon as I graduated from college, I applied for jobs, went on interviews and got rejected by every studio and firm I visited. Over the course of about 4 years, there were at least 30 places that I went to in person. Some places I had actual appointments with. Others, I just walked in with my portfolio and resume and tried to shake someone’s hand. Plus, you can tack on the 50+ places I sent my resume to that I just never heard from lol.

All the while, I was picking up work from random people on craigslist and friends of friends that were trying to start their own businesses. They were always quick jobs though, and with my newborn son, I was more focused on finding something steady and stable rather than searching for the next gig to maintain for the moment.

So, finally, I landed in a small photography studio in Queens. It was 17.2 miles away from the Manhattan office I had always pictured myself in and it was about 5 times smaller. Still, they liked my work and I created some really cool things there. That was until they stopped being able to keep up with their expenses and I ended up without a job. That was when I got hit with the choice (yet again) to get a job that I could somehow convince myself was still “art related” or dig in and fight to do the design work I wanted to, full time. That’s (the short version of) how my studio was born.

2. How did you become interested in design?
Drawing was always a major part of my childhood. I used to watch “Imagination Station” with Mark Kistler as the host. I would follow along and draw with him probably at the age of 5 or 6. He always had the cutest little cartoon creatures and was really big on “foreshortening” and “shading.” I learned how to incorporate both techniques into my drawings early on. Looking back, I was able to keep up with his pace and did a decent job of copying most of the characters he made up.

I would also watch the painting guru, Bob Ross. Around that same age (6 or 7), my mother got me one of his oil painting kits for Christmas and set me up with everything I needed to follow along. He went SUPER fast though! So, I always had to stop and pause the video tape in order to keep up with his steps. I think I tried to copy two of his paintings. I will always remember how in my mind, I thought the final product was just a mess but my mother gushed over it like it belonged in a museum. I never believed it was as good as she said it was because it didn’t look exactly like what Bob Ross had done. I guess that’s when I started setting the bar for myself.

I didn’t know, however, that design would be a career for me until senior year of high school when I joined the yearbook committee. It was the cropping and laying out of pictures that lead me to realize that there were careers better suited for me than my current major (medical assisting).

3. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?
Oh wow … I know I can sit here and tell you the designs I can’t stand to look at anymore but the favorites don’t come to mind as easily lol. One of my favorites is a piece I did for GrungeCake Magazine. The creator, a former classmate of mine, asked me to design a piece that used typography only. When I asked her what it should be about, she said it was up to me, it just needed to be cool and it just needed to say something. So, I came up with this.

It’s one of my favorite designs because of the bold simplicity of the black and white type and how well it conveys the message that GrungeCake Magazine is a great way to help artists “say something.”

Another one of my favorite designs was actually a crowdSPRING win for UrbanBound (Chicago). It was my second win, but my first time for web design. That’s why it’s a favorite because at the time, I was still very much a print designer. I never really thought I’d design a website or look to offer it to my clients but I surprised myself with that contest. It encouraged me to continue with small web design and programming projects. Now when it comes to larger scale sites, I will design the front end but leave all that coding to someone else! Still … it’s a big deal to me based on where I started out.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?
Life, culture, the similarities we all share and the people that bring their projects to me. I am constantly surprised and impressed by so many of the people I meet and do business with. They have such great ideas and creativity that they don’t get to make their priority but still want to bring to fruition in hopes that one day it will grow into something. It’s understandable to see someone work a 9-to-5 as an executive administrative assistant in Manhattan so that they can pay the bills. However, when that same person comes to me with amazing photographs taken somewhere out in the mountains of Pennsylvania, it’s the best feeling to see what’s really important and inspiring to them. Their inspiration becomes mine, and I use it to help design what they need. In turn (on a good day) they are then inspired by my work, and go off to do even more great things with a new logo, brand or website to represent them and what they do.

5. How do you come up with ideas for concepts after you read a buyer’s creative brief?
That’s actually one of the tougher things for me with crowdSPRING because I’m very used to meeting with clients, talking casually and touching on everything about what they do, why they do it, and the process they go through. We’ll even talk about things happening in their personal lives. A lot of times our conversations reveal more about what the client needs for their business. That connection isn’t really possible with the buyers on crowdSPRING so I try to go after the projects that I can relate to in some kind of way. A lot of the projects that I’ve worked on were because I simply read the buyer’s words and just knew “it should look like this” and things took off from there. Usually, there’s something written within the brief that sparks an idea because it reminds of something that happened to me or situation I was in. I try to bring my own past experiences and knowledge to the table and somehow turn it into a design that everyone else will connect with as well.

6. You were recently awarded a grant – can you tell us more about that?
One of the biggest shocks of my life. I never win ANYTHING! Winning this grant is pretty close to how winning the lottery must feel like. I still can’t remember where I saw the ad for it but I believe I was checking out a blog when I clicked on it but getting to the point … the fine folks at Intuit, makers of TurboTax and QuickBooks, decided to give out grants to small businesses that nominated themselves and/or got nominations from their clients and community. I ended up nominating my own business and then immediately gave up on asking anyone to vote for me and simply forgot about it. Precisely 2 weeks and 2 days later, I get a call from Laura Messerschmitt trying to explain to me that my one, sad, little vote actually won me $25,000. Crazy, I know!

It doesn’t stop there though. I am simply the winner for the month of January. A winner has been chosen for the month of February and there will be one more for the month of March. When all three have been notified, we will go up against each other for the grand prize (an additional $25K). The winner will be chosen by the number, and more importantly, the QUALITY of votes they collect during the contest voting period.

I think the greatest thing about it all (besides the money) is that this whole situation is making me much more vocal about what I do. I’m pulling together great resources, old and new, in order to try and make the most out of this situation because I know how I am. I could run through $25K easily but all the high end equipment in the world wouldn’t be of much use if I don’t speak up. Before this grant, I probably would never have reached out to crowdSPRING, and chances are, you would have been less inclined to interview me. I can think of the accounts I’ve lost in the past simply because of my age or failure to convince an individual on my capabilities. Now, chances are that I can get a good number of them signed on.

7. What is your dream design project?
I love projects that entail working with clients that are building something from scratch and then watching it develop. Branding, to me, is one of the more exciting things that I do because, if you’re lucky, you get to see your design reproduced in different ways for different media. Imagine how a true ego maniac feels in a house of mirrors. Branding something that gets really big is like seeing yourself all over the place. It’s just cool.

If I may be more specific and increase my odds of speaking things into existence, I’ve recently set my sites on one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Havana Central. Granted, they’re not starting from scratch but they are developing and expanding in new and exciting ways. I follow them on twitter and noticed that the design for their page wasn’t really branded, and just didn’t seem as appetizing as it could be. So, I took it upon myself to make something new for them and they liked it! I was then able to have lunch with the Social Media Manager and learned so much. I love their food, and see nothing but great things for them but personally think some re-branding is in need as they prepare for bigger and greater things. I would honestly love to be there for it. From a twitter page to napkins, coasters, labels, menus, websites, signage … I can just imagine it! Somehow being a part of it all would truly be making something out of nothing for me.

8. How do you promote your work?
So far, it’s been mostly word of mouth from myself and happy clients. I’m looking to make some funny (at least I hope they’ll be funny) videos for YouTube and conduct more door-to-door like activities in the future. Driving my son to school often results in me spotting someone who could use my help, whether it be a url on the back of a truck or some scary font on a flier. Also, I hope that conducting more interviews like this one will help as well.

9. What are some of the challenges of being a small business owner?
Money, time and resources for sure. Everyday is another challenge to properly manage your time, find the resources that fit your budget and make somethin’ out of nothin’.   😉

10. What are other ways you use your creativity?
Raising my, now 4 year old, son brings up constant chances to be creative. I’m currently trying to teach him how to spell and type the word “trains” on his netbook. He’s obsessed with trains and insists on watching them on YouTube whenever he can. He currently knows how to open his netbook, turn it on, double click on the Firefox icon and finally on the YouTube bookmark. I then spell out T-R-A-I-N-S and tell him to hit the “Enter” button. He can actually type out the word “trains” better than he can his own name now that I think about it.

I also love cooking and catching episodes of Bravo’s Top Chef. I’ll let you in on a little known fact about me. Sometimes … when I’m cooking, I pretend I’m in a quickfire challenge and have to get the food plated in an eye catching way in 30 minutes flat. Sometimes I get a little too into it and catch myself really trying to hustle around the kitchen lol. Would that count as being creative or just kind of sad and weird?

11. If you weren’t designing, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t designing full time, I’d probably be a disgruntled medical assistant forgetting random doodles in patient charts and studying photography on the side. All I can say is thank goodness for my high school yearbook … my life really could have worked out that way.

12. What do you do with your free time?
I play with my babe (my son) and pay my mom surprise visits. I love music and dance as well as photography. I like to travel, and just have experiences outside of “my office” and AWAY from the computer; even though I always end up right back at it again … OOPS.


Thanks Shawndra!