Hi diane! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I have been designing professionally since 1996 when I moved to Denver and worked as a designer there for 4.5 years. I then went to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to study for my Masters of Fine Arts in Design.
I knew even in undergrad at Auburn that I wanted to be a professor. But I also wanted to work first then teach. I continue to work and run my own design firm since 2002. I am thankful that my client work counts as research. I love helping clients build their businesses. I have focused on smaller start-up and solo-entrepreneurs who have small teams. In 2012 I started a podcast / webshow called Design Recharge. In my business, I mainly focus on branding and helping businesses get their online presence to build a customer base with killer content and create a site that is continually being added to.
What brought you to design? What kept you here?
As a kid I was an entrepreneur and a designer, but didn’t know it. My first business was a catalog for different types of bookmarks you could purchase. Then I would create that for the person. (This was before the computer, all hand done.)
I was drawn to solving problems visually, making things more visually appealing, and those same things keep me there. More and more, I enjoy the strategy side of building a company’s brand.
Why is strategy such an important skill to hone as a designer?–I ask this because there are times where I encounter designers (and frankly speaking, design programs) that don’t really care to focus on strategic business practices.
I think students and early-to-the-industry designers need to understand how to talk to and listen to a client. They need to understand that their actions and body language speak loudly to their interest and engagement in the project.
They also need to understand audience and how that affects all their decisions. They aren’t designing what they like; they are designing what is best for the client’s customers.
I use Donald Miller’s Story Brand framework to teach about clarity of messaging when designing and doing strategy for web and really any project.
Can you tell us about Design Recharge? How did it come to be?
Design Recharge is a weekly web show and podcast devoted to inspiring, connecting, and educating designers. It is a community where designers interact weekly about topics relevant to design and design business without leaving our offices and taking hours out of our work day.
For many years I was hungry for a community of designers that would inspire me, motivate me, and mentor me. I am a solopreneur and am only able to attend a few conferences each year. This small amount of group learning and connecting left me energized and inspired but it did not allow my design battery to remain charged. I needed something more, I wanted to access the design community on a regular basis and at the time there was not a design community or AIGA in my city. That desire to connect with other creatives is the motivation behind the Design Recharge show. I found other creative entrepreneurs like me who get together to learn and discuss relevant issues and techniques that help us grow as designers and entrepreneurs.
In June of 2012, I began recording live interviews weekly with other designers on an interactive, online platform. I have changed platforms a few times but always have had the shows live and interactive, so people can tune in live. Each episode is available for free, and this online community of creatives has grown each week. Each episode is an hour long and has been described as a laid-back conversation between creatives.
Some people may not realize how much work goes into organizing things like Design Recharge. What does it take to run a large-scale production like Design Recharge?
You need an Ashleigh Barkley! Ashleigh came on the team very early and allows me to focus on the research, interviews, and creating content while she takes care of all the scheduling. She is honestly a true blessing to me. She prays for Design Recharge and serves as true support for me over the years, especially when I have considered walking away.
The podcast takes at minimum 10 hours per week to pull off but normally about 15 hours for everything I am doing. I need to carve out more time but need to offload more tasks first. And that is what I worked on this summer by hiring an intern to create weekly graphics for the show and write the show notes.
You are also a professor and mentor among the many other hats that you wear. What are some of the most common challenges that you have observed among your students and mentees?–particularly as they enter the workforce?
They might think they have all the training they will need behind them. This lesson comes as a hard pill to swallow. I am always learning and growing even 23 years after I graduated. I think I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that makes people dangerous and cocky. I want my students and entering designers to know they need to ask questions and not bulldoze through things and make other people feel bad because they don’t know things that you do know. Or they are doing something in a way that they were taught to do a different way. There are many ways to attack a problem. Your professors or books taught you one way; be open to new methods.
The other important thing for emerging designers to remember is if you take time off and only do your day job (not pursue a side hustle, freelance, or other consistent projects), your skills will fade and you will be pigeon-holed into a certain type of job. If you want to be able to pivot you have to always be learning and growing and advancing your skill set.
One last piece of advice: I think having a positive attitude, making connections, and helping everyone I can (without having ulterior motives) are the things that have made my life richer and happier.
diane, I have one last question that I know you and our readers may or may not feel comfortable with, but I will ask it on a lark, just in case you’d be open to talking about it… You mentioned prayer earlier in one of your questions. I know that there is usually a fine line drawn between the church and state of work and spirituality. However, I’d imagine that many designers and young professionals out there have different faiths, belief systems and/or secular values and principles that they adopt over time. How has your personal and professional journey been impacted by your spiritual journey?
My faith is a big part of my life. I feel called to be a teacher but I do not feel called to leave the field. I am not trying to get huge clients and have them on my resume. I am trying to help people make their dreams come true by making their business successful, so they can do what they love and help other people along the way.
The reason I give away so much of my time is because of my faith. But I never feel like I am giving up anything, I am receiving so much more than I get with anything that I do for AIGA or school or Design Recharge.
But my faith compels me to focus on others and honestly–when I am having a bad day–that helps. [It] helps me remember it is not about me. I believe we are called to love each other and help people. So many people don’t feel loved or they feel alone and hopeless. My mission is to make others feel welcome, wanted, and find their purpose.