“Don’t sweat the little stuff?” Ellen Lupton asked the crowd gathered for the Emerging Designers Symposium on the first morning of the 2015 AIGA Design Conference. “That does not apply to us. We sweat bullets over the little stuff, kerning, smart quotes. That’s why we’re here: to celebrate the details.”
Then Lupton (Cooper-Hewitt’s curator of contemporary design and director of the graphic design MFA program at MICA, Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore) shifted to the real reason so many people had turned up to hear from four up-and-coming designers. “What does it mean to be successful?” she continued. “Success means giving to our community. Contributing to the design conversation on many levels,” like Andrea Pippins, Dawn Hancock, and Lindsey Turner do. Then with characteristic irony she added, “All women! Isn’t that always the way? Damn! I need a white dude! I’m glad Erik Marinovich returned my call.”
Andrea Pippins: make fateful mistakes
After jobs at Hallmark, TV Land, and Nick at Nite, Andrea Pippins had experience, but she was still searching for more fulfilling work. Then one day she posted an illustration (she calls it a “doodle”) on her blog of a woman sporting an enormous afro with strands of hair made from looping phrases that spelled out personal regrets. People were floored by the drawing. They not only shared it on practically every social media platform available at the time, they appropriated the image as logos of their own and printed it on merchandise. And without a signature or accreditation of any kind, Pippins watched her work go big, but she didn’t see any return. At least not immediately. Ultimately, however, she says “that image, and my mistake, changed my life.”
After moving back in with her mom during the recession, she opened an Etsy shop to sell products with her illustration work—and this time she got the profit. “When I had to move back to my mom’s it was hard, but I was connected. And I was willing to show my portfolio to anyone who would look. I learned to just keep putting myself back out there.” Her message was clear: those who choose the easy path may find security, but they rarely find personal fulfillment. Now Pippins—warm, poised, and blessed with hair that inspires envy—is a nationally recognized figure in design and a teacher at MICA, where she shares her hard-earned wisdom with her students.
Dawn Hancock: a little kindness goes a long way
“Will you ask questions and not pretend you know everything? Are you hungry? Do you share? Do you give back?” asks Dawn Hancock, founder of Firebelly design firm. “When I look for collaborators, I look for those who want to do fulfilling work, not work that only makes them money.” A little money helps, though, as Hancock knows well. “My life was propelled by Kent,” she explains, “a divorced guy with two young children who I barely knew, but who believed in me enough to co-sign a credit card application so I could start my career.”
Hancock channeled that kindness, as well as the lessons she learned after the death of her mother when she was just 10 years old, into an altruistic outlook that she turned into a career when she started Firebelly, a collaborative design studio that “values honesty, empathy, and good design for good reason.” Hancock ended her talk with a reminder that “In the end, all we truly have is time. Some of us have less than others. So never, ever take that for granted.”
Erik Marinovich: F-bomb the ordinary
Erik Marinovich’s talk began with a warning. “There are a lot of F-bombs in my presentation. I’m sorry. Just please try to deal with it.” After an early start working in obscurity for two big branding companies, Marinovich quit his day job and moved to San Francisco to pursue lettering, a passion that’s now captured the attention of many fans and followers, as well as some sizable clients.
Though Marinovich is a tireless promoter of Friends of Type’s Keep Fresh, Stay Rad, a collection of 100 postcards, and Let’s Go Letter Hunting: A Field Guide for Typographic Expeditions, the first-time father admits he has to manage his time more carefully now than we he first started working as a designer. “I can’t stay up until 4 a.m. every night working on my passion projects. But having a kid also helps you live in the moment. Don’t focus so hard on your work that you miss the quality of life all around you. Pay attention. Be aware. Don’t do it for ‘likes’ or money. Do it because you value it. Try to remain authentic.”
Lindsey Turner: fail early, fail often, start again
To any of of us in the room who sometimes feel like we’re more lucky than good, that someday someone’s going to escort us from the room because we don’t deserve to be there with the great designers of our time, consider Lindsey Turner. Once a shy writer and designer who hid at home behind her laptop while she worked away on magazine layouts, she now works with hundreds of colleagues as a designer and project lead at IDEO Cambridge, one of the most respected multidisciplinary design thinking consultants in the world. What she brings to the table is an outsider’s perspective, a love of language, and the one human characteristic that always seems to be in short supply: empathy.
“I don’t like to tell my own story. But I like to tell others’ stories. I like to make others successful. If you want to do that, you have to reach outside your network. You have to find new people who can offer you new insights. I say ‘fake it till you make it.’ Work as hard as you can every day. There’s no substitute for hard work.”