Cultivating the Artist’s Eye for Design and Collaboration

Even after working with you for years now, Kyle, I’m still surprised and delighted by how fresh and exceptional your design work is! I know our whole team is similarly impressed — even with your first drafts — and that clients love what you craft for them. I also know that you hate having the spotlight on you. I’d say you’re definitely in the running for our team’s Quietest Hero Award. So, thanks for taking time to talk for this interview and letting the rest of us brag about how much we enjoy you and your work! I want to hear more about how you approach design work and creative ideation.

Kyle: I’ve always been attracted to art and to design in general. Even as a child, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was encouraged a lot as a youth, as well. At one point I was nominated for a scholarship in printmaking, and all of that stuck with me and helped me identify a strength of mine early on. It turns out, the more you see the world through a creative eye, the more you see it differently. I’ve always been very introverted and found art as an outlet to communicate feelings. It’s funny how a piece of paper can feel like a friend, ready to listen to you and what you’re thinking, feeling, and trying to express. Art really can be like that.

Early on, by high school, even, I became very curious about how the printing process actually worked. My dad wanted to print some of my artwork. And that drew me into the world of print and design, which had been a mystery. I began learning about printmaking, monotype work, and graphic design. I was learning printing and graphic design through an occupational program and on the job, and that was great — having a curiosity about something and being able to work at a place doing it at the same time. It all connected quickly and easily for me, and that was my entrance into the field. After that, I went to school full-time and kept learning on the job, so I’ve been a graphic designer now since 1994.

How do you approach your design work these days?

 

Kyle: With graphic design, I love its ability to make somebody think. For me, I’m working to make imagery and design that help people think or to try and capture a feeling or emotion. I’ve thought more about my process in the last year. I’ve always been a “just do it” kind of guy and never tried to reverse engineer how I tackle something like a branding project, for example. Part of the problem with trying to describe the process is that whatever I might say will never be definitive! It’s such an ongoing process that keeps evolving.

We can say that branding is about facilitating a relationship between our client and their client. I need to build something that is unique, memorable, well-constructed, and that actually encapsulates who they are as much as that can be done in a glance.

Some of the principles of journalism come into play. We start with a kick-off meeting and ask all these who/what/where/why/how questions as we try to get a complete understanding of our client and their work. Then our creative team is cut loose and we are free to start exploring how those answers flow or connect and create something beautiful with that. They’ve given me all these puzzle pieces — I can’t just go make my own puzzle, I have to use what they’ve given me! And, the idea is to put the pieces together in a way that expresses the personality of who they are connected to who they want to communicate with — the history, what I would call a theme, and an understanding who they are at a core level. The more we understand that, the better we can be at our job to create a brand. I feel like it’s a privilege to come alongside them to help them on their mission. I feel blessed that I can do that for a living. It’s an honor.

I’d love to hear just a bit about how you think collaboration fits into this process of design.

 

Kyle: Well, I think that it’s critical to our success as designers and continued growth. I’m always willing to listen and to learn. When you’re starting a design project, we know that it’s critical to begin on the right path. Early on, especially, it’s great to get another set of eyes on what you’re sketching out. We have a great team at North Star. Everyone is honest, willing to hear a critique, and eager to give one. That’s what we want most — a critical eye. It will make the finished work so much better.

And really, with our model, every one of our clients gets the benefit of the collective experience and expertise of our entire design team. That’s around 60 years of collective learning and growth! So, I do love collaboration. In art classes, it was one of my favorite parts, gathering around each other’s work, finding ways to improve it. Some people feared it but I loved it. There was always something mentioned that I never thought about, and I loved that because it helps you see it as bigger than you originally could. And these days, the ultimate goal is to deliver value for our client — so anything we can do to make sure they get the best that we can deliver — that’s what we’re committed to as a team.

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