Understanding Relationships through Graphic Design

Bryan, as a veteran copywriter, I have to say you are absolutely the most passionate and reflective designer I’ve ever worked with on any team. I love how consistently you make it clear that work can nurture relationships and make personal investments in keeping with that belief. Amazing. Congratulations on your seven years of service with North Star, and thanks for always being ready to build others up and do the best work we can. What stands out to you as you survey the last year at NSM? What are some highlights for you?

Bryan: We’ve worked to make our website projects more collaborative in the last year. These are led by marketing managers who nurture the relationship and keep the pulse on client needs and expectations so we know where to go. It’s as if the client has a rep within our team. As a designer, I can move forward with content that is contributing in exciting ways: a more agile approach; iterative design; breaking complex things into smaller pieces; faster reviews. All of it has become even more strategic and customer-focused, and we get to look closely at the funnels we’re building to see if they address the target audience and resonate with them.

As websites have become commoditized, and are far easier to spin-up than ever, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to focus more of my design work to strengthen what goes INTO the site; not merely the aesthetic and functionality. Each page has a job to serve a known audience; content is crafted to equip readers with insights we’ve learned they value. And the ROI our work generates is proof that we’re connecting with actual people, not just “users”.

How long have you been a designer? What does innovating look like for you at this stage?

 

Bryan: I’ve been a designer for 16 years now. My trajectory and philosophy are that design is the way in which I publicly express my understanding of people, relationships, and their motivations and desires. My chief interests are rooted in language. Design is the way in which I attempt to enhance and put language in a visual medium. For me, it’s very literary-based. While I appreciate design trends and I conform to them as a way of staying in the conversation — my chief interest is the eternal or the unchanging way that people communicate. It’s a daunting but rewarding pursuit. 

Say a little more about that. What do you mean?

 

Bryan: I work to present words in a way that brings out the value of the words. What does that look like in concrete terms? When I design, I want to work closely with the copywriter. Not merely take what they give me, but bring in their work and break the words into the most resonant and succinct flow, culminating in a call to action. I’m always trying to be pithy and use a poetic structure. For me, so much of design is all about punchy phrases, visually arranged to lead the eye to an end that is leading a person to act or go deeper into the value offering. 

There are a lot of rules in play that I’m connecting and using. Color, textures, visual focus, contrast, size — it’s the same rule applied differently every time. In this way, it’s a lot like the notes on a musical scale. The same seven notes, but you can use them to create a million different outcomes. 

And, again, those outcomes are based on the needs of a relationship. That’s where the value is created; not in stock copy or stock design. NSM doesn’t help anyone by creating something that does not connect to real life. We’re expressing real stories and scenarios through the various channels we find most effective for connecting people. 

This journey of growing as communicators reveals the deficits in our own communication. It’s an exciting adventure. It’s humbling, and it’s good for businesses and schools. Meaningful, delightful communication is my highest professional aspiration.

What is looming large for you these days in your design work?

 

Bryan: Well, as an agency we’ve made a pivot to education, which I believe was true to the story of North Star because schools have always been a part of our story. It has been a welcome relief to be able to focus on something that, at its heart, I have a great allegiance to — education that helps children and young people. I keep the marketing and financial needs of schools firmly in mind, but for me, the true end goal is to bless children and young adults; to help steward them and guide them with wisdom and knowledge so they can appreciate the world God has made and pass that on to others. I never forget people as the beneficiaries of the work I do. 

From your perspective, what do students need right now, and how does your work contribute to helping meet those needs?

 

Bryan: Clarity. I think students need people who don’t create noise. People who are really focused on true priorities. You know, it’s a comfort to people when we don’t add more meaningless stuff to think about. Schools can care for people through the way they curate and distill what they have to say. Careful guides. Caring guides. Sensitivity. This is a time for quiet; a time for reflection. In this season it’s good for us to be even more selective with our words, especially when we’re remote. There is that inevitable loss of communication when we’re not face to face. 

What do you want to work on next, or what do you hope the next year will look like?

 

Bryan: I want our design and the content we produce to be unlike anything out there; not just following conventions. In our pursuit of meeting needs and solving problems, I hope that we can creatively put together some resources and methodologies that are like what the scripture describes — singing a new song. There are so many conventions, and while they are helpful in making communication efficient, we have the opportunity to bring new life, joys, and wonder to the work we do. My hope for the next year is that we add to conversations with new and beautiful words and ways of seeing. 

On the personal side, while I have long been a very enthusiastic gardener, especially with desert flora, this season has taken me to ridiculous places of even more superlative joy and awe and treasure hunting lust. My yard is starting to look like a botanical garden. People stop as they go by on the greenway. They ask for plants or imply they’d like something as they walk their dog. There are so many hummingbirds, busy bees, all sorts of creatures that are seeking repose in the nooks of our yard. It gets better every day. 

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