Jessica Walsh, Eike König, Ollie Olanipekun and Danielle Pender offer up advice for creatives
Following on from our event with Wix Playground, we hear from the lucky designers – from a “fresh freelance” to a creative director running her own company – who held one-on-one video calls with the creatives they admire most.
- It's Nice That
- 14 May 2020
- Reading Time
- 7 minute read
For many of us, the video call has become a second home over the past six weeks or so. Since the majority of the world went into lockdown, work meetings, catch-ups with friends and family, even large-scale events – all have migrated into the virtual world. Two weeks ago, we at It’s Nice That joined the party with an online event, hosted by Wix Playground, which saw some of the world’s leading creatives share their top advice and creative tips with a global audience of over 900 people.
Off the back of that event, we launched a “Meet the Speakers” opportunity for 15 lucky applicants to have (you guessed it) a video call one-on-one with the speaker of their choice. The idea was that these would be mini mentoring sessions, the best networking opportunity of your life, and a fun chat all rolled into one – a chance for people to connect in the age of physical distancing. These calls took place last week and the reviews are in! Here, we speak to some of the 15 people who met the creatives they most admire.
Our callers were a truly global bunch, dialling in from Peru, Jordan, and the Philippines, as well as Europe and the US, and they ranged in experience from “a fresh freelance” to the creative director of her own company. We also had a couple of recent graduates, who voiced their anxiety about entering a highly uncertain jobs market.
“We started by introducing ourselves and I mentioned that I just graduated from ArtCenter College of Design the other day,” recalls Danny Gray, whose call was with HORT’s Eike König. “This started a conversation about being a young designer and starting a career in quarantine. It was very insightful and uplifting. Eike mentioned that as a designer and as a person, if you are able to find a way through a situation like this, then there is nothing else that could possibly stop you in the future.”
Dyneisha Gross is a graphic designer, originally from Baltimore, who spoke to Ollie Olanipekun from Superimpose. She says she entered the call with Ollie armed with questions dealing with “variety in work, that pesky thing we call artist block, and portfolio and interview advice”, but her main anxieties were also around “graduating college during a pandemic”. Ollie, she says, “responded with hopeful and kind words. His positivity, reassurance, and encouragement were eye-opening for me in so many ways.”
Dyneisha also spoke to Ollie about entering the design industry as a person of colour. “Everywhere I turn I am constantly in search of someone who looks like me,” she explains. “Ollie physically showed me, in the living flesh of a person of colour, that I am worthy enough of getting a job and my skin colour shouldn’t take me down. And I believe him.” One of her favourite nuggets of wisdom imparted by Ollie was: “The industry isn’t letting you in, you are contributing to the industry. They need you.”
Another recent graduate, Lana Soufeh, spoke to Ollie from Amman, Jordan. “It took us less than a minute to start opening up topics all the way from work to our personal life,” says the creative, who recently graduated from the American University of Beirut.
Some of Lana’s particular worries stem from where she lives. “When I moved here last summer I had a hard time fitting in and accepting things,” she explains. “A big part of it was that I used to be very self-conscious when it came to my work, and to be honest I still am, of course, because much of my work and what I like doing does not fit well with being a girl here and is considered to be ‘too dark’ or even ‘boy-ish’.” At the start of lockdown, she decided to create an anonymous Instagram account, where she can express herself and “be whoever I want to be”, she says.
Lana says speaking to Ollie reassured her. “Hearing someone like Ollie telling me this one-on-one had a great impact regarding my confidence with my work,” she says. “He told me that really being true to my work and to myself is what would move me forward.” It made her realise, she goes on, “that the odds are there is somebody else out there who will respect and recognise you well for it.” Plus, it turns out that she and Ollie are still in touch and plan to speak again, as “there are a lot of topics we haven’t covered yet!”
Speaking to each of our video callers in turn, self-confidence becomes a recurring theme. Tiffany Chung is a graphic designer based in Los Angeles, who also has a public health background which helps her in her work “unraveling women’s health issues through the lens of graphic design”. She spoke to Danielle Pender, the co-founder and editor of Riposte magazine.
While they started with introductions and with Tiffany getting some feedback from Danielle on her portfolio, during their conversation, it became clear that a fear of failure had the potential to hold Tiffany back. “Danielle mentioned that failure is something that has been fetishised, and people try to avoid it at all costs, but she said that it’s not so bad to fail,” Tiffany reflects. “In fact, it usually turns into a learning experience if it doesn’t work out. It’s really about viewing it in a more positive manner. Furthermore, she explained that I will not know what I am truly capable of unless I try different things without the fear of failure.”
The upshot is that Tiffany, who wants to establish a design practice focused on women’s health, is determined to remain bold. “This whole experience has taught me to create more fearlessly,” she says. “Chatting with Danielle was a reminder that creating and designing is all about experimentation, and experimentation is all about testing out what works and what doesn’t work, so failure is sometimes a part of the package.”
Others went into their calls with more specific agendas in mind. “I knew our time was limited, so I wanted to use it well,” says Robbie Kerr, a Scottish designer and art director based in Amsterdam, who works as a senior designer at Design Bridge and whose call was with Jessica Walsh of &Walsh. He wanted to talk specifically about passion projects and Jessica’s approach to creating work for social change. “I hope she didn’t mind, but after quickly dispensing with the niceties, we just kicked off straight into some questions and quickly got to chatting,” he says.
Jessica also spoke to two women, who run their own agencies: Renée Lamothe, who founded Manège, a multi-disciplinary studio in Montreal; and Fernanda Medina, the creative director and co-founder of Provincia, a design practice based in Arequipa, Peru. As someone who also runs her own creative business, Renée had some specific areas she wanted to discuss with Jessica, mainly how to effectively present the studio’s work on its website in all its variety. “Since I just launched my studio, I’m torturing myself with so many questions, like, should I find a super-specific niche or should I keep doing a variety of different things to stay stimulated?” Renée explains. “I often get the feeling that choosing the wrong option would be a tragic, horrible mistake, but speaking with Jessica, she always circled back to the fact that I’m the only one who can make those decisions for myself.”
Presentation of work also formed the main topic of conversation between Danielle and Matteo Vandelli, who calls himself a “fresh freelance” graphic designer based in Faenza, Italy. “I’ll definitely try to focus on how I introduce myself,” he says, looking back on his discussion with Danielle about the importance of first impressions and clear communication. “If you’re seeking a new job, you need to know that showing nice projects to clients may not be enough: you need to give them solutions to their own problems.”
Meanwhile, for some, the video call represented a life ambition fulfilled. “I couldn’t stop smiling at first, because it was a surreal experience meeting him virtually,” says Pau Tiu, an art director based in Cainta, in the Philippines, who works for an independent music label and who spoke to Eike König. “I have admired his works for such a long time, even before starting my career as an artist. Meeting him was definitely a dream realised.”
Pau and Eike’s conversation focused on the importance of experimentation in design and art. According to Pau, the founder of HORT, speaking from his Berlin studio, said: “‘If you don’t paint, try painting! If you don’t dance, try going to the club and start dancing!’ We laughed about it, but it actually resonated with me a lot.” By the end of the call, Pau was feeling both inspired and motivated: “Eike acted like a mentor to me (even for just a brief moment) and shared with me valuable lessons from his own experiences when he was in the same position as I am. It was exactly the push I needed in these trying times.”
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