A Well-Designed Interview About Design—Part I

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with more than 25 years of experience designing materials for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

Recently a graduate student from California State University at Fullerton called to interview me about the world of design.  It was a great way to share 25 years of experience with students who are trying to get their “feet wet” in the business of design. Here’s some of the questions and answers from the interview. I am splitting this interview into two parts.  Part two will be featured in my next blog post.



1. How many years have you been at your current position?
I have been full-time creative director at HWDS since 2003. From 1991 to 2003, I served at HWDS as a creative consultant senior designer while we were growing the business. All in all, I have worked in the field of advertising and creative marketing/advertising design for a total of more than 25 years.

2.  What are some of your experiences in the Graphic Design field?

  • I always give the client one design that incorporates their vision. Then I provide alternative options.
  • I make it a point to give extremely responsive service.
  • I allow for patience and calm when dealing with clients. Clients need to see everything in a visual representation. They cannot simply “imagine” what you are proposing. Be clear and straightforward.
  • I try to be  flexible and at the same firm with my clients’ requests for changes.  Sometimes it is best to just usher the project to completion even if the amount of changes get somewhat excessive and cause lots of frustration. But it is also good to be firm. If you feel that a client us asking for too much, be sure to let them know that there will be an additional charge for the extra time.
  • I make it a point not to be a “prima donna” about my designs. Not every creation can or will turn out to be a masterpiece. Often commercial design has to be highly functional, user-friendly  and largely informative. That does not mean that it shouldn’t be tasteful and clean.

3.  What type of training/degree do you have?
I have formal education in design and the arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I earned a BFA.  I also was an exchange student at Otis Parsons School of Design where I took courses in illustration and design.  As part of my education, I worked as an intern at a book publisher in Chicago during my last year of college.  Here I learned the ins and outs of how to design and layout book covers and how to set up camera-ready art for printing.  Following my graduation, I continued taking classes at UCLA Extension in publication design, interface design, motion graphics and special effects, photo treatments, advertising concepts, digital animation and marketing.  My career has included work for a printer, production company, advertising agency, public transportation agency (government), regional planning agency (government) and a marketing firm.  In addition, I have served various clients including healthcare organizations, politicians, cable companies, law firms, transportation consultants, investment firms an  municipalities. Furthermore, I have worked on campaigns for air quality, recycling and solid waste, affordable housing, ridesharing, water quality, and other community and quality of life issues.

4.  How did your training/degree prepare you for your career?
I had a varied college career and educational background.  Believe it or not, I went to 10 colleges and universities where I developed a diverse transcript of classes.  I have a diverse background in political science/public administration and graphic design with a bachelors of the arts in each discipline.  Unlike most college graduates today, I use not one, but two college degrees. Having this diverse background allowed me to more marketable and specialized with my art. Indeed, I have worked primarily creating materials for government agencies, public officials, and issue campaigns, hence blending art with politics.

5. What type of skill set have you learned outside of your career that are applicable to graphic design?
Indeed, with just a fine arts degree, I was virtually unprepared for the real world.
I had to learn people skills—hiring and managing employees, customer service, customer relations, problem solving and putting out “fires.”  Next, I had to learn skills for running a business—budgeting, taxes, bookkeeping, payroll, organization, insurance, and banking. Finally, writing a blog helped me to hone my written communication skills.  Writing is critical when preparing project estimates and extensive Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for government marketing projects.

Don’t miss part two of this interview on logo design.  Coming next week…


If your company needs an elegantly designed publication, for print or online purposes,  please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more please visit westdesign.com

Harlan West is the author of successfulcorporatecommunications.com and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 25 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.

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