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Partnership and Recognition: The Rewards of Being an Artist and Graphic Designer

Partnership and Recognition

There are many internally-rewarding aspects of being an artist and a graphic designer.

First, there’s the joy that comes in creating — in putting paintbrush to canvas; in testing doodles on a Wacom tablet; in harnessing the power of white space.

On another hand, there’s the thrill — those inevitable stomach flutters — of presenting a new brand to a company, organization, or group who’s ready to put visuals to their values.

On yet another hand, there’s the surge of pride that comes knowing you’ve finished a creation — whether or not it’s for anyone other than yourself, and whether or not it’s perfect. Simply knowing that you’ve created can be all you need.

These are not mutually exclusive — there are times when I’m astonished by the joy that comes in creation, filled up knowing that I’ve given a visual voice to companies with a brand presentation, and proud of what I’ve been able to complete.

But of course, there are times you need more than the inner recognition. Times when you need just a bit of outside validation; times when a simple cheer from someone else can push you past a hurdle or up that mountain.

At those times, I’m grateful for two other aspects of being an artist and graphic designer: partnership and recognition.

Taking pride in partnership

Partnership is such an important piece of business. As a business owner, there is absolutely no way I could reach the milestones I set out for myself without the help and partnership of others.

This starts with my clients. I’ve talked before about the importance of embodying your ideal client. Another way to get more in tune with them is simple: Surround yourself with them. My ideal client is a traveler; someone who knows what it’s like to have a heart filled with wanderlust. Someone who knows how important it is to create a customer experience that people want to write home about, even in these days of Snapchat and Instagram. Someone who realizes that a destination isn’t just a place you go; it’s the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and unique flavors of a region.

Much of my work in branding travel and tourism industry clients has been inspired by partnerships with these ideal clients: Visit Finger Lakes, Seneca, Livingston and Cayuga Counties, Bristol Mountain and Roseland Waterpark, The Quiet Place, and more.

Partnership goes beyond the clients I work (and develop friendships) with. I’ve also built a strong network of partners I can turn to to provide help at different steps of a project, from mapmakers to copywriters and fellow graphic designers to print shop owners.

These partnerships become crucial when I hit stopping points, when I need to get out of my own head, and when there’s simply something that’s better left done by someone else.

Knowing I get to work with such equally passionate partners in both my clients and fellow business owners adds a level of fulfillment to my work that simply wouldn’t be possible if I were to hunker down in my cave — no matter how cozy that cave might be — and churn out work regardless of the relationships behind it.

Realizing the power of recognition

Our second source that goes beyond inner validation is exactly what you might think: outside recognition.

Taking compliments is something some people are better at than others. I’ve always been on the shier end of the spectrum, grateful for the recognition, but quick to move on to the next thing.

Lately, though, I’m realizing just how powerful recognition can be.

In October, I was delighted to be honored at the New York State Tourism Industry Association (NYSTIA) awards with my client and partner, Seneca County. Seneca County was recognized with the Excellence in Tourism Marketing Award – County Effort, selected from a field of strong nominees from the 62 eligible counties in New York State.

The award was given for Seneca County’s 2016 visitor guide, called “Faces and Stories from the Finger Lakes.” It’s a full-color, 50-page brochure that tells the stories of local tourism personalities and businesses found throughout Seneca County, as well as the residents who are proud to call it home.

I was honored as part of the award because of my work as the guide’s designer, but naturally it would not have been possible without the partnership and unique skills of the Seneca County staff and volunteers — their storytelling, community building, and trust in me as a designer.

On top of that rewarding partnership, was the outside recognition of such a prestigious award nice? Absolutely. It provided that extra layer of validation that both Seneca County and I can use to power our work moving forward.

It’s not the first award I’ve been honored to be a part of, but it was a solid reminder of the energy that comes in hearing someone else give confirmation — an energy that keeps us going on days when the going is tough.

Should we all work solely for the purpose of outside recognition? Absolutely not. But it sure does deserve a spot in the rewards you experience from doing what you do.

Most of all, show gratitude

No matter the rewards you feel from doing what you do — whether internal or external — it all comes back to gratitude.

Inner recognition and outside validation mean very little — and are harder to enjoy — if we do not stop to express our gratitude for what we do. I could not breathe in that energy and exhale my work if I was not infinitely grateful to be able to own my design studio and get out and paint.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me in the comment below: What do you find most rewarding about what you do? What are you most grateful for?

Wearing My Tourist Cap (Beret!): Travel Inspiration for Design + Life from Limoux, France

Travel Inspiration for Design and Life from Limoux, France

There are few sacred things in this world that bring us both immediate joy as well as unfettered, life-changing benefits as time goes on. For me, one of those sacred things is travel.

Travel exposes us to new cultures.

Travel opens our minds to new ideas.

Travel pushes us beyond our comfort zones to build our confidence.

Travel, in so many ways, is more than just the pictures you snap while you’re hiking that waterfall. It’s the conversations you have over authentic food; it’s the thrill of walking into the unknown of a new experience; it’s the sense of pride that comes with successfully navigating an airport in a foreign city.

Travel expands who we are as people. Fortunately for me, I’ve also learned to make travel essential to my design work.

Putting on my tourist hat in Limoux, France

For me, travel doesn’t just expand my mindset, attitudes, and knowledge — it also expands my work as a graphic designer for the travel and tourism world.

It’s one of the reasons why, no matter where I go, I like to put on my tourist hat. (Oftentimes, I truly do wear a hat.) I step into the role of tourist — sometimes more easily than others — to truly experience what someone completely new to an area might notice, do, and feel.

Playing tourist was easy this fall, as I embarked on my first-ever painting retreat, where I joined 10 other painters in Limoux, France, for two weeks of painting and culture under the leadership of one of my favorite artists, Lori Putnam.

Not only did this time dedicated to painting completely transform my techniques and outlook — it also gave me the chance to bring back some key lessons for travel and tourism experience design:

Simplify your maps. As I traveled around, in a land where the language was predominantly foreign to me, I realized the importance of simple maps — maps not overcrowded with every tourism attraction, ever — but simple maps pointing out the essentials: pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, and more.

Make the travel experience about more than just sights. Appeal to all five senses. Experience tastes (we enjoyed native breads, cheeses, cassoulet, and more); capture sounds (the flowing of the river and bustle of the people as we set up our easels and painted); inspire scent recognition with food, soaps, and nature. (By the way, French lavender is my favorite!)

Encourage local activism and pride. Engaging with locals who are excited to welcome you is one of the easiest ways to feel at home in a foreign place. Designing experiences that inspire people to interact and engage in conversation is the best way to go beyond the TripAdvisor “Top 10” and into the hidden secrets and local favorites. We were fortunate to have a local tour guide with us in Limoux who scoped out the best, sometimes hidden nooks and crannies of Southern France region for us to paint.

Provide opportunities to shop local. Taking gifts home that aren’t manufactured in China (unless you’re in China, of course), is a fantastic way to not only support the local economy, but to also have a true piece of that destination. For me, it’s a set of French-made baskets and soaps bought from a local artisan.

Make help easy and accessible. From the airport or train station signage to the individual information booths in villages, it’s imperative that, as tourists, we can easily get access to the help and information we need. For me, having tourism offices and information displays that were easy to find always gives me peace of mind.

When designing that experience, consider this: What might someone not know? The best way to explore the answer to that? By experiencing it yourself.

As long as my work calls for it, I will be a traveler. And even when it doesn’t, I have no doubt travel will be an essential piece of my life. I urge you to make time for it in yours — though the benefits might not seem obvious now, you’ll most certainly realize them over time.

Destination marketers: How will you design your experience?

Travelers: How will you experience your next destination, friends?

How to Get More In Tune With Your Ideal Client

How to Get More In Tune With Your Ideal Client

In any business, a crucial piece of designing a brand and developing products or services is being able to describe who your ideal client is — who, exactly, you’re targeting with what you do.

Once you’ve done that, you can be more focused not only in what you develop/build/create, but also in how you market it.

So, defining that ideal client (or avatar, or buyer persona…) is pretty darn important. It will save you time. It will save you money. It will save your sanity.

But many business owners struggle to really dig beyond who their ideal client is — their demographics, like age, sex, location, etc. — and into what they’re all about — their thoughts, feelings, motivations, and aspirations.

Fortunately, I’ve found a way to conquer that struggle throughout my decade as a business owner: I’ve learned how to put myself in my ideal client’s shoes, ultimately becoming them if even for a short amount of time.

Becoming your ideal client

Let me be clear: I’m not asking you to change yourself. I am asking you to practice a little empathy.

If you’re a store owner who sells clothing, get out and go shopping for clothes yourself. What types of experiences sit best with you? What are your struggles as you’re shopping? What types of thoughts go through your head?

If you’re a restaurant owner focused on offering an entirely gluten-free menu, head out to restaurants that not only do what you want to do, but also those that don’t. What types of struggles do people who need to eat gluten free encounter? What are they feeling when they can’t find it? Better yet — what does the environment look like when they do?

The best part about this process is that in many ways, you’ll realize that you already largely embody your ideal client. After all, many of us start a business because we recognize a need; because we were feeling it ourselves, first.

Here’s how I’ve learned to become my ideal client — and how it’s influenced my business.

What practicing empathy looks like in my graphic design business

My graphic design business has served clients in more industries than I can count on my two hands, but one thing’s been made clear throughout the last decade: I’m at home when I’m designing for the travel and tourism industry.

Once I realized that niche, I set out to empathize with travelers in every destination so I could learn more about how destination marketers could brand themselves. It opened my eyes to new businesses and stories in Asheville. It caused me to better document my travels to Santa Monica when visiting my daughter. It put me in the shoes of my fellow travelers and their aspirations for traveling: to experience that which is unique, to collect stories, and to find themselves. It’s given me a new regard for traveling — and it’s undoubtedly helped me in my research process when designing a destination.

What practicing empathy looks like for my painting business

I apply a similar approach to my painting business. As an artist, it can be easy to keep creating and never tell a soul about it. After all, it’s a very personal thing, to work from your soul.

But expressing that which otherwise might get hidden away isn’t my only reason for painting — it’s to find the people who connect with my light-filled art and are looking to welcome it into their homes and businesses.

To do that — to learn how to find these people and connect with them — I have to actively put myself in their shoes. I love to look at art. I love to buy art. But now, I also love to start conversations with its creators, and their buyers. I love to enter a gallery with others and learn what speaks to them. I love to attend festivals not only as an exhibitionist, but also as a buyer, to get a feel for the experience.

Putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes helps us get ever closer to the things that really matter when it comes to them connecting with our products, our services, our creations. It gives us personal experience with their feelings, their thoughts, and their motivations. It’s inserting ourselves into those experiences that helps us design our own.

Hone in on how you’ll best serve this world

Identify with your ideal client. Put yourself in their shoes in order to develop what it is they need most, and learn how you can deliver it in the way that carries the biggest impact.

Simply put, empathy leads to focus on what you do. Focus leads to impact by doing it even better. And your impact is what we all need most in this world.

The Webs That Define a Destination’s Brand — And You

Webs of Destination Branding and You

I define myself as many things: A painter. A graphic designer. A mother. A wife. An artist. A traveler. An optimist. A believer.

It’s not something I was always so comfortable with — that is, feeling confident calling myself so many things. At any given time, I would describe myself as one of those things, but not the others. It took a while until I could fully embrace the fact that most of what we are in our lives is completely intertwined.

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter… all in the web of family.

I am a designer, a journaler, a painter, a sketcher… all in the web of creativity.

I am a business owner, an accountability partner, a student, a mentor… all in the web of my career.

These webs are what make our lives complete. And these webs are what make me realize and appreciate how my work can impact the rest of my life, and vice versa.

Why I love destination branding

The majority of my design work takes place in the travel and tourism space, giving birth to and developing brands for specific destinations around the Finger Lakes, New York State, and beyond.

During this work, I am able to travel to beautiful destinations, where I meet amazing people who tell equally amazing stories of where they live, work, and play. I learn about the attributes that make each destination unique. I learn about the history that has impacted the area today. I learn about the ongoing developments, and I get to share in the vision for the future.

I love this time during the project — the time I define as research in my BRANCH process. It’s a time when I absorb what a place means, what it stands for, and what potential it holds for the rest of the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull out my easel to paint in a place that I’m branding. Because I’m most present when painting, it’s this practice that helps me really center on what’s most important in a destination.

And what’s important is typically a handful of things. The beauty of the Finger Lakes isn’t just in its waterways — it’s in its wine; its culinary scene; its parks; its history. The mystique of the Adirondacks isn’t just in its mountains — it’s in its lakes; its pubs; its arts community.

Destinations, much like individuals, are often characterized by one thing, but the detriment is that they’re good at many.

Instead of zoning in on one thing, I look at the web that’s weaved by all things. This way of looking at destinations (and individuals, really) reminds me that we shouldn’t mistake simple for ordinary. It reminds me that there is so much to every story. It reminds me that unless we’re fully present, it’s impossible to witness, explore, and capture the details, the stories, and the people that weave the web that is ultimately a destination.

How destination branding impacts my every day

Destination branding brings me to places I might never go to otherwise. In Cayuga County, I went on a hike with the town of Montezuma’s historian. In Ontario County, I kayaked the beautiful Canandaigua Lake. In Seneca County, I took photos of my husband and daughter skydiving. (No, I didn’t join in — but they LOVED it!) In Livingston County, I hiked the Grand Canyon of the West (Letchworth State Park) — and it’s now become one of my favorite places to paint.

Of course, these are important experiences that have impacted how I’ve developed and designed each destination’s brand. But it goes well beyond that.

Because I spend time experiencing the here and now in order to really express the essence of each area, it’s taught me how to travel with my eyes fully open. It’s taught me how to be a tourist in my own backyard. And it’s taught me how to tell the whole story.

Ultimately, being a traveler, a destination designer, a storyteller, a painter… it all weaves together in my web of mindfulness — yet another aspect of my being.

A destination is made up of many things, that weave together to determine its brand, much like you are made up of many things that make up your identity.

The real question is: How will you tell the whole story?

Designing an Experience

designing an experience

When you walk into a floral shop, it’s easy to find yourself attracted to certain bouquets. Maybe it’s the Calla Lilies sprinkled with the Bells of Ireland and dotted with Lily of the Valley. Or the way the tulips are balanced by hydrangeas. You see, florists are experts in pairing just the right flowers to make you want them staring at you from your kitchen table every morning.

They do something that many people can’t: they see what works together, so they package it. Then, they sell it. And it works — because suddenly we see what we might not have seen before. And when it works really well? It resonates with us.

The magic of packaging

The same could be said of your brand. Your brand starts with a single element — maybe it’s your logo. It could just as easily be a texture that speaks to you. Or a color that represents you. The talent of a good graphic designer comes in being able to take disparate design elements that work on their own — a logo, certain graphics, a color palette, various patterns — and package them together so that they work even better. In their unique packaging, they form an identity for you and your organization — one that resonates with your ideal client.

Packaging items helps people understand, appreciate, and connect with the experience, whether it’s flower buying, interacting with your brand, or embarking upon new travel destinations.

Packaging travel

Consider the organization AAA: as a travel agency, AAA packages vacations to present them to potential buyers as a one-stop shop: your airfare, lodging, meals, transportation, and excursions organized over 7; 10; 21 days for maximum enjoyment. They can do it because they know the product. Where you might look at a trip to Ireland and be overwhelmed with options, they can present to you an all-inclusive trip with an itinerary delivered to your inbox.

Local travel bureaus are doing the same. But what’s even more fun to see than the standard packaging of hotels and restaurants is the coming together of partner entities to form a trail you can explore — one with a unique brand to call its own.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

That’s precisely what so many local tourism partners have done. It’s the trails created by others that give us the encouragement, and the understanding, to explore newness without overwhelm. Take for example the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail. Voted #7 on USA Today’s 10Best list for Food Trails, this one’s focused on the good stuff: the cookies, jams, honey, ice cream, and other sugary delights, all made with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.

On their own, each of the businesses on the trail operates just fine. But together? They’ve joined to create a brand that brings more visitors and fosters a better experience. (And gets featured on USA Today…)

The same could be said of other local trails with which I’ve worked: the Canandaigua Wine Trail, the Cayuga Healthy Choices Trail, and the Let’s Go Hike and Bike trails. Each is made up of seemingly disparate entities — ones that you might think to visit individually, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach together as an outsider. As collective entities with distinct brands, they’ve united to offer experiences.

Trails you want to be on

It is incredibly important to create a brand that excites the people you want to reach. Whether it’s perfecting the pairing of flowers in a bouquet, partnering a logo with graphics and textures for a company identity, or packaging the wineries, waterways, and sweet shops into a trail, make your next creation an experience that others want to take part in.

Create a brand that excites. A package that inspires. A trail that invites.

What skills, elements, or ideas will you blend into an experience next?