Featured In-House Designer:
Graphic Designer | UNMC
Meet Tara Witte! An in-house designer at UNMC. Learn about Tara’s love for traditional offset printing, how the HOW Conference changed her design life, and why she finds doodling an important part of her process.
Tell me about yourself, where you work, and a description of what you do in your position:
I am a graphic designer for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). I been in the Printing Services department for the past 7 years, and prior to this, at a few other print shops. So my main focus is designing for print. I love the printing process, and the problem solving that comes into designing something for print. Especially offset presses. I am not a fan in that regard of the digital age of printing, other than it being faster, it doesn’t have the same refinement and class to it. So any chance I get to have something printed that way I go for it. As far as my current roll, I am the go-to person in my department when it comes to anything branding related. I create/design anything from annual reports, publications, recruitment materials, invitations, mailers, the list goes on. In addition to my own designs, I also help out making sure other departments creating their own pieces are also meeting the branding guidelines to ensure that the high standards of UNMC are visually being met. I work quite in collaboration with the Public Relations for this task as well.
How did you get into design?
Originally when I was younger I wanted to be an artist of any kind. I loved painting with watercolor, or drawing, or anything art related. But upon entering high school, I knew that making it as an artist wasn’t going to cut it as a full-time career, so I began looking more into commercial art/graphic design. I was told by my father to go into art education, but I just couldn’t picture myself teaching. And at the time he didn’t think I would be able to make a career out of graphic design. But I did it anyway, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the Visual Communication & Design program. It was a little rocky at first and I questioned what I had gotten myself into, and then one day everything just clicked, and I haven’t looked back! It is my passion, my life, it affects everything I do, and how I see the world.
What inspires you?
Being an in-house designer, we have brand guidelines to follow, but the trick is to figure out how to work within those guidelines, and still add my own style. I have to admit after the first few years here at UNMC, I felt like my creativity flame was burning out. I was used to other jobs where I basically had free-rien to do whatever I wanted based on the briefings by my clients. But all that changed when I had the opportunity to attend one of the HOW Design Conferences. I mean I have been a member of AIGA since I was a student in college, but never have I experienced the pulse of having that many creative together in one place. It was refreshing, and exhilarating. I literally came back and felt like a whole knew designer. My office before I went was in what I referred to as a cave, a basement office with no light of day, drab beige walls, florescent lighting. But upon coming back, I jazzed up my space. Made it more creative friendly. Hung up posters that inspired creativity. I also started reading more articles, blogs, magazines; attending webinars, watching how-tos on CreativeLive; and traveling more. I would save printed pieces from places that I visited, boxes, packaging, brochures, postcards.. Anything that sparked an interest. Inspiration comes now from all around me. I was fortunate enough to join my husband on a trip to Italy and it is amazing the things I would notice or see in signage or advertisement, or menus at restaurants.
What’s your design process?
Doodles are still my go to for starting any major project. Whether it be for a publication or a simple postcard. I always start with a pen and a sheet of paper, and then those stay in my job tickets as things get honed in and refined with my clients. Sometimes I go back and reference the doodles for other future jobs if I thought it was a good idea but might not have worked for the original project. From there I hit the computer and provide a limited number of design options for the client to choose from and we are off and running.
What do you do when you feel stuck creatively?
Sometimes when I am having designers block on a project, I literally leave my office and go for a walk-about to clear my head, get away from the computer, and get some fresh air. It could be around the building, or around the block. Other times I hit up Google and search the topic, usually images (because I am a visual person). Or hit up my stockpile of collected samples to see if I can find some inspiration. I also occasionally call up my counter part on campus that is the same boat as me being an in-house designer and bounce off some ideas.
As an in-house designer, are there parts of your job that you didn’t expect you’d be doing when you went into design?
Before the most recent rebrand at UNMC, I ended up teaching a basic design class to help those individuals who were campus communicators make sure they were utilizing the templates that had been created at the time correctly. Along with the correct color formats and preparing files for print providers. But with the rebrand that was unveiled just about a year ago, I never thought I would have so much enjoyment with the actual brand management, so much to the point I have considered returning to school for either another degree in Marketing, or an MBA with emphasis in Brand Management.
Do you freelance? What kind of work do you do?
I have done freelance in the past, but my current position keeps me so busy, that it is nice to go home from my day job and not have to burn the midnight oil to meet more deadlines. So over the past couple of years that has kind of dimmed a bit. But not completely gone out, I keep my URL for someday-scenario.
Any advice for new designers?
I know that putting the next meal on the table is very important, but even when you take the non-design job to meet that need, do not give up on your passions. I did so many non design jobs from working at Werner Enterprise giving fuel rates, to Ameritrade as a customer service for online trades. But I knew that eventually I would get here. And I know that there is all the glitz and glamour of working for a design or marketing firms, but don’t discount the in-house positions!
What do you like to do in your free time?
My free time isn’t as vast as it used to be. But I have found as a hobby I have started taking photos, and really enjoy going back and color correcting, or picking out ones that will adorn the walls. I also enjoy taking mini road trips to local vineyards and tasting their samples of wine. The best ones are when it is not busy and you actually sit and have conversations with the vintners about their craft and how they started, and what the season has been like, and any new wines they are coming out with. I also love cooking and baking. Not to the point where I could go on a reality tv show, but it is fun to try out new recipes and test them on my husband.. some times good.. some times we never ever make it again. Also I enjoy traveling.. I LOVE ROADTRIPS! Anything to get off the monotony of the interstate. Small towns, less than traveled highways, quirky attractions… so much fun! My husband likes to have a schedule and route planned out, where I am more just go where the road takes you.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Tara!
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