Gradient overlay

Featured In-House Designer: Katy Van Est

Written by
AIGA Nebraska
March 6, 2016

Featured In-House Designer:

Katy Van Est
Graphic & Web Designer | Baxter Auto 

Meet Katy Van Est, a graphic and web designer at Baxter Auto! Learn about Katy’s love for animals and how she discovered the problem solving field of graphic design, as well as her unique take on teamwork and how she approaches her skills as only one piece of an intricate puzzle. Lastly, don’t miss her fantastic advice for emerging designers!

“I enjoy the complexity of coming up with a solution visually in a way that people might not have thought was possible.”

Tell me about yourself, where you work, and a description of what you do in your position:

I never thought I’d end up as a graphic designer for a large auto group. Initially, I wanted to be a veterinarian or horse trainer. I tried that for a while, but then I realized that my passion for design was something I could turn into a career. I’ve been at Baxter Auto for 1.5 years, and know more about cars than I ever thought I would. Being the only designer, I tend to work on a little bit of everything, print and digital. Some fun projects I’ve worked on since I started are Black Friday ads, a presentation for the owner of the company, and within the last 8 months, the re-branding of the entire company, including all of its 21 dealerships.

How did you get into design?

Ever since I was little I’ve loved being creative. I’ve always loved making things look different and unique and coming up with solutions no one would think of. After graduating with an Associates in Equine Science, I transferred to Iowa State for their animal science program. Unimpressed with their program, I looked into other options and discovered that this creative thing I loved to do had a name: graphic design! I switched majors and knew that I had found my calling.

What inspires you?

Graphic design isn’t just about making things look pretty. It’s about solving problems in a creative way. I think that’s what draws me to it day in and day out. I enjoy the complexity of coming up with a solution visually in a way that people might not have thought was possible. I am inspired by great design. I will browse sites for hours, looking for creative inspiration. When I look at something and say to myself, “I wish I would have thought of that,” it just drives me to work harder to come up with something just as creative and unique.

Co-workers and fellow designers can be just as inspiring. I could be working on something for several days, love it, and then show it to one of them, and they respond with “what is that supposed to be?” Harsh, but true. That’s what makes design fun. There is never a right answer, and every designer has a different perspective. It really helps push you to do your best.

What’s your design process?

The most important step when starting a project is communicating with the client to find out what exactly they are looking for. If you get this wrong, you end up wasting everyone’s time. It is important to do some research on the topic of said project, so that you can come up with a reason and a starting point for your design. Usually, a lot of rough sketches are involved to get everything that comes to mind on paper, allowing you to see what may have potential. I generally communicate with the client throughout the process, to make sure that I am on the right track and they are happy with the progress. After getting my ideas to the computer, it usually only takes about two to three rounds of iterations before the client is pleased with their project. I will generally do one last round to make it even better and then deliver to the client.

What do you do when you feel stuck creatively?

This happens quite a bit, especially when you get in the funk of working on repetitive things for a while. When I feel like I’ve fallen into a slump, I do one of several things: take a break! Distract your mind with something completely different for a while, and when you come back to the drawing board, you are fresh and ready to go with all of those good ideas floating around your brain.

I love to browse the web, looking at design blogs, articles, even Pinterest. These also help to get those creative juices flowing. If I’m really stuck on something, and there’s a tight deadline, I “phone a friend.” More like text or email a friend these days, but you get the point. Sometimes you just need a different perspective from someone who knows your design style.

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?

I think there are always things you don’t expect to do in a job. That’s one of the great things about jobs—you get to learn new things and gain great experience at the same time. It really all boils down to working with your team. You can think of it like a puzzle. Everyone on the team, no matter how big or small, is a different piece of the puzzle. They have their own tasks and duties that they must tend to. When you get those different pieces to fit together, your puzzle becomes whole. This is what contributes to the success of a company.

Do you freelance? What kind of work do you do?

Freelance is something I try to do on a regular basis. I see freelance as an opportunity to expand my craft and learn new skills. Freelancing allows you to work on projects that you wouldn’t typically get to work on in a day-to-day basis. Recently, I’ve been doing some web design for a client that I’ve been working with for about a year and a half. Some other projects I’ve worked on include logos, brochures, flyers, and research posters.

What do you like to do in your free time?

What is free time? Generally, when I’m not working one of my two jobs or freelancing, I enjoy reading, designing random things, photography, and most of all, hanging out with my pets. I’m definitely an animal lover and spoil my pets more than anything else. I currently own a horse, two guinea pigs, two chinchillas, a betta fish and his snail companion.

What is your dream job?

Honestly, I didn’t have an answer to this question until recently. As you probably read above, I love animals. I am very passionate about their well-being and wish I could help every animal that needed it. Someday, I would love to own an animal rescue. I would, of course, do all of the design and marketing, but caring for animals and making sure they are loved and can find a great home is something I would thrive at. I would also like to become more involved with the World Wildlife Fund, as they do a phenomenal job explaining their purpose and gaining followers to help achieve their goals.

If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, this era or eras past, who would you meet and why?

Morgan Freeman. Who wouldn’t want to meet this incredible guy?

Any advice for new designers?

  1. Focus on you. Don’t get all caught up in what everyone else is doing right now. Those are trends. They are good to be aware of, but they will change. Instead focus on you and what you can bring to the table that’s different, unique, and can impress people in a different way. Make stuff you’re happy with and proud of.
  2. Do your research. Don’t get lost in a project because you don’t even know what it’s about. Sometimes a quick Google search can go a long way.
  3. Help others. This is huge, and is one of my biggest pet peeves about designers. Graphic design is a very competitive field. I’ve come across so many people who won’t help you because they want to be better than you. Rise above that. If you learn something new, share it with others. Everyone learns differently and contributes ideas in ways you might not have thought of.


Thanks for sharing your story with us, Katy!

Do you know a Nebraska designer that deserves to be featured on our blog? Send your recommendation to

AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.