Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Interview with Blythe Russo

CrewDesign is pleased to bring you an interview with Blythe Russo, a Graphic Designer and Illustrator from Waltham, Massachusetts. Blythe is a good friend and a coworker of mine, whose work in the field of publishing and beyond never ceases to impress me. Enjoy reading more about Blythe, and when you're finished, you can view more of her work on her website:

1. Who or what inspires you?
I find inspiration walking around Boston and taking photographs; flipping through design magazines; visiting galleries and museums; shopping in thrift stores and collecting vintage house wares; collaging and scrap booking; enjoying the amazing work that House Industries
produces; getting turned on to new music; checking out cover designs on older albums, as well as book covers from the 50s/60s; studying decaying or distressed textures and surfaces; bookmarks; images posted on Ffffound and Drawn. I’m mostly a shut-in, and get a lot of joy spending time at home with my boyfriend. His constant support and dedication to his songwriting and recording keeps me focused, and our goofball cats are the source material for an animated project that’s in the works.
2. Do you have a favorite designer/artist?
Neville Brody –
I’m very drawn to his design sensibility. He’s a British designer and typographer who started his career designing magazines and record covers in the early 80s. His layouts and typefaces have always been very radical and experimental. The Macromedia logo is probably his most recognizable work. I love the angles and shapes he creates with the placement of his type – lots of layered elements and bold colors.

3. What frustrates you most about design (or your biggest pet peeve)?
People with unrealistic expectations. I often look for freelance jobs on Web sites like cr
aigslist to help build my portfolio. It’s difficult to not only find a decent job and client, but to get them to accept a reasonable quote. I learned early on not to low ball myself or get taken advantage of by people who ask for excess design changes they don’t want to pay for. I remember quoting a low $500 for a full identity package design and Web site creation a few years ago, only to hear back “Ohhh, wow … that’s MUCH higher than I anticipated. I’ve got several other designers who gave me lower prices. I will get back to you…” Total headache. The problem is that too many young professionals under price themselves, creating lower paying entry level positions which leads to a more competitive industry, but only in the negative sense of the word. Out of desperation, many designers end up devaluing the design process itself. Some clients think they shouldn’t just get professional services for under $100, but also feel that they can be overly demanding because they’re paying.

4. What is your favorite website to visit daily? Why do you like it?
I discovered
The Consumerist about a year ago and visit several times a day. It’s a consumer affairs blog that posts reader-submitted tips and complaints about companies and corporations. I can stay informed, avoid scams, share my experiences, and occasionally find shopping deals and discounts. After reading that a customer found a metal machine bolt in their package of Perdue chicken breast, it boggles my mind why people choose to buy their produce at Wal-Mart. Yeck.
5. If you could design or redesign anything, what would it be?
The streets
of Boston – traveling in town makes me crazy mad sometimes. The roads are all a giant mess of one-way loops, the Mass turnpike’s city exits get backed up for miles, and the commuter subway has the most inefficient, outdated system imaginable. I appreciate the colonial history of the city, but the street layout causes so much traffic everyday. It would be ideal to have Tokyo’s lightning fast on-time train systems combined with Chicago’s easy exit highways.

Also, I really like supermarket shopping – I think it would be interesting to redesign the layout and interior of one to see how it affects shoppers’ behavior.

6. What's the strangest request you've received from a client?
I’ve had a few bad experiences with clients that either ask for too many adjustments, or have no idea what they want from the beginning. The most annoying experience I had was with this woman who found me through craigslist. We signed a contract and I agreed to redesign a logo for her husband’s wedding photography business. She went on and on about how amazingly creative his vision was ... however the only proof of his supposed design brilliance was a desperately ugly black & white 8-ball (made up of two circles) with his initials in the middle. Again, this wasn’t for a pool-hall, it was a wedding photography business. Not a promising start.

Anyway, the visionary’s wife was disappointed with my initial designs, claiming that they “look like every other wedding logo out there – he wants something that stands out!” She even had the nerve to suggest that my work “couldn’t possibly have taken me as long as I had billed her for.” The fonts I used were “very typical and boring,” and my mock-ups were not far off from her husband’s existing logo. On top of that, it turned out that the logo redesign was to be a surprise birthday gift for her husband The Genius… so my instructions were based on what she thought he’d like!

I agreed to call her husband to discuss his ‘vision.’ I remember the night I had planned to, I got in from work late and decided to shoot him an email explaining so and that I’d be able to chat tomorrow. He wrote back, “Hehe … party girl!” Gross – I don’t even know this man! Amazingly, he was just as vague and directionless as his wife. He was sure to mention how accomplished he was in Photoshop, and how impressed he was by his own lame 8-ball. I agreed that it was ‘unique’ and served a purpose (certainly not a positive purpose), but he couldn’t seem to grasp that an 8-ball had nothing to do with weddings. Instead, he agreed with his wife - my logos were too cliché and ordinary. And goody for me, he had designed more 8-ball logo variations that night, which he proposed I modify free of charge since his wife had already paid for my first round of ‘unusable’ mock-ups. It was obvious that no matter what I designed, this guy would be unhappy if it was too similar to his logo, and disappointed if it was too different. To avoid further hassle, I emailed his wife to say that I would not be able to help. Luckily we had a contract, and she paid the kill fee built into it. Always have a contract!

Unfortunately this guy has repeatedly sent me friend requests on Facebook and his mini-feeds fill up my home page. I’m sure he’ll find this post at some point, but for the sake of comedy and to top off a lengthy story, I have to post this image. Douche chills.
7. Favorite font?
Futura – and
any sleek/thin font like Avant Garde

8. Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession?
Purchase this book: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. Published by the Graphic Artists Guild, this is an essential reference book for people in the design and illustration field. It definitely helped me start my freelancing business. I love that it has standard invoice, contract and legal letter templates in the back that anyone can use with their clients. Most importantly, never sell yourself short - don’t underestimate the value and quality of your services. And always use contracts, no matter what the job is!
9. If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do?
A musician. I love to sing and want to get back into playing guitar.

10. Tell us three things about yourself that no one else knows.
I’m pretty open and share everything with my partner. I’ve wracked my brain and anything personal I’m keeping to myself. Sorry Crew!
Oh wait …
I heart 8-balls.

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Sarah Martin said...

Great interview Blythe! Your book covers are amazing. I love the rock and roll one; you have a wonderful eye.

I cannot get over that wedding photographer story...unbelievable and appalling. Unfortunately, I have dealt with a similar situation and share your pain. An 8 ball, really?! I’m glad you didn’t compromise your design integrity.

I appreciate your passionate feelings about designers being under paid. I feel your concern and wish people wouldn’t sell themselves short.

Meghan Colvin said...

Thank you so much Blythe! I am ALWAYS struggling with freelance rates/contracts/good practices and really value everything you have to say. In fact, I might be hitting you up for more advice ;) I actually had a similar experience as your #3- when a client seemed appalled at my rate in comparison to other quotes he "supposedly" received. But I don't think that we should undervalue ourselves! Thank you again!

Blythe said...

Hey guys - thanks so much! I was very happy that Tess offered me an interview, I had a lot of fun doing it and am glad I could offer some advice. It's nice that we can relate on these common freelance issues. Luckily I've never had any major client problems, but any past mishaps make me shy away from trying to find new work most of the time!

Keep up this great blog :)

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