If you missed the newsletter last week, I started a new writing series. In this series, I interview one person a week, one degree of separation from the last interviewee. The theme of each talk is about connection and communication. This is the second installment of my series about connections and communication.
In the last newsletter, I talked to Simon Gondeck, a young Web Developer and Entrepreneur. This week, I’m talking to Evan Roer, Simon’s close friend. We talk about how he landed his design job, working for clients, and what Evan’s favorite font is.
The first thing I wanted to know about Evan was how did he know Simon? As Evan recalls, he’s known Simon and Sevy, Simon’s twin brother, for as long as he can remember. Growing up, their families were part of the same gourmet club. Years ago, Evan’s family moved to North Carolina. Evan was in third grade, yet the families kept in touch. For example, Evan’s older brother is roommates with Simon’s older brother. And, if Evan’s traveling to Minneapolis, which happens once or twice a year, he’s staying with Simon.
Evan resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. He works for Design Dimension, a design firm specializing in exhibit design for museums. He started this job over a year ago and has an unconventional story on how he got there.
Evan was a brand ambassador at North Carolina State University. That means Evan would prepare the university’s recreation center with school events. The school designates brand ambassadors 13 mandatory office hours to do prep work. But as Evan learned, it doesn’t take that long to set up tables and handout merchandise. With this idle time, he noticed peers making posters in the gym promoting upcoming events.
Evan wasn’t studying graphic design. He was studying business marketing. He wanted to follow a creative itch and make posters. As Evan puts it, he got to see graphic design in the works. He would create posters, learn the tools from Lynda.com tutorials, and develop a portfolio. With his boss’ permission of course. By the end of Evan’s college career, he had an extensive portfolio.
After graduating, Evan was looking for a job. Evan applied to design studios and businesses seeking his skills in Business Marketing. One of those design firms he submitted his portfolio to was Design Dimension.
Evan got an internship with a tech firm. He said the office was decorated like a Silicon Valley start-up. A week or two later, Design Dimension called him. He thought it would be worth a shot at the interview since his current role may not hire him full-time. It was convenient his internship was five buildings away from the Design Dimension.
Evan was the only candidate without a design degree. He meshed well with the firm’s lead designer, Betsy, his future boss. She liked Evan’s portfolio, and even more, his tastes and preferences in beer and music. And it helped they both went to the same school where Evan’s fraternity had close ties to Betsy’s sorority. Betsy likes to blast music in the design studio. Whoever she had to work with would have to be tolerant of that. The candidate had to mesh well with her. And Evan sure did.
What does it mean to be a professional designer at Design Dimension? From Evan’s perspective, it sounds like a lot of work. He could be juggling many clients at once. “People don’t like to read long paragraphs”, he tells me.
For example, Evan could be working for a Botanical Garden. The job could be to layout a design for explaining photosynthesis. Evan’s work is to take the given space and design the entire experience. Evan knows the exhibitors don’t want to read a barrage of words when they can see pictures.
I thought back to my recent trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum had a forest canopy exhibit. There was some text to go with the massive forest installation. But the text was not important to me. I was in awe of the size of the trees with its intricate details. The text is an example of hidden design, open to the curious but not distracting to others.
Being a designer means knowing when to restrain. Evan will try to push his client’s brand. For example, a Town Hall, the Opera House in Sumter, NC, or small companies. But if he’s working for an established corporation, like IBM or the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, he will stay within the boundaries of their existing brand.
Restraint also comes to play with dealing with clients. Evan may have clients where his clients want to be the graphic designer as well. The feedback sounds more like barking orders. If he finds himself arguing with a client, and the client is wrong, he has to find a way to come to a compromise. “And that’s what pushes you as a designer”, he tells me.
In general, the clients come with the content. It’s Design Dimension’s job to make it presentable. And the clients are super involved from start to finish. When Evan was working for a “Black History of Wilson” exhibit in Wilson, North Carolina, the clients wanted to pack as much information as possible. But, it doesn’t tell a story. The client is wrong, and it’s Evan’s job to convince them to change their content by selling them on the design idea.
The work can be rewarding. Evan worked on a children’s museum in Wilson that teaches science and history. Before the design firm came in, the museum was outdated, a relic from the 80s. The museum’s administrator secured the funds to update and upgrade the space. and Evan’s team worked with the administrator to come to a good design. When it was all said and done, this space was resurrected, brought back to life with updated science. And for the administrator, her reaction was priceless because she put her heart and soul in it.
It’s only recently Evan’s had interactions with the client. A theme from last week’s newsletter was feedback and criticism. I wanted to know how Evan deals with those themes. Evan tells me it pushes you to be better. You have to be able to speak the same language, and rarely does one design iteration is enough. As a great designer, you have to be able to let things go. Even if Evan thinks one of his logos looks damn amazing, the client could reject it and have the whole process start over. Evan’s learned to let that go.
Evan’s takeaway for you is to make connections in life. Everything’s connected in relationship to each other. And to find those and be able to point those out is a fun thing to do. Put yourself out there. Make connections.