Julian Haber Creative Studios works regularly with freelance professionals who have mastered their craft and continue to hone and develop their skills to better serve our clients.
We recently had a chance to do an in-depth interview with our lead designer, Meredith Lindsay, who has led the charge on our animation studio but whose skill set covers a wide breadth of experience in the design world. Meredith is one of those rare skilled professionals who can see both the forest and the trees and find an elegant design solution for clients to help them define and execute on their vision for their projects. All while making it look easy. She does it by bringing her decades of experience to bear on each new project, taking the time to learn about a client’s industry, design trends and specific needs and wants to help clients articulate their vision, and have the impact they want for their project.
While the ‘secret’ to her success is years of hard work, effort and continually learning and upgrading her skills, one key thread to all her creative output is her method for gleaning insights into what clients are really looking for, even if they have trouble expressing themselves. She calls it, identifying “the -ness of things’.
Here are some of the highlights from our interview (below):
JH: Tell us a bit about your background. What does one study to become a designer who can do everything from podcast editing, book design, video editing, graphic design and transforming a power point into an animated video?
ML: I studied communications and journalism at university. I wanted to work in TV. To become an editor. I loved – still love – the storytelling nature of editing work. I worked as an editor for CBC and loved it, but after my kids came along, I found the pace and demands of the commute too strenuous and I wanted a change of pace so I started working for myself. Since then, I’ve never looked back.
JH: How would you define yourself or what you do?
ML: It’s hard to define what I do because I do a lot of different though related things depending on the client, and the specific role I have in the project. I work as animator, a graphic artist, a creative director on commercial shoots, a book designer…The list goes on.
JH: Yes, I’ve always thought of design as a broad term, but having worked with you over the past several years, I see your ability to both develop AND execute on a creative vision really one of your core abilities. You have a seemingly boundless curiosity and energy for creative work. Where do you find inspiration?
ML: It’s almost a bit of curse. The way my brain works, no matter what I am doing or seeing, a part of me is always attentive to how something is done. When I see a tv commercial I’ll notice the font they used on the titles, or the styling of a title sequence on a show. If I’m working on a project at the time, my mind will start making connections sometimes – actually often – without my even being aware of it and pop! Out comes an idea. I might be in the shower, or out for a walk, or lying in my bed at night or in the early morning just before waking up and the idea will emerge almost fully formed. It’s actually really fun. And if I need more help I’ll go to inspiration boards, like Behance to get a sense of current trends and design ideas around a particular product or industry. It’s amazing how themes emerge across seemingly disconnected industries.
JH: Yes, I noticed that as well when (pre-covid) I was covering a lot of conferences for a variety of industries. I could be covering a radiology symposium, then a big tech sales conference, and a seminar on building design and find speakers talking about the same themes and trends. How do you find that attentiveness to the zeitgeist feeds into your work?
ML: I think of myself like a little bee. I talk with one client over here about their project, then another over there about theirs and I’m carrying ideas from one to the other, cross-pollinating and uncovering hidden connections that help me come up with the best ideas for each specific client.
JH: Speaking of your client work, as we’ve learned across many projects working together, sometimes a client has a general idea of what they are looking for but isn’t able to fully articulate that vision without some help. How to do you help the process along to ensure that your clients get the most value from working with a professional designer like yourself?
ML: I invest time up front. Most clients don’t know exactly what they want. I hear a lot of “I’ll know it when I see it”, which is a valid approach but it means that I’ve got to take the time to make sure that what I put before them is close to – if not right on target – what they really need so that we can move the project forward in a direction that works well for us both.
JH: How do you do that…?
ML: Well, I’ll really focus on listening to the client and doing some refining with them. I’ll try to uncover what the client likes, dislikes, the feel they are after. I love it when my client sends me samples – which can be anything: an image, a visual sequence or reference they came across that they liked…I had one client send me an image of an orange splashing into water and tell me they were after something effervescent. What I’m doing through these back and forths is digging into the ‘ness’ of the client, their personality, preferences.
At the same time I’m looking at industry standards, trends and putting it all together to give them a professional design but also one that appeals to them personally.
JH: How would you define your creative process when digging into those insights and information you are eliciting from your clients. How do you tie that back into, ultimately, a deliverable you are responsible for that you need to be as closely aligned with your client’s expectations as possible?
ML: I believe creativity is the ability to create connections between things don’t seem to be connected. It’s noticing things and finding underlying patterns and linkages that aren’t obvious. It’s like the inventors of the telegraph. They noticed that to keep a message going back when they used to relay messages using horses, they would switch out horse at different stations. The old horses would rest and new ones would continue the journey. And they thought, hmmm, we could do that with a signal, giving it a boost every time it reaches a relay station to send it further along…
JH: What do you do when your client has a big ask, but maybe not so big of a budget?
ML: It happens all the time. It’s like this image I saw online somewhere. The first image is of a medieval, ornate gauntlet bejewelled, encrusted with rare and precious gems and lined with diamonds. The caption reads: “What a client wants”. And the next image is of a yellow dishwasher glove with little fake dollar store ‘jewels’ taped on. “What your client’s budget is.”
JH: That’s funny – but how do you bridge that gap between those two gloves? How do you help your clients learn to appreciate and value the work you do so that they have a fuller understanding of what they are asking for and the impact the scope of their project has on the amount of work required, and ultimately, the cost?
ML: Well, if I’ve done my advance work well and understood the client’s real needs, when I present them my ideas I usually provide three options and expect at least one to be a pretty close fit with what they are expecting or conversely, surprise them with something they love they didn’t expect but are happy with.
JH: Since the pandemic began there have been tectonic shifts in the economic landscape. Many business and the people who own them or work in them are finding themselves in a completely different world than any they had plans for. The impacts are profound and many people are pivoting either personally – starting new careers – or as part of a company or business forced to changed its way of doing business. How are these changes impacting your work?
ML: I am seeing an increase in individuals deciding to create or upgrade their online course. Many speakers or professionals are taking the time to upgrade their web and marketing materials. A lot of what I am doing now is helping people and businesses pivot. Change of any kind takes creativity to help manage and find the opportunities all change brings so I am actually finding myself busier than ever.
JH: When’s the best time for someone reading this to connect with you if they have a project in mind they would like to work with you on?
ML: The best time is as early into the project as possible. It’s important to hear the ideas forming and be a part of the initial phase of a project so that we can have input and let the client benefit from our experience. We’re the experts on what finally ends up getting delivered so it’s very helpful if we can be included on a few earlier brainstorm discussions or take a look and comment on first drafts or plans before they get too set in stone.
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