How did you discover you wanted to be in the design field?
Originally, I wanted to be a medical illustrator. My grandmother was a chemist, and my mother was always drawing and painting, and I think medical illustration was a way for me to bridge those two worlds. When I went to art school, I realized there was so much more. There was typography and photography, and I could communicate in many ways.
What did you learn from your experience working at Pentagram? Working there was a very special time for me—it was my first job out of college. Of course you learn a lot at college, but in practice, it is a different story. I learned everything: the power of ideas, how to work on a team, just learning from very talented people. I still keep in contact. It doesn’t matter when you worked there or which partner you worked for; somehow, we are all connected.
Since joining Studio Dumbar, what have you learned about managing client relationships and convincing clients to champion your team’s designs? It’s important to be clear, honest and speak from the heart. It’s not about convincing or overselling creativity in the direction you want by using your ego. We design identities, which is a long process of understanding and collaborating with our clients. We do not impose designs for the sake of design. Creating identities is more than design.
What is unique about Studio Dumbar that helps its work stand out in the crowd of visual identities? We believe in the trinity: pure, simple and powerful. We strive to get to the essence of a brand, strategically and creatively—that’s the purity. Then we bring it to life with a design that is as simple as possible. If you succeed in this approach, by definition, the visual identity will be powerful and live beyond trends of fashion and taste.
What is your biggest challenge as a creative director? Finding the balance between direction and mentoring.
Direction: I do not sketch logos and ask a designer to execute them. That would be a huge limitation to myself, to the studio and to the designers. It is through understanding and unlocking the unique strength and signature of each of the designers that I can achieve the result I am looking for. I have a very clear idea of direction, but not a preset idea of the outcome.
Mentoring: I work with a team of designers who usually come straight out of college with almost no experience. Most of the designers who join Dumbar have never even designed an identity before. Instead of giving them step-by-step instructions, I give them a lot of room to experiment and explore, and the safety to make mistakes. At the same time, I coach and push them to their limits in order to discover their unique—and sometimes dormant—strengths. For me, it is crucial to empower a designer and give her or him creative confidence and ownership.
Finding the right balance between mentoring and giving direction to a designer differs from one person to the other—one person thrives with freedom and another with constraints. It is important to give time to each person.
You are part of the team that produces Typeradio, a podcast station on type and design. Has your process for choosing typefaces changed since cofounding Typeradio? We always pick typefaces that are right for the project, regardless of who designed them. But if you know the designer behind the typeface, there is always an extra incentive to work with them.
What has been the most interesting discussion you’ve had on Typeradio? Not so much discussion; it’s about listening and understanding. We talk to both established and up-and-coming designers—just listening to what inspires them, regardless of age and knowledge, is really motivating. Their passion for their work always makes me happy.
You keep a visual catalog of your extensive book collection on your Instagram account Books Love Liza; you dispense witty advice to designers in your online column Letters to LoveLiza; and you pen “pathetic rhymes” about design in the Twitter account Design Rhymes. How do your “extracurricular activities” feed your design work? All my extracurricular activities are design related; if it’s not design, I am not personally interested. The subject of design is so broad that there is always more I can discover. I can keep coming up with new projects that iterate from the theme of design. I don’t divide my extra activities from the work I do; it’s one and the same thing.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to leave with young designers? Do what you love to do. And if design is not the answer, do something else. It’s about how you love to spend your time and not what people, friends or family expect from you.