Expert of the Week: Jennifer Kaplan

Jennifer Kaplan

Graphic & Web Designer at Devon International Group

What is your professional background?

I like to think of myself as a problem solver. I’ve been working in graphic design professionally for over three years and at a more scholarly level for five or six. The work that I do usually encompasses a broad range of desires from an even broader range of clients. So far I’ve acquired experience in pre-press production, branding, advertising, web design, web development, project management and several other nick-knacks I keep in my back pockets for a rainy day.

Although I currently work for a medical device company in the lovely suburbs of Philadelphia, I also do freelance work at a pretty consistent basis so it’s hard to pin down any one place as my jumping point from a career standpoint.

 

What sparked your interest in graphic and web design?

Typography. More than anything I will ever do, I find the concept and implementation of typography fascinating. As I’ve been given a little bit of a platform to speak on it, let me explain. To me, type isn’t simply words on a page used to convey meaning. It’s an entire story. Each letter of each font family has a breath of life in it that allows it to work with the others around it.

Making sure they get along is why I love my job. Regardless of what kind of work I’m doing, it usually involves making sure the type “plays nice”. I think it’s great when I find that layout that’s perfect. It’s always one of those “ah-ha” moments, where you can look at the page or website and say “Yes, that’s it. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

 

What software programs would you suggest people become familiar with for either graphic or web design?

The current industry standards are anything in the Adobe Creative Suite. I work very heavily in InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, in that order. Lot’s of companies do also use Dreamweaver, but I prefer Sublime Text as a text editor, or really anything that isn’t image-based when working with code.

It’s also okay to struggle a bit at first. The programs provide about ten different ways to do just about anything, so in the beginning it might seem overwhelming, but slowly you’ll begin to find shortcuts. That’s when the real magic happens. The more you learn, the more that becomes possible and the less you limit yourself and your ideas and creativity on a project.

Never stop learning either. Just last week I learned a new trick in Illustrator and it cut my workload in half. There is always something to pick up and improve upon when it concerns your technique.

 

For people who are not familiar with design, what would help them better understand what it is that you do?

Seriously, the answer that I like to give is that I make things look good. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to see it, because these days people are bombarded with so many advertisements and packets and websites, but if you show them something really beautiful… something really well done, it’s obvious. You can just see how refreshing it is to look at. It doesn’t bog you down like a mailer covered in gradients and low-resolution photos of staff members. (You know what I’m talking about.)

If you’d like a slightly more technical (albeit playful) answer, then that would be that I sit around at a computer and play with typography and photoshop all day.

 

What do you foresee in the near future about your craft? What about the long term?

I think it’s great. I think it’s ever changing. The web is becoming a really versatile beast and the way that people consume media is changing as well. We need to adapt and provide great experiences. The future is sort of always changing in this industry, it really depends on the trend at the moment. Way back in the beginning of design we had Swiss design trends, like Bauhaus with its sharp lines and color. We moved away from it for a while and the last couple decades were all drop shadows and hip-funky layouts. But recently we’ve seen an influx of returning to Swiss origins. And that’s great you know? It’s always changing.

In the long run, I know a lot of my peers are concerned that print will die out and be 100% replaced by web, but I’m not sure that’s true. We said the same thing about books and e-books, but the market is returning to printed books now. I think if people like a thing, they’ll always like that thing. Sometimes the most effective method of communication is handing out a flyer face to face, or sending a printed letterhead to your business partner. I’d like to believe that won’t change.

It’s important to keep an open mind as well. To realize the web isn’t just going to disappear, and we have to double down on our work efforts and provide whatever we can for the web as well. More importantly, for mobile devices. Everyone is on the move lately. People like to telecommute or contract out work. It’ll be really important to be able to provide concise and easily understood web experiences for this trend.

 

You turned a passion into a career. What has that been like for you?

It’s been a serious roller coaster. Nobody tells you how much upkeep is involved, or how long the days will be sometimes. But I’ve always loved every second of it. I think the experience I’ve gained has been really rewarding. I look back sometimes, at some of my first flyers or brand experiments way back in 2007-2008 and go, wow. I came from that. I came from just making things for fun, to having fun for a living.

I’d be lying if I said some weeks weren’t really tough. Sometimes work has to go out and it isn’t your best, but the deadline matters and you’ve got to meet it. And sometimes the projects are really boring or not what you wanted to work on, but you have to. At those times, it’s been helpful to remember that even if I’m not thrilled about the project, I’m still doing what I love for a living.

Sometimes it’s hard to find any work at all and you take whatever you can get. Like I said, a serious roller coaster. Even when it gets me down, the fact that talking about design still fires me up means I’m not done yet. As long as I can still get excited about laying out a brochure or designing a logo, I’m happy.

And that’s important to me. If you ever become less passionate about something that used to be your passion, then you need to move on to something else. I started with flyers and books, but over time I’ve moved to web and logos and code to keep it interesting. You spice it up and stay positive. I want to keep moving forward, no matter how many more ups or downs I come upon.

 

What advice would you give to someone looking to become involved with graphic and web design?

Learn. Take classes. Do research. Find a mentor. Keep as up to date as you possibly can. Lately our roles are very broad and nonspecific. But you have to be multipurpose. You can’t just limit yourself to mocking up sites in Photoshop or laying out brochures in InDesign. Sometimes you’ll need to work front end. Sometimes you need to make a logo. Sometimes you need to even get your hands dirty with server maintenance.

Do a little bit of everything and never sell yourself short.

Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.