Lamar University's Graphic Design Department Blog
At Lamar University, the art department is running a special topics course in environmental graphic design. The focus of the course is to create environmental graphics for a new building on campus. The students have to work with real world parameters and ambiguities. This building does not exist yet, and the building plans are not set in stone. The class has used client feedback to create a brand concept for the space and has created a cohesive design concept.
This class had a great opportunity to interview a professional designer practicing in the field. Designer, Renée Malloy, works at Advent Results in Nashville, TN, and she has graciously shared her time and expert knowledge with the students here at Lamar University.
About Renée Malloy
Renée came to Advent in the spring of 2012 with nine years of graphic design and leadership experience. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design and BA in French from Creighton University (go Blue Jays!), and a MFA in Graphic Design from the Savannah College of Art & Design. A strong left and right-brain thinker, Renée combines abilities to listen, research, analyze, and understand the true heart of design needs while also synthesizing them into designs that convey stories in a beautiful and meaningful way. Her experiences include serving as Creative Director at a firm in Colorado, running her own international design and fine art business, numerous awards, and exceeding expectations.
To unwind, Renée spends time outdoors (hiking, kayaking, sailing, or walking just about anywhere with camera in tow), reading, doing yoga, or creating artwork. More than anything, she loves spending time with family, friends, and her husband, Joel. Her biggest life regret is that she cannot be in more than one place at any given time. Basically, multiplicity would be her chosen superpower.
Environmental Design Students: Aside from the clients’ request, what is your first “go to” resource for inspiration?
Renée Malloy: I would say I try and look for inspiration daily—whether traveling, hiking, or running errands. You never know when an abstract visual or idea may spark a great design concept. When a new client or project comes along, I will often research specifically, keeping their goals in mind. Additionally, there are a ton of blogs and websites I enjoy following (Good.is, ArchDaily, InHabitat, Behance, FastCo, Houzz, other design firms, etc). I tend to look in several genres of design (environmental, graphic, fashion, industrial, architecture, etc.) and outside of design (science, fine art, nature, different cultures). The broader your inspiration, the more you can pull from to create unique, well-educated experiences.
EDS: How do you make a decision on what is most appropriate for a designed space? For instance, how do you decide whether to choose a statue or a floor graphic, for an entryway?
RM: When designing a space it’s important to keep in mind the whole space (what is around it? how big is it), how it will be viewed (speed with which a specific audience moves through it/ interacts with it), and what the goal of your client is. Budget usually plays a big role regarding materials and complexity.
The first thing we do is figure out what the client wants to achieve through the spaces. Then, we look at who is using the space and how the use and goals align. Does the audience walk by on a daily basis, or is this a destination space people flock to? Just as any design, always keep in mind the “why.” We build a master plan, to delineate how we pace the spaces and how they relate to each other. By answering our own questions, we can make an educated decision as to where to spend our time and money– what are the “wow” spaces and the brand touch points?
EDS: What is the most difficult part about your job?
RM: As with most design industries, we work within tight deadlines and often have projects that arise in the middle of other projects, thus shifting our timelines. I love to be organized and to design purposefully; realistically, this is not always possible. So, two big challenges are to be able to design without content (I do not recommend this) and be fast and flexible (a reality that will help in any position). My advice is to keep communication as open as possible; plan ahead when you can; and stay ahead of schedule so that when things do interrupt, you have the freedom to take them as they go.
EDS: Does your job require you to travel a lot?
RM: Mine, no, but many of my co-workers travel a lot.
EDS: Do you all work mainly in teams or individually?
RM: We always work within teams, even if we are designing the spaces on a more individual level. Teamwork is key, and it makes for better ideas and further developed designs. We actually have several teams within the company- sales, design, project management- and teams within each of those. About one third of the company actually designs the spaces.That is not to say only one third of the company is creative; our project management team works with us to make the ideas a reality. How do I make a 70 ft floating crystal unicorn? My PM colleagues would be able to make it happen.
EDS: What program(s) do you use for three-dimensional work? and what format?
EDS: How long does it take to complete a whole environmental design project?
RM: This varies by the scale and complexity of a project as well as when it is needed. In museum design, some projects take as long as ten years. For us, we may design and build a space within months or start designing with the architects before the building is resolved, taking six years to complete the process. It really depends.
EDS: How do you pick out the material that is going to be used for your designs?
RM: We know several materials vendors and collaborate with interior designers and architects to define what we will use. Having a material library is very useful.
EDS: Do you make logos for your projects?
RM: Sometimes. I love to create identities.
EDS: When working with an architect, do you find it difficult at times to keep up with the changes they introduce to the dimensions/shapes of different architectural elements they introduce into the interior environment?
RM: We try to build good relationships with architects, as we both tend to alter spaces. The key is communication, remembering you’re on the same team, and what is in the client’s best interests.
EDS: When designing for a specific space, such as Mississippi State University, do any of the designers make the trip to the facility to inspect the areas in which the designs will be placed?
RM: Yes; on most jobs a designer or two will visit with sales and PMs.
EDS: What are some of the things you do when you’re brainstorming?
RM: I am a verbal and visual thinker, so I will often start with descriptions and words to get my mind going. Sometimes we’ll use an analogy to visualize the culture or attitude I’m shooting for, such as “if they were a car, what would they be?” Or we will develop personas say, “What does this person drink? Do they have a cat? What do they do for fun?” Having a strong understanding of why I am designing helps, so I will try and summarize what the goal is for a piece and cross check myself. I almost always thumbnail. Fail often and move on. The more you draw, the faster you’ll be able to visualize ideas and hone your skills in.
EDS: What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to someone just starting out in the industry?
RM: Be a self-starter, problem solve and troubleshoot when you hit a wall, practice and play a lot, and have fun. It takes awhile to get the swing of things, so be patient with yourself. Take breaks, let it simmer, and come back to the drawing table with a positive attitude. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—it is a sign of strength. Always learn.
EDS: Is it a challenge to make each athletic facility look different even though most want the same things?
RM: Good question. You hit the nail on the head. Design is about differentiation, right? So while some messages will likely be the same, it is looking for those cultural aspects, those values or stories that make one client different from the other. Many clients will come in and say they want exactly what they saw somewhere else. Our job is to showcase their brand and tell their story. There will always be a box, for example sports design, of aesthetics. It’s important to know the boxes at your disposal, know the client, and know when to break the rules.
EDS: Do the clients give you creative license when you are designing the space or do they give you set guidelines they want you to follow for what they want?
RM: We are the experts in design, just as they are the experts on their business/school/ etc. We collaborate to tell a compelling story. In the design process we start with listening. If you build a good relationship, making strong design recommendations is usually appreciated and well received.
EDS: Does having to work in a set color scheme hinder your ideas or make it easier to work around?
RM: Sometimes constraints are a fun challenge. Can they be a pain? Oh, yes. But sometimes you’ll end up with more interesting solutions. Take brown and gold, one of the less attractive color combinations out there– we used dark woods to achieve browns and backlit stone to achieve golds; then we pulled in stainless to give a modern feel. The result was a warm and polished space that blended modern and wholesome visuals.
EDS: What do you enjoy most about your work?
RM: The people—coworkers, clients, client’s clients. Design isn’t about visuals, it’s about telling stories.
EDS: What is the most common material used for graphics on walls?
RM: Common? Wall coverings and fabric frames. We can do anything though—wood, metal, silk, metallic fabrics, you name it.
EDS: Do you choose the materials or does the client?
RM: We do. Sometimes we work with architects and interior designers if material are already decided.
EDS: Do you (the firm) decide how to put together the design of a particular place or do the clients tell you where everything should go? What is your role in that process?
RM: We work with the client to determine what goes in the space (content), but we decide how and where it will play out (the masterplan).
EDS: How different is the design process for an existing building from one that is under construction? Does it matter? When do you go in?
RM: It matters in terms of how much of the space we can alter or build into (changing walls after they are built is expensive; electricity is key if you want lighting; data is needed for digital and interactive displays– all can be added later, but for a cost). Both have their benefits. If the building is done, you have accurate measurements and know what to work with. If it isn’t built, you can collaborate to get things where you need them before they’re built and even guide materials and paint. However, your model and spaces can and do change often—this usually takes more re-work.
EDS: When viewing the projects of Advent, it looks as if you designed more than one room for each project. If so, how did you create a smooth transition between the multiple spaces?
RM: When designing anything (a book, a magazine, a website, a space), you have to think in terms of the micro in relation to the macro (type/ paragraph/ page/ spread/ book or display/ wall/ space/ building etc.). We create a master plan, look at traffic flow, and build a visual language (the “crayon box” of textures, graphic styles, and materials to play with). If you have a strong brand and a plan, the rest will work itself out—just always cross check your work: “Does this fit with our language and is it the best way to achieve the desired goal?”
EDS: In the athletic projects, I see a good amount of wall art, for example, photography. I’d like to know how you decided on the right scale and proportion for the wall art.
RM: When designing spatial graphics, keep in mind what will be in front of it (furniture?), how far back you are seeing it (6ft hallway or 200’ parking lot?), and where the average eye level is (roughly 5’ from the ground). Like type, with practice comes an eye for being able to see the image within a space. Ask yourself what the purpose of the piece is and how you want the graphic to impact the feel of the space.
EDS: What average budget do you work with? How do you work if a client has a limited budget?
RM: It largely varies. Most of our clients are larger, upwards of $250k- 3 million per job, but we do a fair amount of smaller projects from $25-100k. We always design experiences and tell stories, so the process is similar. Our deliverables vary (fewer drawings, fewer renderings, no model sometimes). We value engineer what materials we use and the level of complexity of displays. You can still tell a great story with paint, vinyl and graphics. It just may be a different experience than interactive displays over multiple layers of materials. Our goal is to serve our clients well.