Interview with Ramona Todoca
Q – What kind of challenges you faced in your initial stage of career?
A – The biggest challenge is finding who you are as a designer, identifying your strengths and learning to present them in a cohesive manner. I am still learning that, and I think it’s a continuous process, as one’s career unfolds.
Q – Please share a little bit about your creative design process at work.
A – I work with my partner, who is a copywriter. We get a creative brief, then brainstorm for some days, then meet up with our Creative Directors to present our initial concepts. We get their feedback (sometime brainstorm some more with them). Some concepts die, others stay alive as we move forward to a formal presentation that includes comps and copy. We typically meet again with our Creative Directors and the account team before we present it to the client. From there, we start the process of reviewing and refining, which then turns into production as soon as the work is approved.
Q – Please share something about your favorite project till now.
A – It’s difficult to choose, as they are all very different and I enjoyed different parts of their process… But it I’d have to choose, I love my experimental books, there is something so wild and authentic in every single one of them. Although they are quite different from my other design work, I consider them the foundation of my practice.
Q – How do you get inspired and stay motivated? And what do you do to make your job easier or more interesting?
A – My job is not difficult, nor boring, that is why I chose it. I do what I love, everyday. I do try to have variety in the work I do, so when, for example, I work on too much web at work, I try to balance that out by doing more print freelance.
Q – How do you typically handle work in a fast-paced environment? How do you establish your priorities to meet deadlines? In other words, how do you strike a balance between creativity in work and efficiency in generating output for clients in timely manner?
A – To-do lists, prioritize by deadline, don’t stop working until it’s time to send it off to press or to be published.
Q – How do you manage a situation when you have to work on a project without sufficient guidelines or information?
A – Ask for more information, as you cannot possibly design in a vacuum. Research the topic or the ask on my own and try to help the client in defining the brief.
Q – Do you think changes in technology has improved quality and quantity of your work? How do you keep yourself updated with the latest technology?
A – I think that the changes in technology definitely improved the speed of my work, but not necessarily the quality. I think that one’s quality of work is independent from the technology, as good design is good thinking. I do, however, keep up with the newest technology to be able to design for the people using it. I read Wired magazine and do learn the newest features of every new release of the Adobe Creative Suite.
Q – Besides designing, what are other things you like to do? Do you get time for other hobbies?
A – Yes, I do a lot of things outside work and designing. I bike and hike a lot, I love camping and spending time outdoors.
Q – In closing, what sort of advice would you give someone who is just getting started in design?
1. Read, read, read. Read about the world, about the US about Antarctica, about chemistry and geography, and computers and cooking, read about the different cultures; read The Economist, The New York Times, Good magazine, Wired. Read their tech section, their healthcare, their opinion. Listen to TED lectures, choose topics that you are not familiar with. This might seem daunting and unrelated to design, but it’s huge because even if they dont teach you anything about design, they broaden your pool of knowledge. Think about it like taking your brain to the gym. The synapses of your brain will learn to make connections that you’re not going to use immediately, but they will shape your understanding of the world little by little, and eventually bleed into your design practice.
2. Question everything. Whenever you see something you like on design blogs, ask yourself why you like it, what does it do, what does it change, how is it different from everything you’ve seen before, why is it a certain way and not another. If it’s packaging for baby food, why is it pink or blue, and how would those colors differ in a different country or culture, where they associate completely different colors with boys and girls. And is it even right to have those stereotypes? Could a girl wear blue or a boy wear pink? ( silly example, I know, but thought it might make more sense). Question why something must be sexy to sell or be attractive, wonder if smart can be sexy, or sexy can be smart.
3. Whenever you get a project, learn as much as you can about the thing you’re branding/promoting/packaging, and what they/you’re communicating. If you have to choose the project, wonder why you’re choosing it, (and it can’t be just because you like it), why is it important, what does it do (again!), what does it change… what does it say? A lot of questions, but the more questions you have, the more you think, and the more you think, the more you answer, and the more you answer, the more you question again, and on and on and on. It can get unhealthy, trust me. But it’s good.
4. Try to never think about just making it look good. That is actually the very last thing I ever think about, how to make it look good. Make it look smart, make it communicate, make it compelling, make it hard, and only after you made it all those things, make it sexy. The looks are only the icing on the cake, never the foundation. Think about all the trilion tutorials on shading and 3D type and whatever effect in Photoshop that anyone, anytime can access online. Just because someone can use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc, and can see the trends online, this doesn’t make them a designer. In my humble opinion, a designer or a visual communicator is someone that can think about the world and about whatever the brief is in very complex ways, someone that can make connections, someone that can draw a conclusion and then tell it back to the world. This is hard and takes time and patience and effort beyond software and tools and what’s sexy right now. But that is why there are so few amazing designers that make it, and so many others that are pixel pushers… (nothing bad with that, again, but only if that is your choice).
Ramona Todoca is currently based in New York City and work as an art director on the IBM account at Ogilvy & Mather.