If Jessica Walsh’s work/Jessica Walsh herself wasn’t a regular topic of conversation between you and your design-obsessed/general friends, take a second to acknowledge that life as you know is about to change (for the better). Aside from penning Forty Days of Dating (the social experiment/type-enthusiasts’ dream that went viral last year), this multidisciplinary designer and art director has been making waves in the design industry – 2012 being the game-changing year in which the legendary Stefan Sagmeister (whose award-winning work appeared in every textbook I bought during my 4-year post secondary studies in graphic design, FYI) announced that he would be renaming his design firm, Sagmeister Inc., to Sagmeister & Walsh; deeming Jessica, then 25, as his business partner.
Though she got her start at age 11 coding and designing websites, her current body of work includes photo illustration, branding, typography, and everything in between. Even still, Jessica recognizes that having the technical skills is only half the battle of being a designer. Creating aesthetically pleasing things and conceptualizing effective ideas is key, yes, but the biggest battle is “selling your work to the client and staying persistent through production” – and that drive and persistency is truly an integral part of what makes Jessica so successful. Well…that, and maybe the techno & house music she listens while she works to keep her focused. #dulynoted
What do you do?
Our design studio, Sagmeister & Walsh works on a wide range of design from branding, commercials, advertising, book design, illustrations, products, packaging, to installations and exhibitions. I am interested in creating emotion and concept driven work with beautiful form. I always try to approach the process in a playful way with a sense of humor. I want people who view my work to experience or feel something: whether it makes them think, brings them joy, or inspires.
Source: Sagmeister & Walsh
What did you study and how did it affect where you are today?
I went to RISD, and the first year I was required to do a “foundation year” focused on fine arts. Getting off the computer and experimenting with various materials was one of the most valuable things I took from my education. Another thing I took from my time at RISD was the value of creative collaborations. I realized I can’t be great at everything, and I shouldn’t try to be. I learned the importance of seeking out and relying on other people who have certain unique skills who could help me achieve my vision. Learning to work with other creatives is a huge part of what I do now a daily basis to this day. It saves time and improves the end result of the project.
When did you realize that designing was something you could do for a living?
I am originally self-taught. My parents were entrepreneurs, and growing up I always figured I would follow down their path and go into business school. When I was 11, I started coding and designing for websites. I started doing freelance web work for individuals and small businesses for a few years, before I had the idea to create an html help site that offered free graphic templates for other kids. Google advertising had just started during that time, and I put one of the ads on the site and was shocked that I could make money doing something that I truly loved and considered my hobby. I’ve aimed to do that ever since.
What’s one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on? Can you describe the process you’re involved in?
Forty Days of Dating is a project I did with a good friend of mine, Timothy Goodman. We’ve been friends for four years and were always making fun of each other for our exact opposite relationship problems and relationship styles. We wanted to explore our habits and fears and learn more about the nature of relationships and love. We decided to date each other for forty days with specific boundaries as a way to take on that challenge. We journaled about our experience every day, as well as recording videos and making illustrations.
Since the launch, we had over 8 million visitors, and have received thousands of emails from people around the world. Much of the mail we’ve received is about how our stories and struggles in love have touched people in some way. Some people say our story has forced them to reflect on their own relationships, and has been a catalyst to make positive change. Others tell us how they found comfort in relating to our feelings, or how its helped them understand the male / female perspective better. Others tell us it gave them the courage to seek therapy, or gave them closure on past breakups. Others say that it helped them pause in a busy world and reflect on their own behaviors and patterns. One of the main goals I’ve had is to touch people in some way through my work, so receiving this feedback has been amazing and humbling. It’s why I consider it a success, and I want to do more work that involves a personal angle in the future.
What are the biggest challenges you face with work? How do you usually deal?
Personally, I think good ideas and good design is not that difficult. The biggest battle as a designer is selling your work to the client and staying persistent through production.
How did you make the transition from designer to art director?
To me it seemed very natural. When I design I have a vision in my head, and have a set of tools that I use to make them come to life. When I art direct it’s the same thing: there is still that vision in my head that needs to be produced, I just direct & oversee others to help make it come to life.
What is the piece of work you’re proudest of?
Aizone campaign, I’ve been working with them about four years now and I am happy with how we’ve evolved the brand campaigns but stuck close to the original brand identity we created to them.
If you could build a cool girl army, who would be in it?
My sister is the coolest girl I know!
How do you find balancing creative side with the more business side of working at an agency?
I try to get business stuff out of the way in the morning such as emails, invoices, or studio management.
Source: Zak Mulligan
Years from now, when people look back at your body of work, what do you want to be remembered by?
That nude photograph! Just kidding. I hope some others will find my work interesting or enjoyable, and that our clients find the design work we did for them to “work”.
What are some visual things that are inspiring you right now (photographs, movies, tv shows, design, etc.)?
I just saw the movie Samsara and LOVED it. There is so much beauty and pain in this world and that will never fail to interest & inspire me.
What is your favourite song/album to listen to while you work?
I listen to techno & house…my sister got me hooked on this kind of music and I find it very meditative to work to.
Source: Sagmeister & Walsh
What is some advice you would give to someone looking to start a creative career in design?
Take on work that challenges you. Take on clients that are smarter than you. Take on work that has content that you believe in and are genuinely passionate about or interested in. Never do the same exact thing too many times, or you’ll never grow. I do my best work when I have never done something like it before, and am unfamiliar with the territory. It drives me to work harder and step up to the challenge.
Header image: Henry Hargreaves