Ask the Experts: Q&A with Donovan Olson, Visual Designer

Donovan Olson, IMI Visual DesignerIMI’s Visual Designer, Donovan Olson joins this week’s Ask the Experts series. He talks about the evolution of web design, design pet peeves, and a few lessons learned along the way.

Question: What do you like most about your role as a visual designer?

I always wanted to be an artist ever since I was little. I like that I can put all my thoughts down on the computer and see something from start to finish. Sometimes it’s easier to go old school and sketch it out first. Going from pen to paper to the computer – I like the evolution to the final product, whether that’s for a website or printed out.

Question: How do you think web design has evolved over the past decade?

It’s a lot more user-friendly (depending on the website). It’s definitely visually more exciting. You see websites from the 90s and you cringe. If you go back to the AOL days, everything was squeezed into tight margins, but it’s evolved over time. Nowadays everything is cleaner and striking. For the companies that know what they’re doing, they’re more intuitive. Web designers have created sites so that anyone of any age can use them.

Question: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to design?

Every designer hates feedback that includes “make it pop” or “make it good.” My question is: Do you want this quick and easy or do you want time spent on it? Because underestimating the time that goes into a design is challenging to deal with. [A non-designer may ask], why did it take you that long? To either find the right image or manipulate it can take a lot of time in itself. Unfortunately, we don’t just click a design button and have what we need.

Question: How do you steer those more “challenging” conversations?

To help guide people, I say, I see where you’re going and I like your idea. Then follow that with, here’s how we can grow upon your idea and evolve it into something that can be shareable and get traction and lead more people to your site.  

That’s the difficult part, to get people to stop for a second. You have to ask, what’s the attention-grabber? Picture yourself driving on a freeway. You look up and see a billboard. The creator of that billboard has two seconds tops to grab your attention. It’s the same with online; people are going to scroll right past it. Once someone looks away, they’re not going to do a double take.

But working at an agency helps because all teams can work together to come up with a final product that the client is going to like. With all powers combined, we can make something special.

Question: What are some of the most important career lessons you’ve learned over time?

I’ve learned more by working in the industry (than in college). Until you get the real-life experience, you can’t take everything to heart. Whether it’s because someone likes or hates what you’ve created, you have to realize, as an artist, not everyone is going to love what you do. You’re going to have be willing to bend and work with other people’s opinions and ideas. It’s ok to love what you do, but if you’re in an industry where you’re trying to appease clients, then you have to get out of your head.

Also, don’t be afraid to step away from your computer. I’ll get locked into a project and feel if I walk away, I’ll lose the mojo or fall out of the groove I’m in. But sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise to look at with a fresh set of eyes and question it or say, yeah, this does look good. It’s an entirely new person looking at it sometimes when you allow yourself to step away.

And when the client doesn’t like it, you do have to sort of grin and bear it. You can always push it and explain yourself. They simply might not be seeing what you see. The client may not have seen some of the shadows or elements that are more inherent to a designer. Explain the thought process. At least walk them through why you did it.

With the team, we’ll just get it out and move on. Zen yourself and let it all out on the drive home.

Question: Where do you look for design inspiration?

Professionally speaking, I look to my co-workers and everyone else from the team. We’re all really helpful with each other. There are also multiple websites where you can get inspiration. Everyday life; design is everywhere. On the drive home, you’ll pass a million things that people have designed. Every building is architecture and even in the things you wouldn’t imagine, although some are more engineer-based rather than aesthetically pleasing. Stare up at the clouds. Close your eyes and you can visualize it. It all depends.

My mom was an artist, though, and she really was what got me into drawing. I took pride in it when I was younger because when there was a group art project, they wanted me. I got good grades in art class and I enjoyed that. My inspiration from when I was younger would be Batman, obviously. I would draw comic characters and dinosaurs and tried to get better at the craft as I grew older.

I took AP art and it all started with pencil and paper. Then, I turned to the computer. I eventually thought, how can I combine this with something I love doing? That’s how I became a graphic designer. What’s really cool about working here is Irene (Creative Director) and Jen (Creative Manager) do give creative freedom and push within boundaries of what the client wants.  It’s all about trying to balance creativity with the (box of) brand guidelines. It’s what you can do in the box and how you can make it your own in a way that the client will buy into too.

Want to hear more from IMI’s team of experts? Read our past interviews:

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Mate Dyekiss, SEO Strategist

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