Today, we are joined by Annika Weis , she is a Graphic Designer. You can view her portfolio here.
Tell us about your graphic design career. How did you break into graphic design, and how did you advance to where you are today?
I guess one important thing that has always been inherent in my career decisions was that I have always been very clear in my self perception about not being an artist, but being a designer. My first career move was joining Interbrand Munich, where I worked for more than 3 years on BMW and MINI. It felt great being a young designer in an internationally operating branding agency working on some of the world’s most renown brands. This was where I was fortunate to build up an incredibly profound base for the branding process in general, which I can still rely on today. In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play a critical role in the BMW rebrand. My next step was spontaneous yet far from unexpected. I’ve always wanted to get some work experience abroad and I’ve always had a sweet spot for Australia. I arrived in Sydney with literally a backpack and guts. Only ten days later I landed a job at Yello Brands, which later became Designworks, Australasia’s biggest branding network. I completely loved living and working n Sydney. People I’ve met and friendships I’ve made are some of my fondest memories. Working in Australia was completely different to Germany. Clients and projects were much smaller, but the way the projects were pursued was so much more creative and full of life. For me it felt like I was braking free from all the guidelines and grid work. That’s when I first completely understood the importance of one single strong brand idea, which is still my focus and passion in branding today. I guess the most important thing is that you find a way of doing your job that reflects your personality and that you absolutely believe in. Because it will make you do good work. It’s a very personal way and everyone has to find it for themselves. Through finding my passion and establishing my own way of working I quickly stepped up from mid-weight to senior designer and just one year later to design director leading a team of 4 designers. Today I feel that going back to Germany actually was a bigger step than going to Australia i the first place. Going abroad you learn so much about your own cultural identity. It feels like looking at yourself from a distance and you learn to adapt, learn to take things easier. Being back in your home country is a different challenge. You have to readapt to your own culture. Your point of view has changed. The good thing about it is that you’re able to see new opportunities. I currently feel there is a lot of space for improvement in German branding. The knowledge and blend of both ways of living and thinking, that’s what I’m going to build my work upon.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I love the variety in my day to day work. One week I work on a rebrand for one of the biggest universities in Rio, the next week I art direct an animation movie for a german engeneering company. You always have to stay flexible, adapt and react to new situations quickly. That’s what keeps me going. It’s a never ending challenge and learning process.
What are some favorite projects you’ve completed and why?
One of my favourite projects is my work for Benevolent Society, the oldest charity of Australia. They’re helping communities strive. Based on the brand idea ‘Strong together’ I developed the design with overlaying, connecting shapes in bright and optimistic colours. For the launch of the brand we developed an interactive light sculpture for Sydney’s annual lights festival Vivid. People shared their hopes for change via social media, which influenced a tunnel of lights. The more hopes were exchanged the more beautiful and exciting the experience in the tunnel was. It was a clever interpretation of the idea ‘Strong together’, one of the most visited sculptures of the festival and a great success for our client.
Tell us about your graphic design education. How did you decide to study graphic design?
I’ve always had a passion for drawing, hand writing and all things hand made. So my decision to study graphic design came naturally. I took a 9 months full-time design course pre studies. It made me confident about my decision and I was able to put together a great portfolio. As a result I could choose between 5 universities which is pretty rare.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your graphic design education?
Culturally design doesn’t quite enjoy the status it deserves in German society. Germany is a country of enginieering, finance and management, whereas Anglo-Saxon culture has a bigger focus on sales and marketing. Thus the creative industry in Germany lacks the pride the Anglo-Saxon creative industry flaunts. It really effects the self perception of designers and how they see their work. I believe great branding based on real ideas has the power to turn a whole business around and if we do work on charities it can actually help to make society fairer and better. It’s the big picture that keeps me passionate about my job. I was fortunate enough to experience the difference it can make to your self perception early in my career. In our industry work experience goes above all else and the more studios you work in, the more people you get inspired by, the better you get. Also the more internationally proven you are, the more valuable you get for most design businesses. I made my career moves without much advice. Looking back it all makes sense, like always in life: You can only connect the dots looking backwards. The sum of my decisions certainly brought me to where I am today. I am really happy about every single one of the experiences I have been fortunate to make. And curious about what’s to come.
How can prospective graphic design students assess their skill and aptitude?
With graphic design I guess it’s simple. If you’re made for it you’ll know. It’s not one of the subjects you will be able to get through by discipline and hard learning. You need intuitive understanding and a creative mind. If you don’t have it, opt for something else. If you have it and you’re ready to put in hard work you are an your way to become a good designer and creative thinker. Great graphic designers have learned to keep their natural inspiration alive while steering their creativity in logical ways. There’s no good design without good thinking.
What can students applying to graphic design schools do to increase their chances of being accepted?
Portfolio is key. Take your time, take it serious and get as much advice as you can from people in the industry. Personality is key. Whatever you do, show your personality, be unique and believe in yourself. Don’t be mainstream because there will be hundreds of others just like you.
What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in graphic design?
There are many ways to have a career in graphic design. From my experience the sooner you know how exactly you see yourself being a graphic designer – e.g. working in the best globally renown studio, building up your own design studio etc – the sooner you shape a vision for your personal future, the sooner you will be able to pursue it and the sooner you will reach your first goals and be rewarded. Don’t let decisions become too important. Start anyway, your first step will never be the maximum, but it will take you to your second step and so on. There are no wrong decision. Only not deciding is wrong.
What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities?
Being design director at Whybrand Frankfurt my role is to shape the creative vision of the studio and to lead one of two design teams. I’m fortunate to take an important role at a very interesting time of the business. The creative offer was established in late 2013, when I joined Whybrand. Since then we’ve shaped our way of thinking and working together while going through some amazing projects. It’s a very inspiring time and there is lots of space for everyone’s imagination. I love the freedom and the fact that I am able to bring in my expertise to create a creative studio culture.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?
The tool of trade I use most would be imagination. Never say no. Never feel restricted. Always be open for the brief. Keep on searching for the real question. Try to tackle the project from all sides. Keep your eyes open and your mind flexible. With all the logic that brand strategy brings to a project you still have to add the magic that only your intuition can bring. The process can be hard and unnerving. But the project will unfold in front of you eventually and you will find the heart of it. You always have to believe in the process.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? What are the hottest specialties within the graphic design field over the next decade?
The most challenging aspects of my job are also the most rewarding ones when you get them right. For me it is key to work towards a single, strong brand idea and to make this idea come alive in all touchpoints of the brand. The hardest work is to strip back all the unimportant clutter to get to the real heart of the brand and truely understand what the business or service is about. It’s the hardest part but also the only way you will be able to create a meaningful brand. I love the part of the project when you realize it’s so much fun to translate your brand across all touchpoints. That’s when you know your brand idea has legs and your design is ready to hit the road– it has become a hard working system across touchpoints while still allowing enough stretch to keep applications fresh and exciting. The most rewarding moment is when your client embraces the new brand and starts to live it. I’ve seen strong brand ideas turning around whole businesses, creating a new vision for the management board and giving new meaning to staff. Branding can be so powerful and has got so much to do with psychology. Branding as we know it and practice it today is still such a young industry. It’s still developing and we are far from understanding its full capability. In the next decade branding specialists will have to team up more with psychologists and sociologists. When I work on branding projects I always envision the brand as human personality – what’s its way of talking to customers, where does it live, what kind of habits does it have and so on. It’s obvious that as a brand designer your work would improve from deeper knowledge about psychological aspects. Agencies also need to include copywriters more naturally in branding projects. Pioneers like Wolff Olins have already started to do so. Often great designers are witty copywriters at the same time. In my opinion brand language paired with brand psychology are the most interesting fields to explore in the next years. The findings out of these two are sure to push branding to the next level.