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Melissa Dettloff

Artist and Designer

Business-card pattern

Primary design concentration:

I don’t have a single concentration, but many of my personal projects start with drawing and branch off into other things from there (screen prints, patterns, comics, zines, etc.). For clients, I do a lot of web, print design, and illustration work.

Most preferred tools for designing:

Pencils—regular no. 2; Sketchbooks—I have a bunch of different ones for different purposes, including some handmade, but I like Moleskine sketchbooks for putting down rough ideas; Photoshop

Screen print

How and why did you choose to become a designer?

My personal projects are usually a blend of art, craft, and design, but professionally, I was drawn to design to help people make their projects and ideas clear, user-friendly, and visually-pleasing.

“Pizza Ghost”

What are some of the challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

Feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of a project, either because I feel like I have hundreds of ideas or no ideas. When I feel like this, I usually sit down with my sketchbook and try to dump everything out that’s in my head, or try to scrape up any possible beginning point to get started, and that usually gets things going.

What is your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

Solutions that are simple, clear, uncluttered, unforced, and appear effortless.

“Lunch Bag”

From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

Good communication skills are important, not only in the work itself, but in being able to talk out the project with the client. Being unafraid to “be yourself” also leads to success, because that is where original and interesting ideas come from. It’s a struggle sometimes to put aside what you think you are expected to be, and just be yourself.

How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

Always having a personal project or two on the side, to work on, helps me stay motivated and the ideas flowing. If one project is frustrating, there can be another to turn to, and often solutions for a problem appear when you stop thinking about them. I also try to get out and see things, and look at a lot of books. I have been making conscious efforts lately to go out—see things and people in real life—and step away from the computer more often.

For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline, what is your advice?

Show up, and find your voice. There is that Chuck Close quote—“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”—that I have found to be true and good advice. Show up, produce (even if it’s not very good or what you had in your head), keep making, and it will bring you to a place of finding your voice and your style. Accept that it might take a while.

What is your quest in design, from a professional practice, education or evolution standpoint?

I hope to keep growing and challenging myself, and I would like to work toward building more of a bridge between my personal and client projects.

Melissa Dettloff highly recommends “The Grammar of Ornament” by Owen Jones. It’s “a great thick book, from 1856, full of historical design and decorative art.”

Images courtesy of Melissa Dettloff.

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