An interview with Jessica Walsh

Jessica Walsh is a big name in the design world. She’s an art director and author running a high-profile agency alongside Stephan Sagmeister. Her work stretches the boundaries of convention. It’s bold, provocative, surprising and playful all at once. And we are absolutely thrilled to have her speak this Friday.

She’s made a name by applying herself passionately to every opportunity that’s come her way. We caught up with Jessica via email to ask her some questions about staying inspired, life choices, and getting the job done. It went something like this:

We’re really excited to have you come visit this month. Have you been to Portland before?

I’m excited to visit, I’ve never been before!

Why did you decide to extend your visit to Portland beyond the day of the event? Is there anything on the “I gotta do this” list?

I’ve heard the city has such an active and vibrant creative scene, so I am excited to check out what it has to offer. Usually before I travel I post on my Instagram asking for suggestions on what to do in a city, and then I just wander around and check out what people recommend. I also have a pretty serious love addiction with coffee, and I heard once or twice that this city has some decent coffee shops ;)

You know about our food, right? Anything you’re excited to try or revisit?

Not really, I only heard about the coffee. Where should I eat?

Your pal Stefan dared the AIGA board to do a naked photo shoot last year. It was pretty hilarious, and it got us in touch with our vulnerable side. Can you tell us what makes you vulnerable in your work?

For me personally, nudity does not make me feel vulnerable. I think being open and honest emotionally is what leaves me most vulnerable, and I try to incorporate that into my work.

You guys are running a pretty well known design studio. What’s your favorite part of that whole experience?

Making what I believe to be great work for great clients. I love that every day I get to do something that keeps me challenged and learning and growing as a designer and human.

Okay, what’s your not-so-favorite part?

The non-creative aspects like studio logistics and financials. Also, crazy clients. We’re pretty lucky to have 99% awesome clients whom I consider to be great people, who are running great businesses. However, every once in a while we get someone who is just not nice and impossible to please and it can make life miserable.

Any tips on maximizing productivity?

Stop procrastinating and just make shit. Seriously, sometimes I see designers on blogs and Facebook for hours and it’s no wonder they have to work weekends and pull all-nighters. If you get to work and focus intensely for 10 hours straight, you can get so much done.

So, we offered the Twitterverse a chance to ask you a question. Our winner @geografa asks: “Of the work you’re most proud of, was there a specific motivation you remember? Dream, person, idea?”

I’m most proud of 40 Days of Dating. The motivation for doing the project started with questioning if we could improve ourselves as humans, and if we could incorporate more personal stories into creative work.

Speaking of dreams, how much sleep does a successful designer like yourself actually get?

I never pull all-nighters, I don’t find that productive, I like to wake up early and get shit done. Right now we’re a bit understaffed, so I am forced to work long hours. For example, I am up writing emails as well as this interview at 5:30am on a Sunday morning… Hoping to finish all my work by noon so I can spend some downtime with my husband today, though.

You’re so prolific with your work. Do you ever get into a design funk? How do you keep yourself inspired?

Stefan and I are constantly taking on new clients, designing for new mediums, and I am constantly traveling and meeting awesome people. All this keeps me on my toes and keeps me inspired. The only time I get into a “funk” or “creative block” is when work is too stressful and begins to feel like work because I am not happy personally. [You] need to allow yourself time and space to play and experiment in order to keep inspired and making interesting work.

What other kinds of stuff are you into these days?

Well, work takes up most of my time, honestly. I do love running. I also love trying new restaurants with my husband and drinking fancy cocktails. I also enjoy long plane rides with no wifi and my sharpie marker so I have free space to think and write. Also, I recently got addicted to Snapchat.

Here’s another one from the internets – kinda related. @MsAllyAllen asks: “As a young professional with a lot of passion for strategy, design and communications, how do I go about finding my “specialty”?

You don’t necessarily need a specialty, though you did just name a few possibilities…. there are people who specialize in design strategy for example.

Was there any other career path that you considered taking?

Yes, I wanted to be a psychologist.

If you had one piece of advice for those of us who are aspiring to be great, what would it be?

Stay persistent and do the kind of work that you’re most passionate about. Create work that feeds your soul, not your ego. I think people can see when you’re only creating work for recognition vs. work that really inspires you and challenges you, that you are honestly passionate about. Also, work your ass off and be nice to people. No one wants to hire lazy people or assholes, life is too short.

You can hear Jessica Walsh speak about the importance of play and how to “Make Your Own Rules” this Friday, July 31st at 6pm at the newly renovated Revolution Hall. Be sure to join us for a memorable talk.

By Dan Olson
Published February 23, 2016
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