Informational Interview: Laura Peterson

This past week I have been on spring break and I chose to interview a designer near my hometown. I contacted Laura Peterson, who works at Lakeside Press in Willmar, MN and who also does some other design work (Codeblue Marketing and Design) on the side, and we met on March 12th in her office at Lakeside Press for an informational interview.

About Laura

Laura studied design at Central Lakes College in the Brainerd/Staples area. Her two-year degree focused mostly on print design, with little interactive design. She toured Lakeside Press with her class and, after she graduated in 2006, she returned to the Willmar area and has worked at Lakeside Press since. She also has family connections in the area.

Highlights from the Interview

Laura works as a designer and salesperson for Lakeside Press, a printing house in Willmar. She is one of two designers at Lakeside, but she is the only designer who also has contact with the client. She is very involved in many projects, often from start to finish. She meets with the client at the beginning of the project, works on the design, and often sees the project through the print and finishing processes. From her perspective, being able to meet and talk with the client helps her to design with the client in mind; she can more effectively produce designs that the client needs.

Laura expressed that the most satisfying part of her job is seeing a project through from start to finish. It is very rewarding to see the finished product and to know that you had a large part in it. The worst part of her job is when she completes a design for a client that she absolutely loves and the client doesn’t like it. Then she has to go back and redesign the project, wishing that the original design was the one that went to press.

Laura used to want to do more and more to a client’s design, but she had to learn to just let it go and be done with it after a certain point. When Laura is designing for herself or her company, however, she takes more time to get it just right. With clients and deadlines it is hard (if not impossible) to get it “perfect,” so Laura had to learn to stop working on a good design in order to move ahead with the project and to not waste the client’s money.

Lakeside Press is a small firm with only 7-8 employees. The job titles are loose, and at times everyone will help out on a certain aspect of a project. If a large project comes through, Laura will often help collate and bind signatures or work with cutting paper.

What Designers Should Know

The one piece of advice that Laura kept coming back to was that designers should know how to prepare a document for print. Because Lakeside Press is primarily a printing house, other designers send work to be printed. Three main issues that Laura runs into have to do with bleeds, CMYK and RGB, and layout. Often, she said designers will send in work to be printed that do not have bleeds, and Laura has to send the work back because it cannot be printed. Improper color settings is also a common issue. In addition to color, Laura also runs across improper layouts. For example, a tri-fold brochure does not have three equal sections; the designer must take into account the brochure’s fold when it is being designed. File type is also important. Lakeside Press primarily prints from InDesign. Sometimes designers will send work in Adobe Illustrator instead of Quark or InDesign. Laura uses Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign as she works, but the presses print from InDesign.

When I asked Laura what she wished she had known in school, she mentioned three things. One, that she had learned more about web design. Two, that she had learned more about setting projects up for press (the recurring theme of the interview). Three, that she had learned more about how to interact with a client.

What Employers Look For

Laura’s perspective on what employers are looking for in a potential employee came back to the prepress preparation. Also, Laura talked about what should be in a portfolio. There can never be too many projects in a portfolio, but no less then ten. Less than ten projects doesn’t show enough of your design skill. A portfolio should demonstrate a variety of projects (for example, business cards, logos, ads, postcards, branding, etc.). Made-up projects are good; it is also good to volunteer some design time and put those projects into your portfolio. It shows that you are proactive in finding work and accomplishing projects.

Employers also look at your resumé to see what your work experience has been. Laura felt that for me, as a student right out of college, general work experience that showed consistency would be good. Employers want to know that you can hold a job for more than six months; they want commitment. Internships can be helpful as they give work experience within the design field. Laura did not see internships as being particularly helpful, but commented that it might be helpful to gain experience in the area that I am interested in.

Things to Remember

Mistakes will happen. Mistakes still happen, no matter how good you get. Laura had to learn that mistakes happen and to not panic when they do happen. She had to learn to find the easiest way to fix the mistake, to fix it and to move on. Get over it. Don’t let the mistakes wear you down or make you sad for the rest of the day (or week). Along those same lines, there will always be a typo, no matter how many people proof it.

Know how to prepare a project for the printer. This topic came up three times in the course of our conversation. In coming to work at Lakeside, the prepress process surprised Laura and it took her four years before she was comfortable with the equipment and printing process. She commented that designers need to know how to prepare their projects for print. It avoids lots of unneeded issues.

Other Advice

I talked with Laura about how I love to make books and she wondered if I could make specialty books on the side if I worked for a printing house. Printing and bookbinding are connected, and to combine the two disciplines could be very effective.

I also mentioned freelance work to Laura, and she said that for her, freelance is removed enough from the printing world that she wouldn’t really enjoy it. She encouraged me to gain four or five years of experience before setting out on my own. She suggested keeping with a certain job for a year or two to really get a feel for how it works.

Summary

I am no longer as impressed with the design work done by designers in my hometown as I was when I first started school. As I learn more about design, the design in Willmar seems less well-done as design elsewhere, although it isn’t bad. As I thought about going home for spring break and connecting with designers, I wondered who I would contact. I found Laura’s sites and emailed her; not only was she a designer, but she worked at a printing house.

There are many things that Laura said that I did not agree with, such as the value of internships or the fact that there can never be too many projects in a portfolio. Unless you have the right connections, I see internships as being very valuable in gaining experience and meeting people that can help further your career. As far as a portfolio goes, I think that if I were to put everything in, my portfolio would get too long to be effective.

After Laura and I were finished talking, she showed me through the printing house. It was good to see what goes on behind the scenes and to have a one-on-one tour of a printing house. In Design II we are studying the print production process and just toured a printing house, so this interview was relevant in not only making connections but also in continuing to learn.