Interview with Kaaru (@Kaaru.5)

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve never really had a career in any other field or seriously considered another field of study, so I’ll have to discuss why I decided to major in design and stay in the field.

I studied Graphic Design and Industrial Design during my undergrad years at University of Illinois, dabbling in many side projects, often with non-designers. I’ve had various jobs in design, gradually transitioning from traditional media (print) to digital. I went to grad school at University of Washington briefly to study Human-Centered Design, but left without graduating. I am now a Product Designer at an education startup.

Not going to lie, one of the major reasons I studied design was because there were no exams. I was good at studying, it just didn’t seem like a good method of evaluation or use of time. I would often get swept up in studying test-taking strategies rather than the content itself, meaning I forget knowledge quickly once the test is over.

So not only was it relaxing to have the week off while everyone else was studying for exams, but the project-based curriculum really helped me hone my collaboration and communication skills. I was a quiet little mouse before college and some of my high school friends would be surprised at the amount of confidence I have today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started doing this?
Everyone wants a legacy that outlasts their own lifespan. At most technology companies, design is only second to engineering in the ability to build things people use. And in my original field of study—graphic design—designers were the real creators of the artifacts that represented and influenced human cultures throughout history. Humans are naturally illogical, and little mastermind me hungered for the little bit of power designers had on human behavior.

In high school, I emailed an alumn of my to-be alma mater to discuss the ethics of design & advertising. The ethics and responsibility of designers in our communities has strongly influenced the projects I choose to work on, the industries I choose to work in (currently in education), and the messages I wish to communicate.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find the proper amount of time to work on a project. At the beginning of the project, we are usually feel excited and inspired, but with time engagement dicreases and we don’t enjoy the project any more. For different people the time period between the two states is different, so try to figure out your proper amount of time: it may be a week, 2 weeks, or even a month. This will help you either to take the projects that last this peroid only, or divide big projects into the appropriate blocks.
Be honest with yourself about your feelings. People of creative professions usually work powered by their inner enthusiasm. But when we lack the internal engagement, we try to fuel it with our brain work: we try to convince ourselves that we like what we do. This only wears us off. So, stop forcing yourself to looking at the bright sight and say out loud (or write down) what how you REALLY feel about the current project. Of course, there’s no need to tell this information to anyone else, but you will see what a relief it will bring to you.
Try something new. Burnout is often caused by the routine, and the best way to escape it is to start learning new stuff. Find some courses, conferences, and trainings to learn the skills that you admire in other people. Maybe it would be motion design, lettering, UX writing, or anything else. This way you will not only feel more energized, but also will become a better specialist.
Spend more time on other hobbies. Do you watch, learn, or read something that is not related to your profession? Do you communicate with people from other work environment? If you don’t do it often enough, you might get overwhelmed with your profession and face burnout. Read a fiction book, go skating, watch a sitcom for at least 1 hour every day to take a load off your brain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Larry Miller listed some great designers but my personal favorite is a guy named Don Ashcraft. He is sadly no longer with us but the first year I began my design career he took me under his wing so to speak and taught me real world fundamentals that I never experienced in college. I would stay late at work and together we created some great design. He also gave me the confidence I needed to succeed. I never could have made it without his patience and encouragement. It is a real shame that new designers don’t often get to work with solid, experienced designers to help them hone their design skills and be able to take that next leap forward. Rest In Peace Don and thanks.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That’s a good question! Generally put, I’d say that there’s no unmet need in the graphic design world. Any client need can be met by using designers with different specialisations and talents, at different price points and with different results. You can say that an unmet need is something that has never been done before, but usually every request can be broken down to smaller tasks that are more familiar and easier to carry out. If something is especially challenging, it can most probably still be done with finding the right person that can experiment with finding a solution – and they usually will.

At the same time, the most important thing to consider is that not every need is met well and there’s many ways to resolve the same problem. Canva was created to offer businesses the opportunity to produce good enough designs without the need for a resident graphic designer. Did they met an unmet need? No. The need was to have designs produced and there were many ways to do that before, in different price points. They changed the way that need was met. Is this solution the best for every company? No, it’s not. It’s the best solution for companies with smaller budgets that try to keep up with competitors with bigger budgets.

More important than being ground-breaking, is to niche and position yourself well and work on improving your skills and your craft. That will massively improve your chances to stand out to the right people. This may also help you see specific challenges your audience faces, and help them resolve them in a better and/or more efficient way.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
Off the top of my head, in no particular order:

Don’t trust verbal agreements. People can get very selective in how they recall specifics you have discussed with them, especially when money is involved. Get as much as possible on record.
Money is underrated, especially when you are young. Never agree on any other reimbursement but money. But if people are willing to give you money for what you do, you are probably contributing something valuable – a nice feeling.
People have trouble verbalizing what they want. Intuition and empathy are important qualities to get a better understanding about the expectations of other people. And don’t be shy to ask twice if necessary.
People, in general, dislike dealing with complexity. Being able to break down complex issues into digestible chunks is very valuable in everyday communication.
Figuring out the business side of anything is not only interesting, but will also make you better at your job.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me on my instagram page: @kaaru.5
Anything specific you’d like to have mentioned in the article?
For those that believe in God like me:

Put God First.
Raise the rest of your life to meet you. Don’t search for defining moments, because they will never come. The moments that define you have already happened. And they will already happen again.