We were super excited to chat with Airbnb illustrator/designer, Meredith Schomburg about her design journey and the behind-the-scenes in the San Francisco office. She talks about how every project she’s worked on has been the result of a pre-existing relationship; how exposure to different perspectives has led to her strongest work; and why you should just put yourself out there and say hello!
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? When I was in 5th grade my teacher would read to us for an hour or so every day, and during that time we were allowed to draw if we wanted. I remember one time sketching out this elaborate scene of characters. A friend found the drawing and wrote a short story based on it. We formed this partnership where she would write and I would illustrate. My dad picked up on our collaboration, bought me a wacom tablet, and encouraged me to experiment with digital illustration. I spent hours playing with different illustration software – I was instantly hooked. I’ve always enjoyed drawing, illustrating and turning narrative concepts into something visual. Diving into the world of design was a natural progression for me. I found I loved it, so I’ve kept pursuing it.
What was your plan after graduating and what actually happened? I spent the summer before my senior year interning at IDEO in Boston and the exposure to a larger city drove me to look everywhere for a job except my hometown of Raleigh, NC. I planned everything around moving to either San Francisco or New York, since that seemed to be the trend. I was all set to take a fellowship in SF, but at the last minute had a change of heart and joined a small agency in Raleigh. I realized how much I loved the little town for what it taught me and wanted more time to invest in its creative community. I left a year later for Airbnb, but all the connections that made it possible for that move came about because of people I met during my extra year in Raleigh.
What do you look for in a great portfolio? Craft, a point of view, and an explorative spirit. Good craft shows an attention to detail and appreciation for presentation. A point of view demonstrates thought behind the craft. Obviously there’s more to design than pure aesthetic. Illustration, design, all of it, is a platform to create some form of dialogue or communicate a specific message. Optimize that opportunity. Additionally, I’m always inspired by designers sharing new work on a regular basis. It’s evidence their love for the craft goes beyond a means of making money. It’s their medium of expression and experimentation. That said, don’t think your portfolio can only be a website. It’s interesting to see how people represent themselves on different social media platforms. Sharing your work in that way indicates an awareness of culture and engagement with an active audience.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator? I’d say I’m still developing my style, which is part of the fun. My personal style can grow and evolve with me. My illustrations tend to focus on what’s happening in my life at the moment which I like to visualize through the use of bright colors and organic shapes. I remember a friend asking how I process the things in my personal life. I used to say I didn’t have a form of creatively doing that, I’d just talk things out. Then I started channeling emotional responses to life events through illustration and found an outlet to process with more intention. Through visually representing my day to day I found a stronger awareness to the happenings around me and better recognized habitual trends.
What has been your highlights since you started out? Hands downs, the people I’ve met along the way. With my team at Airbnb I have the opportunity to meet and build relationships with so many exceptional humans. Working for a global brand attracts a spectrum of people from all sorts of places and backgrounds. It’s a diversity of thought and life experiences I never really interfaced with before living in San Francisco. Exposure to different perspectives has led me to my strongest work. It’s forced me to get out of my own head and design more holistically.
How important is networking? Every team or project I’ve worked on has been the result of a pre-existing relationship. But I’m not a huge fan of the term “networking.” It implies a more business oriented intent and tends to create a mindset of “what this person can do for me.” I’ve found it’s far more rewarding, and fun, building friendships with peers and those you admire. If you think the work someone’s doing is interesting, just say hello or even take them to coffee if you’re in the same area. I use twitter and instagram for that all the time. Be kind and vocalize admiration, look for opportunities to help others succeed. In doing so you’ll find that instead of a network, you’ve built a community of friends, which is far more valuable.