We chat with Art Director & Creative Director, Amy Kreft-Green and Kristi Cherundolo, from Elum Designs about all things typography, re-inventing the Elum brand and breaking the rules once in a while.
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
When looking at portfolios, good typography is really important and something that we scrutinize closely. It not only tells us right off the bat if you have an eye for design, but it shows that you’ve paid close attention to the details and put a lot of care in laying out the information and researching the right fonts. Versatility is another important aspect that we look for in a great portfolio. You should be able to achieve a range of styles. A lot of our clients come to us because we offer a multitude of looks within the same design house. It is also best to avoid techniques like stock filters because they can be a dead giveaway of your skill level and dependency on the programs for design.
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?
We look for designers with a passion for what they do and the industry that we are in. We create products that are extensions of one’s lifestyle and it’s important that we make products that we want to buy ourselves. We seek out unique individuals whose voice will become a part of our brand. Some of the tangible things we look for in addition to good typography and versatility are illustration skills, color theory, pattern design, and a sense of humor since we are not only designers but copywriters as well.
Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?
The design team here at Elum consists of a range of designers and illustrators whose different personalities and strengths make for a well balanced team that we are truly proud of.
Shannon Lamb, our Senior Designer who has been a part of our team the longest. She came to us with more of a web design based background it soon became clear that she was hiding away an incredible illustration talent. Her adorable quirky characters illuminated our stationery line and her product concepts and copywriting skills continue to amaze.
Our other Senior Designer, Samantha Kurtz joined the Elum team after moving from New York and working the in fashion industry, designing for brands like Armani Exchange and Coach. Her portfolio mostly consisted of pattern design, but her sense of style, trends, color theory and painting skills made her an obvious choice. She has excelled quickly here with her ability to take on new design challenges with great success.
Ali Kurzeja, is an illustrator who formerly worked at American Greetings. Coming from the same industry, Ali brings a depth of experience of the greeting card and stationery world, that we have not had before. Her illustrations, whether they are painted by hand or created digitally in Photoshop or Illustrator, are beautifully sweet and are immediately requested by our clients.
Olga Griesinger is a graphic designer who joined us a recent graduate. She was highly recommended to us from Less + More where she did an internship. Olga’s extensive art schooling, both here San Diego and Belarus, make her creative talents endless. She has an incredible sense of humor that not only comes out in her copywriting but in her characters who explode with personality.
What have been some of your biggest disasters and how have your learned from it?
Our largest client changed buyers which resulted in a decline in sales. We were not sure if we would regain these lost sales in the future. We decided to take a step back and concept new product ideas. We explored new materials, different types of binding and structural formats for desk and stationery products. This departure from our target customer was risky but it resulted in a refreshing new addition to our established line of products. This line introduced our company to new audience and impressed our current buyers, in addition to opening doors to new buyers.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
1. How to adapt. Elum started out as a boutique letterpress company that specialized in custom wedding invitations. Our line has been rooted in design and luxe materials that is truly something special and personal. Over the years the wedding invitation industry has completely changed, becoming less expensive, faster and digitized. As a result, the wedding invitation industry had declined. We decided to take our design capabilities and create an accessible stationery line. We partnered with stores like Papyrus, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Paper Source. Our ability to depart from our core business and reinvent ourselves has proven to be one of the biggest lessons and has resulted in some of the most successful years Elum has ever had.
2. Knowing your audience. As designers, we can get a little too much in our own heads designing and get emotionally attached to our designs. It is so important to take a step back and look at your products and designs through the eyes of your clients and the end customer. We want our products to connect with our clients and the end customer, so understanding who they are and what they like is incredibly important.
3. Learning the basics and then breaking the rules. This pertains to all aspects of our business from design and printing to manufacturing. There is a basic knowledge and understanding that is crucial to how products are made, knowing materials, printing and structure. Once you learn those, you can start to question how things are done and how you can push those boundaries. We love working with our pressman testing out new capabilities of the letterpress and foil stamping machines. We also love working with our vendors overseas, throwing out wild ideas and having those ideas realized in unique new products.
What advice would you give students starting out?
1. Get involved in all of the creative and design outlets available near you! Here in San Diego there are so many that we’ve seen pop up like Creative Mornings, Sketch Party, San Diego Letters, to name a few.
2. Continue to work on your own projects to hone and grow your skills and while continuing to build your portfolio.
3. Don’t do work for free, stand your ground. The work you do is valuable and when people do design for free, it devalues the whole industry. Trade is another option where you can offer your services and partner with others to build your connections.