Mattiel Brown’s first money-making venture started when she was in high school, designing MySpace layouts for musicians. These days Mattiel is a designer at MailChimp. She elaborates on how it’s OK to fail and the importances to voice your creative opinions, as they are valid and deserve to be shared.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? My mother was a watercolorist, ceramicist, photographer, set designer for films, horseback rider, and overall just a very hungry creative person. My earliest creative memories are of helping her make props in our barn (usually for a commercial or a weird, low-budget film) and having her teach me to paint with watercolors when I was a toddler. She exposed me to a ton of mediums and encouraged my earliest creative impulses, so I’d say she played a huge role in my career choice. After graduating from high school, I couldn’t imagine myself in a field that wasn’t creative. I had to be making things – I felt like that’s what I was best at.
Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt? I’m loving the post-web brutalist design work I’ve been seeing, but I’m excited to see what comes next. The visual components in fashion, web design, fine art and music are always overlapping and borrowing ideas from each other, so I think it’s always important to keep an eye on the weird, unexpected, or “uncool” things that start to pop up, because the next thing you know, they’ll be the biggest trend. Of course, there’s a time and place for following trends and there’s a time and place for making original work, and it’s always more rewarding to make the most original thing you possibly can. So, I would say… adaptation is just an option. If I have a really great idea and it doesn’t necessarily align with “where design is heading,” I’m going to do it anyway and see what happens.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? I would tell my younger self to relax – because my gut feelings about my future abilities were correct. It’s possible that I got really lucky with my current job, but I’ve always felt like I could “figure it out” in a creative industry (even after being told how competitive it is, that I need a college degree to succeed, and all that scary mumbo-jumbo). Even when I was young and my skills were pretty amateur, I felt like I had the innate ability to find a good career opportunity and take advantage of it.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? I’ve definitely learned from working at MailChimp with my creative director that it’s OK to fail. Not every single project is going to be a success – but as long as you have a momentum going, you’re eventually going to produce some really great work. Eliminating fear of failure was really difficult for me at first, but letting that go has really opened up some mental roadblocks. Another thing I’ve learned is that my creative opinions are valid and deserve to be shared. For a while I was nervous and I thought people might not take me seriously. But as long as you can back up your opinion, it’s really important to voice it. Confidence in one’s own work commands respect. There’s a balance, though – humility and confidence are equally important.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? I took some writing classes at Oglethorpe University and spent a few semesters studying design at Georgia State University. I learned a few meaningful things in college, but I’ve learned a lot more on the design team at MailChimp, which is why I’ve put school on hold for now. My portfolio is a lot bigger right now than it would have been if I kept taking college courses. Let’s just say I’m earning my BA at MailChimp.
My first money-making venture started when I was in high school. I designed MySpace layouts for musicians around the southeastern U.S. for spare change until I had enough funds to buy an expensive camera that I really wanted. I taught myself photoshop and tried out a little bit of coding, and I remember stealing little segments of code from these other MySpace layout designers and trying to make it work on different browsers – it was all pretty hilarious.
My first real job, though, was at MailChimp where I’m currently working. I can’t thank my CD Ron Lewis enough – he trusted me from the beginning, and extended my internship until I was hired on as a designer. Also, shout out to Jason Travis who vouched for me in the beginning! I don’t know where I’d be without those dudes.
What do you look for in a great portfolio? The ability to create conceptual work is essential – something can look really great visually, but it should serve a specific purpose whenever possible. If it doesn’t serve a specific purpose, I look for work that is clever or has a unique sense of humor. I’m a lover of the unexpected. If I ever see my portfolio starting to look similar to someone else’s or if I find myself following trends too much, I try to disengage from that and make unique, meaningful work.