"You don't have to sort of enhance reality.
There is nothing stranger than truth."

-Annie Leibovitz

Hannah Schmitt is a graphic designer here in Nashville. Armed with a love of art, travel, and the people around her, she has quickly become one of my favorite people to follow on instagram and pinterest.

After a couple years of crossing paths and even working together on a project, we finally met and talked about her path and vision as an artist, puppies, LOST, the neighborhoods of Nashville, and our mutual love for the work of Michael Giacchino (we talked a lot about LOST).

Hannah will be launching her online portfolio in the next couple of weeks and I will be sure to update this post with a link to it as soon as she does.


1. How did you discover/decide that design is what you wanted to do?

I initially started out exploring photojournalism. After a few years of teaching myself the basics, I decided to study it more thoroughly in college. It was about a year into my time in the darkroom that I started to wonder if I’d possibly misinterpreted my own passion a little. My photojournalism professors insisted that every photo be organic… a simple capture of an untouched moment as it was happening. I struggled constantly to not step into those moments and shift the characters 4 or 5 inches into good light, or move an unattractive bottle or a trash bag out of the frame. I wanted to capture moments, but I also wanted to stage them ahead of time so that they looked their best. Photography was something I really enjoyed, but from a more artistic approach (as opposed to journalistic). Unfortunately, that wasn’t a direction my college offered.

With time, I started to explore other options and ended up in a design class with a professor that changed everything for me. We’d spend full semesters designing concert posters and album artwork for local musicians or events on campus. He encouraged total creativity, even if it sometimes meant sacrificing the average eye’s understanding. He wanted us to be able to create with our hands what we saw in our heads, and taught us how to get from one to the other. I took to it instantly. It was the first time I started to realize that I could work full-time for the rest of my life doing something that didn’t feel like work. And that’s the point, right?

2. What do you think is different about you as a designer from other designers?

I’m a girl? Kidding. (Though it often feels like I work in a male-dominated industry). I really like to stretch myself in a lot of different style directions. It allows me to be flexible for my clients’ various needs, and it teaches me how to design in new ways. Many designers would say this means I’m not dedicated or not working on building my brand with one specific style anyone would recognize me for. But to me, one style over and over again is boring.. and safe. If you’re good at one style and you do it repeatedly, what’s making you fresh? What’s challenging you? And what happens when a huge, potentially-amazing project drops in your lap… and they’re looking for something other than your “style”?

I’ve found that it’s good to be flexible. It allows you to be continually growing as a designer, and opens you up to other opportunities that your “trademark” style may not work for.

3. What are some of your biggest influences?

Gosh. Everything? Concert posters. Well-designed packaging on a box of cookies. Movie credits. Window displays at Anthropologie. A good car commercial. Ads in fashion magazines. A well-designed house. The smallest thing can trigger my inspiration (or is it my ADD?). One of my favorite parts of design is typography. I love spending hours hunting down exactly the right fonts for my projects. It can take awhile, but it is worth it. Every time. Because of my interest, a lot of my inspiration comes from type-based design. Or the opening credits on a TV-show. Or a menu at a new restaurant. See? Everything.

In terms of designers, I get pumped about a lot of different styles of design. There’s a guy named Scott Hansen who designs in a retro style that I can’t get enough of. Ty Mattson, who won extra points with me for doing an entire set of both Lost-themed and Dexter-themed posters. There’s a Knoxville-based shop called designsensory that designs really clean, fresh branding that I’m envious of. Also a company out of Atlanta called Green Olive Media really has my attention right now. And this kid doing amazing, typography-based posters out of classic song lyrics: http://www.musicphilosophy.co.uk/

Basically, if it has killer typography, a touch of a retro or vintage feel, and doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before, I’m a fan.

4. What are 3 essential “tools of the trade”?

The ability to accept constructive (and sometimes non-constructive) criticism. A killer pair of headphones. A good Mac. (Not being an Apple fanboy, just sayin!)

5. If there were a fire in your office and you could only take what you can carry with you, what do you save?

Oh man. Easy. I’ve got a hard drive that has every design project I’ve ever touched on it, tens of thousands of photos/videos from the last 10 years of my life, and the music collection I’ve been building since high school. I have pretty awful long-term memory, so losing all of that would be… devastating. Now that I mention it, mayyyybe I should back that thing up and put it in a vault somewhere.

6. What is your favorite part of designing?

I love the reaction. Revealing that first glimpse to the client. When I’ve been able to really capture an individual or company’s personality into a design, it’s always exciting to show them the result for the first time. Nine times out of ten, they had said to me at some point in the process: “I don’t really know what I want it to look like, but I’ll know it when I see it.” This can be very daunting as a designer (you could also replace “daunting” with “frustrating”), but proves to be extremely rewarding when they finally do see it and say: “This is it. This is what I was looking for.” When you can gain someone’s trust without showing them anything yet, delivering on that promise is a killer feeling. Makes me feel like I maaaay actually know what I’m doing. Sometimes.

7. What one piece of advice would you give to someone that wants to do what you do?

Someone told me this four or five years ago and it’s really stuck with me: “Some of you do for art, and others you do for commerce”. It’s true. That’s not meant to be an excuse for lazy or poor design, but I’ve met plenty of designers that will waste weeks of time of trying to make an award-winning project without the room to do so. When you’re given the world’s ugliest logo, told that it cannot be changed, and asked to build a beautiful website around it, you work with what you’ve been given and do the best you can with the circumstances. Then move on.

There are occasionally going to be designs you produce that don’t change the world, but if you want to keep the lights on at your house, you do them anyway. You do the best with what you’ve been handed. If you want to thrive (and pay the bills) as a designer, don’t be afraid to compromise every now and then. You need to be able to work with your client’s expectations and aesthetic preferences—even if they don’t line up with yours. These situations will be rare, but handling them well is important and will determine how people recommend you to others.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that adopting the “Art vs. Commerce” mantra allows a lot more time to spend working on the projects that WILL change the world.. and you’ll be able to pay for the endless shots of espresso you’ll need in order to do so.

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