Nissa Grayson is one of our talented graphic and web designers here at Studio 7. She has established her design reputation through her career background (in-house design at a Fortune 500 company, production manager and creative director for a mid-sized printer, senior art director and creative director at multiple ad agencies, and the owner and creative director of her own design firm), as well as through her non-traditional view of the world. Nissa is a self-declared specialist of branding and typography (we agree!), whose sleek and functional designs seem completely effortless.
Sarah Newlin: Tell me about your background, and how you came to be a designer.
Nissa Grayson: At first I thought I wanted to do architecture, but it was way too much math for me. (I still have a huge love for this type of design, especially landscape architecture. It’s probably the combination of my love for nature and design coming together.) It’s funny, because both of my parents are mechanical engineers, so they have that whole math thing going on big time.
Design found me early on, and my love for typography has developed throughout the years. It’s a huge basis for how I design and what sets my work apart. I’ve always been creative, and always knew I would be in some sort of creative field as a profession. I was the kid in grade school that did their friend’s art projects when asked, because it was easy for me and I loved doing it.
I’m extremely visual as far as creative pursuits go; I’m an avid photographer, and I do abstract painting. I also do very intricate, precise yet abstract, text-driven marker drawings.
A lot of creatives in my line of work will have a musically talented side to go along with their visual side. I do not have this, at all. I love music, and have a vast and varied catalog of taste in this department, but I can’t hear if things are in tune or not, I can’t read music, and certainly cannot play an instrument. I have tried though – I took an acoustic guitar class in college thinking I would nail it that way. NO. It’s the only class I’ve ever failed. Something about that whole strumming, hands working independently, and keeping a beat thing just doesn’t compute for me. I joke that it’s just because I’m overloaded on the visual arts that I’m so inept at the musical side of creativity.
SN: What do you do to stay on top of your craft?
NG: I have a two-part answer to this. I do normal stuff like look at design publications, websites, and blogs. But I also pull resources from things not necessarily considered to be design related. For example, looking at text on the screen in movies or on TV, color palettes, fashion, and I takes notes about them.
The second thing I do is to take a complete departure from all design. I get out in nature, away from it all, for some creative cleansing. It helps to completely detach from the business side of things.
SN: What is your favorite medium? Why?
NG: It changes, but lately it’s been photography. When I’m out photographing for my own pleasure, I can bring in all facets of who I am as a designer and a person. I’m able to see something in my brain and through my camera differently, and then I crop it that way. It’s a way of taking something existing, and just by framing and capturing it through the lens, creating something new. It’s a sort of visual recycling or repurposing.
I take my camera on hikes with me, and that ties to my need to do what I can as an individual to protect our environment and work with it, not against it. Meaning not being destructive, simply seeing and flowing with what I see to make something my own from it. It makes me very happy when I’m out exploring in nature and seeing things from that perspective.
SN: Name your favorite company in terms of branding.
NG: This answer changes as brands evolve, and new ones come on the scene. Apple is up there of course; they’re always innovators. Uber is another– their whole brand presence and market saturation has been well executed right out of the gate as a new brand. They made me take notice, and now I love the service and use it frequently.
Farmers Insurance is a great example of a brand refresh. The new logo clearly ties to what they had done in the past, but it has a fresh, current, and clean look. Their TV spots are funny. I don’t like jingles generally, but for some reason I love theirs. It’s very simple – three words with just gibberish at the end, put to a perfect music track, and executed well in studio. Again, it has just the right amount of humor. It’s impressive that an insurance company has stuck with me like that- they deserve accolades.
The Cosmopolitan in Vegas has a great tagline and TV campaign to support it – “Just the right amount of wrong”. Those spots are just different enough to make the viewer pay attention and want to know more.
Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” spot was hilarious, well-executed, and a huge move forward for a brand that has been stagnant and missing the mark for years.
SN: How do you approach a new logo design? How about a new website design?
NG: With a logo, I break down the name into visual identifiable elements. Logos need to make connections between words, as well as the tangible and non-tangible parts of the business. I look at typography and find typefaces that go along with industry, and how they want the message to come across.
I do lots of front-end research to get down to a simple mark that speaks for an entire company. I jokingly refer to this creative process as exercising the demon – whatever is going to come out is going to come out, and the bad needs to be flushed out in order to get to the good.
For websites I look at what’s trending, who is getting recognition for website design, and what people are doing with different elements of that design.
No matter the type of project, I’m always open to pulling different elements that are working, and combining them to make something new. There’s a book on this topic that I love called Steal Like an Artist: 10 Thing No One Ever Told You About Being Creative. It’s not always about creating or starting from scratch. It’s more about being able to see and think in new, exciting ways, and using the craft of design intelligence to execute it with flying colors.
SN: If you weren’t a designer, what would you be doing?
NG: I would be traveling the world with a camera strapped to my back- skiing, hiking, being out in nature, doing meditation retreats, and other soul-enriching type of experiences. I love to learn and experience new things.
I think no matter what I’m doing, in some way I’m always being creative. So to ask, “What would I be doing if I wasn’t a designer?” is not a fair question really, because no matter what I’m doing, the designer is always there. I’m extremely grateful for the gifts I have, and that I have made a career and lifestyle out of honoring them.
SN: Do you have a favorite color?
NG: I’m a big fan of black, white, and gray. But my actual favorite color is a dark purple, a more bluish kind of purple.
SN: Who or what inspires you? Do you have someone you consider a mentor?
NG: I’m fully inspired by nature and simple things. Being present in the moment- that mindset affects how I view the world. I’m always looking, always learning. Authenticity and quiet confidence are also inspiring to me. I know that’s not a specific “who”, but people who are confidently themselves, even when it may not be of popular opinion, are inspiring.
SN: What is the most misunderstood thing about design?
NG: Honestly, I’m not sure. I do find that design’s role in shaping our life experience with regard to how we innovate, improve, and grow is paramount. This is one of the key reasons that it’s important to bring design into the conversation very early on. Too many times I see it left until the last minute and then rushed, which severely reduces its effectiveness and impact.
Also, the time necessary to create what people call a “clean and simple” design solution is misunderstood. Whether it’s a logo, a company book, a website…if a design turns out clean and simple, it took a lot of effort to get it like that. To get to something that’s free of clutter, and just has that sense of, “Oh yeah. Of course. I love it. Exactly.”
Here’s a good quote:
“It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.” – Paula Scher, graphic designer, painter, and art educator
People think they know how long it should take to design something, and at the same time what it should cost. The price point of a design increases with talent and experience. It’s not all about how long it takes, but what goes into that time.