Designer Interview: Julia Muscarello

This is the final post in our October series of interviews with the six designers featured in the exhibition By Design, in the Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center through October 30. Two more days to see the show and choose a pencil (display and packaging design by Julia Muscarello, the designer featured in today’s post)!

Julia's fun gifts to gallery visitors!
Julia’s fun gifts to gallery visitors!
Shopko BTC vendor art
Shopko vendor art
Shopko Gift Cards
Gift card designs
Shopko Facebook posts
Shopko facebook pages

Would you describe a typical workday?

I start my workday around 7:30 a.m., commuting into downtown Chicago from Lake Forest via the train. People from outside of the Chicagoland area don’t really understand why I do this long commute but I really quite enjoy it. I finally get a chance to either design something for fun on my Mac or sketch out new project ideas for myself. It’s a way to keep my mind fresh and get the creative juices flowing for my day while the train is going into the city center.

After the train ride I walk about fifteen minutes from the train station to work. I’m a graphic designer for an ad agency and I work on team that manages projects for a Fortune 500 company. My workday starts at 8:30. I like getting to work a little early, before everyone else, so I can get organized, checking email and preparing for any meetings. Some workdays can be quite crazy and others are less hectic. It all depends on when a client needs a project done. For example, I could get assigned a project at 4 p.m. that needs to be done by the end of the day. Or, I could get a project that is due the next week. I’m always very busy and never bored! I usually have about five large projects I’m working on in a given week with project changes and quick deadline projects also thrown into the mix. We currently have about thirty open projects for one client’s account. If you can work under pressure, balance a few things at once, work fast, yet efficiently, and are fluent in all Adobe and Office products, you can be a good designer.

I work with a creative director and a senior art director on the account. We also have three account executives and they communicate directly with the client to receive feedback on pieces and take on new projects. They communicate with us in a very organized and efficient system.

I have a desktop Mac and I’m always working in Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, and sometimes PowerPoint. I’m usually designing print ads, e-mails, and internal presentations for clients. There are always other miscellaneous projects too – for example, I’m currently designing a logo for a new product. I usually have one or two project meetings each day.

I also have a dog underneath my desk because you can bring your dog to work! For lunch, I sometimes walk around the West Loop or admire the Chicago skyline from our office rooftop if it’s nice out. I love being in the city because there is always something going on and each street has its own character. After work I usually head up to our bar on the 4th floor for a beer with my co-workers or watch the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field or on TV. I head home at 6:30 p.m. after a workout at the Crossfit gym next to my work.

What were your “next steps” after graduating from SNC?

During the summer following my junior year, I was fortunate enough to intern at the Shopko Corporate Office in Green Bay. I was a graphic design intern there and got to design the fashion pages in the mailers and catalogues and gift cards for the holiday season. I’m really into fashion photography (and photography in general), so I was also able to take the photos during the photoshoots when we had models on site. I continued working at Shopko during my senior year, balancing school and another internship at Performa Inc.  Shopko hired me as a graphic designer when I graduated. I continued to design fashion ads and had a few more responsibilities, too. I also got to be really involved with Shopko’s Facebook page and designing social media images. After a year at Shopko, I decided I wanted to do something different to challenge myself as a designer so I took a graphic design position at an ad agency in downtown Chicago. I’m totally loving what I do now and I’m close to home. I’ve always been working since I graduated. I felt like I needed to jump right in after graduation in order to gain experience and advance my career.

Describe the journey to the work you currently do?  How has your design work evolved over the course of your career? 

A big change was definitely going from a corporate setting at Shopko to an agency setting. Even though there are some hectic days at the agency the working style there is definitely a “work hard, play hard” style. I went from designing the fashion pages in catalogues at Shopko to doing all sorts of projects at my new job. It was important for me to switch jobs because I felt like my creativity wasn’t being used enough. A designer’s work can always be evolving. I like to try new things and see new places. Seeing new things sparks ideas. I don’t respect people who like to “settle.” Doing the same thing every day, seeing the same things, and being comfortable with the same things does not help one grow as a designer.

What advice do you have for current SNC Art students?  What opportunities should they take advantage of at SNC?  What should they best do to prepare for life after college?

Get out and get out of your comfort zone. Don’t sit in your dorm room and watch Netflix. Everyone at St. Norbert is super social and there are so many nice people there. Heck, I probably met a new friend every day, whether it was at the library or in class. I played on the Women’s Ice Hockey team because I felt like that was a huge opportunity in itself to be involved. Try to socialize with other people and talk with your professors as much as possible. All of them are SUPER cool and very fun to hang out with! Also, I would suggest doing your homework and art projects in the art building after class – it’s so relaxing in the Bush Art Center! Try to do anything that you wouldn’t normally do because, you never know, it could lead to something else or bring a new idea to your mind.

Who and what are you artistic inspirations?  

This is probably a super cheesy and cliché thing to say but I have two people who are a big factor in my artistic inspiration, my mom and my dad. My mom is super artsy and creative, even though she was a chemical engineer at IBM. Drawing pictures with her when I was little helped me become who I am today. My dad is a pilot for United and I am so thankful that he has such a cool job! I’m his “world traveler” and will gladly use his profession (and employee discount!) to help me trek across the globe. Seeing the world has made me become SO imaginative and helps me think of new ideas. It goes back to the idea I mentioned before that to keep your mind fresh you must get out there and see something different. I definitely learned that from studying abroad in Florence, Italy.  Anyway, my parents have taught me to work hard all of the time and this is why I feel like I am pretty successful today.

Retail stores are very inspiring too. Target’s designers are so talented. Their ads are so fun and their concepts are so unique. If I don’t have much to do except eat my lunch during my lunch break, I’ll walk four blocks south of my work to City Target just to look at the in-store signs and designs. They have such different and colorful products and seeing them helps me stay imaginative.

I really like looking at Williams-Sonoma and Trader Joe’s for package designs, too. Both stores have great food and I can spend a long time picking up their boxes and looking at their innovative designs! There are also some really neat grocery stores in the North Shore suburbs that stock products with really cool package designs. I was supposed to buy something for dinner really quickly the other day but instead spent about an hour in the grocery store looking at all of the trendy designs!

Chicago is a huge artistic influence on me. Each neighborhood and street is so different. The buildings, people walking down the street, and restaurants are just so interesting to look at. I don’t need to go to the Art Institute of Chicago just to look at art – it’s already outside! But I do like the Art Institute and all kinds of art museums. The Museum of Contemporary Art is very interesting and innovative.

Julia Muscarello graduated from St. Norbert College in 2014, majoring in Art with an emphasis in Graphic Design and minoring in French.  She played on the SNC Women’s Ice Hockey team. She has a worked as a graphic designer for the Shopko Corporate Office in Green Bay, interned at Performa Inc. and currently works at an advertising and branding agency in downtown Chicago. http://www.juliamuscarello.com

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