One Minute With…
Hi Sharon, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Thanks for reaching out! I’m a graphic designer and Austin native currently splitting my time between my day job at CA Technologies and freelancing. During business hours, I’m a product designer at CA, where I design data visualizations for web-based IT software and preach the gospel of grids, Helvetica, and white space.
When I’m not knee-deep in enterprise IT management metrics (yawn, right?), I dabble in fancy hand-drawn type and try to collaborate with as many talented, passionate people as I can. Since I graduated from WashU in 2010, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great local design firms, including The Screamer Company, Asterisk Group, Digital Letterpress, and Pentagram.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Sharon Silverberg.
Well, nothing important happens before coffee. I’m usually up and out pretty early and in my office going through email by 8:30. Every day’s a little different, but depending on what phase of a project we’re in, I’m doing at least a couple of these things: sketching wireframes, developing workflows, mocking up visual designs, creating clickable prototypes, and/or doing visual QA on implemented designs. And meetings. Lots of meetings.
After work, I’ll either scramble to meet a freelance deadline from a coffee shop (like I’m doing now), or do something good for me – running, cooking, having drinks with friends. Or, more typically, some combination of all these things. I’m working on that whole work-life balance thing.
How did you get into design?
I think I got my first bootleg copy of Photoshop 7 around age 13 and I spent a lot of late nights desaturating and oversaturating mediocre photos of my punk/emo/goth friends because I thought I wanted to be a photographer. Around the same time, I realized I wasn’t a very good painter or draftsman, but I loved doing art and getting messy. So, I spent a lot of time making papercuts, printmaking, and taking mediocre photos. By the time I got to college, I’d figured out that design would let me incorporate everything I wanted to, including a newfound love for typography, and I might actually get paid for it.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your creative process like?
I’m going to be super general because it varies depending on whether the project’s a book, a website, an identity, a software prototype, or a luchador costume. But, the first thing I always do is a boatload of research and try to get as much useful information from the client (/internet/library) as I can, especially on what sets this project apart from similar projects that already exist/are being developed simultaneously. Then, lots (LOTS) of hand sketching, thumbnails, and eventually I get caught up in the nitty gritty details and switch to Illustrator. A lot of times, I’ll go back to hand-sketching after I’ve gone digital because my brain still works faster on paper. Once I’ve got a few conceptual directions started, I’ll get feedback from the client, then usually experience some mix of heartbreak and excitement at their decision. After that, its all refinement, refinement, refinement, more often than not a major scope change, refinement, refinement, scrambling, and PROJECT LAUNCH! Then usually some more scrambling to refine just an eensy bit further if I can, because I’m a perfectionist. And lather, rinse, repeat.
Your day job is at CA Technologies, a huge software firm with a website full of more corporate buzzwords than you could shake a stick at. How does this compare to client and personal work? Which do you prefer, and why?
Oh man. My boss might read this, so I totally prefer my day job and would like to keep it, please. Actually, I really love both because they each present a unique set of challenges and inspire each other in unlikely ways. At CA, I work with a number of internal “clients,” who’ve benefited from the experience I’ve had dealing with, let’s say, more colorful freelance clients. My experience at Pentagram and connections with other designers have positively impacted my work at CA as well. At the same time, CA has taught me a ton about prototyping, getting around red tape, focusing on something for more than two months, and how to speak the same language as developers, which has been invaluable in my freelance work. It took a few months for me to get the hang of it, but the two have really started to complement each other. I’m also really grateful that my job at CA allows me to be choosy and take on only the freelance/personal projects that I enjoy and will help me grow as a designer.
…so, that effectively evaded the question, right? For now, I’d say I’m right where I want to be – doing a mix of everything.
Along with your work on the screen, you also create wonderful print works, and the most gorgeous lettering. If you could only work in one area of design for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
That’s like the worst question ever for someone as indecisive as I am. If I had complete creative freedom (hah), I’d love to create infographics explaining complicated scientific concepts or historical events to students, maybe even some newfangled textbooks that would actually be engaging. I’m a total nerd at heart, plus I love hitting that sweet spot between delighting and educating a viewer, where they learn almost in spite of themselves.
If I actually chose ONE area, I’d say publication design, because the current definition of that is so wide open and can incorporate so many things. People read in so many different contexts now – printed books, e-readers, interactive apps – and who knows what’ll happen in the next 6 months.
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
I’d love to be Lisa Strausfeld – who wouldn’t want to be a Pentagram partner under 40? – she does the kind of innovative information design work I aspire to do at CA, but actually makes it seem cool. Plus she’s got this superhuman renaissance woman thing going on…she does effing everything. Can I just make a quick copy of her brain? I promise to give it right back.
What design tools could you not live without?
Technology wise, I’m tethered to Illustrator and InDesign, Rdio, my scanner and my iPhone on a daily basis. If I had to get by without electronics in a post-apocalyptic world, I could probably survive with a couple Microns and a ton of graph paper.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Give things away. People like free things. And they’ll like you (and more importantly, be more likely to look twice at your work) if you give them something they want for free (note: this often differs from something you want to give them, so tread carefully). I’ve been amazed at the positive vibes and references that’ve come my way after sending out personalized sketchbooks last year and mulling spices this year, just to say happy new year to some of my favorite people.
Many thanks to Sharon for taking some time to talk to One Minute With. I really enjoyed interviewing her, and hopefully you enjoyed reading it!
Why not check out Sharon’s site, and follow her on Dribbble and Twitter?