Pro Talks: Interview with Cristin Burton, Graphic Designer at Shutterstock
Last week we had a great opportunity to meet and talk to the brilliant graphic designer Cristin Burton. Cristin has had a chance to work for numerous big companies like CBS and Maybelline, tried freelancing, and she has climbed the career ladder from a junior designer to the art director.
Well, why am I telling you about Cristin? She can much better do it herself.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How have you come to design? Have you wanted to be a designer since childhood?
I always knew I was a creative person, and was especially drawn to visual arts. The advancements of graphic design that I discovered in the late nineties while I was in high school drew me to computers. It was faster than drawing, which appealed to my impatience. I was on high school yearbook and newspaper staff, and was absolutely amazed by being able to toy with layouts in Quark Express. I was also a bit ambitious and practical for my age, and I realized that there were career opportunities in design and advertising. I studied both Marketing and Graphic Design in college, and then I went on to get a Masters of Arts in advertising with a creative portfolio focus at the University of Texas at Austin. I moved to New York City afterwards and slowly began making my way into the advertising and design industry.
What do you enjoy about graphic design most? Have you ever tried or considered web design as an alternative? Why? Why not?
I think my favorite thing about graphic design is the challenge of satisfying a client while also satisfying yourself. Sometimes design has to go more towards what the client wants, but if you can strike a beautiful balance, or make something that looks amazing, is entertaining, and you believe will also be successful for the client, it’s extremely rewarding. I have considered web design some, but mostly during the recession when I considered many things, including bartending. Web design strays a bit from my personal interests, and I think it takes a special understanding of user behavior that I haven’t quite mastered yet. It also requires much more knowledge than I have about coding. However, I am learning a lot more about user behavior while working alongside expert UX designers here at Shutterstock.
Cristin, you have worked for huge and very famous companies. Can you share your experiences? Is being a designer in a huge corporation very different from small companies?
Yes, being a designer in a huge corporation is very different from working at small companies, but there are advantages to both. I worked for a major media network; it was the biggest company I worked for, and I found it mostly dissatisfying and mundane. The portion of the company that I worked in was disorganized and very sales focused. Working on ads for a major cosmetics brand at an ad agency was also not very satisfying because they weren’t very innovative. The brand stuck to pretty much the same rules and the same formula of ads all the time. I have enjoyed smaller companies more, because I have a lot more influence and my opinion actually matters. Small companies have to be open to change in order to stay alive, so they aren’t stuck in a pattern. Also, I’m able to work on projects from concept to production while working closely with all people on the project, which generally leads to better work. Of course, with all of that can come a lot more hustle and longer hours. A corporate culture tends to lead to very easy work and easy hours.
Why do you prefer office jobs to freelancing? I see you have tried both, what should one be ready to give up if they decide to do either? What are the pros and cons of each?
When I was a freelancer I was much younger and more inexperienced, so it was a bit of a hustle for me to find work. And when I was offered work I didn’t feel like I had much choice or any room to turn anything down. I also couldn’t afford health insurance, which is a little less scary when you’re younger. I think the freedom of freelancing at this point in my career could be totally wonderful. All of it really depends on an individual’s career path, but of course, I would be giving up guaranteed paychecks and paid vacation, which no one can deny are lovely perks. And if you are interested in moving up into management positions, that’s harder as a freelancer. Your schedule can become unpredictable and you might also end up constantly on the lookout for work. However, the most common danger of a full-time job is having your soul eaten alive, your portfolio becoming stagnant, not learning anything, or feeling stuck or bored. This just depends on the job. There are many options to weigh, but my best advice is to stay open and fluid. Do something until you aren’t happy anymore, then change it.
Currently, you work at Shutterstock. Can you explain a bit how it all works and what you do at Shutterstock?
Shutterstock has been very rewarding and I have probably learned more here than at any other job. We have a hefty in-house design team within the marketing department. So we design emails, print ads, outdoor, swag, direct mail, branded content, events, installations, or any piece that falls under marketing. I personally work at Bigstock, which is a small-business-focused brand under the Shutterstock umbrella. We have a smaller autonomous team of 15-20 people who handle everything from customer service to back end development. I have many opportunities here to not just make the designs that I am told to do, but to also be heavily involved in strategic ideas, or in the early part of the process when we ask, “What should we design?” I have my hand in marketing strategy, UX, branded content and writing, social media, and analytics. I sit close enough to our customer service team to hear their conversations with customers. This is also my first tech company to work at so I have learned about the processes of maintaining a large site.
How does it feel to be a part of Shutterstock? I figure that this company should be a designer’s dream—the company that is 100% about creativity and design… Am I right?
Working at Shutterstock feels pretty exciting. We went public a couple of years ago, and now have offices all over the world. The structure of the company is changing all the time and we moved into the Empire State Building in early 2014. We continue to innovate our products and are recognized in the industry for it. The company likes to keep a sort of Silicon Valley culture, which comes with fun perks and atmosphere. Being at a company that focuses heavily on data has taught me a ton. You would think that working for someone that looks so much at numbers could kill creativity, but in fact, there is more freedom to try things and see what performs. If you have a “baby” that dies in an A/B test, there’s still an opportunity to try and beat your results. Take those learnings and make a new “baby.” Shutterstock/Bigstock is a place that understands that a balance should be struck between the technology on our end and the humans on the customer end.
Talking about creativity, what is your recipe? How do you set yourself on a creative mood?
I don’t really have a specific recipe for creativity, and I tend to adapt to the team I am working with. Different teams work at different paces. On the Bigstock team, I work fast and don’t really create tons of options or redo too much. Any reiterating I do mostly happens live. For example, I’ll design an email, it will be sent, and in the next email, I will improve and update based on results. I’m always checking out creative publications in short moments of downtime just to keep myself in the know. I subscribe to newsletters from creative sites like DesignTaxi and Web Designer Depot. I look at what other companies are making that might relate to my current projects, and I look at the competition. I like to listen to music while I work, but unfortunately that constantly makes me want to dance in my chair or sing out loud, which can be annoying to my co-workers. So instead, I get in the zone by listening to podcasts, especially comedy and movie podcasts. And of course I listen to Serial like everyone else.
Recently, design trends have been gravitating to minimalism. Do you think it will change any time soon?
Some call the trend minimalism, but I call it simplification. And it’s probably more than a trend. We want things to look simple because we have so much to look at. People look at more and more screens and at more and more clutter. They need to see something where their eyes are told where to go, and they need to be able to comprehend information easily and quickly. So there should always be a central focus. If there is no breathing room or too much clutter, users will abandon the whole thing entirely and move onto the next. We are also moving into a world in which people don’t mind scrolling and swiping. They will scroll and swipe all day long, which means that designers have room to spread out. Take up as much scroll and swipe space as you need, as long as it breathes. So no, I don’t think minimalism is going away anytime soon, and perhaps design will get even more minimalistic.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts, Cristin!