The Job PDX
The Job PDX
27. Corinna Gelster-Borgardt

Corinna is a professional pixel pusher at Needmore. She shares her insight on the design process and lessons learned from moving to from a print to a web focus.

Show Notes

Recorded Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013, and this is episode number 27. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi, Corinna.
Hi, Ray. How are you?
I am excellent. And yourself?
I’m great. I’m excited to be sitting in the job seat where so many greats have come before.
That’s right.
More are yet to come, I’m quite sure.
So, yeah, it’s the launching pad of some kind. So why don’t you, I’m actually curious, because I know you’ve told me little bits and pieces, but . . . First of all, where were you born?
I was born in the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado.
Oh, okay. Okay.
So I actually grew up in Southeast Denver, which a lot of people, when they hear I grew up in Southeast Denver, say, “So you mean like Aurora?” No. Southeast Denver.
Right off of Colorado Boulevard and I-25.
And could not have been born to two more different parents. My dad is 6’2″, Swiss descent, blond hair, blue eyes, and my mom is about 4″8″, full-blooded El Salvador.
And brown eyes, brown hair. Totally spicy. Where my dad’s very stern, my mom is very emotional and very feisty.
Okay. Interesting. How long did you live in Colorado then?
I lived in Colorado till I was 19. So I went to school there, and had a pretty stable, ordinary childhood. I was definitely the kid that would go to the library and check out a stack of books taller than myself, and did a lot of reading, and spent the summers just lounging. Took it easy and went to high school in Thomas Jefferson High School.
Okay. So where did you go from Colorado?
Well, to sort of balance out the very stable and secure childhood I had in Colorado, I decided that when I was in my late teens to be a little bit more of a thrill seeker. So when I was 18 I did a lot of traveling. And I travelled, as soon as I graduated from high school, I travelled to Egypt with my boyfriend for a month.
And we travelled all over. We saw the pyramids. We stayed out in the desert with Bedouins and slept under the stars. We hung out with camels and drank wine under the stars. It was great.
Are camels as mean as they say?
They’re very sassy.
Do they spit at you?
They do.
But I had this sort of magnetic, magical touch with the camels.
That the Bedouins would always sort of tease me about because I loved to just play with them. And they’d sort of sit down and look at me, and they do spit an awful lot. So it was great to get a sense of outside of the United States. And then after that, I traveled to New York for two weeks. I had family in New York and Chicago. So I traveled to New York for two weeks and spent time with family, and I traveled to Chicago for two weeks. And at the end of that time period I sort of didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to do something that was artistic and business minded, but I didn’t have a set profession in mind, and I didn’t think it was really wise to jump right into college without knowing what I wanted. So I took a year off, and I worked that last year in Denver. I lived right in downtown. I had my own studio apartment. And when you’re 18 and you’re on your own in your own studio apartment, you feel very cool, you know. And I talked to a lot of people. And eventually I came across graphic design.And so, I really loved this idea of being a designer, because it was such a great marriage of business and art. And in high school I had been really passionate about art, and I was actually really into ceramics and did a lot of ceramic work. And so I was talking with my cousin, and he said, “You know, there’s a great school of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago. They’ve got a great design program. So what do you think about coming to Chicago?” And I thought, “Let’s do it.” There’s nothing wedding me to Denver, so Chicago it was. So at 19 I moved to the big city of Chicago from Denver, and it was so different, but in such a great way. It was so vibrant, and always on the go. People in Chicago are always moving, moving, moving. And when you’re really young, that’s what you want.

Chicago Skyline

Chicago skyline.

Because, it’s like the night life is great. People are out till 4:00 a.m. There’s always some new festival or new book or new author or new something coming out to explore. There’s always a new restaurant. So I had a great time. My freshman year I just sort of ran around and talked with a lot of people. I’m always talking to people. That’s a theme that comes through in my life. And then when I was a sophomore, I became an RA in the dorms, and I was an RA for the next three years. So I was in charge of different students and got a great perspective that way. And graduated four years later from the university with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design.
Nice. Okay. So that’s interesting. Now I know that you also have mentioned that you have sort of maybe a second career or something as a yoga instructor. Can we talk about that?
I do.
Is that fair game?
Absolutely. Totally fair game.
Okay. Tell me about that. Tell me how that fits into this.
Well, so I love design. I love the fact that we can communicate with people and inspire people and share great messages and tell great stories. But when you’re a designer, often you are on the computer a lot nowadays. And so, it was about maybe three years into my design career, and I was starting to get a bit stiff. I was always on the computer. And so I found this love for yoga. And what I really love about yoga is it really gets you back in your body, and it really brings you into the moment. And so I started doing a lot of yoga. And I came across a yoga studio in Chicago called the Temple of Kriya Yoga. And it was very old school zen yoga, when you sit and meditate. They teach you the basics of hatha yoga, and I really fell in love with it. So I was working full time as a designer, and at the same time going to school to become certified. So I am certified as a 200-hour yoga instructor, which eventually I would like to have sort of one-on-one clients. I don’t really foresee myself ever teaching in big classes. But I do love that one-on-one teaching experience.
Okay. So do you still find that that’s, sort of plays and inspires your graphic design.
I do. I do. You know the two interplay together to make me sort of a more holistic person. And I think that, you know, yoga really raises an awareness of who you are and in the moment you’re with yourself and you learn a lot about your ego. You’ll go to those yoga classes, and there’ll be someone that can do a handstand, and you’re struggling to be in down dog.
Right. Right.
And so you learn to be a little bit more forgiving of yourself, and to be a little bit more patient with yourself, and I think that comes into play a lot in design, because you learn to see other people and their stories with a little bit more compassion and empathy. And then you also learn to have this sort of reverence for your clients’ stories, and the ability to be able to share that with the world is such a gift. So I think the two play very well into one another.
How do you approach thinking about? So obviously we here do web design. But you’ve done print and lots of different kinds of design. How do you really get your head around what a project needs? How do you think through that process? Besides meditation. Is there something you do? I’ve never seen you . . . Maybe you do meditate over there. That’s fine. But is that, you know, how do you actually get into that mindset, or think through that?
It’s always evolving. And the most important step is to figure out two key pieces. One is you want to figure out who you’re talking to. so who’s going to be using the website. And once you’ve figured out who you’re talking to, you really want to get in their head. What do they need? What do they want? What are they interested in? and then it’s about asking who your client is that is going to be creating the website with you, and what are their needs and their wants. And the real key there is to figure out what makes them special. Because everybody, whether it’s a business, or a sole proprietor, or whatever your goal is, you have a story to share with the world, and you have something that makes you special. And so if you can find what makes you special and share it with the people that need it, bingo, you’re in business.

You learn to see other people and their stories with a little bit more compassion and empathy, and then you also learn to have this sort of reverence for your clients’s stories, and the ability to be able to share that with the world is such a gift.

Yeah, that’s interesting to balance those two. Two audiences, really.
Yes, it is. You know, and sometimes one doesn’t talk as nicely to the other. But more often than not they do.
Yeah. That’s interesting, because I almost feel like sometimes part of our job is to connect those two audiences in a way that maybe they’ve never actually . . . It’s like sometimes I feel like you might have a client who isn’t quite aware of who their actual audience is.
Or potential audience, I guess, if they’re trying to grow their business. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up. So you’re still in Chicago.
Back up the train.
Where we left off, yeah. So you’ve completed a four-year program. And then what happens?
So I completed a four-year program. It was my last year. So I guess I had not quite completed it.
It was my last year at school. And one of my professors came to me and said, “You know, there’s this design firm in Chicago that is looking for an intern. Would anybody be interested?” And so I had a couple of colleagues that were more of, “Well, we’re seniors. We’re not looking for an internship. We’re looking for a job.” And I looked up the firm, Essex 2, and I thought, you know, this is a great opportunity, period. So, yeah, I would love to interview, and I’d definitely be interested. So I had an interview with the partner of the firm, Nancy Essex, and it turned out her son and I shared the same birthday of July 14. And we’re having this great conversation. The interview’s going really well. And she goes, “You know, I think this may be a sign.” And so she called me a week later and offered me the internship. And I interned there for nine months. And after nine months, they hired me on full time. And I ended up working there for the next five years.
Which is a pretty long run, you know,.
Sure. Yeah.
In Chicago, especially, they seem to have a bit of a turn-over sometimes.
Yeah. Okay, so, yeah. Then at some point you ended up in Portland. How did that happen?
Yeah, well, you know, it’s interesting because in my life I have lived in Denver, Chicago, and Portland. And I sort of had childhood ties to both Chicago and Portland. So if you had told me when I was 15 that I was going to live in both one day, it would have made me laugh. But now I see how those early influences really played into the later years. When I was younger, we would always go and visit Chicago every two years to visit my aunt. And my half-sister from my father’s first marriage lived in Oregon. And so growing up we would always get the Marion berry mix of the pancakes and the syrups, and she’d send these beautiful pictures. So a couple years ago my sister suggested that we come and visit Portland, Oregon. And my husband and I both looked at her and thought, “You know, we’ve never been. We don’t know anything at all about Portland. But sure, we’d love to give it a try. It’s been so highly recommended, let’s go check it out.” And we immediately fell in love. I mean, it was just head over heels. And so I think it took us about two years to kind of come to grips with the fact that we really wanted to live here.
And were willing to do what it took, so . . .
so you both moved here and found gainful employment? Or how did that work out?
We did. You know, we definitely did a bit of a dive off the cliff. Because we were really both set up. We were in solid jobs in Chicago. We had great family and friends out there. There was nothing wrong with Chicago . Just we had fallen so in love with Portland and everything that Portland had to offer, and so . . .
So you hadn’t already been thinking of leaving Chicago? It was just the trip to Portland that kind of changed your mind?
Yeah, you know, we came to the coast and were really sold.

Cape Falcon

Cape Falcon, near Manzanita.

It was just like, “How can we live here?”
Yeah, right, right, yeah.
And then you spend the next two years sort of figuring it out. And yeah, we both took the dive, and everybody thought we were crazy, and they were a little bit sad to see us go, obviously. But I had my brother-in-law and my nephew out here, who were very supportive of us coming out. So we packed everything up in a little crate and drove across the country with two cats in the back seat. Always a good time. And we started afresh, totally fresh. And I think we were at that sort of gifted point where you aren’t really, you don’t have roots deep enough that you have to stay anywhere, and you’re a little bit naïve that you kind of feel like you can do anything still. You know?
So we were like, “We can do this. We can do anything.” And we have. My husband has found a great job that he loves out in Oregon City. And I found Needmore, which, very excited to be here. Going on a year shortly here, a couple more months.
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, you must have . . .Yeah, you were three months behind my daughter. I consider, like I think of ages like my kids’ birthdays, and I’ve based everything around those birthdays. But yeah. So when you came out here, did you guys try to drive straight through, or did you stop anywhere on the way.
Oh, we stopped, yeah. [cross talk 00:15:25]
Did you see Mount Rushmore?
We didn’t see Mount Rushmore. We did get to see Minneapolis, which I was excited about, because I’d never been there and wanted to see the land of thousand lakes, ten thousand lakes. And we drove through Idaho, through Coeur d’Alene, which I hadn’t seen that before either. North Dakota, not a lot to mention there. There was a lot of dust.
Is that where Mount Rushmore is? Or is that in South Dakota?
I think it’s in South Dakota.
Okay. All right.
Yeah, so we were a little bit too far north. But, you know, let’s just say that once we arrived in Portland after six years, or six days of being on the road.
Oh, okay. Wow.
We were very grateful that this was the new home.
How did the cats do on this?
They were also very grateful it was the new home. But we arrived on July 4th, and so it was literally, we got the keys to our apartment, threw everything down in the apartment, made sure the cats were comfortable, and we headed down to the riverfront to watch the fireworks.
Oh, nice.
It was a great welcoming.
That’s pretty cool. So just talking about design for a minute. When you were in, at your last job, you were mostly doing print design. Is that correct?
I did print throughout. And then the last three years I did website design.
How have you found that web is different in terms of what kind of skills it needs. Or how do you approach web differently than you did print?
I think that when it comes to web design, first and foremost, the thing that all designers need to just sort of let go of is a little bit of control.
Yeah. True.
Because, when you’re working in print, you’re working in a fixed environment. You have control over the detail of every little letter, and every little speck of space. And when it comes to the web, you no longer have control over things you’ve always had control over, like color, the monitor. How something looks on one person’s monitor is going to be different from how it looks on another person’s monitor. Or type. You’re used to being able to say I want this type face at this size, and that type face might not even be available on somebody’s screen. Luckily now with things like Type Kit, we’ve evolved past that. But still, it may not be displaying properly. And so you just have to let go of that element of control. You also need to think a lot more about, it’s not so much of a linear path anymore. You know, when you’re designing books or brochures, for the most part, people are really going to flip through in a more linear fashion. But when it’s on the web, people can jump from one page to another, and you don’t have control of pacing as much as you do with print. And so you really have to think about making sure that the different avenues that somebody could walk through make sense from every angle, and that you’re really offering the most important information as quickly as possible. When it comes to the amount of information you’re presenting, that changes as well. In books it’s all content. You can have books of nothing but words and beautiful language. But when you’re coming to a website, often you really want to have as succinct and easy to skim language as possible, and then offer more in depth things, whether that’s a PDF or something else that people can get to.
Yeah. I was actually thinking about this. When I was thinking about this interview, I was thinking . . . I think the most interesting thing we talk about are sometimes like, I feel like you have a more, you have a formal education, for one thing, which I do not, and you understand print, which I do not. And I think it’s really interesting. Because I was thinking about how in print, the little experience that I have with it, it’s kind of like you . . . Like there’s a phase where you as a designer create basically a specification of what it should look like. You can proof it a little bit. But you don’t get to, you’re not part of the actual mechanical printing process typically. You send that to a service bureau or whatever, who has a pretty standard procedure. You may have looked at the pantone colors. You know what colors, what they’re going to look like on paper, etc. So it’s a very formal, refined process that, to some extent, some pieces of it have been around for 500 years.
Whereas, on the web it’s like, well first of all, you could almost think of it as our production department is Dan.
He’s a very good production department.
Yeah. He’s the actual printer. But then I was also thinking, in some sense, he’s half of it, and then the visitors device, who looks at the website, is the other half.
Because even after Dan works on it, it’s still like the thing doesn’t actually exist until it’s rendered on a . . . I’m kind of going off here, but until it’s rendered on, and it could be an iPhone. It could be a giant computer. Someone could even theoretically print it out. And it’s interesting because there’s just so many factors. I can’t even, I often think, it’s like that whole grass is greener thing, where we always think, “Gosh, maybe if we did more print.” Because it just seems so easy. But that’s of course because I’ve never really done print. I have no idea how hard it is. And certainly I’ve heard horror stories about people having to get things printed over and over, and this and that, but, yeah.
Yeah, I would absolutely say that the biggest factor between the two is what you do and do not have control over. And learning what’s the priority then. What do you prioritize when there are so many factors.
When there are so many different devices? And it’s an evolving process. But that’s part of what makes it fun. I think, certainly I haven’t done print for 30 or 40 years, so I can’t speak to that. But that’s part of what makes what we do so much fun, is that things are always changing. You do always have to keep learning. And so, if you’re somebody that enjoys learning, and enjoys that good challenges, the puzzles, the puzzles never stop. They’re always coming. And so you always get sort of that thrill of figuring out what’s the proper solution for this. And there is never just one solution either. So it’s about finding the best solution you can with all the variables that you can control.
Yeah, true. I feel like, when I started doing web design, it was probably actually a lot more like print. You sort of assumed a typical X number of pixels, size.
Especially because I started out doing more flash, and it was like you had to assume a certain size. It wasn’t really easy to change that around.
And that environment is more controlled, too.
Yeah. Oh, for sure. But since you’ve been here, you’ve had to learn what a random display does to a design, what a different form factor or different device loading speeds. What of all of those crazy technological hurdles that we’ve put in front of you. Because that is part of our specific process. Not all agencies do that. What of those has been the most challenging, or the most interesting or rewarding of those different things?
Oh, gosh, that’s a great question. What’s been the most challenging, or most rewarding? You know, I would think it would be designing for different break points. And I love the fact that I know what a break point is.
Because, when I first started here, a break point was a point in the day where you took a break. But break points are where the design changes to adapt to different devices. So you would design a break point for a desktop display, or design a break point for an iPad at the horizontal view or the vertical portrait view, or for an iPhone. And so thinking through those different break points, and also learning to ask different questions at each of those points of view. And even just this week in our [inaudible 00:23:54], I was watching a video on responsive design, and I loved one of the questions that the gentleman stated was, you should think about what actually scales up on an iPhone. And that had not necessarily occurred to me before, talking about different buttons that makes more sense if it’s one size in a desktop and an iPad, does it make more sense to scale it up if you’re on mobile? What disappears? What gets bigger? What changes position from the top of the page down to the bottom. And so that is an ongoing challenge that I enjoy. And I’m loving the fact that we really are starting to sketch out designs on the phone and for iPad and for desktop just using pen and paper. I think that’s so great, and something that a lot of young designers make the mistake of jumping right onto the computer. I’m certainly absolutely guilty of that. And there’s so much more freedom to think creatively when you use a pen and a paper in your sketching.
I just thought of an idea for a responsive sketch sheet.
Oh, I love it.
So, you know how sometimes you have a different layout for an iPad, whether it’s portrait or landscape?
So make a template that has a drawing of an iPad on it, and then if you need to do the landscape version, you just rotate it. You can sell that idea. The responsive sketch sheet.
Two light bulb over your head.
Yeah. Okay. Sorry. So, since you’ve been in Portland, have there been any favorite places that you like to go to unwind, to check out, to get inspiration?
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. One thing that I do every six to eight weeks, religiously, is go to the coast. I am such a big fan of being by the ocean. And of course, that’s from spending the first 19 years of my life land locked, and then being in Chicago where we have Lake Michigan, which is a lot of fun. And then you come to the coast, and Lake Michigan can’t hold a candle to it. It’s so beautiful, and depending on the day it can be so . . . You know, there are those rare days where it’s beautifully sunny and the sand is warm down in Manzanita, and you can lay out.
It can happen, I’ve heard.
It can happen. And then there’s also those days where it’s just so cold and cloudy, you’re almost in a dream. And I love to look at the color palettes as the coast changes. You know, you get these amazing sort of very sensuous grays, that if you really pay attention, you just don’t ever see that anywhere else. And so I love to look to that for inspiration. I love to go and get lost in the city. It’s how I learned how to get around in Chicago, and to some extent Portland as well, is I would just pick a bus or a train route and go get off at a stop and walk around, pay attention. In Europe, they call it being a flaneur, where you just sit and you watch people, and you sort of drink your coffee, and you just pay attention to what are people doing and how are they interacting with one another. I think it’s Daniel Pink talks a lot about doing that at airports. He finds that very inspirational. You learn a lot about what people do and the patterns we fall into. And all of that effectively translates over to design.
Yeah. As far as, have you discovered any hidden gems in Portland that you could share with our listeners?
Oh, yes. Well, you know, I’m . . .
I don’t want to spoil them, have like a rush of people, but . . .
No. No, I think, you know, I’m fascinated about these sort of only-in-Portland experiences, and I hear about them from different people at different times. And so one of them for sure would be this little Thai place, and I believe you and Candace have been there, called Ku Bon Pics Thai Food in Beaumont.
Oh, yeah.
And this, if you haven’t been there, it’s like theater. It’s so fantastic. I mean, you can’t be hungry when you go, because you’ll get hungry over the time. But you go and it’s a whole four-hour experience. The food is delicious. It’s a husband and wife team. And the wife makes the most delicious spring rolls. I’ve been quoted as saying they taste like they come from God’s garden, because the cilantro is so fresh.
But it’s just the two of them. And so you’ll get in, and it’ll take a couple hours. Then I also love things like Prasad downtown. Fantastic, fantastic food. It’s, I believe, all vegan. And so I love to go there for soup. They have raw and hot soup, and really very delicious things.
I should check that out when we’re ready to go down.
Yeah, it’s in this little yoga studio, so it’s really easy to miss. It’s actually in Yoga in the Pearl.
Oh, okay. Okay.
You can, you would …
I totally know where that is. Yeah, they used to be a different restaurant a couple of years ago, and it was a raw restaurant. So cool.
There’s lots of great places like Ken’s Artisanal Pizzas in Southeast.
Love that.
That’s a good one.
I love sushi, so I’m always on the lookout for a new sushi place. Feel free to send them in, listeners.
So far I’ve loved Masu, and Bamboo are great.
And so . . .
There’s one, I can never, oh, have you been to Yoko’s?
Yes, and it is so good. It’s totally worth the wait.
Yeah, and it’s very affordable.
At least when you’re waiting you get to watch the fish.
Or go to the sea bar next door. But yeah.
Yes. Exactly.
Have you been to the Rose Garden?
I love the Rose Garden. I love the Rose Garden. That’s another thing that when Jason, my husband and I came here, we were taking pictures, and it was just like, “Oh my God, we’re in Alice in Wonderland.”
It was just so cool. I love the Japanese garden. I have a friend that is a member there, and so she and I go quite frequently. Rocky Butte, which was suggested to me by Jen Armbrest.
Beautiful. You can get this gorgeous view of both Vancouver, Portland, and the gorge. And then I love the Vista House. I don’t know who told me about it originally. But if you’re going on the historic highway, you’ll just be driving, and you’ll see a sign that says Vista House. And it’s kind of mysterious to get there. It’s not as intuitive as like Multnomah Falls, or any of the other falls, where you just continue heading straight. You kind of have to turn around to get up there. But once you get up there, it’s this beautiful little sphere. And it’s got marble floors, which is just amazing. And it’s tiny. It can’t be more than like 1,000 square feet little rotunda. And you can see the gorge for miles and miles, maybe a 30 or 50 mile unobstructed view of the gorge. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and totally worth the drive. If you get carsick, be prepared though. It’s very windy to get up there, but it’s absolutely worth it. So these are just some of my hidden gems.

Crown Point Vista House

Crown Point Vista House
Photo credit: Ron Niebrugge

I don’t have a problem with getting carsick, but I might get allergies.
It’s true. They do have wild orchids that grow all along the base of the . . . And this is just yet another, you know, that’s one thing I love about Portland is, you just find such amazing little gems just walking along.
There’ll be things in our neighborhood. My husband and I will go for a walk, and we’ll see all these little hand carved or hand painted rocks with beautiful, inspirational messages that people just put in their gardens.
Oh yeah. Or staple to telephone poles. Or tie to those old horse rings on the street curbside. That’s, I don’t know, it might be one of those things I noticed when I moved here in ’99. Or it might have been something. I mean, maybe people in Minneapolis did this or something and I never noticed it. But I don’t remember there being places to tie up horses in Minneapolis.
No. And Chicago, yeah.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Those little rings.
No. Not even in Denver.
My daughter was looking at one of those the other day, and she’s like, “What’s this?” I’m like, “Well, it’s for tying up your horse.” Although it’s probably not legal to bring a horse down this street. But if you do.
If you do.
You can tie it up here.
You could probably also tie up a goat there, if you had your goat with you, too.
Yeah, sure.
We have neighbors that have goats.
You could tie up your cat there if you really wanted to. So do you have a piece of wisdom about design that you would like to share? It’s kind of a wild card question.
It is a wild card.
It could be anything.
A piece of wisdom. Well then I’m going to say what comes to mind absolutely first, and that is to always ask questions. When it comes to design, always ask questions. Because so many of the parts of the design process are informed by new ideas and new, always new, evolving things happening. And so it’s so easy as a designer to do one thing really well, and once you’ve achieved that to sort of just keep doing that. And that’s such a loss to the greater good. You can always be growing and evolving and learning. And it’s hard, it’s hard to ask questions. I think as you become more and more proficient in your craft, you don’t want to be the one asking the questions. You want to leave that to other people. But you can always learn something new. So to always ask questions, and never be a afraid to ask questions. Because if you’re thinking it, somebody else probably is, too.
Good advice. Well, thank you for letting me ask questions. That was a setup, right?
We couldn’t have planned that better if we’d tried.
Thank you, Corinna.
Thank you, Ray.
All right.