HOW / Melanie Richards

I wrote a Designer Spotlight feature about Melanie Richards and her Badass Lady Creatives project for the July 2014 issue of HOW magazine. To read the story, click on the link below:

Designer Spotlight: Melanie Richards (PDF file)

An extended interview with Richards appears below the adjacent thumbnail.

What path brought you to where you are today?

I studied graphic design at the University of Florida. I actually didn't stress too much about which school I went to, and I'm happy with how that worked out. UFGD keeps their upperclassman program small, and the result is a strong, tight-knit support system. I still keep in touch with my professors and fellow students, and I visit UF annually for Ligature, a student-run design symposium.

A year before I graduated from college, I joined Grooveshark — a music-streaming app — first as a design intern and then as a front-end developer. Before then, building sites was mostly a hobby; in writing code for an international web app, I was able to cram years' worth of experience into a short amount of time. I felt so much better prepared for Fuzzco, where I started as a designer right after graduation.

If you had to describe your guiding philosophy as a designer, what would it be?

Be good to people: By balancing responsibility to my clients, their customers, and my own ethical sensibilities. Designers have a lot of sway over culture; we should feel responsible for how our work changes what it means to be a human in the 21st Century. Authenticity is everything.

I love the "Truth, empathy, silliness." tagline in the footer of your personal site. Why those three concepts and how do you apply them in your work?

I chose those words on a whim, but they still fit. "Truth" and "empathy" are a reminder that I'm designing for real people, who deserve honest communication about the things they might buy. I added "silliness" because I don't want to take design too seriously, and because you can be honest and still be joyful.

Some designers bring in clients because of their particular aesthetic, and so they have the luxury of using whatever style they prefer. I work for a studio with a flexible style, so instead I try to approach each project by asking, "What is right for this client?" Not everything needs to look like a hipster brand, so I try for a representation that is appropriate and interesting. "Silliness" is not always the right word, but I enjoy adding pleasant surprises in the details. Humans dig that stuff.

What's your ideal client?

I need to be honest and say that the ideal clients do something interesting (or something dull in an interesting way). Beyond that, it's about mutual trust: I trust their specialized knowledge, and they trust our design sensibilities. They are enthusiastic about the project, and they are clear communicators when it comes to providing feedback. I'm lucky to say I'm describing clients we've actually worked with.

You've got two very different side projects going right now between Badass Lady Creatives and Sedimentary, where you write poetry and prose. What kind of outlet does Sedimentary allow you that you might not get in your day-to-day design life?

All my life I've written poetry and prose, however patchily. I've maintained a string of blogs, and posted pretty much everything I write, even if I only like 20 percent of it. I over-think most activities, so it's important for me to dash off a couple lines, work through whatever I'm thinking about, and move on. My writing is for me, but I share all of it because I never know what people will connect to. Reading makes life less lonely.

I'd like to self-publish a book of short stories, alongside my own illustrations. I fantasize about an annual, printed Sedimentary, but I need to commit to a structured writing schedule.

Where do you see yourself in the future? What kinds of skills are you interested in honing? What kinds of directions would you like to see your career take?

Everything good in my life has come from simply acting on what I found interesting, rather than from careful planning. For a natural worrier, that was a huge realization. So for the foreseeable future, I'd like to try a little bit of everything, and see what rises to the top. Mostly, this is artistic indulgence: I want to make zines, work on my illustration chops, write a book, design an e-commerce site for an indie publisher, make one-off web experiments, take some history classes, support creative communities, whatever. I'd also love to teach someday, because I find it thrilling to share what I've learned.