A Visit With | Brianna Burton


I was lucky enough to meet Brianna last year at a design retreat and it’s been amazing to witness her work flourish. She makes each of her posts on her blog look so effortless and unique and I’m constantly inspired by the work she puts out into the world. She has also traveled to so many places, a lot of them by herself! Truly admiring. Read more about her below:

Tell us a little about yourself:
Hi! I’m Brianna and reside in gorgeous Denver, CO. I work full-time as a digital art director for an advertising agency here in Denver, but on the side I’m a contract designer for Rowanmade and run my own freelance business through my blog, Observant Nomad. When I’m not designing, you’ll find me sampling new exotic foods, planning my next far away adventure, or pursuing some new creative project.

Describe your path to becoming a designer:
I’ve always been one of those artsy kids who spent all my time either painting, drawing, or creating something. So I started college as a fine arts major, but quickly realized that I probably couldn’t make a living doing it. So I explored other options and ended up with a degree in art direction.

Throughout college I knew I needed experience to get a job, so I worked as an intern for a clothing company doing their web design (I knew next to nothing! ha). But I gained some experience, and then after college I started as an intern at an ad agency doing development + digital design. I worked really hard, and took on the crazy projects that I had no idea how to do. That was the only way to prove myself.

That attitude eventually helped me to become a full-time digital designer. So a lot of my design background is a combination of self-teaching, experience, determination, and patient mentors 😉

What’s a typical workday like for you?
Since I work full-time right now, my days always start at the agency. I usually wake up grab some coffee and breakfast before my commute. At the agency, I’d say 70% of my time is spent actually designing digital initiatives for our clients, which varies every day. The rest of my time is spent concepting ‘big’ ideas or organizing assets for final production – which could be sourcing photographers, illustrators, or other designers for the work.

After all day at the agency, I come home and make some food before tackling a night of freelance work. But I don’t do that everyday (that’s one quick way to burn out). There’s a natural ebb and flow with both sides of my work so some days are insane and others are relaxed.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
If we’re talking about agency work, I’d say when a big project is approved by the client, and retains it’s original creative expression. There’s nothing as satisfying as tackling a challenging dilemma for a client that both accomplishes what they’re asking for – and that you’re still proud of from a creative aspect.

If it’s my freelance clients, then it’s when they’re super excited and happy with the final work. I swear, that feeling is better than anything at an agency. A lot of my freelance clients are small-business owners, so as their designer I’m helping with the success of their livelihood. And that’s a truly great feeling.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge of being a designer?
For me, it has to be finding the right balance of visual beauty and functionality. Good design isn’t at all about how it looks, it’s also about the idea. I’m always searching for the big insight, difference, or the thing that makes you go ah-ha! Then orchestrating that into something visually appealing is what makes me wake up and do it everyday.

What’s your favorite design ritual? Something you do during your process that’s the most fun or exciting?
For me it has to be sketching. I know a lot of modern designers who don’t sketch at all! I can’t imagine not doing that. Maybe it’s my art background, but I wouldn’t know how else to start a project. A pencil and paper is much quicker way to see if I like a concept, layout, or idea before even opening up a computer. My professors taught me to sketch a ridiculous amount of ideas before even beginning to attach to a concept. It helps get all the junk and ‘first ideas’ out of my head so I can get to the juicy stuff, which has real potential.

Any advice you would give to someone wanting to be a designer?
I’d say open up your mind to more possibilities of how to get there. A lot of people think you have to go to school to learn graphic design. And while that’s a great way to learn how, it’s not the only way. The best way is experience – just get out there and do it. Take on some smaller projects at first, like a friends wedding invitation or an acquaintance’s website design. Work your way up from there.

Also collaborate! I can’t say this enough, the best work is never done in a vacuum. In art school, holing up and working alone until the final day is considered sacrilege. Art is a community. We’re constantly looking to each other to tap into the unknown potential of our own minds. I always prefer to run my ideas by another designer, it gives me insights I never thought about and 99% of the time makes the work better than before.

Who is inspiring you at the moment?
Right now, I’d have to say Twyla Tharp. She’s an American dancer who wrote The Creative Habit and How to Use it. I love reading books and articles about the idea of creativity. As an artist, I find it opens my mind to the bigger picture of why I create and what it means for me. Also, this article by Nils Leonard, the CCD for Grey London Advertising, really inspired me this week. Every creative woman should read it.

Find Brianna here:

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