Deborah Sauri has been a graphic designer working in the Washington, DC market and elsewhere for more than 20 years. Through her work at design and public relations firms, and now with her own independent business, iSpy Creative, Deborah has built an impressive portfolio of branding and marketing materials for a range of clients, including the 495 Express Lanes, IBM, and Shell Oil. Dale and Deborah have worked together on dozens of assignments for more than a decade.
Given all that experience, we decided to ask Deborah to share some insights into her profession, and why graphic design matters so much for all organizations.
You've been a graphic designer for over two decades. How did you get to where you are today?
My Japanese mother always wanted me to be a doctor, but it took one chemistry class for me to realize that career wasn’t for me. After my first year as a pre-med student, I told my parents I was going to try art. I can still remember how disappointed my mother was at the news, but my father encouraged me to follow my passion, and I made the switch.
I knew after my first year as a Communications Arts & Design major that this was what I wanted to do. Right before graduation, I received job offers from an international, award-winning design firm and a well-known PR firm in DC. The PR firm had better pay, but my gut said to go with the design firm, and it was the best move I made for my career. After four years, I left that position with a strong portfolio and awards from major design magazines, which then led to some amazing career experiences. Soon I was in France, making design presentations for the TotalFina annual report. Then I was asked to establish an in-house design division for Dittus Communications, a rapidly growing DC PR firm, where I was able to travel the country and art-direct ad campaigns for clients such as Household Bank and Shell Oil Company. That’s also where I met Dale.
What’s the importance of having well-done graphic design for a company or organization?
Whether you realize it or not, you are surrounded by products that designers created. The mobile phones we use everyday, the chairs we sit in, the label on the bottle we’re drinking from, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive… Design is everywhere.
Within seconds of receiving a business card or a piece of marketing material, people will form an impression of that company. The logo, the paper, the colors, the shapes will all have an impact. Anyone interested in your company will likely go to your web site, and they may not be aware of it, but they’ll be making judgments based on the look and feel. How consistent is the brand? Is the site easy to navigate? In other words, how intentional and successful is the design in achieving the purpose?
All of our decisions are influenced by good design. Organizations that place a priority on design are going to be more credible and outshine their competitors.
How has the internet and the shift to digital affected your work?
In terms of design trends, it seems we’re going back to “less is more” which has to do with our digital lifestyles. We want information, and we want it fast, which is why websites now are more streamlined and minimal, with content in one continuous scroll. Creating responsive content that’s accessible and simple to use enhances user satisfaction.
Within the industry, it is becoming easier for unskilled amateurs to try their hand at design with the use of templates and tutorials on sites like YouTube. Because of this, people expect graphics to be created faster and cheaper which often hamstrings quality and ultimately affects results.
On the other hand, graphic designers have more opportunities and flexibility. Today, companies can work with graphic designers anywhere in the world because the internet allows for the quick exchange of files and video chats. I can interact with clients from anyplace as long as I have an internet connection.
What is your approach to the design process, from meeting with a potential client to delivering the final product?
It is critical that I understand the client’s business before any design conception. No matter the subject, I ask a lot of questions about objectives and the demographics that will interact with the design.
When brainstorming ideas, I always start with pencil and paper. I never go to the computer first. It’s too limiting. Creative brainstorming should be unencumbered and fast. Once the ideas are down, then they can be worked out further electronically.
What are some of the biggest challenges you encounter in your work?
Design evolves constantly, and quickly. Because I have my own firm now, I try to surround myself with inspiring designers and projects. I make it a point to stay attuned to the fast-changing trends and preferences among different generations and cultural backgrounds. I attend design conferences and keep in touch with other designers to stay ahead of the curve.
Of what product or client are you most proud?
I wouldn’t have started my business had it not been for a dear friend who asked me to do a logo design for her company that was building the 495 Express Lanes on the Washington Beltway. Not only did it push me to take the risk to become a business owner, but it was also a very big and exciting project. I love that logo because of its simplicity, yet it took almost a year of hard work and many meetings to complete the design. Now I’ll go to a gas station to fill up my car, and the logo will be on an ad at the pump, and I think to myself, “My kids would think it’s pretty cool that Mom did that.”