BABE #96: EMILY CHARETTE,
Designer & Owner @ We Are Charette
Emily started her graphic design business 8 years ago in St. Augustine, FL after leaving a noteworthy firm in San Francisco. She has since built her business and team brick-by-brick, occasionally speaks and teaches at local schools to help students get a leg up in the world of design, and has a huge heart for other entrepreneurs - specifically those who are women. Her firm specializes in branding and packaging for specialty food brands, she strives to take on several pro-bono projects each year... and she's also a mom of two. We'll let her tell you the rest. Thanks for chatting with us, Emily!
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Current city: St. Augustine, Florida
Alma mater: University of North Texas
Degree: Communication Design
Hustle: Principal Designer & Owner @ We Are Charette
Babe you admire and why?
My mother. Maybe it’s more poignant now that she’s retiring after 50 years of serving businesses as a bookkeeper, but I really admire her work ethic and her tireless enthusiasm. She shows up every day, in every way. She brings her A-game, even at 70, and she does it with a smile and a lot of energy.
How do you spend your free time?
I spend most of my time with people I love, but when I’m alone, I’m usually tackling a home improvement project or learning a new song on my ukulele.
Favorite app, website or blog?
I use Trello to keep up with my to-do’s, and Quickbooks for all my proposals and invoicing. These two sites turned my productivity up 1000% and now I can’t imagine life without them.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
I really wish I knew more languages. I love language in general, and the ability to travel and communicate more easily is very alluring. But the real magic to me is being able to use exactly the right word or phrase to describe a moment or an idea. With more languages, I feel like I would have a much broader palette to paint with, if that makes sense.
I listen to a really wide variety of music, but guitar jazz musicians like Django Reinhardt have a really special place in my Pandora lineup. I love all the Hot Clubs, especially Western Swing. There’s a lot French and Southwestern influences, both some of my favorite sounds. When they combine, it’s perfection.
What is something not many people know about you?
I once designed an album cover for Metallica when I was working at Turner Duckworth in San Francisco. It was for Death Magnetic, an album they released in 2008. It won a Grammy for Best Recording Package.
Tell us about your hustle:
I am a graphic designer and I head up a boutique design studio, We Are Charette, in St. Augustine, FL!
What does your typical workday look like?
I slog through emails as fast as I can, then delegate design projects early in the day to get my team working. I usually have a few meetings and spend a while doing the books. Towards the end of the day I actually get a chance to be creative, and it’s the best part of the day. Diving into the process of creation takes all my focus - it’s calming and exciting; it's productive, but it’s play. I love what I do.
Have you always had a love for design and branding? Where do you think that comes from?
I have always been fascinated by this discipline; I think primarily as a communicator. From a young age I struggled to find the right word or draw the picture just right. I wanted to get better at it, so I pursued it. My parents were really supportive; when I was a kid they would bring home little projects for me to work on, like a flyer or a logo. I could do a lot with Microsoft Paint back then!
What has your journey in the industry been like leading up to launching your own biz?
I owe a lot to the places I came through. Every place I’ve worked has contributed to my knowledge, process, and aesthetic. After the working for the Private Eye company, I worked as an in-house designer at a print shop. It was miserable and stressful, but I learned a TON about pre-press and printing, and I still rely on that information today. Then I worked at a small studio in Dallas (Rovillo + Reitmayer, which is now closed, but CEO Sam Reitmayer Sano went on to create Swoon and she’s totally crushing it). Samantha gave me such an incredible example of a powerful, young, extremely savvy woman making her way in the world of design. After that, I landed an amazing opportunity as a designer at Turner Duckworth in San Francisco and worked there for two years. I learned so much from my bosses (Sarah Moffat and David Turner) about packaging and branding. They are experts at taking away what is non-essential, but leaving behind a clear, engaging story.
Similarly, what were the events and/or motivators that pushed you to take that leap?
When my daughter was born and I started spending more time at home, I began taking on small projects to keep my skills sharp. Full-time mothering was not for me, though, so I looked for bigger projects to fuel my need for creativity and adult interactions. Before long, I was really helping people build their small businesses with great communication, and that was rewarding both emotionally and financially.
What is your work environment/office culture like?
We keep a pretty flexible schedule - we have fun and we laugh a lot. We keep liquor under the cabinet in case anyone needs a stiff drink at the end of the day. We listen to 90’s hip-hop one moment, and feminist punk the next. We chat it up with other business owners on our floor and we take mid-day walks down St. George Street to grab a popsicle at The Hyppo. We all over-share and we give one another a lot of love and support. It’s a great environment to spend so much time in.
What are your favorite design genres to work in? Web? Branding? Illustration? Why?
Branding and packaging. The goal of a great package is immediate emotional resonance; it's physical, and you either reach for it or you don’t. And, with such small space available, you have to be extremely concise while telling your story. There are technical requirements and practicalities to manage. Sometimes, with a new kind of product, there’s an educational element we have to tackle. When it all works together, it’s a great feeling.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
They say women are more adept at sensing other’s feelings, and I think this natural intuition has been a big asset for me. When I’m talking to a new client, I get a really strong sense of who they are and who they hope to become, and build our visual strategy around that. A lot of clients have told me “you just get me” and it’s true. I think that directly correlates to my experience as a woman in my work.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
I tend to overcommit and undervalue my work. On the other hand, I’m able to offer great design to small businesses at an accessible rate. So it’s probably not something I’m going to quit doing - it’s just a matter of leaning in and working harder and faster to do it all.
Do you ever struggle in coming up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks?
When I was in school, my professors would ask us to bring in hundreds of thumbnails for each project. Going back to that creative well over and over made me realize that it’s truly limitless. If I feel stuck, I know I haven’t learned enough about the client, or about their target market. More research is always the answer to creative block.
What has your experience with small business been versus the corporate world?
I spent a good deal of time with Coca-Cola and a few other large brands while in my previous jobs. There are fantastic opportunities in working with huge companies, but when I struck out on my own I really sought to work with smaller ones. What I find most rewarding is working with the business owners themselves. I get to meet and be inspired by some pretty inspiring business owners, and they are personally invested in the outcome of the work I do.
You often speak with/to young designers and students interested in your field. Why is this important to you? Similarly, what have you learned in the process?
I’ve learned so much from the people who went before me, and it’s very rewarding to feel like I can pay that forward. I also want to encourage young designers who may not be well supported by their families. A lot of students tell me “my dad says I need to get a real job” or something similar. I tell them that visual communication is a discipline that will always be crucial to business, and if they have the energy to pursue it then it will provide a living. It’s a wonderful career, and I’m happy to share it. On the other side of that conversation, young designers are constantly taking visual risks because they can’t follow rules they don’t know yet! I get a lot of inspiration from seeing what an untrained eye sees.
What kind of support system do you have behind you and your work?
I have two amazing daughters, a boyfriend who encourages me without fail, and friends and family who are steadfast champions for me. When I feel challenged, I let people know.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
I used to hate doing the books, but now I really enjoy it. Quickbooks is a fantastic tool. I’ve gotten more into the creative aspect of building my business, and it’s flourishing as a result. When a client opens a presentation and sees something they love, that’s a great moment. But when a design works and I can see it concretely, it's my favorite. For instance, I was standing at a specialty food show at a booth belonging to my client. A buyer from Target was standing there, talking about how they’d chosen to pick this product up for their shelves nationwide. He said “the packaging was what caught my eye.” THAT is the measure of real success for me.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
I jokingly say I’m like a marriage therapist, but I think this is my secret unfair advantage. I see where a client and their market have similarities and differences, and I help them communicate better. I create a love language for the two of them.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
We’re always giving away some design to a worthy cause. Recently we updated the site and identity of TheUnmentionablesGlobal.org and it feels great to contribute meaningfully to the lives of refugees.
What motivates and inspires you?
I am so inspired by the entrepreneurs I meet. These people are dreamers, they work so incredibly hard, and they have so much energy. I get to know them, and get behind them, and watch them succeed. It’s awesome.
What's a notable experience you’ve had on the job?
I once had to dash across a stage to pull down a gigantic curtain when a kabuki-style drop failed at a logo-reveal event. It was awful. There were tears involved, and presidential candidates in the audience. You have to love Dallas though - they do everything big!
What are your goals for the future?
Last year I set an extravagant goal for myself. I told myself that if I could make my dream of going to Japan on vacation happen, I would truly feel successful. And I did it! I took a 10-day trip to Tokyo and Okinawa to visit my lover who was deployed there. It made me think more about how I limit myself just by default. So this year, I hope to make more goals like this. Right now, I’m thinking about a month in Europe. I really just want to see more of the world. Much more.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Give yourself credit for what special talents you bring to the world, but always be willing to learn and improve on them. What you lack in talent, make up for in enthusiasm.
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