Flyer Profile: Margo Chase

Margo Chase, creative director and founder of Chase Design Group was named one of the most influential graphic designers by a reader survey in the 500th issue of Graphic Design:usa Magazine. Chase was one of only two women to be mentioned and one of four to be recognized in the top ten lists for both the “Most Influential Graphic Designer of the Era” and “Most Influential Graphic Designer Today”. Chase Design Group also made the top ten “Most Influential Graphic Design Firms.”

On Friday, March 13th at 6:30, Ms. Chase will be making a trip to Fayetteville to speak to the NWA Art Directors Club at the Dickson Theatre. We got in touch with her today, and she was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
Margo Chase: I’m an NPR addict. I listen to NPR every morning and whenever I’m in the car.

FF: You’ll be in town speaking to the NWA Art Directors Club on Friday. Have you ever been to Fayetteville?
MC: Nope. I was stuck in Little Rock for three days last year. I was flying across country in a small plane and had to land in Little Rock and wait for the weather to improve. That’s as close as I’ve been.

FF: Breaking into the design world is tough, and a lot of young designers become disillusioned pretty quickly with the industry when they get their first design job and it isn’t what they thought it would be. What would you say to these designers?
MC: Design is no different than any other industry. There are good jobs and not-so-good ones. Everyone has to pay their dues. I had a long string of terrible jobs before I finally got a chance to do work I was proud of. I would recommend patience and persistence, especially in this economic climate. There are things to be learned at any job that will help you in the future. These lessons aren’t always design lessons. A job that doesn’t give you a good outlet for your creativity may still teach you how to manage people (or how not to!). Or you may be able to learn how to present and sell design. Any of these skills will be invaluable when you finally land a job you want to keep.

FF: One of the toughest things for a designer is compromising their initial artistic vision in order to satisfy a client. This is never ideal, but sometimes a valuable account, or even a job is on the line. Have you ever compromised for the sake of a relationship and regretted it?
MC: I don’t look at compromise with regret very often. We all want to do work we’re proud of. It becomes a question of where we place our pride and how we define success. I define success as the best work I can do within the existing limitations. I think designers get off on the wrong foot when they think of their work as a single artistic vision. Design is not art, it’s problem solving using multiple media, usually visual. The best solutions are usually collaborative. I’ve heard designers talk about compromise as if it’s “selling out.” I couldn’t disagree more. If you try to go head to head with a client you’ll always lose because they pay the bills. We’re much more likely to succeed when we present our ideas in their language and explain how our solutions will solve their problems. We get so caught up in the fun of making beautiful things that we forget we are being paid to put our creative talents to work in the service of business. Good design has to be functional as well as beautiful.

FF: On the flipside of that, has a compromise you were reluctant to make ever resulted in something that later you thought, “You know, that turned out OK?”
MC: Compromise is part of design. It’s easy to make something beautiful when you can do whatever you want. It’s much more challenging to do great design within severe restrictions. I am more proud of design that succeeded within tight limitations than I am of design that was easy to do. Almost everything we’ve ever done would fit your definition of compromise that “turned out OK.”

FF: In the current economic climate, several companies are cutting their budgets, and one of the first things that they cut is the money they spend on advertising. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the reasons given is that it’s hard to put a dollar value on what good design can bring to a company. What would you say to these companies?
MC: I would tell those companies exactly what I tell all of my clients. Design can change the world. It’s one of the most powerful tools a business can posses. But to be successful it has to be wielded by a designer who understands business and a business that understands the power of design. It has to be a true collaboration.

Design is hard to value using traditional quantitative measures. We have a few projects we can point to and honestly say that the design we did was the only thing contributing to success, but these examples are rare. There are almost always other factors such as a new product launch, a new ad campaign or a new business acquisition thrown in to confuse the data. As designers, we contribute to our own hell by focusing more on the visual “cool” factor and less on the success of failure of design in the market. As a result, businesses fail to take us seriously because they see us as “decorators” rather than problem solvers.

FF: Over the years, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the creative field. Does the fact that art is now created digitally have an effect on what is expected out of you as a designer? By this I mean, are clients are more likely to question the specific elements of a design (color, font, imagery) because they think it’s a quick change in photoshop? (ie. show me this in blue, etc)
MC: I think digital tools have changed the face of design. It used to take so long to visualize a simple print design that we had little time left to expand our thinking or demonstrate our abilities in other areas. Computers have expanded the playing field and allowed us to become Designers with a capital D. We do get requests for versions and variations but that was true before and it was much more difficult then. Now we’re making versions and variations in a few minutes in multiple media, in three dimensions, even in motion. Those variations often help us more than they do the client. I still love to do certain things by hand but if I never have to see another ruling pen or waxer I’ll be fine!

FF: With all the changes in the way media has been presented over the years (ie print, digital, online, etc), is there a constant that has remained true throughout all the changes in medium?
MC: The constant is brains – smart design. No matter what the media, the constant has always been and always will be good ideas and sound thinking.

FF: You’ve done an immense amount of work for a wide variety of clients in your career. Are there specific projects that stand out in your mind that you are particularly proud of?
MC: I’m most proud of the design that was the most difficult to achieve for whatever reason. I’ve often been in first meetings that scared me to death because the project seemed extremely complicated or overwhelming. One of the most memorable was the Perdu Lingerie store we designed in Saudi Arabia. When we first got that project I had no idea how we were going to solve it. We just jumped in and worked through it. It came out beautifully in the end and was very successful for our client.

More recently, we’ve been working with Procter and Gamble. They’re a challenge of an entirely different kind. The company is huge and the hierarchy is staggering. Just keeping the details of the projects organized, addressing the million requests and resolving conflicting opinions takes hours! I wasn’t sure our tiny staff could handle it without getting bogged down and losing our creative focus. We’re managing everything splendidly so far and I’m very proud of that.

FF: What is the biggest challenge that your agency faces as more and more marketers are shifting their advertising focus online?
MC: Our agency focuses on branding and packaging so online hasn’t affected our business in a detrimental way. In fact, I think it’s helped us grow. Our clients see online as a good way to reach markets and affect opinions. We are often asked to develop the look and feel for sites that will help our clients launch new products or reach new markets. We also use the internet to test new products, research trends and interview consumers. It’s also a wonderful place for us to advertise our own work.