Melissa Leonard is an Art Director at BatesMeron Sweet Design. In that role, she works to ensure that all creative development serves the client’s purpose and supports their vision. She’s also the leader of our BMSD creative team, helping guide and push their skills forward.
I interviewed Melissa as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. In addition to speaking with our clients to see how they’re rocking their brands, I also like to put BMSDers on the hot seat so you can find out what each of our team members brings to the table.
Read on to learn about Melissa’s path to a design career, what makes her cringe and which cartoon superhero she strives to be (sidekick included).
1. Explain your role as Art Director here at BatesMeron?
As Art Director my role includes many things. When it comes to working with our clients, my role is a bit like that of explorer and translator. I’m present during many client meetings to ask creative-minded questions, talk about the client’s vision and inquire insight into goals, obstacles and objectives. It’s my job to help our clients discover the vision they might not know they have or want. Understanding their perspective is important because it’s then my responsibility to translate that message back to our designers and copywriters—ultimately giving them a launching pad to jump off from, creatively.
From there, I help make sure that our BatesMeron team brings the client’s vision to life. It’s a very collaborative process between myself, the clients and our team. Throughout our initiation and development phases, I provide fuel for my co-workers creative fire. Whether I’m guiding the direction of design, finding concept inspiration or talking through feedback, I work to make sure our clients and my co-workers are on the same page and feeling great about the work being produced.
2. As an Art Director, what is your creative process for starting a project?
Our projects generally start with a client meeting, where I gather lots of information and insight. After that, I review my notes. I usually have lots of sketches and scribbles of inspiration that popped into my brain during the initial meeting, so when I get back to my desk, I take some time to decipher and decode, and think a bit more about the client’s vision and direction. At that point, I like to compare notes and debrief with the other creatives that were part of the kick-off to download immediate thoughts and ideas, and ask any clarifying questions.
Once we have reviewed the goals and direction, I start working on more in-depth creative research. This usually leads me to our BatesMeron library, local bookstores or (my favorite) Pinterest, where I can easily spend hours looking for visual inspiration and creative ideas. I do this to discover and immerse myself in the direction we are pursuing for the look, tone and feel of the project at hand. (I think of this process as something similar to what actors do for character research. I find that putting time into the research connects you to the project on a deeper level and allows you to make creative decisions with more accuracy later down the line.) After this, I meet with the designers and copywriters and talk with them about the meeting and provide any inspiration that might be helpful. We set goals and I provide general insight while being careful not to limit or constrict their creative flow. I want them to take the information and inspiration I’ve given them based on what the client said and have an authentic, emotional response that leads them creatively. From there we have scheduled check-ins and reviews to make sure everyone is on track and aligned with client’s goals.
3. What kind of work do you get most excited and inspired by?
I get most excited by anything that’s printed, bound or folded in a fantastic way. I’m also inspired by designs that have interesting layers and textures to discover—but that doesn’t mean PRINT ONLY. I love exploring how rich design work can translate from print to digital. The website we did for Savour Basil is a great example. We were able to integrate the tactile quality of the initial branding into the website in a seamless way, creating a simple, yet thoughtful and comprehensive site for our client. This site showcases layers of flat color fields, textured backgrounds and rich photography that reveal as you scroll. It’s exciting to see the details that began on paper with the brand’s birth come alive in other mediums.
4. How did you get into the design/creative/art world? Tell us your origin story.
My dad is an architect, and as kids he often brought my sister, brother and me to his office on weekends or days off school. There were no babysitters chaperoning—just us, a big empty conference room, a stack of paper and a box of markers. (Sounds a little dangerous in hindsight—but I can report that no major catastrophes resulted from my dad’s lack of supervision.) Anyway, I’m not talking Crayola with this box of markers, I’m talking primo Prismacolor, in every hue you can imagine. We’d spend hours doodling while he worked. I remember sneaking out of the conference room on a mad dash for more supplies and seeing giant (or what seemed giant to a 7-year-old kid) swatch displays filled with gorgeous colors and cool building material textures. I was beyond fascinated and excited to explore.
Growing up from then, we always had sketchbooks and loved spending time filling them. When it was time for me to choose a major in college, I explored photography and painting before discovering graphic design—and fell in love with all the creative possibilities it offered.
5. When it comes to the creative industry, what makes you a) cringe and b) get uncomfortable?
A) It makes me cringe when designs don’t have enough variety. I hate looking at stale designs. I want there to be some show-stopping element or some type of contrast that is unexpected. I love when designers dare to break the rules.
B) Dream killers. I get really uncomfortable by people in brainstorms that judge and don’t respect the “safe space” that is necessary to let creativity thrive. Being critical during creative meetings inhibits people from reaching for the sky and playing with the impossible. To me, it’s so important to get people open—talking and sharing ideas even if they seem completely off-the-walls crazy—and letting new ideas form, change and evolve from idea to idea.
6. If you were a cartoon character from any 80s/90s show, who would it be?
Quail Man. Because I think it would be hilarious to wear my underwear on the outside of a pair of khaki Bermuda shorts. And I love beets. Which, obviously, directly connects to the best cartoon band of all time, The Beats.
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