BOE’s Tatiana Kombo interviewed Rachel Gogel, freelance designer for the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Peter Som and The Sundance Channel, instructor at the School of Visual Arts, and full time Design Director at GQ Magazine in New York City. Rachel took time off of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her international background and experience working at one of the world’s top publications. Follow Rachel On Twitter.
TK: You have an impressive background in graphic design, digital and publishing work. What collaboration or project do you think set the tone for your career?
RG: I’ve been involved with several side projects that have been pretty extraordinary. A few that stand out: I designed the title treatment, early posters and collateral for Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry documentary, which went on to win several awards and is still creating buzz. Sundance Channel has been a client of mine on and off for several years and I feel like the work that I had done for them ultimately helped me for the Weiwei project. I also recently designed my first book cover ever for Kevin Roose’s book, which has been getting so much buzz since it was published. Kevin was even invited to talk about it on The Daily Show! I had a really good feeling about it and worked with Mashable on some infographics. You can learn more about the book here, and on my website’s homepage which has an overview of all press as well. All these collaborations have helped me grow as an artist, entrepreneur, and teacher in some way.
While at GQ, I built and manage GQ Live!, the industry’s first-to-market augmented reality app powered by Aurasma technology, which transformed GQ‘s print-to-mobile landscape. I steered GQ to become the first US magazine to launch a cover-to-cover AR experience and as a result, with several other magazines following suit, solidified its standing as a digitally advanced leader in a print-reliant industry. In addition, I’ve been redefining the GQ tablet experience with the MyGQ tool, which empowers our readers to shop, share, browse, and save the pages from the digital edition. Prior to GQ, I worked at Travel + Leisure magazine to help bring the T+L iPad edition to life, and at Diane von Furstenberg, where I contributed to the iconic brand’s iPhone app. You can start to tell that these projects combined with my new class at SVA show that I’m starting to develop a strong interest in mobile/digital/emerging technologies. That’s possible where my career is headed?
TK: Your clients include the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Peter Som and The Sundance Channel. How would you say the diversity in clients and projects has helped you grow as a designer? Perhaps you could share an anecdote of one moment when you realized it was all coming together for you.
RG: Being a designer or Design Director doesn’t mean what it used to either–you’re expected to know about print, web, tablets, social media–it’s no longer one-dimensional. Having a diverse range of experiences will set you apart. That said, I am a big believer in freelancing/permalancing when possible–my most recent clients are Mashable, Harvard University and Hachette Book Group. My full client list is really the result of 4.5 years of freelancing, working, and being open-minded about taking on all sorts of projects in order to build my portfolio. I ended up accumulating experience and industry knowledge in a short amount of time after I graduated from Penn. The (print) industry is also constantly evolving and new technologies keep appearing, so it’s also hard to keep up. As long as you’re willing to learn, do the research/follow the industry buzz, embrace the new tools and are aware of the multi-faceted responsibilities that are expected when taking on a Design Director role, then you are qualified. You are signing up to be a designer, copywriter, creative thinker, art director, collaborator, photographer, mentor and leader, because that’s essentially what being an Art/Design Director means. Having a background in marketing and communication, a basic understanding of business and some production skills will also come in handy. Also, each project has somewhat inspired me for the next project, and all my networks are pretty much intertwined at this point.
As for the moment when I realized it was all coming together for me… In March 2011, I left Travel + Leisure for USA Network at NBC Universal because I wanted to keep learning and growing (I was freelancing after all!), and the film/network industry caught my interest. That summer, I went from being a Junior Designer at Travel + Leisure magazine to a Graphic Designer at USA Network and in July 2011, I finally landed my first full-time (on staff) job as Associate Art Director at GQ. My life changed in just 3 months! I was managing a team of designers for my favorite magazine at the age of 23. And at my annual review in April 2012, I was promoted to Art Director. In 2013, I participated in several speaking engagements, was promoted to Design Director, and started teaching my own CE class at SVA. Now I am just excited about what 2014 has in store for me (apart from several destination weddings).
Above: an app that Rachel launched in September 2012 and won an award. She now teaches a class about it at School of Visual Arts (SVA.)
TK: You are currently working as Design Director for GQ Magazine. How do you feel about being a part of one of the most successful magazines around?
RG: I work for a brand that I really respect. I love the quality of the writing and the editorial team’s design choices are often groundbreaking (and award-winning). I remember the first time I saw a concept that I pitched come to fruition in the magazine—I was 23 when I first started at GQ, and I had enough seniority to be part of a brainstorm and then design a layout that would then be printed in the magazine. The thing is, I often don’t think about my daily routine as my “job”. I’m usually playing music all day, learning from my peers, brainstorming and exchanging ideas, trying to push boundaries… I’ve been lucky to be part of several first-to-market initiatives and I love seeing the print industry evolve and adapt to the new times. The publishing industry is not what its used to be, but I’m enjoying the digital disruption era. You know your brand is a success when you can set trends, align with other brands to make them even sexier—oh, and when your brand is a source of inspiration for Lena Dunham’s show GIRLS (see season 3, episode 6).
TK: What are your feelings on working for a men’s publication?
RG: I knew almost nothing about men’s fashion when I first started this job, but I love learning new things and my brothers love the free samples! No but on a more serious note, working for GQ has definitely influenced how I look at men around me, I’m more picky now, that’s for sure, and I’m paying attention to the details. Also, let’s be clear, my work life is not based on Justin Timberlake’s role in Friends with Benefits and I literally work with almost all women (I guess, women know what men want after all)–and no, we don’t have hot topless male models walking around the office all day. Or a free snack room for that matter (another GIRLS reference). I really do love the magazine’s content and I feel like the aesthetic is more aligned with my personality and style than any of the women’s publications.
TK: Tell us: what does a regular Monday look like for you?
RG: You start to get used to the pace of the industry once you are in it for a few years and some events are annual so there is some routine, but there is no such thing as a typical or regular day. Publishing means having constant deadlines, working with the sales, editorial, digital, research, marketing, merchandising teams all at once, determining one visual language for a brand and having to maintain that image throughout all materials, which can get very demanding and stressful. Occasionally you might have more time on a project and you might want to take your time and get really into it, but usually the turnaround for things is very quick. That said, we still represent the brand in everything that we produce so it has to be of a certain quality. Also, as the Design Director at GQ, I am expected to simultaneously be a hands-on designer and delegate work to my team. I find it challenging, and getting out of my comfort zone is something I look for in a job.
At most monthly magazines, you work on an issue two months before the actual month, ie. we’re wrapping up GQ’s April issue now. That means that you’re always going to press, proofing pages, looking at color proofs, fact checking, and working with a copywriter on getting the right brand message across. I am constantly writing e-mails, going into meetings and brainstorming sessions, answering phone calls, directing Entry- to Senior-level designers, my Art Director and freelancers, maintaining the morale of the department, creating a fun environment for the team, encouraging team work and creativity, interacting with management, meeting deadlines, following up on pending projects or assets, managing budgets and workflow, putting together timelines, keeping the project list up-to-date, creating cool identities for all of our programs, running the status meetings, thinking of new ways to push the envelope, trying to stay inspired (magazines, museums, blogs etc.), reading competitive magazines, putting together some photo shoots, and gaining awareness of the market. GQ Design Group is not only the in-house agency for the magazine but since we work on the advertising/business side and we do good work, brands are always coming to us as if we’re their agency as well. Essentially I’m a commercial artist and I will try and determine what will work best for that particular brand, while staying aligned with GQ‘s reputation and quality, and try and steer them in that direction. I need to find ways to keep the print edition alive and not let it be replaced with the tablet edition or online content–they should all be complementary to one another. Being a good leader means having a vision and I feel strongly about the vision I have as Design Director at GQ.
When not at the office, I also teach a class at SVA that I created called Print is not dead; it’s evolving on Tuesday nights. This means that Monday nights I am usually preparing for the next day’s class. It’s a continuing education class and I find it very rewarding.
TK: Living in New York must have its share of problems but also of perks! What is your favourite thing about working in the city?
RG: New York City has so much to offer and is filled with so many characters, it’s hard not to find inspiration just by walking the streets of this city. Never forget to look up—there’s some great signage around here. I look at magazines, books, go to museums, shows, browse design blogs and peruse other artists’ portfolios and work. I go to several design events through organizations such as AIGA and ADC, and my students at SVA inspire me every week. I also love to take photos everywhere I go. Conversations with peers and other like-minded people always get me to think outside the box and inspire me to push harder. There is also a lot of bad design out there and I am constantly trying to make sure I still get influenced by the good stuff. This city definitely spoils me in many ways, but the visual stimulation and indefinite access to culture and art makes it a perfect city to live in in your 20s, especially for designers and creative thinkers.
TK: You’ve lived in several countries now. Do you think that had an impact on your career choices?
RG: Yes, definitely. I really believe that my multilingual skills, combined with a cultural sensitivity developed from extensive travel and living abroad, has allowed me to provide a unique perspective to all of my jobs. Born and raised in Paris, France, I used to spend my summers in Maine and Massachusetts as my parents are originally from the United States. After high school, I moved to Philadelphia, PA for college and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. During my junior year, I also studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia (and I’ve always wanted to move back!). After Penn, I did a two-week Masters Workshop in Italy through the School of Visual Arts and then settled in New York City to look for a job. Now that I’m working, I try to travel as much as I can and strategically plan my days off to visit friends around the globe. Traveling is really important to me–not only when thinking about a healthy work-life balance, but traveling always inspires, rejuvenates and drives me to want more and helps open my eyes to the whole world and think BIG picture. New York is definitely not a somewhere I want to settle in forever but it works for now, and it’s a very international city. My proficiency in French and Spanish has also been useful when dealing with clients abroad. I’m not done moving around the world just yet… I think it’s only the beginning.
TK: Which entrepreneur or go-getter inspires you the most?
RG: Staying fresh and inspired is key. There are several entrepreneurs and go-getters out there that fuel me in some way. I follow several brands that I respect on social channels, connect with creative people online, and surround myself with other like-minded professionals either through events or by joining an organization. If I had to pick one person though, I definitely have someone in mind.
When I went to Italy for the SVA Masters Workshop in May/June 2009 immediately after I graduated from Penn, I met a great group of people through my class. We are all still friends or contacts in the industry now but one woman in particular has definitely had an impact on my career. Her name is Irina Lee, and she is really active in the design community in New York and teaches at SVA and Farmingdale State College. When I mentioned that I was interested in potentially teaching one day, she was able to get me into the system to co-teach a class with her at SVA. When I decided I wanted to teach my own class, she advised me on how to write a syllabus and put together a curriculum. Teaching aside, she has always given me great advice and has kept me really grounded. I am thankful for her guidance and friendship. My family and close friends are all go-getters and ambitious individuals too, and they inspire me every day without a doubt.
TK: Do you have a work or life mantra?
RG: I was once told, “if you are ashamed to ask for the amount that you want, you’re not asking for enough.” I’m also always trying to seize every day like it’s my last. I want to use design to create change and impact the world in some way, even if only one person notices. Recently, my life mantra has been: “Never apologize for having high standards, people who really want to be in your life will rise up to them.” Basically, believe in yourself and don’t settle. Life is too short.
TK: Any final thoughts to share with our readers?
RG: When I talk to people looking to get into the field, I stress three things: 1. Grow your online presence, 2. Networking is essential and 3. Learning doesn’t end with school. With time, you learn about being open to constructive criticism, time management, team collaboration, professionalism, e-mail etiquette, punctuality, work ethics, leading a team of artists who might have different visions–all while injecting your voice into the daily routine and/or office space. You have to be able to survey your environment, adapt quickly, learn about the ins and outs of the industry, as well as get to know your co-workers, maintain professional relationships and continue to network. If you are a passionate and engaged individual who takes initiative and knows how to negotiate/value his or her worth to the company, you will be fine. Once you establish a brand or identity for yourself and you start to develop your own voice/style, you start to feel more confident about selling your skill to a potential employer. Show that off online with a strong portfolio, résumé and a developed LinkedIn profile clearly highlighting your experiences and strengths. It also helps if you have a mentor at your job who can lend advice or vouch for you. A good level of confidence, talent and social skills will bring you a long way. Just keep challenging yourself, otherwise life gets boring.