When I decided to start blogging more seriously and began looking for someone to make a logo, my friend Livia suggested her friend Michelle. I love when friends refer friends, building connections across the world. Working with Michelle to create the logo was such an enjoyable and eye-opening experience. Her professionalism, attention to detail, and enthusiasm were impressive, and I could not have been happier with the final product. Then, as if the logo wasn’t enough, she mentioned she could make a watercolor version that rotates on a loop on my home page. My mind was pretty much blown, and my blog looks a hundred times better for it. The entire process was above and beyond what I had imagined, and the feedback I’ve gotten on the via blog comments and Instagram (where I swap out logo colors based on my feed) has been wonderful. I talked to Michelle via Skype a couple of weeks ago about how she got into design, the challenges and joys of running a creative business, and of course, her favorite destinations.
Hi Michelle! Tell me your life story in a few minutes. How did you get into design?
I was born in Malaysia and have lived in seven countries and 10 cities. My family now lives in Singapore. Though I lived all over the world, the one thing that has kept me grounded is art and opportunities to be creative. Because I was a very shy child, I would overcompensate for my shyness with overly romantic gestures. I always made most of my gifts and cards by hand, for example. In sixth grade, I designed monograms for my friends and me, not knowing that I would do logo design in the future (but somehow knowing that I would remain friends with these people to this day). My fascination with icons, gestures, and words definitely stems from living and traveling abroad. I’m constantly taking note of language and symbols used in signage and menus. I love finding quirks specific to certain cultures. Even more so, I love finding similarities across different cultures.
Eventually, high school came around. I was in the US at the time and went to my first public American school. That was a real culture shock for me. I thought it was like Grease the musical (this was pre-Mean Girls or I probably would have thought that). You have all the stereotypes—the jocks, the cheerleaders, leaning against metal lockers. I remember feeling so lost and overwhelmed my first few days of school. My graduating class was 300. At my previous school in Belgium, it would have been 60. I did the IB program [International Baccalaureate] instead of AP and pursued art at the highest level. The program was exciting and stressful at the same time. I had little to no direction on the assignments, which felt like they were all over the place. When I finally had to curate and walk the proctor through an exhibition of my seemingly separate pieces, the common themes became clear to me and I managed to deliver a pretty decent show.
After high school, I wanted to go to art school but ended up studying business which I hated. After two years, I switched to art history. I thought it would be easier than fine art to combine with business. Art history was great to learn about, but the need or drive to create things never went away. After a few years working in art galleries and auction houses, I decided to take a leap of faith and play around with Adobe programs. I started with what I thought would be easy and small: logo design. Little did I know that logo design was a whole universe in its own right.
Was it challenging going into business for the first time?
I didn’t know anything about it going in, so for two years it was a huge learning curve for me. Not only learning how to use the programs but also learning the design process, from talking to a client to finding out what their needs are to generating actual content, getting feedback, and delivering. So, yes, it’s been really challenging but also very satisfying each time I make progress. I am also thankful for my husband, Chris. A seasoned freelancer and enterprising spirit, he offered much advice and support along the way.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve always been interested in icons and symbols, creating monograms and stylizing my name on homework assignments. A logo is the extension of someone’s identity after all. It’s the first impression a person or business entity makes. A logo is a lot like an outfit or a hairstyle. When you first meet someone, as much as you don’t want to judge them by their looks, it is the first thing you see. I am interested in the fact that something so small can have such a monumental effect. Take Coca-Cola, for example. You recognize the logo instantly, even if it is in a different language. Anyone can draw the Nike logo by heart. These logos are unique, iconic, and yet so simple. Flags are similar this way. People can be infused with so much patriotism just by looking at a flag. Even on the negative side, a swastika can bring about so much anger and hatred. Whatever the size, these symbols have the power to move. Speaking of size, I also like that logos are scalable. I think it’s neat that a logo can live on the corner of a small business card or you can blow it up to fill an entire billboard.
Is it your full-time job?
I currently work at a fledgling marketing agency. I work with brands to run their social media and full-on marketing campaigns. I was hired as a designer because of my punny drawings on Instagram, but I’m helping to organize the startup and give art direction. I write most of the copy and captions. They call me pun master flash.
Are you taking on freelance projects at the moment?
Yes! I’m always interested in doing freelance. I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve always gotten clients through word of mouth and through working closely with friends. I didn’t mean to carve out a niche but now I’ve done a few travel blogs. I really appreciate working with people on their passion projects. A good friend of mine is starting a personalized horoscope service and I’m excited to have designed the logo for that.
Do you have a personal style you bring to projects, or does it depend on the client?
It’s tricky when you have your own vision or personality, and to control how much of that permeates the final product. I would say a lot, because it’s something that I have to show later as something I am proud of too. Of course, I try my best to align with the client’s needs and vision. There are certain occasions where I present a few options and I definitely have a favorite. It’s a test in salesmanship too–how do I pitch and sell each concept?
What is your favorite part of your job?
Just hearing how excited the client is when they receive their logo and then seeing it out in its natural environment. Like when I see your posts on Instagram, I feel really happy inside. It’s like I planted these little parts of me in cyberspace and every time it crops up, I feel that rush of endorphin that comes with a sense of accomplishment.
And the most challenging part?
Just not getting frustrated with myself. Being patient and managing not only my expectations but also that of the clients because I don’t come from a traditional design background. There are specific things I want to do sometimes but I just don’t know how to. Once I overcome them, it feels really good.
Do you have a favorite travel destination?
New Orleans. It is definitely one of my favorite places in the states. There’s so much energy there! And good food (I still drool thinking about beignets and charbroiled oysters) and especially the music. In New Orleans you can feel—and I mean really feel—the jazz everywhere, in every bar and on every street corner.
I also love New York. Can I just take a moment to profess my love for this city? New York makes me feel like I’m home because it is the only place I can get the food from all the countries I’ve ever lived in. Plus, my friends come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. In light of recent socio-political shifts in this country, I’ve really come to appreciate the diversity and inclusiveness of this city, which are what I’ve always thought makes this country so great.
And when you are traveling, what’s in your carry on?
I’m obsessed with Glossier products. The boy brow and makeup trio I especially love. The set has completely streamlined my makeup routine. It helps that they have great branding too.
I also love my menstrual cup. The cup collapses into a discreet little disc. The first few times using it is kind of weird, but once you get over it, it’s amazing. I’m trying to be kinder to my body as well as the environment.
Finally, I use Thinx period-proof panties as a back-up or on light days. While traveling in developing countries, the founder learned about young girls who had to drop out of school because of their periods and she came up with an ingenious and meaningful solution. Not only is the branding beautiful, the marketing copy is also funny.
Bonus points for me: all these brands are led by some badass women who decided to change up their careers.
Need a logo for your blog or business? Check out Michelle’s website for more examples of her work, and follow her on Instagram for puns and drawings that will make you smile as you scroll through your feed.