Melinda Livsey: Design Thinking

 
 

HOW TO WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

melindalivesy

As the founder of Marks and Maker, Melinda Livsey unites over ten years of professional design experience with a penchant for thoughtful customer service. She is also a co-host on The Futur, a premier creative business educational platform.

Designer-turned-strategist, Melinda has experience with notable names like Oakley, Paramount Pictures, and Loot Crate. View her work here and make sure to follow Melinda on Instagram @melindalivsey.

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Can you tell us how you fell in love with design?

From a young age, I would make origami flowers and sell them to my grandma. Little did I know that that was the beginning of my creative career. I grew up in a very artistic family – especially my extended family, which is made up of artists, musicians, designers, and illustrators. I was always into drawing, so when I started college I thought I wanted to be an illustrator. I had no idea what graphic design or branding was at that point.

Luckily, my illustration major required that I take an intro to typography class, and I finally realized what design was and my love for it. I had no clue that design required so much problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It just never occurred to me. It didn’t even dawn on me that someone painstakingly sat down to draw each and every letter in a typeface. How could I have not seen something right in front of my face?

After that typography class, I was completely hooked on design. I added graphic design as my emphasis and never looked back. Although I would consider myself creative, I love to think graphic design was the perfect combination of creativity and thinking. Fortunately, right after graduation, I interned at Oakley, moved up to full-time designer, then later went full-time freelance. 

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Today, you work primarily in strategy. What made you switch from production design?

Throughout my years working as a designer, I ran into one major problem — a lack of strategic, objective direction. So many of the revisions requested by clients or directors had a lot of subjectivity in them. I knew there had to be a better way to make the design process go smoother without, say, changing a color based on personal preference. 

I first learned about brand strategy through The Futur and realized it was the answer to solve my problem of subjectivity in the design process. I immediately wanted to incorporate strategy into my process. At first, I felt a little hesitant about running in-person workshop with my clients. I was just so comfortable living behind my computer screen and email! I knew it would take some practice. 

Although I felt some fear, I jumped in head first — offering brand strategy to my clients after only facilitating a few free workshops. My faith played a massive part in me being able to make that switch without getting paralyzed by fear. I knew that deep down — whether I failed or whether I succeeded — I was okay. I was loved by God. He accepted me because of the sacrifice His Son made on my behalf. That enabled to me to take risks, knowing that He defined who I was and not what I do. I had the freedom to be who He created me to be.

So when I learned about strategy and saw how it fit my strengths and personality, I felt the freedom to pursue it with everything in me. I didn't have to get hung up on the “what if’s.” 

That enabled to me to take risks, knowing that He defined who I was and not what I do.

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Visual identity for CleanKin brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

How do you view the relationship between design and strategy?

Strategy is the backbone of design. If we want our design to reach a goal and be effective, it must have a strategy. That’s not to say there’s not a strategy behind relying on our gut and intuition to design. But to align with the client’s goals and avoid subjective feedback, we as designers need to learn how to communicate clearly. Our discussions should not just lead with designs and visuals, but with explanations of why we designed something a certain way. Emotions and strategy are intertwined, and they both rely on each other. Having a solid strategy aligns everyone together and points them at the same goal so no one’s emotions or subjective opinion dictates the design. 

Brand identity for Mobile Chiro Care brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Brand identity for Mobile Chiro Care brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Based off your experience, what would you recommend for other designers who desire to change their area of specialization?

I would first suggest they ask themselves why they want to make that change. Are they running into a similar problem like I did, where subjective feedback was making the design process drag on? If they are freelancing, are they just not attracting enough clients? 

Once they have that answer, I would then advise them to look at what their strengths and passions are and double down on those. 

If need be, they may need to take an e-course or refine their skills. Maybe they need to read books on the subject. I would also highly recommend joining a community that has a similar goals to theirs. 

In my case, I learned strategy through The Futur’s CORE kit and joined the Futur Pro Group of other professionals wanting to do the same thing as me. We were able to ask each other questions, learn, and grow together. 

Brand identity for Mobile Chiro Care brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Brand identity for Mobile Chiro Care brand. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

How does your spiritual life influence your work?

My spiritual life is the core of everything I do. My friend once told me… “it’s said to love the process, but what if love IS the process?” 

That stuck with me and I never forgot it. Love IS the process… so no matter what I do, I need to do it with love. 

Love IS the process… so no matter what I do, I need to do it with love. 

Re-brand and messaging for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Re-brand and messaging for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

What makes your creative process unique?

I always come to a project with an outside perspective. I get easily overwhelmed and confused, but I believe that’s my super power. I need everything explained to me like I’m five years old because it takes me a long time to comprehend things. The great part about that is that I end up asking SO many questions and I don’t make any assumptions too early about what something should be. When I’m able to finally get ahold of something and understand it, I know I will be able to easily organize and communicate that through my design. My weakness of comprehending ended up being my greatest strength. 

 

Re-brand and messaging for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Re-brand and messaging for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

How do you keep creative juices flowing when you feel stuck?

I do a few things when I feel stuck. I will stop what I’m doing and either take a walk, or if I’m determined to keep going, I will completely ditch my original idea that I got stuck on and try something else. I find that when I try to massage an idea that just isn’t working, it never gets better. I need to just accept that it’s not working and solve it another way entirely. 

Sometimes I need to get out of my own way. I tend to start negative self talk when I feel stuck. If that happens, I stop and write down what I’m telling myself and challenge those limiting beliefs. Let’s say I’m telling myself “You’ll never figure this out,” I will then question if that belief is true. Once I’m able to squash those negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones like “I will figure this out, I just need to keep going,” things start getting better. 

The more I’m in a state of gratitude and joy, the more creative I am. The more that fear and perfectionism run my life, the more I get creatively stuck. 

The more I’m in a state of gratitude and joy, the more creative I am. The more that fear and perfectionism run my life, the more I get creatively stuck.

Marketing deliverable for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Make r .

Marketing deliverable for Accessible Translation Solutions. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

What percentage of your work is strategy versus production today?

Around 80% of my client work is strategy and consulting versus 20% design and production. Since I’m doing less and less design and production, I’m investing more time into how to run my business, marketing, and also coming out with my own products, instead of learning new production skills and software. I will usually hire freelancers for production work to buy me more time to run my business. 

Logo process for Paula Parisotto. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

Logo process for Paula Parisotto. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

What is one design or strategy mistake you used to make that you don’t make anymore?

I wouldn’t ask what the goal of the design was, or why the client wanted the design in the first place. In strategy, once we find out the motivation for the request, we can see whether or not that even makes sense to design. I used to be view my work as more of an expense versus an investment because my design wasn’t tied to a tangible goal. I just designed what they asked for, instead of being an advisor and making sure the requested design would actually help the client reach their goals. 

Logo design for Paula Parisotto. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

Logo design for Paula Parisotto. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

What are some of your favorite tips for a good work/life balance as a consultant and freelancer?

Create a routine for yourself. Wake up at the same time every day. Have goals so that you know what to say “no” to and what to say “yes” to. Find ways to integrate your life and your work so that it’s not work. 

Study of Saul Bass’ Girl Scout logo. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

Study of Saul Bass’ Girl Scout logo. Image courtesy of Melinda Livsey.

Can you elaborate on “Saying no to clients who can’t afford you makes room for the ones who can?”

It is so hard to let go of clients who are already paying you for work (even if it’s low-paying work) in faith that the larger clients will come. But if we want to grow, we need to learn to say “no” to clients who simply can’t afford us. Otherwise, we’ll fill our schedule with low-paying work and we won’t be able to take the great paying projects when they come around. We don’t need to be a chameleon and change ourselves to fit everyone else’s needs. I would suggest outlining some non-negotiables when it comes to working with clients. What’s your minimum price you will not go below? Write that down. Make it your policy to not take any work that pays below that. People will respect that about you and come to you when they can afford you. Without that kind of self respect, we can’t expect others to respect us.

We don’t need to be a chameleon and change ourselves to fit everyone else’s needs. I would suggest outlining some non-negotiables when it comes to working with clients.

Cat-hater survival kit concept collaboration. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Cat-hater survival kit concept collaboration. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

What resources are available to me if I want to handle my freelance design processes, such as correspondence and billing, in a better way?

Google is your friend and it was a life-saver when I was just starting out. There are so many blogs and resources available if you just search. My favorite is The Futur. I also learned a lot from Rowan Made. I also came out with some resources at Pre-lance

Cat-hater survival kit concept collaboration. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Cat-hater survival kit concept collaboration. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

What is your recommended reading for issues revolving around work and design? Around spirituality and creativity? 

Some of my favorite books on those subjects are: 

  • Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

  • The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker

  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

Print collateral for Pre-lance. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

Print collateral for Pre-lance. Image courtesy of Marks and Maker.

What is one final piece of advice you would like to leave with our audience?

If you’re aiming at perfection, you’ve already missed the mark. Focus on making progress over perfection

If you’re aiming at perfection, you’ve already missed the mark. Focus on making progress over perfection