Last month we had Shauna Haider—graphic designer, blogger behind Nubby Twiglet, co-founder of The Blogcademy, and Creative Director of recently launched design studio We Are Branch—answer a few questions for our new Industry Insider column. Having worked with companies like Nike, Virgin Records, and Forever 21, Haider has had plenty of impressive experiences in the graphic design industry—going from community college graduate to launching her own design studio in 5 short years. I’ve been a longtime fan of Haider’s design aesthetic and Nubby Twiglet, reading and re-reading her savvy business advice and bookmarking too many of her articles to count. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do a more in-depth interview with Haider, and to ask her the questions that, as a recent design school graduate, I truly wanted to know the answers to. She did not disappoint—Haider, aside from possessing wicked design skills and a great writing voice, is also incredibly friendly, honest, and likeable. Her answers reminded me that everyone’s design career is different, and that determination and hard work will bring you success a whole lot faster than anything else out there.
Starting her design career a little later than most in today’s high school to university to career trajectory, Haider, having originally gone to school for business “because it seemed like the practical choice at the time,” was left feeling “really unhappy and unfulfilled” by the business world. Having “always been a creative person,” she enrolled in design school at 25 years old, graduating at 27. “Once I discovered graphic design, I knew it was the perfect fit,” she says. “Life’s too short not to follow your passion.”
Having more life experience before going to design school ultimately helped Haider in her career, and she doesn’t regret having taken the time to discover what she really wanted to do. “From my first day there,” she says of design school, “I set the goal of having a full-time job by the time I graduated. I was always on time and gave each project my all because I really wanted to be there. Having had previous jobs I didn’t like fueled my passion to work extra hard so I could have a job in a more creative atmosphere.” All her hard work ultimately paid off—Haider’s first job out of design school was a full-time position at a design studio, a position she landed within a week of graduating.
From there, her career has gone nowhere but up. One of the most exciting jobs Haider has ever had (in a sea of exciting jobs) was designing the Forever 21 blog. “At that point,” Haider explains, “the web design experience I had was laughable. But their team was so forgiving and open-minded and really listened to my ideas.” That experience gave Haider the confidence early on “to go after those projects that seemed far-fetched for a brand new designer,” leading to further big name clients and the launch and sustainment of three successful businesses.
Despite all the exciting, big name projects Haider has worked on, her favorite is the work she’s done for The Blogcademy. “It’s one of my own businesses, but since I co-own it with two of my friends, I still take the projects very seriously,” she says. “I designed the style guide so I know what works for our brand and what doesn’t. At the same time, I still have enough creative freedom to push the boundaries.”
Another reason it’s one of her favorite projects? The Blogcademy speaks to Haider’s history, and is a business very close to her heart. “Way before I was a designer, I was a blogger,” she explains. “Blogging has been a consistent passion in my life since I first started in 2001, and it’s how I made most of my close friends. The creation of The Blogcademy speaks to this passion. Knowing firsthand “what kind of power sharing more of who you are and what you do holds,” Haider explains that she and the other two co-founders “wanted other women to be able to experience that firsthand.” The power of blogging, according to Haider, should definitely not be overlooked. “Blogging completely changed my life,” she says. “It helped me meet like-minded people, build my freelance design business, and get my work in front of companies I’d never dreamed of.”
Many of the friends Haider has made from blogging have been integral to her career, especially to the launch of design studio We Are Branch this past year. After years of freelancing by herself, Haider “had hit a wall with being on my own. It didn’t matter how many hours straight I worked, I still felt overwhelmed and like I couldn’t make a dent in what needed to get done,” she explains. “I also didn’t want a design business to be just about me—I wanted something bigger than myself.” With some “incredibly hard working, talented” friends of hers, Haider decided “it was the perfect solution to create a team,” and We Are Branch was launched to almost immediate success.
Having cultivated such an inspiring career in such a short time, I assumed (correctly) Haider would have excellent advice for those just starting their careers in the graphic design industry: “If you want it bad enough, you’ll carve out a spot for yourself,” she says. “When I enrolled in my design program in 2006, I had absolutely no connections. Never let any perceived roadblocks stop you—jump over them! Work hard, assert yourself and stay humble all while building a killer portfolio. The rest will take care of itself.”
Q&A with ‘We Are Branch’ Creative Director Shauna Haider
What would you say is the biggest risk you’ve taken so far in your career?
“Working for myself. Giving up all outside gigs was really scary. I had to let go of my need for constant stability and let myself fly. It’s the best thing I’ve done.”
Is there anything in your career you would go back and change if you could?
“I’m pretty happy with how everything has turned out so far. Looking back, all those scary times and unsure moments taught me a lot.”
Have you ever had a moment in your career where you’ve felt like you’ve failed? If so, how did you move past it?
“There have been a few times when I worked agency jobs where I lost my cool after pulling all-nighters that I’m not proud of. I definitely have my breaking point when it comes to stress and demands. Other than that, any other perceived failures I had at the time (including a few jobs that didn’t work out) were actually opportunities in disguise.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“I wish there was more structure but when it comes to running three businesses, there’s very little of that! I always sit down at my desk right after I wake up to catch up on emails and make sure I haven’t missed anything urgent since a lot of my clients are scattered across the world. Next, my husband and I take our dog Rocky for a nice long walk. I usually leave my phone behind so I have that time to unplug and connect with them. As soon as I get back, I hit the ground running and try to work through the day’s to-do list as quickly as possible! I try to get a blog post up on my personal blog 4 to 5 days a week and as soon as that’s done, I switch over to client work. There are a lot of late nights but I am hoping that once the growing pains of launching a new studio subside, there will be more balance.”
If you weren’t a graphic designer, is there anything else you could see yourself doing?
“I love fashion so I’d probably be working in PR at a fashion house in New York.”
Where do you go / what do you do when you get stuck for inspiration?
“I read a lot of fashion magazines! The color combinations and layouts always get my creative juices flowing again.”
What’s your favorite thing to do in your downtime?
“When I need a serious break, I like to wander around the mall aimlessly. I like taking in the colors, the textures, and trends without the thought of a design project crossing my mind!”
Why graphic design, what is it about designing that appeals to you?
“I love type, shapes, colors, layouts and the way you can make a blank canvas come to life. The possibilities are endless. And to me, that is endlessly inspiring.”