Nick Stephenson & Ali Petrizzi: Get Weird

Episode #19
April 25, 2024
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Meet masters of graphic design Nick Stephenson, instructor at Penn College, and Ali Petrizzi, graphic design alum and senior UX designer at Microsoft. Ali graduated just a few years ago, but the duo's dynamic feels more like old friends than anything else. We explore what it means to be a graphic designer, possible career paths, freelance opportunities, Ali's obsession with experiments and evidence, AI, and loads more. Nick tells some childhood stories. Ali shares why data doesn't lie. There's a lot to learn in this action-packed episode. Hang on for the ride!

00:00:00 Sumer Beatty: Welcome to Tomorrow Makers, where we explore how we learn, live, work, and design now and in the future. 00:00:10 Carlos Ramos: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Design? What happened to play? We're not playing anymore? 00:00:15 Sumer Beatty: Design is play. It's all one of the same. And we're here today with two graphic designers. So it just felt, it felt right. 00:00:22 Carlos Ramos: All right. I love it. 00:00:23 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. 00:00:24 Carlos Ramos: So we had Nick Stephenson. He is a Is he a professor? Is he instructor of graphic design? He's one of those of graphic design. 00:00:32 Sumer Beatty: He's the man in graphic design. 00:00:33 Carlos Ramos: That's right. Yeah. One of, one of, one of the awesome people we have here work in the graphic design department, and Ali Petree, who is? 00:00:42 Sumer Beatty: She is contracted to work for Microsoft as a UX designer. 00:00:45 Carlos Ramos: And she's been doing some really cool things. I mean, even before she did that, she was working for Vera Bradley and then there was something else in between and she's like, I mean, I still see her. She's just this young person. 00:00:55 Sumer Beatty: Her resume is extensive. So it was great to have her and her experience with us today. 00:01:00 Carlos Ramos: We dive into all aspects of design. We're talking about, you know, from logos to package design to UX design, where Ali's an expert in. There's a lot of good stuff in here. 00:01:12 Sumer Beatty: Oh yeah. 00:01:12 Carlos Ramos: Let's get into it. All 00:01:13 Sumer Beatty: right. 00:01:14 Carlos Ramos: Tomorrow Makers. So Sumer, who are our guests today? 00:01:24 Sumer Beatty: Okay, so we have Nick Stephenson with us. He is an instructor here at Penn College in the graphic design department. We have a special guest, Ali Ali, one of Nick's students who has graduated back in 2020, and she's here with us today as well. So this is amazing. Yes. Thank you for being here. 00:01:46 Nick Stephenson: Thank you for having us. 00:01:47 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. So it feels like it's been a long time coming for folks listening. We have been sitting here messing with these microphones for about 10 minutes. So we are like deep into it, but you're coming in at the, at the best part. We're at the top. So here we go. 00:02:04 Nick Stephenson: Super excited to see where this goes. 00:02:05 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, me too. It's always a fun adventure. 00:02:09 Nick Stephenson: So where are you going to take us first? 00:02:10 Sumer Beatty: Oh, I don't know. I was going to start at the top, I guess. I'm curious from each of you, you're both in the graphic design profession. What made you choose graphic design? There are hundreds, thousands, millions of things you could be doing. Why graphic design? 00:02:25 Nick Stephenson: I fell into graphic design kind of in a weird way. I actually originally went to college for creative writing and graduated, with that degree, with aspirations of, becoming the next great. American Poet, and strangely that didn't happen. and I took a job at the college actually that I graduated from in their admissions department. And since it was 1999 and I was the youngest person in the department, one day they just kind of walked in and said, you're now the webmaster for the pro for the for the department. Like, you're now the admissions In charge of the web, and I said, great! So, I bought a book on HTML and started doing stuff with it, and luckily at that time, the web was fairly easy to, to kind of manipulate if you learned HTML. And what I just kind of kept finding was that whereas I could do the code stuff and that was all fine, you know, I could make, you know, in those days you made something bold and we were like running around the office, high fiving each other and things like that, but I couldn't make anything look good the way that I wanted it to. And so luckily the college that I went to, and was then working at had just opened up a graphic design program. And I kind of started taking some classes and. was strangely good at it, which was interesting because I never really did much with art and things like that. And, one class turned into two classes, turned into three classes, turned into finishing the degree, and then, enjoying it so much that I then went on and got my MFA and transitioned from the job that I was doing in admissions to the communications department and creative services manager, creative director, and kind of running all that stuff. And then it turned into a full time job teaching here at Penn College. 00:04:08 Sumer Beatty: There's kind of a carryover between the storytelling of writing and the graphic design piece, right? 00:04:15 Nick Stephenson: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it's all, for me, it's all about, and I really, you know, and you kind of, you know, we, a lot of people come at graphic design from different directions. For me, it was more about the communication aspect of it. You know, it was, it wasn't as much about the, the, Art component as it was about creating things that expressed messages or expressed meaning, and really kind of got into communicating with diverse audiences about ideas. And that's what I've always loved about it. I'm not a great artist. My students will all tell you that, that the drawings that I try to do on the board are always hilarious. But I really, really enjoy the, the nuance of, of using all the aspects of graphic design to create some kind of cohesive messaging system. 00:04:59 Carlos Ramos: You've just given a whole bunch of artists everywhere a lot of hope in what they do because I think the expectations are so high to be so good in every medium as an artist and you don't have to be. 00:05:13 Nick Stephenson: No, you know, there's a lot of ways to come at graphic design and when I have students and worked with people and had, you know, colleagues who are these incredible artists, you know. And, and I've always been kind of in awe of that, but, and the way that they make graphic design is very much rooted in, in that kind of artistic side, but then there's also people who come at it from different directions, you know, there's, there's incredible typographers and there's people who are incredibly good at things like layout or, or, you know, information design and things like that. And so that's one of the nicest things I think about the field is it affords this opportunity for people from all different backgrounds and skill sets to be able to be successful in it. 00:05:48 Carlos Ramos: Great. How about you, Ali? 00:05:49 Ali Petrizzi: Okay. So speaking of coming to graphic design from diverse backgrounds, I started at Penn College in dental hygiene, which is a big jump. I understand that. But right around that time where I was realizing that dental hygiene was not for me is when I met my friend Nina Walk, who just so happened to be in the graphic design program, and she showed me some of her work and, some of the things that she was doing and explained like a little bit about what graphic design was. And honestly, I was just like so excited and so intrigued and I didn't really realize at that time that you could make a career out of something like that. So it kind of just like aligned with my passion and everything. And I just kind of knew immediately that that was. the right path for me. 00:06:35 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, that is, that is out there. It seems like, but yeah, I think it goes back to Carlos's point. Like you don't have to have that fine arts background or that technical, you know, I can sketch really well and, you know, have that foundation, which I think is probably what I would have assumed that you were both going to tell me like, Oh, I was an art student and I was always very creative. So I love the perspective that you're both bringing. Ali, we didn't really say what you're doing, out in the field, I neglected to mention that. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you're doing? 00:07:09 Ali Petrizzi: Yeah, so currently I'm a senior UX designer working for, contracted to Microsoft. So, that's where I'm at currently. I've held some other roles at, previously at Victoria's Secret and Vera Bradley, so. I kind of took graphic design and went on the path of UX design. 00:07:27 Carlos Ramos: So that sounds like a 20 year career, but this is three, four years, right? 00:07:34 Ali Petrizzi: Yes. Yes. yeah, there's been a few changes. I went through a series of layoffs, which was why the Victoria's Secret role was a little quicker, but I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And, I'm really happy with where I'm at today. That's awesome. 00:07:51 Sumer Beatty: So for those people who might not know, what is a UX designer? 00:07:56 Ali Petrizzi: So UX kind of encompasses the way that a user experiences a product. And so graphic design is a little more on the visuals and the creativity. Whereas UX design might be solving some things such as, like, increasing the prominence of something on a website. All the websites I've worked on are e commerce websites. To give an example, you might, you might want a product to, you know, be purchased more often or something. So you can increase the prominence of that product on the website. Another example would be maybe designing a feature to compare products on listing pages more easily. Or even like something as simple as templatizing the structure of different pages on a website like a category page, that has a category of products and just templatizing that so that users can, so that all the category pages are, are similar so that the user understands and knows what to expect going page to page and then they can, they can funnel down to get to the product that they need more easily and ultimately make their purchase and make the business some money. Laughter. 00:09:02 Carlos Ramos: And some of that is going right down to like, like maybe even the shape of the button, the color of the button, the size of the button, the label of, of the button that can make a big difference between that customer, the groups of customers in aggregate buying a product or not buying as much, right? 00:09:19 Ali Petrizzi: Oh yeah, absolutely. And we have a designated copywriter on the team that I'm on currently that we work with very closely because we'll even do like some usability testing or something on just the copy alone. But, but little things like that can really make a big difference. 00:09:35 Sumer Beatty: I'm so glad you're here. So what should that button say? 00:09:38 Ali Petrizzi: Well, it depends on the metric that you're measuring. 00:09:41 Sumer Beatty: What if we say one is student to apply to Penn College, for example. I mean, just for example. 00:09:47 Ali Petrizzi: You just make it as prominent as you can and tell them that there's nothing else that they can do on that webpage. 00:09:53 Sumer Beatty: Flashing lights, bright red. It's red better than blue, for example? 00:09:58 Ali Petrizzi: If you want it to be. 00:10:00 Sumer Beatty: So I do love how what you're doing is pulling in this critical thinking and this almost data analytics aspect into the creative process. So it's not just that, you know, it looks pretty peace. And so, also, I mean, you can determine, are you doing a good job, right? Like, or is it effective? Because you can look at that and automatically get feedback. Yes. That's really cool. 00:10:26 Ali Petrizzi: Absolutely. Data for UX design in My opinion is really the foundation of successful UX design even it's exciting like you mentioned like it makes what you're doing measurable and really rewarding in a sense but you can test in so many different ways on the website you can you can test things before you even launch before users even see it you can run some usability tests right you can do a heuristic analysis and you can do these with real users or if you're, you know, short on time, you can even do these with coworkers and just kind of get like a sense for the design before you put it on the website. But the other thing that you can do, and this can be my favorite because this is almost like the end result is you can test once things are on the website. So there's different types of user testing you can do then. But one of my favorites is AB testing. And that is where, essentially, 50 percent of the users on the website might see panel A, so that could be like the existing user experience. And so all the users coming in that way are just going to see panel A, but you could have this new design that's panel B, and you might be testing to see if panel B performs better. You can measure different things. You can measure engagement, you can measure, revenue conversion, things like that, right? It depends on, on what you're, purposes for that. But if you're, if you're measuring that and you're looking at panel A and then you compare it to this new design of panel B, that's when it gets really exciting because then you can see like, does this new design like make a difference? How much revenue is this new design generating versus, you know, it was the other design even better, and that really excites me. 00:12:09 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, you can't see it, but she is stoked over here. 00:12:11 Ali Petrizzi: That's my favorite. 00:12:16 Sumer Beatty: What, so you mentioned the, the UX design piece, are there, and then there's the traditional, I'll say traditional, I don't know if that's the right terminology, but a graphic designer that may be doing magazines or print pieces. Are there other elements? I'm sure the answer is yes. But what other things are graphic designers doing out there in the world? I'm looking at you, Nick. 00:12:39 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, I mean, I think there's, there's kind of, you know, graphic design tends to split. You know, kind of at its most kind of basic breakdown in terms of whether you're either an agency designer, you know, and working for a place where you have lots of different clients in which people are coming in and asking you to do work and that work can be anything from, like you said, magazines, posters, ads, you know, more interactive type stuff, web pages, social media, whatever. And then there's kind of more of the in house, which is what Ali's done mostly, where she's working for specific companies and doing graphic design for them. So a lot of large and even small corporations, obviously, employ in-house designers that kind of work as a creative team, which, which can be a really interesting kind of way to go. I, I think both of those breakdowns really afford, different creative opportunities. You know, I think the, the, there's always that kind of jump to like, Oh, I don't want to be working for the same company to do the same thing over and over again. But that's when I was a creative director, that's kind of what I did. And I really enjoyed it because it offered me lots more problem solving aspects of like, okay, how do I take this brand and continue to evolve it? Or how do I work in new stuff? You know, that you kind of have this opportunity to stay with an existing brand and see what you can do with it. Agency designers, again, you get a lot more diversity in the projects that you're doing. Certainly, there's a lot of opportunities to do really interesting, kind of cutting edge stuff as well. So, I think both directions offer people a lot of opportunity and, and one of the nice things, I think, for a lot of graphic designers is that they can kind of jump around and do in house, you know, for one part of their career and then work for an agency or what have you as well. 00:14:15 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, and there's a global need. It's not like you're stuck in one area. 00:14:19 Nick Stephenson: Exactly. You know, and I think, you know, there's, there's, when you think about just the, the growth of product and the growth of web and the growth of available design opportunities, it's, it's astounding. You know, a lot of people love to run around there and say things like, you know, print is dead and stuff like that, but the reality is it isn't, you know, it's transitioned. You know, we don't, we certainly don't see the, the magazine industry thriving the way that it used to 20, 30 years ago, but. Anybody can walk through a grocery store and see how many more products are available. And every single one of those products has been, that has a label, has been touched by a graphic designer or a team of graphic designers. 00:14:56 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. What are your thoughts on the freelance side of things? 00:15:01 Nick Stephenson: The, the, like about me freelancing? 00:15:03 Sumer Beatty: Anything, take it how you want. But I think it's, it's interesting because when people freelance, I feel like Graphic designers in most cases are very busy, like we're very busy at work. Right. So I'm always curious what, what is that feeling of having kind of your own, you know, thing you're doing outside of your nine to five? Like what, what motivates that? I mean, you're a little bit of a different instance because you're teaching, but I think it's really cool that you're sharp and you're doing these projects outside of, of your teaching. 00:15:37 Nick Stephenson: I think that, you know, that's one of the things I think is interesting about graphic design as a, as an industry or as an, as a medium, whatever you want to call it, In my experience, people who do graphic design love doing graphic design. It's more than just kind of a nine to five gig or an eight to ten gig. 00:15:57 Sumer Beatty: What is that nine to five thing anyway? Who does that? 00:16:01 Nick Stephenson: Silly, but it's one of those things where it's like, you know, if you, if you go into my house, 95 percent of the art hanging on my walls is graphic design. It's gig posters and old ads and things like that that I just find incredibly beautiful and interesting. And I've, and I've brought my family on board to believe that that is art. You know, and, and it's one of those things where I think. When you're a graphic designer, and I guess this is for everybody, but for a lot of graphic designers, they just like doing it. I, I, I do graphic design because outside of being a teacher, you know, the, the reason I freelance is because I don't want to leave the industry. I like, I legitimately like making graphic design. I like the problem solving aspect of it. For me, it's like, you know, my grandfather did crossword puzzles to kind of stay sharp and because he enjoyed the, the, the challenge of figuring that stuff out. For me, it's more making a poster or helping a client come up with a website. And so, It's really been nice kind of as I've kind of become a professor and had that opportunity to be able to continue to take on freelance projects that allow me to stay current with the industry. I think that's one of the unique aspects of the program here is that we really look at graphic design as being this constantly evolving field and that as professors, we need to also understand what the professional industry looks like. 00:17:28 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, it's, it's interesting because you're the critiquer in the classroom and then you're on the other side, right? 00:17:34 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, it's not always fun to be on. 00:17:35 Sumer Beatty: No, it's not. It's good perspective though. 00:17:37 Nick Stephenson: It keeps me humble, so, you know, and it's, and, and it's, it's really interesting and it's really exciting and, and, you know, some of the stuff that Ali was getting into about kind of data and analysis and being able to actually look at whether what we're doing is the right direction because, you know, it's, that's a lot more complicated with something like a poster. Yeah. or a magazine or, you know, any sort of print medium. Whereas now we're able to say like, see, we were right. Like, we told you that you should lay it out like this because users are finding it easier to, to, to interact with. And so it's really nice to kind of have some of those data analytics coming in these days. 00:18:10 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. You doing anything fun right now that you can tell us about? Any cool projects? 00:18:16 Nick Stephenson: I, I'm, I've been working with a company on a website. I've been doing a lot of web work recently and it's been nice because I've had a couple of kind of niche small businesses that have come to me and it's been really great. It's nice to kind of, they've been very open to not only the look and the feel, the aesthetic and the layout and the UI of it, but also that I've been working with them on some of the messaging. And so that's been a new thing for me to help them a little bit more along the lines with the marketing aspects and the brand positioning and things like that. And so that's been really exciting. And then the other thing that I've been trying to get into is working with our gallery on doing some, some new shows and things like that. We have a big sticker show coming up in the fall that I'm going to be the speaker for and so I'm hoping that I'll be able to do some of the collateral material that'll go along with that. 00:19:00 Sumer Beatty: Oh, that's cool. That's really cool. I'm glad you brought that up because I was just talking to Penny about that. We can. You want to just give a little bit of background on that? It's fun. 00:19:09 Nick Stephenson: Sure. and I'll give it, I'll give as much as I can at this point, but, we're bringing a huge sticker show. It's a, it's a traveling show and it's thousands of stickers from historical to contemporary that we're really going to look at what is the cultural significance of this, this very kind of vernacular, normal medium. You know, when I, when I think about stickers, you know, it's, it's. The excitement for it always, I thought about my kid, you know, going to get a shot at the doctor and everything being okay, if he could just get that Hot Wheels sticker, right? You know, like that will, it will cure the pain of, of the shot if I could just promise him a sticker. And that's a really powerful idea if you think about it, you know, like sticker dispermanence and things like that that come along. And when I think about my own childhood and, you know, growing up in the eighties with scratch and sniff stickers and Garbage Pail Kids and all those things. Those were important components of my childhood and so we're going to look at at what that kind of cultural significance is and look at kind of how stickers have impacted society kind of from their inception to to now. 00:20:10 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, so I think that I heard there was a person coming from Berlin to bring that their sticker collection and then someone from More locally. I think Rochester. Yeah. Yeah. 00:20:20 Nick Stephenson: And they're the ones who kind of own this collection. So we're really excited. 00:20:24 Sumer Beatty: Oh, that's fabulous. So when is that? This summer? 00:20:26 Nick Stephenson: This is in the fall. 00:20:27 Sumer Beatty: Oh, in the fall. Okay. 00:20:28 Nick Stephenson: So, once students are back, I believe, because, we're certainly going to want to advertise the show and get as many people to come to it as possible. 00:20:34 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up. 00:20:35 Nick Stephenson: So come to the sticker show. Yeah. 00:20:37 Sumer Beatty: And so back to the freelance question, Ali, are you doing any freelances? that in your portfolio or? 00:20:47 Ali Petrizzi: I am not currently. Yeah. I've been spending a lot of time just like traveling. And I moved to Pittsburgh a little over a year ago, so I'm just getting to know the area. but I can definitely see myself getting back into freelance soon. 00:21:00 Sumer Beatty: Okay. So you have done it in the past. 00:21:01 Ali Petrizzi: A little bit. 00:21:02 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. Okay. Nice. I think it's important to talk about the value of education. I think anytime you put art into, a profession or an element. Some people identify as being artistic. You know, what does that mean and what is the value of going and getting an education for something like graphic design? 00:21:23 Ali Petrizzi: It, I mean, it's important in general just to learn those, theories that you're learning in the classes, because those are the types of things that are going to be very, foundational in the work that you're doing. Penn College in general helped me build my portfolio very well and also start to network, which is very helpful. It just, just in general in graphic design and even in UX design as well. You get to gain some exposure like into the, the industry and well, but I'm very confident in my portfolio thanks to Penn College. So I definitely like, I'm very thankful for that opportunity. And if I tried to go a route like without this formal education, I don't think that I would be where I am at today. 00:22:06 Sumer Beatty: Very well said. 00:22:07 Carlos Ramos: So, Nick, having seen that from the student side and now seeing it from the faculty side for, the years you've been here at Penn College, what's your perspective on that? What, what do you see out in industry for those that maybe sidestep the, the formal education versus those that have, you know, taken it's a, it's a, pretty rigorous four year program here, anyway. 00:22:28 Nick Stephenson: Sure. Yeah, I mean, you know, the big thing about graphic design, and this is one of the things I think I've always liked about it from a career standpoint, is, you know, there's a lot of degrees out there where you go out and you kind of, you put your credentials across and kind of go, here's me, I have these degree, I have this degree, I have these credentials, what have you, please hire me now. But graphic design I've always really liked because of the, there's this, there's a truth in the kind of component of the portfolio, you know, that, that you go to a job interview or, or prior to that, when you've put your application in and they see your work and they know what you're capable of in a very kind of honest and real way. And so for, in my opinion, the, the best way to, and have the best portfolio is to, to go to school where, you know, we're going to give you projects, we're going to critique the work that you've done, we're going to help you make that work better. So that when you graduate, not only do you have a lot of the, you know, the, the foundational skills of understanding what design is. But there's also that proof in putting your book out there and saying, this is what I can do. Graphic design is a really interesting industry in that you have to kind of wear a lot of hats, you know, so I always kind of talk about, I was talking about freelance stuff. I was doing freelance work for a company and it was just an organization. I just, they did something. I had no idea what it was. You know, it was high tech. They were testing cell phones in these like heat and cold chambers and stuff. And so I had to do a ton of research in order to do the work for them, which kind of turned into how, and I took, looked back on, you know, education that I'd had in the sciences, education that I'd had in tech and things like that, all of which helped me kind of figure out what path I needed to take to better understand what this company does. So that's where I think the educational piece is. It's not only it's, it's the portfolio aspect, but it's also in the understanding how to continue learning. beyond your time in college. You know, research is essential to everything that we do. You know, I mean, Ali's kind of hit on this with, with some of the, the UX stuff that, that she does, but you have to understand where to get good information from in order to do the best job you can for your client. And my thing about education has always been that education is there Not necessarily to teach you facts and figures and numbers and what year so and so did, happened or whatever, but it's about learning how to continue to educate yourself beyond the four years that you're here. 00:24:55 Sumer Beatty: Do you think that artists have a role in society? Like, what is that? 00:24:59 Nick Stephenson: Boy, I hope so. 00:25:00 Sumer Beatty: I, yeah, I thought you'd say that. 00:25:02 Nick Stephenson: Wouldn't that be weird if I said no? 00:25:04 Sumer Beatty: I know, I, okay, well we can answer it both ways. You can tell me the yes version and the no version. Let's start with the yes. 00:25:11 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, I do, I do think that artists have an important role in society because I think there's the component of making the world more beautiful. You know, when you think about mural artists and things like that, there's that really kind of important aspect to thinking of what our world would look like without art. And I think that's a very kind of sad vision of the world. You know, this, it almost kind of goes into like those like horrible, you know, dystopian universes, like, you know, everything's very cold and stuff like that. So there's that piece of, of kind of continuing to beautify the world. Then there's the, the historical and, and appreciation in that regard. You know, I teach art history here and it's, Always amazing how much more I think students, and a lot of times not design students, have a better understanding of history through the visualization that painters or sculptors are able to create. Our graphic design club recently took a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I mean, it was, I've never been there before, but it was outstanding. And we had students that literally, like I saw them just looking at paintings, and they were near tears. To see this work, you know, outside of a textbook in front of them and just moved by not only the kind of grandeur or the grand nature of it, but also just kind of the expressive quality of what they were articulating. So I think there's that piece. And then I think there's also the piece of, you know, graphic designers and artists help make the world more understandable. Right? You know, we're in an age where information design is kind of at the forefront of what a lot of us are doing. It's a lot of what Ali's doing. It's a lot of what we're working on in classrooms. And it's funny because I teach history of graphic design and one of the big reasons that information design became so important and it was because of the Challenger incident that happened in the 80s when the Challenger exploded. And for those of us who grew up in the 80s, like myself, who watched it in class happen in this horror, not to make a, or to make a long story short, a lot of what they said was that people knew that Challenger had issues, especially based on the weather. But, the scientists were not able to accurately convey the information visually to the people making the decision about launch control. And so that is a lot of what, what kind of spurred out and was a catalyst for going, We need better ways to articulate information and, and, and created really a whole industry information design, which, we've been working with a lot. And, you know, again, that gets into UX and UI. And so graphic design and art is important. It can make a difference. And the no answer, I, I, I don't agree with, so I don't have a no answer. 00:27:49 Sumer Beatty: We'll skip over that, unless if Ali has one. 00:27:53 Ali Petrizzi: I do not. 00:27:54 Sumer Beatty: I figured you'd say that. 00:27:57 Carlos Ramos: I am curious though, Ali, from your perspective in, you know, not just in, in shaping, you know, how we, You know, convey information, how does it shape culture? do you see, have you examined cultural differences and how art graphic design has played out, you know, between areas, like we have a picture in the U S of, you know, what graphic design would look like, but then I, you know, my mind's jumping, let's, let's say to Japan and youth culture and, you know, what graphic design looks like there. I mean, you, you know, when you see a product that's designed for, the Japan market versus the U S market. How's that shape culture? Do we have a sense of that? 00:28:36 Ali Petrizzi: That's a good question. 00:28:38 Nick Stephenson: You know, again, I think that there's like this whole idea, I mean, the world, obviously, we kind of always live in this idea that the world is getting smaller and there's more connections and, you know, that kind of stuff. And I think that As that continues to happen, especially with like language barriers and things like that, graphic design is going to serve this purpose of figuring out how to create a visual language that can speak to lots of different people. And you know, a lot of websites these days have the option of changing languages and things like that, and the visuals don't necessarily change. So when you think about what that means, you know, you're going to have to create visuals. that can align with a lot of different languages and cultural conventions and things like that, you know. And so, you know, when we think about graphic design, and I talk about this in a lot of my branding and packaging design classes, it's like, we have to be aware of the fact that color connotations or, or color has different connotations in different cultures, or the idea that, you know, that, different, you know, things that icons or different metaphors that we have made resonate differently within different cultures. And we need to be aware of that, right? It's the old, the old like Chevy Nova joke about, you know, like, like, you know, like that, that means doesn't go in Spanish and, you know, not being able to sell it, you know, this idea that we have to constantly be aware of making sure that we're creating design experiences that are understandable, accessible, and, and hopefully appealing to a variety of different people. 00:30:05 Sumer Beatty: When you were explaining that, it did make me think about how the graphic designer has this power over creating a brand that is directly connected to the value of a product. Those color choices. Is it an elite product? Is it a child's product? You know, that's a huge responsibility of a graphic designer. Can you sell your knick knack for $5 or $25? That's kind of in your hands a little bit, right? 00:30:35 Carlos Ramos: It's the difference between picking the Snackwell or the Oreo. Sure. Right. 00:30:39 Sumer Beatty: I mean, some of us won't buy something like a bottle of wine if it doesn't look a certain way. 00:30:46 Nick Stephenson: Yeah. I mean, the, the, the perceived value is such a huge deal. We talk about this a lot in branding and we actually do an assignment where the whole idea is you take kind of a generic, normal, everyday product that maybe sells for like 3.99 on the shelf, and the idea is to rebrand it so that, you know, you can charge more like 12.99. And again, this is all done in a very kind of, you know, made up world. But thinking about how it is you're able to elevate products through design or sometimes make products more accessible through design. You know, we talk a lot about the fact that You know, corporations a lot of times have sub brands and a lot of the, you know, and, and trying to hit every market and that maybe they're even selling very similar or same products, but, you know, they're 12. 99 at this store and 24.99 at their parent's store and 34.99 at their specialty store. And how does you do that? You know, it's the old, you know, kind of. BMW versus Hyundai, you know, you know, they both have four wheels and a steering wheel and an internal combustion engine and da da da da da da da da da Why is one of them 40,000 more expensive than the other? 00:31:54 Sumer Beatty: And so this marketing piece, I'm sure is wrapped into the program, the graphic design program as well. 00:31:59 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, we, I mean, I think it's impossible to talk about graphic design without talking about marketing, really. And so we do bring that up a lot. And then luckily we're able, we're also able to offer marketing minors, and digital marketing minors, which a lot of our students do, just because it, again, affords them a little bit more of an understanding of things like consumer behavior, why people buy, how people buy, and things like that. 00:32:21 Sumer Beatty: And then from knowing Penn College is such a hands on institution, maybe this is a question Ali can answer, but is there anything you're doing, as part of the curriculum out there in the community where you're allowing the students to kind of test their skills in a real world scenario, working with organizations that maybe need your help or, or is it more of just a, you know, in the classroom you're coming up with these mock scenarios? Is it? 00:32:45 Nick Stephenson: A lot of times, I mean, most of, I'd say 90 percent of the stuff, excuse me, 90 percent of the stuff we do is, is kind of projects that we've kind of conceived within class. But every now and then we do take on a nonprofit organization that can use some help and we do try to make that available. So we've done a number of logos for, for local nonprofits and, and things like that. Did you, did you do one in your branding class? I don't know if that year. 00:33:09 Ali Petrizzi: I don't, I don't think we did a real one, but I will say though, that the experiences that we had, even if they were made up scenarios, are very similar to the real life scenarios, so like, especially, and I think about this all the time, because of my current role, I get a lot of critique, but even the critique that, like, you know, and feedback that you get from professors and other students, and the way that you take that, and the way you learn to deal with it, and not take it personally, and really, like, grow from it, I use that in a day to day at my job currently. So even though some of those scenarios, were not like realistic and they were mock scenarios, like that, I'm still using those exact skills that I learned in real life today. 00:33:50 Sumer Beatty: Yeah. And so you're probably just formulating those assignments in a way that simulate in this environment and you can control it more so, and that all makes sense. 00:33:58 Nick Stephenson: It's always interesting because it's like, you know, in my computer graphics two class, I have to be a. theater director for a small playhouse in New York City because they're doing theater posters, and in my package design class, I have to be a book publisher because they're doing book coverage. And so in all those scenarios, I kind of have to pretend to step outside my role. But one of the other things that we do that's really nice and we just did this in one of my classes is we also try to bring in outside people to critique. So I was lucky enough to be able to bring in some alums and some of our, and an adjunct professor. to kind of pretend to be the communications directors or board of an organization for a company that the students were rebranding. And so we do try to put those hats on so that they can get that experience. Because the client experience is a tough thing to, to, kind of simulate in a college environment because they know me as a professor and so we do try to to amp it up a little bit and to kind of bring in people who can kind of function in a more like evaluative kind of like oh this isn't what my company wants and and we try to also kind of bring in some of the absurd questions that clients will ask and and put that out there so that students can get some experience answering that kind of stuff. 00:35:15 Sumer Beatty: And it's nice because it sets them up to be elevated in their future place of work because some graphic designers can also take on that project management role. So then they have that experience that they can take into, like you said, working with clients versus just having someone else be that liaison between the client and the graphic designer. 00:35:32 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, I mean, we're, we're, when, when we're teaching here, I think the, the way that our department thinks about it is, is we're not just making graphic designers, we're making graphic designers who will become art directors, who will become creative directors, who can become studio owners, who could become communications director, you know, we are looking at this as, as preparing students for lifetime careers in which they will be promoted and have different roles. You know, I, I went, when I was working full-time, I went from a very like design standard to being in charge and having to go to meetings and having to deal with clients and having to deal with printers and having to deal with all the stuff. That you have to and transitioning a lot of times out of a little bit of design, you know, and, and having to do more of the administrative role, which I really enjoyed. And so I think that that's a big piece of it, but there's also that component where we need to help students get that first job because you learn so much on that first job. I mean, the amount that you probably learned at Vera Bradley on your first job, it's just, it's, it's a whirlwind. 00:36:39 Ali Petrizzi: Oh yeah. 00:36:40 Sumer Beatty: What was that like, Ali? 00:36:42 Ali Petrizzi: It was interesting. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, too. So, at least that helped me have some extra time to learn some things because, you know, the entire world was shut down. So, I would actually spend some time like outside work just like learning things for fun. Just learning about what UX design is and like, I started taking a certification class for Baymard Institute and they have a lot of guidelines for UX design. So I really, I got lucky because it was like the pandemic, so I had that extra time. But yeah, I really like just worked on different certifications and just, just learning to take it all in because it is a lot when you're, when you first get out there. 00:37:21 Carlos Ramos: Where do you find your inspiration? 00:37:22 Ali Petrizzi: I would say I find my inspiration a few different ways. Some of it is in person and like in, in, in what I'm doing in real life, because part of UX design is solving user pain points, right? So if I, if I'm experiencing a pain point on a website, I'm going to remember that. And on the websites I'm going to work on, I'm going to make sure that that doesn't happen for users. So really just like, like, real life experiences. 00:37:45 Sumer Beatty: You like to travel too, you said. Yes, of course. That has to give you inspiration. 00:37:48 Ali Petrizzi: Oh, yeah. 00:37:49 Sumer Beatty: Absolutely. Getting away from the computer from time to time certainly helps. 00:37:53 Ali Petrizzi: Yes. And seeing signage and getting, getting confused and lost in new places, that always makes me say, I want to do this better. 00:38:03 Carlos Ramos: Nick, what advice do you have for students to, to help set them on their path or that, that would inspire them? 00:38:10 Nick Stephenson: I think that what I would tell students to help inspire them is just to look around there. There's so much good design and also so much bad design in the world that when you can start to kind of refine that palette of understanding what's working and what's not working, and also be able to kind of. Take it apart visually and think, why is that not working? Or why is that working really well as a way of applying that to making really, really good graphic design? And then the other thing is is that it also doesn't have to be so literal. you know, I remember I was, I was really struggling with like a project that I was doing for some clients and I was having like this really just, I was, the colors just were not working for the clients and they were getting really frustrated. Which starts to get kind of scary and you know, and my wife and I were in, in New York City and we were at a farmer's market in Union Square and I was just snapping some photos of stuff and I was looking through my phone and I had it and this just beautiful color combination of vegetables that were just sitting there. And so I just grabbed the eyedropper tool and started like picking off those and it turned into this incredible color combination and the client was super excited about it. And I was, you know, it's just one of those things where you can find inspiration in so many different places and the world has so many kind of beautiful opportunities out there for you to find really interesting design and really interesting aesthetics that you can apply to what you do. You know, it doesn't just have to be go look at posters or, you know, go look at whatever there. There's just a lot out there that kind of can can inspire you and can help you make really good design. 00:39:44 Ali Petrizzi: Yeah, I think it's, also important to, like, remain curious and just kind of, like, stay open minded, look at data, see, see what you can pull, like, whether you're looking at data or looking in the real world, like, what can you pull? Just be curious. And in UX design, I would say curiosity is feeding creativity in a sense, because that's, that's really impacting your work. 00:40:08 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, there's a lot of ways, you know, we talked about the, you know, whether you can draw, whether you can paint, you know, these traditional artistic skills and, and whether, you know, how important those are to making good graphic designers. But creativity comes in a million different ways. And so, you know, creative thinking or creative communication methods or solving problems in a really, really unique way that really resonates with people can be. a really great way to be a solid or to be a very good graphic designer. And again, there's just so much out there to kind of pull, you know, Alex had an opportunity to travel, you know, I remember I was in Europe many years ago and just filled my phone with images of signage and, you know, just all kinds of stuff that, that I was like, Oh, I'm going to take this back and I'm going to apply this here and here and here and here. And that's one of the things that really excites me is this kind of the use of. everyday design and, and kind of taking it and applying it in new ways as a means of creating something new. 00:41:04 Carlos Ramos: You mentioned bad design. 00:41:05 Nick Stephenson: Sure. 00:41:06 Carlos Ramos: Like, so I think we all have a sense of when we see something that is, is poorly designed that, you know, that's just, that's bad design, but we see so many examples of it. Someone's creating this stuff and I would almost hazard to guess some of it actually works. How do you reconcile that? 00:41:26 Nick Stephenson: That's a great question. And it's one of those things that, man, I'll be honest with you, I sit, I have an hour commute every day, both ways, and I just sit in my car and I just think about that. Because I do, because it really, it gets you, it's like. 00:41:37 Sumer Beatty: Like that billboard is awful, but it's probably effective. 00:41:41 Nick Stephenson: Yeah, you know, I was laughing because on my way up here, I come up. There's this billboard that says injured in huge letters. It just says injured and it was great because a tree fell on it And you could still read the word injured, but I was like that just got a thousand times better Right because it's like for an attorney It's like an accident attorney or something like that And I was like man, and then they cut the tree down. I was like now it's not as good, you know, so I was like, that's the best billboard ever. The tree fell, and it was like, I N G, and you could just came right in the middle, and you could totally still read it, and you could see or read where the attorneys were, but anyway, it was like a windstorm or something. But yeah, you know, it's tough reconciling bad design, because that, that, that comes out a lot when you are really pushing students to do good work, and I mean, you know, critique is, is tough. We are very honest, we have incredibly high expectations, Ali will will attest to this, you know the idea that we push students very very hard to create the best design that they can. And it's tough when you look out there and like, a lot of logos are terrible. And a lot of logos are so simplistic that they almost kind of are like, oh well you know, you picked a font and not even really a good one. You know, he tracked it out a little bit and way to go, buddy. you know, and we're trying to teach students to do this, but I do think that there is a certain amount of like, as a young designer, you can push yourself and try to do the best work possible, but still understand that the client may choose to go in a different direction. And ultimately, We work for clients. We're not making art. We're making design and design has to be functional. And if somebody says they want to go in this direction, that's what we do. And we help them do the best job that they can, that they're comfortable with. And that's all that we can do. And I don't lose any sleep over that at night. And I think that mature designers are in that same boat. But I also think that there's a certain amount of like, we can always strive to do better, right? Like, you know, so if there's a lot of kind of mediocre or bad design in the world, that just, to me, seems like those are great opportunities for us to do a lot of work. Hopefully someday we'll continue to see those things get elevated and elevated and elevated. And then, you know, keep getting better and better. I don't know. It's a tough question though. 00:43:59 Carlos Ramos: And Ali, you're just like, I've got data. It doesn't matter. Yeah, obviously. 00:44:03 Nick Stephenson: I have no data. 00:44:06 Sumer Beatty: Exactly. Are we ready for our parting question? 00:44:10 Carlos Ramos: I think we got another one in here that could be a little juicy. 00:44:12 Sumer Beatty: Oh. Oh, fantastic. The AI one? 00:44:14 Carlos Ramos: Yeah. 00:44:14 Sumer Beatty: That could, we could talk all day. 00:44:17 Ali Petrizzi: Oh, that was a, that was not a happy sigh. Oh. 00:44:20 Nick Stephenson: No, I'm okay with AI. Oh, okay. 00:44:22 Sumer Beatty: Okay. Okay, yeah, tell us. What are your thoughts? So I'm curious how AI impacts your everyday, maybe Ali can talk first, but what is, is your, I'm assuming your day today is impacted by AI. 00:44:34 Ali Petrizzi: Yes. And how so? I would say so. So at Microsoft, we're using a co pilot pretty frequently, which is AI. And we'll use that for different things. Like for example, on teams, you can kind of have like meeting insights and like get action items and, you know, summaries and things like that from AI. So sometimes we'll use that after we have meetings and just refer back to it. Obviously, you have to make sure that you're getting the right information and that it's correct, but sometimes it's just a good way to like look back and even find, oh, what meeting did we talk about this topic in? and then go back and re, rewatch the recording really essentially. We also use AI for copywriting sometimes. So, our copywriter will go ahead and use it if For example, like we needed to, I know, I know, is this, is this frowned upon? 00:45:25 Carlos Ramos: I wanted to cover Sumer's ears so she doesn't actually have to hear this. 00:45:28 Sumer Beatty: Well, no, it's fine. I think it's a great resource. It can distill a whole ton of information down into, you know, a shorter paragraph. 00:45:36 Ali Petrizzi: Exactly. Yeah, shorting copy, or even like finding synonyms or like something as simple as that. sometimes it's just good to help with the creativity of copywriting, but obviously, you know, you can't fully rely on that. And we still have a copywriter who is doing the actual copywriting. But the other thing, oh, something that I used, recently too, which I believe is a form of AI, is Google Image Search, and that was more so using AI for, like, effectiveness and saving some time because we needed to find an image that we had on the website, we needed to find what page it was on and locate it on the website. And so one of my PMs like messaged me about it and was like, do you know where this is on the website? And in a matter of seconds, I used Google image search, I found exactly what page it was on, and in what just took me like a matter of seconds to go find that image, it would have taken hours to go through the website page by page just to find that image and the images that are similar to it on the website. So, honestly, it's really, like, saving time, and the future of AI, like, excites me even more, because this relates back to the data side of things. When you're pulling data, you need to go out there and you need to set up these tests, you need to run them with real users, but what can AI do for UX design in the future, like, Is there going to be an AI that can do a heuristic analysis for you so that you don't need to hire a professional for that? Or, could an AI gather that data that you have and create summaries for you or find those different pain points more easily? And then you can spend more time on designing. Like, if you're low on time, that would be a fantastic, like, way to just get that data. So, I'm excited to see where AI goes in UX design. 00:47:20 Sumer Beatty: Professor. 00:47:21 Nick Stephenson: I mean, is anybody surprised? I, I mean, that's the reality. I mean, come on. I mean, we all saw the movies, you know, I mean, come on. We know this is gonna happen. But the, the thing about AI is I think that the biggest issue right now is that people are struggling to figure out what their relationship with AI is. I think that in the same way that, you know, I, I, I remember. I was at my grandparents house when I was in high school one time, and I had to get some homework done, and I pulled out a calculator, and my grandfather, like, freaked out about how I was using a calculator, and how that was terrible, and I was gonna, you know, fail at life because I was using a calculator. But that's just evolution in my mind. That's just technological evolution. That's just where we're going. And, and I think that the belief that AI is going to put graphic designers out of jobs is, is a very kind of narrow view of what graphic design is. Right. In my mind, graphic design is problem solving. So at this point, I still feel like as designers, as creative people, figuring out creative direction, figuring out art direction, we're still need to be doing that. And whereas we can use AI to supplement a lot of what we do and to do things like copy editing and things like that or to help us, you know, come up with, you know, even outlines for things that that's a, that's an okay use. I think that what we're struggling with in education, though, is teaching responsible use of AI. What is the ethical. ramifications of this. You know, if all, if all that you do as a logo designer is type into some sort of AI system, give me a logo for a new coffee shop, how much can you really charge for that? How much of that is really you and, and where's the responsibility between you and your client? And I, and I, and I really believe though, that there's a lot of ways that as educators, we can work with students to understand how to use AI correctly and how to use AI, professionally. And also where to find that balance between what it is they do as, as a designer or a creative director and what the AI does as far as production goes. But AI has always been a component of the software that we use, you know, and there's always been these kind of like bumps and learning components where, you know, people are very uncomfortable because they feel like the software is doing more than they want it to do. And we just now need to find out where this next step kind of where we as educators and as. profesional kind of where we fit in and how we use AI responsibly. And I think that's one of the things that, I'm really happy that I'm working at an institution like this, because we're teaching not in a vacuum, you know, we work with professionals, we work with alumni, we have an alumni panel going on tomorrow that Ali will be a part of, and one of the big questions that we're going to ask them is, how are you using AI? So that as professors. And students can see what is the, what is the, the, the practical aspect of this, because what we don't want to do is go, is stick our fingers in our ears and, you know, go la la la la la la la and ignore this thing so that our students walk out unprepared. That's the thing that scares me the most. I, I certainly am cautious and our department is cautious about AI, but we also want to make sure that we're preparing our students to go into professional situations where it's being used. 00:50:38 Sumer Beatty: Yeah, and you can't replace that relationship building. I mean, graphic designers are relationship builders, they're connectors, they're problem solvers. I just don't feel like that is ever going to be replaced by, by AI. 00:50:51 Nick Stephenson: Once computers start doing that, we have a lot bigger problems than graphic design. We've all seen Terminator, you know, like we know, we know what the next step on that is. And so, yeah, I think hopefully we'll, we'll continue to be okay. 00:51:03 Ali Petrizzi: Yeah. I don't think, I don't think AI will replace graphic design or UX design. It'll just help us be a little more effective and work a little more quickly. 00:51:12 Sumer Beatty: So I think now's a good time. Any parting takeaways? 00:51:15 Nick Stephenson: I think my parting thoughts would be or parting wisdom would be that if there's so many different avenues in which you can get into graphic design and be successful as a graphic designer, you can be in dentistry and all of a sudden find that you have a passion for doing this. You don't have to be somebody who's taken, you know, The highest end art classes that your school offers. If you appreciate well designed things, if you look around the world and see things and want to communicate, there's, there's an avenue that you can get into with this. You don't have to be somebody who can draw, you know, Da Vinci esque figures. It's, it's, there's a lot of different places that you can go and there's a lot of different outcomes that can be available to you as a graphic designer. And so, you know, if you have an interest in this or, If you want to be somebody who communicates with the world and also gets to kind of like work in an office with like foosball tables and go and do fun things and you know like in a very casual environment, graphic design can be a really kind of good fit for a lot of students. 00:52:16 Ali Petrizzi: What you were saying is kind of what I was going to say, but essentially my advice for our graphic designers would be follow your dreams. And if graphic design is a part of it, then let that happen. As Nick was mentioning, it's a great avenue, like into other paths. I might be a little biased, but UX design is a great path that you can take from graphic design. But always, if you are going this route, just remember to be playful, be fun with it, be curious, and just, just follow your dreams. That, that's my advice. Be persistent, also, is what I would say, especially in UX design. 00:52:50 Nick Stephenson: One of my favorite graphic designers says, you know, the things that made you weird as a kid make you awesome as an adult. And, and that's like, I just want to like, put that in, not a script face, like on my office wall, because I just think that's so kind of about what we do. That we think about things differently and we can figure out ways to take a message and make it kind of in this really interesting visual that people go like, wow, like, what a cool idea. And so I think that sometimes the things that make us kind of envision or see the world differently can really translate well to creating really interesting design. 00:53:25 Sumer Beatty: Perfect. So follow your dreams and be weird. Yeah. All right. 00:53:29 Carlos Ramos: Love it. Thank you, Nick. Thank you, Ali. 00:53:32 Sumer Beatty: Thank you, both. 00:53:33 Ali Petrizzi: Thank you for having us. 00:53:37 Sumer Beatty: Thanks for hanging out with us today. 00:53:38 Carlos Ramos: Don't forget to rate, review, and subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts. 00:53:43 Sumer Beatty: Check out our show notes for bookmarks to your favorite sections and links to resources that we mentioned in today's episode. 00:53:49 Carlos Ramos: You can also find episodes and see what's on deck for upcoming ones at pct.edu/podcast. 00:53:56 Sumer Beatty: And, of course, we are open to your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions, so send those over at podcast@pct.Edu. 00:54:04 Carlos Ramos: It's been real. 00:54:06 Sumer Beatty: Catch you next time. Maybe I should be listening to all the way to the end to make sure I don't get thrown under the bus.