EMERGE Designer Feature: Karen Hessing

Karen Hessing

School: University of Arkansas
Senior BFA Graphic Design Student


1. What is your design story so far? How did you get started in design? 
I grew up always exposed to art. My grandmother was a Native American painter and I believe that she really influenced how creative I was as a child. I think that because of that, I was a painter in high school. My art teachers always told me that I should look into design just because of the graphic quality of my paintings but I had taken a design class in high school as well and I hated it. I didn’t even entertain design until the Spring semester of my freshman year of college in the design section of my foundations course. I fell in love with it. I had projects dealing with typography and was also learning the Adobe software and getting a feel for what design was. The BFA program at the university was just starting up and accepting the first applications when I was in that class and so I applied (very last minute, might I add), and I got in. That program has changed the way I think and the way I look at the world. Not only that, but its opened so many doors for me as a young designer.


2. What is one thing you’ve learned in your career so far? 
I’ve definitely learned to take risks. Not just visually in how my designs look, but taking risks in the community and branching out of my comfort zone. I became the President of the AIGA University of Arkansas Student Group at the beginning of my junior year, which kind of forced me to be at the forefront of the design community on campus. Being willing to push myself that way has given me so many opportunities to grow and gain new life experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise.


3. What is one thing you wish someone would have told you? 
Failure is inevitable. I’m in a Human Centered Design class right now and we were discussing the IDEO mindsets, which includes the concept of failure. I’ve always been kind of a perfectionist, and that has proved to be a detriment multiple times in my thought process. I always seem to forget that failure leads to better ideas and that its necessary in order to evolve in the way I approach anything design related. I still need to be told that its okay to be speculative and experimental and have a “yes, and” sort of mindset.


4. Have you learned anything about yourself/design that has surprised you?
Being the AIGA Student Group President, I’ve learned so much about myself and my abilities to lead. I actually quite like it. Being a leader would have scared me years ago because I used to hate calling the shots, but it’s really opened up my mind in a way that makes me comfortable being in a position like that.

I also came into design thinking that I would graduate and start my own magazine. While I’m not ruling that out, I have come to love app design and designing for the web, which is something surprising considering how scared I was to complete projects like that at first.


5. Where do you go for inspiration or advice?
For inspiration, I always get the AIGA Eye on Design newsletters sent to me just to help refresh my mind on what’s going on in the design world. I also have an Eye Magazine subscription, which I discovered through the design library at school and I fell in love with the typography and the layout of all of them. If I feel stuck, I’ll usually flip through one or two just to get the gears turning.

For advice, I wholly admire my professor, Marty Maxwell Lane. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to work with her on her research and, among so many other things, I admire her work ethic and her honesty. She’s taught me a lot about taking opportunities and not being afraid of failure.


6. Where would you like to see your career go from here? 
I definitely eventually see myself working for a non-profit. I am so captivated by empathetic design and how it can improve interactions amongst different communities and create positive growth. But I also see myself exploring multiple different paths right out of school. I’m definitely someone of the mindset that you don’t know what you’ll love until you try it.


7. What are your favorite books, podcasts, blogs, etc?
I love listening to 99% Invisible for design content but I also love listening to My Favorite Murder for when I want something so far removed from the design world. I don’t know what it is about listening to murder stories but they’re just so good and I am constantly on the edge of my seat when I listen to it.


8. What is your favorite project you’re currently working on? 
I actually just wrapped up a participatory design project that focused on a marginalized community and how to bring them together with those who marginalize them through their shared content. It revolved around the vegan community and, through a gamified sort of experience, they came together with the non-vegan community to help save a pig by submitting a vegan meal that they ate that day. It’s all super speculative and interactive, but it was a project that I took a riskier design approach to, which paid off in the end.


9. What role do emerging designers have in our community? 
Emerging designers are constantly exposed to new technology, new ways of thinking, and new design movements. We have the ability to bring so many new fresh ideas to the table. I think that, in conjunction with that, emerging designers are malleable. We are always willing to learn something new and expand our horizons, which makes us rarely ever back down from a challenge.


10. Where can we find your work?
My website is karenhessing.com and you can find some of my work there as well as a little bit more about me!




AIGA EMERGE is a national program series designed to empower, engage, and inspire emerging designers of different backgrounds and experiences as they grow their career. For more information about EMERGE, visit emerge.aiga.org.

EMERGE Awareness Week in Semptember 24 – October 3, 2018


By AIGA NWA Communications
Published September 26, 2018