My third and final interview was with Robbie Whyte over the phone and it was amazing! She had so many incredible stories to share with me and I think by the third time around I was more comfortable acting as interviewee.
background info: CEO/ president/ lead designer for a small design firm (only 3 employees) in Atlanta. (for 27 years in counting). She has her degree in fine arts and visual communication. (before computers when everything was done by hand)
responsibilities for position: does it all! She meets with clients, leads creative direction, and manages everything.
how did you get started: She thought she wanted to be an art director for an ad agency her entire college career, but once she got her first job at an ad agency she didn't like it at all. She hated the philosophy of trying to trick people into buying things. So then she started freelance. A friend of hers who was an architect wanted to learn graphic design skills, so they would meet and share things over coffee about once a week. Signage design wasn't really a thing yet, but right around this time it started to be something people were thinking about.
Her and a friend Dave (architect) worked together at a firm and got a project through that company for a hotel opening up that next week. They had an office building in the hotel and you could see thru to this raw construction space. So basically they wanted something to cover this up and fix this problem. Robbie came up with the idea to make these big painted banners. They approved her concept on Wednesday and needed them finished by the following Monday. Her and some friends all helped out, literally making these huge 3 foot wide banners in her apartment building and using the stairwell as a drying spot. She got paid a bonus for the quick turnaround and was able to pay the entire crew of friends (designers) that helped her. The hotel owners loved the banners so much they wanted similar elements for all of their 15 hotels. So they provided her with a studio on the top of one of their hotels. Through this experience she realized that environmental design was becoming a demand and also her passion. So her and Dave (the architect she had been working with) decided to start their own firm because they had this crazy creative connection. She said she probably couldn't have done it without him. They worked together for 3 years before he died, and she's continued the firm for 27 years.
how could you afford to start the firm: Robbie and Dave made crazy costumes and would enter contests to travel around the world. Once they traveled a bit, they realized that they could start making money off the costumes. So they entered contests with $ prizes. Saved up all the earnings and started the firm off of that. She said they just jumped into it and hoped for the best.
what do you wish you'd known before entering the field: She said she didn't know anything about billing or business aspects in general. She thinks that it's the biggest flaw in creative fields, that in college they do not prepare you for the reality of budgeting. As a student you stay up all night to finish a project and that's fine, but in reality a client can't pay you for the 100+ hrs you put in for that.
any last advice for a student seeking a job in the field: She said she can't imagine doing anything else. You really have to love it to succeed. The emotional reward is so important.