Laila Rezai's Blog

At the intersection of where design meets business and sustainability


Are Artists Too Sensitive?

Are Artists Too Sensitive?


Posted By on Jan 7, 2016

Are Artists Too Sensitive?

I was recently having lunch with two friends who are both creatives. As we weaved through our conversations, eventually we landed on the subject of sensitivity. One of my friends mentioned that her mother used to say to her, “You’re just too sensitive,” as though it were a character flaw. Something that definitely needed fixing. I found myself smirking because my own parents have told me the same thing and recently mentioned it in the context of “You know what your problem is, you’re too sensitive.” As an FYI, nobody I know that’s not sitting in front of their therapist goes soliciting others to find out what their problem is. As far as starting points go, it’s not a good place to launch from. Nevertheless, I’ve come to understand that those who are rattled by, don’t understand or don’t want to understand their own sensitivities, dismiss it within others. This might not seem like a big deal but if your gift to the world in any way involves a shred of creativity,...

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What Would You Create

What Would You Create


Posted By on Dec 18, 2015

What Would You Create

It’s been a very long time since my last blog post and the reason being was that I wasn’t sure what type of conversation I wanted to have with anyone who wanted to read what I put out into the world. What I would like to share is a personal story that has been unraveling over the past few months. Back in September of this year, I experienced a significant health issue that made me question whether I would experience my life as I’d always known, because of limitations that were potentially going to become my everyday realities. I wasn’t going to die, but I got scared enough that I asked myself the question, if I did, what would I want to leave the world? I knew immediately what the answer was. I want the world to have my art. It’s the purest form of my personal expression, as a unique extension of my heart and soul. A gift that channels through me via an intelligence far greater than I can understand.

My health scare improved over time, but in those early days full...

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Advocating For Your Ideas

Advocating For Your Ideas


Posted By on Feb 27, 2015

Advocating For Your Ideas

In art school when you’re involved in making project presentations for critique in front of your professors and peers, you are repeatedly in the position of explaining your thinking and process. It used to be an anxiety induced experience for me because I used to work off of instinct before I knew how to advocate on behalf of my ideas. I wasn’t always sure why I solved a design problem the way that I did, but when enough time had been spent trying to understand, create, iterate and wrap-up a project, then it felt “ready.”

Nowadays, I find that part of my job is to be a full time advocate for ideas. While some clients come to the table with a vision, most don’t. Not only is part of my job to curate designs in a tangible form, but sometimes I have to empower my client to advocate on behalf of a chosen direction. Mostly because in organizations, my point of contact is having to win over others, if I’m not the person presenting my own work. Therefore, it’s not just me...

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Is it Possible For You To Be Creative?

My office space is sandwiched between the offices of about a dozen or so therapists, which I find ironically interesting due to the number of self-help books that I’ve read over the years to make peace with my choice of being a creative/artist. One of the therapists that has an office across from mine happens to have an interesting voice and she often reminds me of Barbara Streisand. I don’t know her very well but the other day, I asked her if she sings? I saw a little smirk in the side of her smile, like I’d touched on something that had come up many other times. She said that it’s something that she would have liked to explore but that it wasn’t possible at this time. Then as she looked around my office, she said, “I would have liked to have been an artist,” and my response was, “You can. Anytime you’re ready to start, it’s available to you but you have to show up for it and do the work, like anything else.” Then she said, “No, you have that something that I...

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How Do We Do It?

How Do We Do It?


Posted By on Oct 22, 2014

How Do We Do It?

As a creative person, I can tell you that no two projects that I’ve worked on have been identical. Some I’ve taken on without knowing how to actually complete them. The first time I did this was for a family of icons for Hewelett Packard. I hadn’t done something like that before and wasn’t even sure that I could get all of the icons to look like they were stylistically in the same family. While I was thrilled to have the project and needed the money, I was pretty scared of how things would turn out.

Looking back, it’s a mystery to me why the art director that hired me, had so much trust in my abilities. Several weeks and many rounds of icons later, I was able to pull it off. That experience became an important lesson in my career. One that taught me that if I can solve problems, then there’s an infinite number of things that I can do within the realm of design. (This bit is universally applicable…not just in design)

My dated thinking had gotten me...

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Your Signature Please

Your Signature Please


Posted By on Sep 19, 2014

Your Signature Please

Thematically, I’m trending on the topic of invisibility with my posts as of late. I am embarrassed to admit that after getting a degree at an accredited private art school and practicing my craft for over a decade, that I didn’t bother to sign my name when I put my work out into the world. As a graphic designer, I figured that I had no business signing my work on commercial projects because at the end of the day, the client owned the rights to what I had made for them. Even if that was all fine and good, I had an entirely different reason for not signing my artwork. It had to do with the following bundle of insecurities:

  • I didn’t think that I was a legitimate artist (See post on imposter syndrome)
  • I was more interested in creating the work than getting credit for it.
  • Didn’t think that anyone else cared whether my name appeared or didn’t appear on my work. Maybe...

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Invisible Designers that Need to be Seen

When I was working towards my degree in Graphic Design in Savannah Georgia, I had a design professor make it very clear that for most of our careers, people would not know or understand what graphic designers did. He joked that his mother still wasn’t clear about her son’s vocation, even though he was teaching in his own field at an accredited private art school.

I’m not sure why his words didn’t worry me at the time, but the viability of a career in the graphic arts balances in the wings of dispelling those very words. Can you imagine anyone hiring you when there’s even a hint of uncertainty as to what you do? I mean we don’t hire plumbers to fix our cars or gardeners to launder our clothes, so why all the confusion around the design world?

I think it’s because every day people rarely end up working with designers. Marketing teams do and in-house designers work with various divisions of their company, but there’s rarely a circumstance when an average family...

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Making Art, Amps Up Your Creativity

Making Art, Amps Up Your Creativity


Posted By on Aug 27, 2014

Making Art, Amps Up Your Creativity

Inevitably at some point leading up to the weekend, a friend will ask me what I’m up to. I usually rattle off a few things and then I mention that I have art day. Then comes the inquiry. “What’s art day?” Well, art day was borne out of a few friends getting together for a weekend afternoon to work on art projects. It originally served as a supportive gathering for one of the members of the group that was dealing with cancer at the time. I wasn’t there for the early days of art day, but now it’s a part of my weekend activities.

It’s interesting how the practice of anything coupled with repetition and support can feel so great. While I get to design for my clients during the week, the making of art, which is more personal is extremely rewarding. It reignites aspects of my creativity that otherwise reside in a state of dormancy. It also reminds me of the younger me that used to make things all the time, because it felt more natural than anything.

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Freelancing and the Right Client for You

When you’re out on your own in the freelance world, there will be a time or two or three when you bypass your better judgment to take on projects because you’re feeling worried about your cashflow. While that’s a huge consideration, it’s exactly those circumstances that should have you questioning whether the project and client are the right fit for you. Deciding who to work with and for applies to existing and new clients. Then who are the clients that aren’t the right ones? If you’re not sure, here are some red flags to alert your radar:

The client that engages in crossing boundaries of respect.
I’m not sure this happens to men as often as it does to women (I might be mistaken) but some clients are human messes in transit. They hire you for your talent and then assume that their ulterior motives are somehow part of the creative brief. “Absolutely not!” While you might be thinking, ‘I really need the work,’ consider that these...

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How you Spend your Day

How you Spend your Day


Posted By on Jul 3, 2014

How you Spend your Day

I used to come into my office and figured that if I put in enough working hours during the day, that I could go home feeling pretty happy with my efforts. It didn’t occur to me that how the day got parsed out played so heavily on my level of productivity. I would spend the first part of the day addressing the non-creative and more administrative side of things—returning emails, bookkeeping and returning phone calls. After reading a book called, Manage Your Day-to-Day, published by the wonderful people at Behance, I realized I had it all wrong.

Turns out I was using my most creative and concentrated time doing things that didn’t require the best my brain had to offer for the day. According to the book, I was engaging in what was referred to as “reactionary...

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What You do for a Living is not Charity!

Wow, where to begin with this one? For all the freelance designers and creatives out there…I’m going to have to yell this one out…WHAT YOU DO FOR A LIVING IS NOT CHARITY! Ok, I said it, you heard it and even if you’re not a designer, this rule of thumb still applies. It’s ironic how often people that love what they do carry around a chip on their shoulder about getting compensated for what they do best. Isn’t that weird? Whether it’s low self-esteem, lack of understanding or whatever the insecurity du jour is that gets in the way, it’s important to understand the basics of business 101:

  • Make sure you value what you do. If not, nobody else will.
  • If you don’t charge market or above market rate for your services, your clients may not take you seriously.
  • What you do for a living is not a hobby, nor is it charity, so don’t treat it as such.
  • Don’t feel awkward talking about money with your career peers because it’s part of gauging...

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Is Design About Making Things Pretty?

Is Design About Making Things Pretty?


Posted By on Feb 12, 2014

Is Design About Making Things Pretty?

Many times during my career, I’ve heard the phrase “Can you make it pretty/look good,” or it’s assumed that the craft of graphic design focuses solely on aesthetics. While that’s occasionally the byproduct of certain projects, there are many more things that graphic design is about. It’s almost like dating someone who’s good looking and hoping that there’s an intellect somewhere to tap into. Design without intellect is as singular in dimension as that good looking person that didn’t take the time to develop themselves.

As a designer, I certainly don’t expect my clients to look under the hood to understand the nuances of typography, the complexities surrounding grids or all of the know how that goes into mastering software applications that generate graphics. However, the client does need to understand that there’s more value in the craft of design than aesthetics, otherwise it’s difficult to rationalize the full value of what design has to offer. Subsequently,...

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Empathy and Energy

Empathy and Energy


Posted By on Jan 14, 2014

Empathy and Energy

I was reading an article in the most recent issue of Fast Company where Burberry’s former CEO, Angela Ahrendts said, “Empathy is one of the greatest creators of energy.” You might have it for your friends, family and loved ones but if you’re task-oriented, type-A or like to set your goals high, its not necessarily your strong suit. It’s definitely a term that comes up with greater frequency in the business community and maybe some people are paying attention, but are you?

Let me ask you something. Do you scrutinize yourself to the point of feeling like you can’t get things just so or pretty close to perfection that you’re exhausted by trying? As we ease into the New Year, what if we took it a little easier on ourselves? A little less of all the things that create mental noise inhibiting our creativity, joy, growth and the space to explore new ways of thinking? Cutting...

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Bad Branding

Bad Branding


Posted By on Jan 8, 2014

Bad Branding

Disclaimer: As a designer, I have a heightened response to visual information. Nevertheless, from time to time something so blaringly awful crosses my path that I can hardly contain myself but to shout out a cosmic “WHY?” for all the world to hear. To give this story context, I used to drive through a part of San Francisco where I would pass by a Sherwin-Williams paint store. If you’ve ever seen their logo, it’s a red can of paint that’s dumping muck and suffocating the earth, as the mass of paint drips to cover most of the earth’s surface. As though that weren’t enough to outrage environmentally conscious sorts, their tagline reads, “Cover the earth.”

As I went by their signage, I would start scowling and get a furrow in my brow, with a feeling of frustration. Why should I be affected by a brand who’s products I’ll never buy and a company I don’t relate to? Because of branding. Plain and simple, they are a giant corporation, with worldwide distribution...

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Assuming Who Will Pay You

Assuming Who Will Pay You


Posted By on Dec 20, 2013

Assuming Who Will Pay You

I’m not sure whether other professions fall prey to the way certain people regard the graphic arts, but it does seem to be a vocation filled with ambiguity—on behalf of the artist and the client or potential client. Many times when I’ve been asked whether I can do this or that by a perspective new client, there’s this nagging voice in the back of my head as to whether they will be able to compensate me for my time. This query became even more complicated when a friend or acquaintance made the request. I often wondered to myself, do they expect me to work for free or so close to free that it’s really not worth it? If you’re wondering why I would even go down this path of thinking, it’s because as a freelancer, it’s happened so many times, that I’ve lost track.

The irony is that it never needed to happen if I had set the right boundaries with myself and everyone else in the context of my craft earlier in my career. In the past when someone I cared about...

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Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome


Posted By on Nov 29, 2013

Imposter Syndrome

Thanks to the glorious world of twitter, I came across an article in Fast Company recently that was all about “imposter syndrome.” It’s not a word that comes up all that frequently and piqued my interest. When I was a young graphic designer, I was absolutely certain that the first studio that I got a job after graduating was going to fire me shortly after I had been hired. I hadn’t done anything terribly wrong, but secretly struggled with being a creative. As a young designer with very little practical experience, my first job in the real world had me feeling anxious.

I would go into work early  every day, and leave late—running off of a level of anxiety that felt like my survival depended upon it. Was it insecurity? Maybe. However, I think it felt more akin to the idea of being an imposter. All through art school I felt like a wanna...

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