Q&A: Carrie Simmons talks Vermont, design, and the creative process

Carrie Simmons has over a decade of branding and design experience. She’s also the proud owner of New Ground Creative – a branding, design, and marketing firm based in Brattleboro, Vermont.

New Ground Creative works with mission-driven nonprofits, educational institutions, and businesses with heart to build their brands through engaging design, dynamic campaigns, and authentic messaging.

In Carrie’s words:

“We believe in a collaborative process, sharp focus, bold ideas, amazing outcomes, changing minds, changing lives, and [the fact] that everything is funnier with a Scottish accent.”

You can check out her blog here.

AIGA VT had the privilege to talk with Carrie about Vermont design, Brattleboro, and her creative process.

What’s your background in design? Self-taught? Formal education?

All of the above and then some! My formal education gave me the requisite grounding in design. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater with a B.A. in Fine Arts. From there, as every designer I know can attest to, it was experimentation, success, failure, and so much guidance. I was blessed to come under the wings of two talented and creative individuals, Jeff and Leslie Woodward, who helped me explore all areas of design, marketing, and branding. I also find that my non-work life plays a significant role in informing my design. Travel, the arts, reading, and time spent outdoors inform and inspire my approach to design.

What does design mean to you?

Expression. Whether it’s a new logo or website, I seek out creative and authentic ways to express the meaning behind each piece. Design is also a process for me. I value and enjoy the dynamic collaboration and relationship building that goes into design. Finally, design has to have meaning. It can’t be just a “job.”

Where do you see design moving in the next decade?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Design will still play a key role in creating and promoting a brand, but how these designs interact and tell the story is the question. We are in an exciting time of constant change and innovation; I don’t see that changing too much in the future. Hey, that’s why I love being a creative! 

As a designer in Vermont, how do you draw inspiration from your surroundings?

I spend more time thinking about the concept, and then actually designing it. This involves a lot sketching and getting away from the office. Living in Vermont makes such a difference in my designs. For example, checking out the many local art galleries, looking at the wonderful architecture, and getting outdoors (hiking, biking, and swimming) stokes my creativity. I also love living in a small community in southern Vermont; surrounding myself with differing perspectives and opinions and building new relationships and partnerships.

What’s your favorite part about the art community in Vermont? Where do you think the community could improve?

I love that Vermont is such an entrepreneurial state. Brattleboro has new galleries opening up and designers are moving to the area all the time. I wish there was a better way for young creative professionals to network in southern Vermont.

What is the philosophy and driving force behind your successful career?

My philosophy is Work Hard, Play Hard, and Laugh a Lot (WHPHLL)! Relationships are important to me, and I believe in doing business in a way that respects, strengthens, and brings joy to everyone involved. I try to be creative in everything that I do with my business, family, friends, and hobbies. I see it as a lifestyle inspiring creativity. Because of this, I have three leading principles: relationships, opportunity, and value.

Describe your creative process.

It starts with a conversation to discuss each client’s goals, audiences, current brand, tone, and potential needs. Then, it’s all about the research: looking into current materials and research of my client’s sector or industry. Next, I start creating and sketching concepts and refining them and getting feedback from my team. Then, it’s presentation time. This is my favorite part of the process: getting to explain my intention and thoughts behind the design. From here, it’s about listening to the client, so I can refine it to the best possible outcome. The process leads to new and real insights into clients’ organizations — the process is an outcome. Having an A-Team is crucial!

Describe the most collaborative team you’ve been part of for a project.

The New Ground Creative team, by far! We work as a collaborative team to research, concept, design, and market our clients.

For example, New Ground Creative recently worked with Morningside Shelter, a safe place for homeless adults and families that serve Windham County. 2014 marks their 35th year of service. Morningside came to us to create their annual report and wanted to bring their 35-year milestone into the piece. We wanted a way to engage the community much more broadly and on a deeper level.

The New Ground team met with Morningside staff to re-envision their annual report. From the conversations came the “riff,” one idea leading to another. It was at this point the singular “annual report” became more of an active, participatory campaign that engaged community members throughout the entire year. The annual report became “The Game of Giving Back.” Without the strong, playful collaboration between Morningside staff and New Ground, we would not have been able to create the engaging design that we did.

Which skills and programs do you use daily?

Adobe Creative Suite design programs are open all the time on my computer. So, that means I have about five programs open at the same time. I’m constantly jumping around the screen from one program to another. Listening and asking the right questions are skills I use on a daily basis. There’s no better way to find innovative and authentic ways to communicate our clients’ stories.

Who are some of your heroes?

Not to get all sappy, but it has to be our clients. We work with mission-driven organizations, businesses and individuals…change agents. We’re inspired by their work on a daily basis.

Prior to becoming the owner of New Ground Creative, my influences were and continue to be Warhol, Salvador Dali, my mom, my brother and four sisters, my mentor – Jeff Woodward, my husband – Chad Simmons, and Paul Rand: “visual communication of any kind, whether persuasive or informative, from billboards to birth announcements, should be seen as the embodiment of form and function: the integration of the beautiful and the useful.”

How do you stay on top of trends?

Through a lot of research and paying attention. I try to balance what’s the latest and greatest with the needs of our clients. At New Ground, we find inspiration in design, branding, and marketing trends, but we keep ourselves grounded by the mission and vision of our clients.

I frequent these two sites quite often: HOW design and Communication Arts.

Is there anything else you’d like to communicate to designers?

The pitch is huge! As a designer, you could create the most amazing and inspiring piece on the planet, but if you don’t have the tools to articulate the how and why, it has the potential to fall flat. Draw from the inspiration of your design and tell the story of your design.

What do you do when you’re not designing?

Traveling (anywhere & everywhere), buying vintage clothes, eating lots of ice cream, singing and playing guitar, camping, swimming, meeting new people, laughing as much as possible and napping.

By DeAnna Kerley
Published September 11, 2014
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