Q&A: Jeff Harkness talks Thoreau, passion, and the future of AIGA Vermont.

1) What does design mean to you?

In terms of graphic design, what I’ve always believed it to be is visual problem solving. I like to think of our craft as an opportunity to engage with our clients to help them solve their business problems. Design in general is both an intellectual and physical pursuit: the heart, mind, and hand coming together to create compelling work.

2) What’s your background in design?

I was lucky to graduate with a degree in psychology and studio art prior to pursuing my design degree from CCA in San Francisco. It was right when computers were starting to take hold in the field, and the life of a sculptor was proving more challenging than I thought.

3) Where do you see design moving in the next decade?

I’d like to see design integrated more thoroughly into the business community, with a CDO or chief design officer having equal weight as other C suite disciplines. Apple is almost used too frequently as an example but there are so many businesses that have design at the forefront of their organizations. It can really be a differentiator with the ease of production and commerce today. Our goal at AIGA is to help lead that charge.

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

I’m still a creature of the urban environment and love the buzz and pulse of the cities. I think Vermont has a calming influence on the work. It’s not as much of a pressure-packed situation as in the cities.

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

We have a huge amount of free thinkers and visual people here in Vermont for our size. That is really exciting to see. I think our biggest challenge here is really just plain scale. We still need to add some more critical mass to the community.  At AIGA Vermont, we’re seeking to become the center of the creative hub.

6) What is your philosophy and driving force behind your successful career?

It’s actually quite simple I think: I’ve been dedicated to my team and to my clients needs for the past 20 years. I like to make sure we’re engaged and excited about our projects and work and that we work hard to support everyone’s aspirations. For our clients, I always attempt to put myself in their shoes to help them make the right strategic decisions and – of course – create compelling work.

7) Describe your creative process.

It’s “typical” in that it’s ideation into refinement. We really like to take that process to the clients to involve them as much as possible. We really see our work as being collaborative with our clients. We don’t claim to have all the answers when we start a process.

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

I’d have to say the Webby Awards or Interactive Media Festival. So many talented individuals were brought together to produce that one event. From content, visual, development, staging, and music, each person was so talented in their own right, and when we all came together there was some magic.

9) Which skills/programs do you use daily

Pencil-paper, the telephone, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

10) Who are some of your heroes?

I came up in the David Carson/Vaughn Oliver era, when the computer was just becomming part of the process. It’s very different now. I’ve always liked getting messy with design, but I’m still drawn to the Swiss style.

11) How do you stay on top of trends?

Listen, watch, and hang out with the millennials! I like to try to continue to discover new things as much as possible. I’ve got musical A.D.D. where I’m always searching for what’s happening next. I spend lots of time looking at what’s being developed around the globe and by students.

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

Don’t stop. If you’re passionate about what you do and really care, it will show.

13) What do you love about living in Vermont?

It has more ying than yang. We’re lucky to be in such a special spot on the globe. Everyone here cares a lot about things.

14) What do you do when you’re not designing?

I’m building a replica of Thoreau’s cabin on my property. I’m a fan of traveling to places I’ve never been before. And of course the music scene here in Vermont.

By DeAnna Kerley
Published December 6, 2014
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