A Day in the Life of a Graphic Designer

A Day in the Life of a Graphic Designer

Follow an IDEO designer through a day of research, prototyping, and inspiration
Njoki Gitahi
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When people ask me what I do for a living, what I really want to do is just show them. For me, graphic design is about finding the best way to bring ideas to life: posters, film, installation, animation, or even objects. So, a day at IDEO is following ideas wherever they may lead and getting distracted (I mean, inspired) along the way.

7:10 AM: A Reluctant Jog

I run to Fort Greene Park, where I’m rewarded with a Seurat-like tableau of what seems like all the dogs in Brooklyn. I’m not a jogger, but I’m doing a six-week food-and-fitness challenge with coworkers. I'm grateful for the peer pressure, because it may be the only thing keeping me going.

7:45 AM: A Bristling Problem

As I brush my teeth and stare into my rusty medicine cabinet, I decide it’s time do something about the crowding in there. Since the space is so small, I probably can’t find an off-the-shelf fix, but maybe I can come up with a bespoke solution.

8:35 AM: Swift Passage

This sweeping view across the East River and the Manhattan skyline is my favorite part of the morning commute. It reminds me of the hope and excitement I felt when I first moved here 12 years ago. On the way, I steal some winter fashion ideas from my fellow commuters, noodle through a crossword on my phone, and listen to a podcast about the perils of multitasking.

9:10 AM: I Loaf This Place

Image on left by Wilson Rivera.

IDEO New York sits on an invigorating corner of the city where tourists, tchotchkes, and street food collide with colorful chaos. Upstairs in the studio, the best part of the week awaits: A selection of delicious, crusty bread and a variety of spreads. It’s Loaf Day! Bonus: Someone has scrawled on the kitchen chalkboard: “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to loaf.”

10:00 AM: Team Standup

Our project is about investigating how cities and workplaces can support human potential and resilience. Today we’ve got a lot to do, including hosting some research participants in the afternoon. Deliberately coming together at the start of each day helps our team align and stay on track. In our project space, we take turns sharing our energy level on a scale of 1 to 10 and write a long punch list for the day.

10:30 AM: Download & Synthesis

We’ve spent the last few days traveling for research and speaking to lots of people in the field. We transcribe the important things we’ve learned, filling Post-it notes and boards with quotes and observations. We start move things around into clusters, looking for patterns that will lead us to insights. One theme we're seeing is how hiring systems often overlook valuable skills that are hard to quantify, kicking qualified applicants out of the process early. “So much of the hiring process is gaming to get past the system,” reads one quote.

11:30 AM: Scrappy Prototyping

We take a break and head to the office makespace. We think we might want to make something printed, so we grab some construction paper and markers and each create some prototypes. Should we make a gallery walk of posters? A tabloid-size newspaper printed on pulp? Maybe a giant book with an accordion fold!

12:30 PM: Fun With Lasers

It's lunchtime and I can’t stop thinking about the toothbrush situation. I make some quick sketches of a slot-in shelf that would allow the toothbrushes and toothpaste to sit above the floor of the cabinet, still be easily accessible in the short vertical space, and cover up the unsightly rust. I transfer the specs to Adobe Illustrator, grab some spare acrylic, and fire up the laser cutter. A few minutes and a little glue later, I’ve got a prototype of a tiny shelf that I can take home and try out.

3:00 PM: Learning from Users

As part of our research, we’ve invited a few people into the studio to share how they think about themselves in relation to their jobs. We take them through a hands-on exercise, asking them to pick objects that represent the key attributes and skills they value in themselves. As they describe their collections, we begin to see a rich picture of their work-life experiences and connections.

4:30 PM: Moodmaking

I gather visual inspiration for our deliverable. I troll design sites, look through books, and research brands and designers that have been on my radar recently. As I pin up images, I think about how the various elements of typography, color, photography, illustration, and scale could come together to create a unique look and feel for everything we’ll design for our client and the people they serve.

6:30 PM: A Melodic Exit

Time to head home. As he often does at the end of the day, Jared, our experience lead and sometime maestro, is slaying with some live guitar and singing. Today he’s accompanied by Kati on ukulele, and together they send us off down the elevator to the strains of "Wild Horses."

7:20 PM: Installation

It’s in! The tiny shelf is a big improvement, but in practice it’s still a bit tough to reach the toothbrush in the back. Next iteration needs more simplicity and maybe some better color matching. It’s back to the sketchpad for tomorrow’s prototype.

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Njoki Gitahi
A rock nerd (geology, not music) turned graphic designer, Njoki channeled her practice of the scientific method into a passion for form, function, and the people in between. She loves to make, learn and teach—especially all at once.
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