Interview With Designer Hillary Coe
Hillary Coe is a Los Angeles based art director and designer who specializes in exquisite visual communication for several major brands. In this interview, Hillary discusses her design philosophy, as well as what gives her the edge in the advertising industry.
Hello Tuts+, I’m Hillary. I am an ACD/ Art Director and Designer in the advertising world. I started in digital media, working my way through production and into the agency-side of ideas. I’ve creatively problem solved for clients like Adidas, Visa, Gatorade, Activision, and Google.
Traditionally, design is more of a secondary issue when it comes to ideas in the ad world. My biggest goal is to cut through the thinking that concept and visual design should ever be separate. To prove that strong visual communication can be just as important as telling a great story. I don’t believe there are enough people fighting for the opportunity to prove this.
Every design is a lesson in art, honing in on your technique and constantly redefining yourself. I believe I have an aesthetic to my approach, but I’m not simply an illustrator. Every ad is asking for a solution unique to the problem at hand. When I dive into a project I surround myself with art. Not just what I love, but the kind of techniques and mediums that I may be adverse to. As a designer I feel it’s healthy to get out of my skin, at least fail 20 times on a wall until I find myself in front of the screen 10 hours later, hungry with sore eyes. Then I know I might be onto something.
Always play devil’s advocate to your own art. Learn. Create. Destroy. Create. Learn.
I would like to start by saying nothing in advertising is done entirely on your own. A very talented team was put into place to create this strong visual concept and execution. For any global campaign, the biggest challenge is translating your message to a multitude of cultures while keeping a strong visual concept intact. In this particular solve, we believed that celebrating ALL cultures and ALL types of people was how to best solve for “People everywhere go with Visa”. After several renditions, we landed on this “picture window” aesthetic. On a high level, it visually communicates the relationships between people everywhere, and no matter what culture we are from we all do the same. For more specific executions like digital apps or the McDonalds partnership, the picture windows worked just as hard, and that’s sometimes where good ideas can fall apart.
I love how advertising has spread into very disparate mediums, because I enjoy the challenge of successfully adapting to all of them. It’s a new frontier for social media, online/offline publications, and experiential activation platforms. Coming from digital media, I tend to have the upper hand in any conversation pertaining to “non-traditional media”, which gives me free reign to solve for them. I honestly don’t have a favorite; it’s in being able to decide not only what is created but how and where that excites me.
As I mentioned earlier I think what helps us the most as artists is to get out of our shells and constantly re-invent our version of what we love and create. I enjoy searching through bizarre mediums to find techniques I could use in my own process. It’s that dance between constantly exploring the abstract process while relying on my intuition to know what’s good. On any visual concept I create, I think it’s healthy to be uncomfortable. Good ideas are risks, especially with large clients. But that’s why they hired you.
And don’t, under any circumstance, let them take that core idea away from you. As Mark Fenske once said, “You’ll have to save your idea from all the people who want to change the idea, “help” the idea, compromise the idea. They want to “make it better” or safer or less expensive or more comfortable. All great ideas have to beware of the Nincompoop Forest.”
I’ve had a few careers outside the ad world. I hold a drag racing record, and spent four years traveling the world as a couture model. As important as it is to broaden one’s perspectives in life by seeing the world and trying new things, I’ve always found myself back in design, and have been essentially unsatisfied with anything short of it. I get cagey, and irritable.
Keep learning because you will never reach perfection. You are also never above anyone else, so always give back. Few things in life are worth the effort–good design and philanthropy are two. I hope to always have the means to do both, because nothing has meant more to me than creatively solving for non-profits who couldn’t otherwise afford good design.