Alyssa was born and raised in the booming metropolis of Ottawa Kansas before scarpering off to the nearby University of Kansas to study graphic design. She graduated in 2011 with two degrees, a fair amount of debt, and dreams of success and notoriety.
Today she lives in Kansas City as a card designer, a self-taught hand-lettering artist, and occasional teacher. She shacks up with her enthusiastic but remarkably timid guinea pig Peach, maintaining a kitchen full of gadgets she rarely uses. On the weekends you may find her at a local craft fair, selling prints and tapestries of her work with a wry smile. She’s not quite notorious yet, but she’s working on it.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I grew up in a small Kansas town. My mom is an artist and gave me the freedom to be creative. She gave me the tools to explore creativity on my own and it was always an interest or past time.
How did you first get interested in design?
When I was a young teen I was really into skate culture (lol) and I wanted to design skateboard decks. I didn’t know what design was so I wrote a letter to a couple of colleges saying that I wanted to draw the pictures on skateboard decks, T-shirt’s and shoes. They wrote me back suggesting graphic design was the major for me. After I looked up the median income, I knew what I wanted to do.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
The first few years of my career were focused on visual merchandising. What I created was printed and shipped to thousands of stores internationally. I felt very accomplished when I saw my designs in store for the first time. It took me a while to really realize how far they travelled and the impact they could make. Now I design cards. There’s a similar feeling when I see one of my cards in the store, but now the sales of that card are being tracked, so I can see its progress which is interesting and insightful.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
Finding my tribe has been difficult. I came out of college with a small handful of really good friends. Some of those friends moved across the country, and making new friends locally has been a struggle. Especially finding other diverse creatives, I really want to share my culture and be inspired by other cultures around me, but it’s difficult in a creative community that is not very diverse.
But the people I’ve found so far have been amazing friends, and I can express my appreciation for them. I’m just still trying to find those people who I can connect with on a more cultural level.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
It can be hard. I feel as though I fit in, and I have a community. Since there are very few black designers where I work, or even in my city I also feel lonely and sometimes misunderstood. Being the only black person on a team of 50 can make you feel really different.
What are your biggest motivators?
Making change. Change for the better. If I can make someone understand something more clearly, that motivates me. If I can use design to create an emotional response in someone, I’m motivated to continue and expand.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
Most of my friends are artists or designers so I appreciate the love they give my work, and the critiques too. And my mom loves anything I do!
What do you love most about working in design?
The aspect of exploration. I like discovering new technologies. I like exploring new digital and analog tools. Seeing what others have done through personal and guided journeys. We’re all just explorers.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
A big thing that seems to be part of our culture is that working long, exhausting hours deserves is something that everyone does or something you have to do to be in this career. Overworking yourself for the benefit of another company isn’t worth it. Sure, I’ve worked some weekends and extra hours here and there, but never consistently, I couldn’t do it. You have to take care of yourself; you have to have a life outside of work. I think this needs to be talked about and I think it’s a problem that needs to be solved.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
I think showing young students the possibilities of a design career. Show them that this field makes money and you can almost customize it to what you’re interested in and build a career. Show them that we’re not “starving artists,” but we can also support other artistic endeavors that aren’t designed and still have a creative career that can be lucrative.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
I’m trying to get a freelance lettering business off the ground. I’m a self-taught lettering artist, and I love it. I would like to make some career out of it. Right now I sell art prints, and I’m making myself familiar with the maker community in my city. Meeting a lot other great creative people who are doing some dreamy things.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
I’ll definitely be in design. But I’m not sure where I’ll be…
I’m a dreamer, so I’m always coming up with imaginary plans like moving to New York or buying an RV and exploring the US with freelance design as my job. Maybe one day one of those dreams will happen.