...of a Graphic Designer/Artist.

BinaryGirl Spotlight:
Donnasue Jacobi

Name:Donnasue Jacobi
Occupation:Graphic Designer/Artist
Interview Date:November 10, 2000

Personal Note: I am married to a wonderful photographer, we have converted half of our home for our businesses, and we have two German Shepherds that are our constant companions. I'm originally from the San Fernando Valley in LA (yes, I lived close to Frank Zappa), moved to Silicon Valley in 1978.

Are you self-employed?

Yes, two businesses: Paws 4 Art is the graphic design company; Letters & Light Studios is my fine arts/greeting card company.

What is your background? What types of degrees, skills, experiences are necessary for this field?

Background is in engineering illustration. I only have an AA degree in engineering drawing, but the skills I learned from those two years have helped me be able to figure anything out. I also attended the Cal Univ System for 3 years and majored in art history.

I have worked as an independent illustrator and designer since 1972, had a 7 year stint at Stanford University as a part-time IT person (both PC and Mac) and NIH grant administrator/negotiator. One skill that's absolutely necessary for the design field is to be able to talk to people and find out what they "mean" with their descriptions. I once had an interview with a client who told me they were a very "progressive-type" company, when I met them and talked with them, they actually were what I would call "very IBM blue conservative" -- but that's not how they described themselves. If I hadn't actually gone to see them and talk, I might have designed something really way out of their desired "look and feel." I usually bring along a standard list of questions to remind myself as the conversations get going.

How did you get started in this field?

I started out working for a cookbook publisher in LA doing pen and ink illustrations for 50 cents each! That was in 1972 (I was only 2 then)!

What college (if any) courses have been most helpful for your career?

I had majored in art history and I do believe that the fine arts are as necessary as computer skills today. Exposing yourself to all kinds of art just helps you visualize designs and helps with the "writer's block" that some people may experience. When I feel "blocked" I look at my fine arts books or photographs from famous photographers of the past.

What are your specific responsibilities?

When you have your own business you do it all. The daily tasks include: checking on your jobs to see what's needed to be done that day/week. Checking your emails for any client communications and following up on the previous day's phone calls. I keep a sketchbook on my desk so that if an idea comes to me while doing another job, I can jot it down quickly. I take care of the bills (coming and going), I also take care of my photographer partner's gallery shows and advertising; plan our work schedule for time for our own works; fit in some daily exercise, dog play, and a nap. There's also the annual holiday show that I put on in my studio with a couple of other artists, planning for work to show in the Santa Clara Open Studios each year. I also fit in some pro bono work done for a couple of non-profits by designing their event materials. I also do computer training on many Adobe software programs.

Describe a typical workday and workweek. What do you do during a typical day?

Typical week would include a couple of meetings with prospective clients, doing one or two proposals (these can be very time consuming), spend time organizing the weeks work schedule, check with printers or programmers depending if the job is print or web, find some time to do my book arts and dog training, find one night to spend quality time with spouse, spend a few hours photographing a topic that I may use in a job, attend one professional or peer group meeting/event weekly.

Name 5-7 job skills that are needed for your job.

You must be able to focus clearly on whatever task you choose to do -- I calendar my time for projects and don't deviate until it's time for the next project. So being able to focus, keeping track of your time, being able to do research for a project, fast accurate typing, good hand-eye skills with a wacom tablet, good computer skills for the production part of your job, being able to brainstorm all by yourself.

Are you in a team oriented position?

No, not really. My partner is a photographer and I usually just tell him what I need and explain the "feeling" I want and he does it -- not too much direction is needed from me.

Do you have flextime? Vacation time? Work at home? Telecommute?

Yes I work all the time. hahaa

How many hours per week are expected or warranted for peak performance?

I work between 50-60 hours a week, but it's not all billable hours.

Are many evenings or weekends required for your job?

This varies as time constraints on jobs demand. I usually build in a 10-20% time factor in all my estimates so that if there's an emergency from one of my clients, I can squeeze it in.

How much travel is involved with a job in your field?

Only when we need to photograph a location, otherwise everthing is done in our home stuidos.

Could you give me examples of projects that you are working on?

I'm finishing up an event package for VIA Children's group for their annual gala event in February, working on a new company identity for a landscape company, and working on redesigning two new web sites that are owned by the same company, but want each site to be different.

Could you describe your work settings? Offices, machinery, resources etc.

I have a Macintosh PPC, slide scanner, high-end flatbed scanner, CD recorder, zip drives, external drives. My computer room is one room in my house - the sunniest location and is a pleasure to work in. I have a desk that's customized as one end is supported by an blueprint file cabinet. Behind my desk is a 6ft table tob with cabinets underneath, and on a side wall is a bank of kitchen cabinets for storage and my 2 printers. Everything is esthetically cheerful and colorful to help create lots of energy for me. I also have a doggie bed next to my desk for my German Shepherd, Lexa.

What personal qualities do you think are necessary for someone to be successful in this occupation?

Creativity is fine but without focus and attention to detail, and good working habits, you can't be successful. Being able to read your computer manuals also helps alot! Being resourceful in maintaining your own computer system is also very important specially when you're working solo. I'm grateful for the years I spent at tanford Univ as one of their early IT people -- I usually can solve my computer problems, but I do have excellent resources if I need them.

What is the major challenge you face at work?

One major challenge for me is always looking for that next project. Doing the advertising for myself is alot harder than doing it for someone else. There are decisions to make about how much time/money do you budget for a collateral piece, who will you mail it to, and why?

What aspects of your job do you find most rewarding? (pros)

The complete freedom of owning my own time. Yes I may work some midnight hours on a crunch, but just being able to plan my whole month without checking in with anyone is very rewarding for me. Being able to have "total freedom" on the design of a project can also get me excited! That's why I do pro bono work for non-profits -- you don't get paid much, but you can really do whatever you want (within their budgets). I finished up a new web site for a woman publisher, www.women-mentors.com, and she gave me absolute freedom on the artwork for the site -- I had a really great time and it's very "her."

Least rewarding? (cons)

Without a doubt - the billing and accounting work! yuk

Are you confronted with difficult decisions or situations in your position?

Yes sometimes. Sometimes a client will insist on a certain type of design and when I know they won't be happy with the final results, it's hard to be motivated to do something ugly.

Do you have a lot of interaction with a certain occupation? I.E. media, engineers, etc.

I've had alot of variety, one year I almost all my work came from Stanford University, sometimes it's small retail businesses -- I actually get alot of mix from high-tech (like Oracle or Excite) to small business, consultants looking for promotional pieces, also contract work from other designers or programmers who are working on web site projects.

What is the Female to Male Ratio in your position/field?

When I started out in 1972, the design and illustration field was mostly men, very few women -- and yes we were ostracized and not allowed to work in the same room as the men. Times have certainly changed as I think there are more women designers now than men (don't know the true statistics here).

Has the field changed since you first started your career?

Oh yes, I started on a drawing board with a Mutoh mechanical drawing arm. We had to use rubilith to make masks for layers of colors for the printers, now you just run the "separations" component of your software.

Describe the changes taking place in your field. Project future trends?

The software industry is making it easier and easier to not be able to draw on your own, I think people in school should really learn to draw. I think that designers should also know more about the print industry so that when we create electronic art, it's presented technically correct to the printer so they can just go with the job.

Do you think women avoid technical careers? What do you think can be done to encourage girls to get more involved in the technology field?

I don't think women intentionally avoid technical fields -- I think, from my experience, we are encouraged towards other non-technical fields. When I was in the engineering drawing classes, I was at times the only female in the class. I was fortunate that most of my teachers were very happy to help me succeed. Also when I was in school, most of my classmates were actually engineering majors, and I was an art history major, which made my drawings more realisitic. if we had a building to draw, I always added in landscaping and plants -- many of my male peers just did the blueprint drawings.

Do you believe that women will be in more technical jobs in the future?


Do you have any advice for women and girls that are interested in going into the field?

Get alot of experience as a production artist -- that's where you learn the software, you learn how to maintain your computer, and you learn speed and accuracy on the job. If you decide to work solo, be sure you like to be alone all the time because that can be a deciding factor in being successful. One test is if you can go someplace all by yourself and still have fun, then you'll probably be able to work alone for long hours. Develop all of your artist skills -- I just started doing botanical illustrations and absolutely love it! I've been doing art for almost 40+ years and there's always new skills to enhance your creativity. I also spent all of last year doing hand-book binding -- I find that doing hand art gives me more creative juices for the everyday corporate work like letterhead and logos.