It’s not every day that we see an illustration, design, or logo that makes us feel something. However, when we see Kate Harmer’s illustrations and designs, we are immediately inspired and moved. Kate drew constantly when she was a little girl and she hasn’t stopped since. After following her passion and enrolling in Cornish College of the Arts, doing internships, getting job experience in design and illustration, and completing graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design, Kate launched her own design studio, Hum Creative, that focuses on creating and developing brands. More recently, Kate illustrated a fun book based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo.
Kate is not only amazingly talented, but she is smart, kind, and thoughtful. We are encouraged by her self-starter attitude, work ethic, and of course, her creativity. Kate not only has the ability to draw and design, but she also knows how to build an incredible team of people with serious creative skills. Through determination, hard work, and learning how to grow a thicker skin, Kate has excelled in her field, and she generously shares the lessons she has learned during her journey. Read on to learn more about Kate Harmer, a true inspiration!
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Kate Harmer: It’s common to hear successful people look back and say, “We were so young, we were so crazy, we were so brave!” They’re talking about times that were challenging, but they are able to look back and laugh. I try to remember that I’m in that time right now for my future self. Knowing that all of these things won’t seem as hard or scary once they’re done encourages me to take big risks.
Yes, I’m 32, but that’s super young! Someday I’ll hopefully laugh at my failures and be proud of having challenged myself. Both are positive outcomes. To me, seizing your youth is embracing that now is the time to be free and brave.
CJ: You received your BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts. How did you determine what to study?
KH: My career has been a process of elimination. When I was in high school I didn’t know what graphic design was. I just knew that I liked to draw and wanted to do something creative. I went to school for Illustration and worked as an Illustrator for a while. I tried to follow my passion in a broad sense, then tried lots of things to see what I enjoyed and to get more focused.
CJ: What sparked your love of illustration and design?
KH: As a kid I would sit in my bedroom for hours and draw fake advertisements for the commercials I heard on the radio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was thinking like a graphic designer. I wasn’t super social, so drawing was a natural way for me to process the world and express myself.
Because I drew constantly, I had good foundation of skills by the time I was looking at colleges. I definitely think most things can be learned, but you have to put in the time.
CJ: You also received your MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design. Why did you decide to go to graduate school, and would you recommend it?
KH: I went to graduate school to learn new skills and jump start the next phase of my career, which was more about design than illustration.
I would recommend graduate school, but only for people who are really ready for change and have fully explored on their own first. I don’t think graduate school is required to be successful, and some life experience first is key. You can create a condensed learning experience on your own, but some people need help. I needed grad school to push me.
Graduate school was both awful and great. The workload was almost unbearable at times, making it one of the toughest experiences of my life so far. It was a critically intensive, so I graduated with a much thicker skin. I also made amazing friends, learned a ton, and I felt empowered to do what I do now. It was a full, amazing experience.
CJ: You are the Principal and Creative Director at Hum Creative. What do your roles as Principal and Creative Director entail?
KH: When I first started the company I was doing a bit of everything – designing, sweeping floors, and writing invoices. Now my role is to think about this entire company as a design project. I am responsible for our overall strategy and goals, getting the best team of people together, and directing the creative process. I also play on our kickball team.
CJ: Before Hum Creative, you were a designer at Starbucks Creative Group. What kinds of projects did you work on at Starbucks?
KH: I got to illustrate coffee bags, draw lots of little croissants and coffee mugs, and help design seasonal merchandise and packaging. I was fresh out of school and supported senior designers and creative directors with illustrative tasks that were needed to fulfill their vision.
I think about that job every day while building Hum Creative. When I was at Starbucks, it really felt like everyone was happy with their jobs and coworkers. A lot of what I learned there has stayed with me.
KH: Alena Smith knows the Tween Hobo character so well. I flew down to LA to brainstorm initial ideas for the book with her, then worked remotely for the next few months. Alena sent me in-progress chapters every couple of weeks. I would read them and keep a running list of possible visuals. We would Skype to discuss and narrow them it down. Most of the process was brainstorming with Alena. I would sketch the illustrations in pencil first, and then once they looked good I drew over them in Sharpie.
CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an illustrator and designer?
KH: Professional creatives need to be open to criticism and flexible to change, but they also must stand up for what they believe in – when it really matters. Grad school and client work has helped me grow a thicker skin and to understand that everyone’s input is valid. You can’t be too precious about your work – sometimes people won’t like it. That’s okay. Not all battles are worth fighting… when you do push back, it should mean something.
CJ: What is the best part about being a designer?
KH: The best part of designing for me was seeing my work out in the world, successfully doing its job. As a creative director, it is so fun to see this whole group make work that they’re proud of. Knowing they worked hard, made beautiful work, and enjoyed the process is hands down the best part about what I do.
CJ: What does a day in your life look like?
KH: My day involves a lot of time reading emails and meeting with our internal design teams to check in on projects moving through the studio. I also meet with clients often to present work and discuss feedback. Some days are spent on the set of photo shoots or visiting the printer for press-checks.
CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an illustrator and designer do to set themselves up for success?
KH: Make a lot of work. We look at a lot of portfolios here, and the people who really stand out have been making up their own projects and designing things on the side. Drew Hamlet, a Lead Designer at Hum, started an online radio station in high school and he designed the branding, website, and collateral for it. I’m very impressed by self-motivation. You learn so much by just being active in your field, even if it’s just practicing. Don’t wait for people to ask you to do something, just do it yourself.
It is also important to have a sense of the design community and what has come before you. Look at blogs, read design books, and absorb a design education as much as possible.
CJ: How do you like to spend your free time?
KH: I work long hours and am a homebody when they day is over. My husband and I love to cook and enjoy big dinners outside, then take our two French bulldogs on long walks.
CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?
KH: Professionally, this team motivates me. The responsibility of having people who come to work in an environment that I make is both very intimidating and very inspiring.
My husband is very motivating and inspiring outside of work. He is a creative that has worked really hard since he was a teenager and he’s done well. He’s always wanting more and imagining fun things he can do. He’s constantly learning and dreaming. He’s a really good reminder to keep your mind open and active.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
KH: I’d tell myself to be braver sooner. It took me a little while to start realizing that taking risks almost always pay off in some way. It might not always be in the way you planned, but taking on challenges is the fastest way to grow.