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Melissa Whitaker: Suspended in Transition IDD 2022

The theme of the International Council of Design’s International Design Day 2022 is “Suspended in Transition” – the odd place we find ourselves, caught between crises and the hope for a new normal.

We asked Graphic Artist Guild Members what role designers and illustrators play in effecting change for a better world, and how they, as a working professionals, are meeting the challenges of this new world.

“As designers and illustrators, we have the skill and knowledge to shine a light on the good and the bad, and if not make a change, at least create a spark for change. ”
logo for International Design Day 2022
headshot of Melissa Whitacker

Melissa Whitaker

Illustrator and Visual Storyteller
Art Director @ Color Splash, LLC

How have you adjusted to the large-scale changes in how we work and interact with our clients and our communities?

It’s actually kind of odd that in a time of isolation I am engaging more with clients than I did in the pre-pandemic days before 2020. In my work I need to visually interpret what a client’s business or story is to their target audience. In order to achieve this I have to know the personality of the client, their business and their story, which was difficult when people only had 15 minutes to meet with you in person. Once the world went on lockdown life slowed down and gave people time to reflect on what they wanted to put out in the world and their communication with others became essential.  Communicating with clients through video chats, email, social media, and Slack, opened a door for them to be a bit more open and descriptive about who they were and what they wanted to achieve through my illustrations. This connectivity helped bring out some of the best work I have ever done.

A Steve Pruneau, with Free Agent Source, recently said to me, “What I love about the way you work; you offer options and help me see differences, compare/contrast. This is worth as much as the finished art. It helps work through decisions.” That would not have been possible in the before Covid times when people didn’t take the time to compare or contrast and evaluate what they put out in the world.

Has your perception of the role you play as a designer or illustrator changed in response to the various crises we’ve been experiencing? Has it affected how you work, what projects you want to work on, or how you want to engage?

In 2021 I was asked to illustrate a book. The author found my artwork on Facebook and thought it would be perfect for the book. At first I was very hesitant, because the book involved illustrating dogs. I love dogs, I can draw dogs, but when people ask me if I they could commission a dog portrait I say no. However, the story involved dealing with difficult times in life, mainly bullying and the loss of those we love. That compelled me to collaborate on the book. To create work that translates a sense of joy and wonderment during hard times, was an experience I could not pass on. The past several years has brought an immense amount of hurt and sorrow to the world. As designers and illustrators, we have the skill and knowledge to shine a light on the good and the bad, and if not make a change, at least create a spark for change.

How do you believe designers and illustrators are positioned to help imagine and create a better future?

The world is rapidly changing and creatives are often arbiters of change. We are on the event horizon of the metaverse with exciting days of creativity ahead of us. Covid has shown us that connection is a crucial component in our daily lives, but it is not always feasible in the real world. Virtual reality is producing a new world for people to interact with each other the same way that the telephone did in 1876. Alexander Graham Bell’s vision influenced Steve Jobs creation of the iPhone and virtual reality is inevitably the next step. Designers and illustrators were made for this new and exciting world that will depend on visual art and artists to create. Personally, I see only opportunity to create a better future and it’s up to us to show the way.

All images © Melissa Whitaker. Used with permission.