Meet Mizzou’s Theresa Berens: SND’s student designer of the year

University of Missouri’s Theresa Berens was named Student Designer of the year at 2012 College News Design Contest last month in Columbia, Mo. Theresa is a graduate student studying editorial design. She graduates this month and is looking for a full-time gig in the fall.

The judges observed that her work always goes above and beyond. “She knows when to introduce surprises and fun and explanatory elements. She knows how to take an idea and carry it through an entire section. Her work was the best work we saw in a number of categories.”

Theresa was kind enough to talk with SND about her future plans, what inspires her, the best design advice she’s received and more.

You’ve portfolio got quite the variety in your: page design, illustrations, icons, magazine covers and even iPad prototypes. Do you have a preference in the type of work you do?

I love working in editorial design more than anything else, which is what I’ve spent the majority of my time learning about as a student. I enjoy being part of a fast-paced team creating something start-to-finish, and I’ve been lucky to work at Vox, which is weekly, for the past two years. 

What would your dream position be?

I hope to start my career as a junior editorial designer for a magazine or weekly newspaper, but I would love to start my own publication or design studio in the future. I have a lot of learning left before I’d be ready for that, though. 

You’ve got some work on your site from particular clients. How have you found freelance work?

Most of my freelance work has come to me from clients who had seen my work in Vox or other places. I also work as a graphic designer at the Student Design Center, which operates similarly to a design studio. I’m able to pick up jobs there and work directly with other clients and students that way, too. 

What advice would you have for other students taking on freelance or side projects?

I think if you make connections with people who have similar interests as you, you’ll find the potential for collaboration on projects. Sometimes you have to start small, but I think every project you work on leads you somewhere new, and hopefully teaches you something along the way. 

Beyond that, I think personal side projects are the most important thing you can do. But it’s a balancing act. I think without the structure I learned working within a system, you’re missing out on growing as a designer. Design is all about collaboration, right? But side projects have the potential to help you to remember what you love about design in the first place.


What are some of the challenges of designing for an app?

I think the biggest challenge in designing for an app is thinking about both orientations. And honestly, I don’t think anyone quite has the figured out yet. Also, in my experience, apps are a challenge because the print product still comes first, which means a lot of the app work gets condensed into a shorter period of time than you would have for the print edition. 

Describe your creative process—what do you turn to for inspiration? Do you sketch/brainstorm a lot?

I think my process is probably similar to other designers — I look at what interests me and try to be aware of what’s working and what isn’t working. I subscribe to a ton of magazines, and I’ve also always been really interested in screenprinting, letterpress and poster design. That probably comes out in my spot illustration work. 

I do like a lot of lead time on projects (which isn’t always easy at a weekly magazine). I’m more of a brainstormer than a sketcher, unless we’re talking about illustrations. I almost never drive, and I find that I get my best ideas when I’m walking somewhere. 

What inspired you to go into design in the first place?

I often wonder that myself. My education has really been in journalism, and obviously design is a big part of that. But I’ve also done reporting and editing as a student, so my educational path looks a lot different than a graphic design student’s. Ultimately, though, it was simple: Editorial design was what I love most about the creation of a publication. I decided that early in my college career and just followed it. 

What’s the best design advice you’ve ever received?

The best design advice I’ve ever received comes from my faculty advisor and mentor, Jan Colbert, about three years ago when I took her beginning magazine design class. I was trying to make a choice between two design positions on campus and asked for her thoughts. She encouraged me to just do both. It’s had a big impact on me, and is a large part of why I graduated in three years and entered graduate school for the fourth. If you think you can handle it, why not try?

It’s not the kind of advice that comes in a neat package, but what I take away from that is this: Do everything, even if you’re not sure where it will lead you. I think that’s life advice, too. 

What design wisdom did you have to learn on your own?

I learned really early in my college career that if I wanted to be a designer, being a student and taking a more traditional academic path wasn’t going to be enough. You have to learn on your own, to always be reading and working on something new. 

My plan is to take that attitude with me. I know I have a lot to learn about publication design, and I am crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to find a job as a junior editorial designer. But I also plan to keep working on personal projects and collaborations with friends who love the same things in my spare time. I think having that potential is the best part of being a designer. 

Patrick Garvin is a graphics artist at the Boston Globe.

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