Career Night for the Arts Alumni Profile: Karen Stein

by Campbell Disbrow

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Thinking about attending Career Night for the Arts? We’ve spoken to several alumni participating in this exciting event to give you some background on how they’ve made their creativity into a career. One of these alumni is Karen Stein, principal and co-founder of the design studio goodgood in Boston. Goodgood works with a wide variety of media in both graphic and interior design. The company places an emphasis on collaboration—integrating the needs of the consumer with the expertise of the designers. Last year they were named a winner of PRINT Magazine’s prestigious Regional Design Annual awards for their project A Media Archaeology of Boston, an ambitious examination of the inherent beauty of Boston using a wide variety of media including film, photography, postcards, and soundscapes. Karen served as artistic director for this project. She discovered design while working for Harvard University Press where she found herself interested in book design, and received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

 

When were you first comfortable calling yourself an artist?

I called myself a designer before I called myself an artist. Sometimes I still feel uncomfortable with the term, but I am always seeking to find intersections between art and design in my work.

What changes have you observed in the design industry during your career? What changes do you anticipate?

Speed. Everything happens faster than it used to. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate to clients that design just takes time, and it’s not worth rushing the work, because the end result suffers. I also have seen a greater concern for the social impact of design.

Your website emphasizes your company’s personal approach to your designs. How do you balance catering to clients’ tastes with expressing your own creativity?

Dialogue & Relationships. I strongly believe that good design results from dialogue and developing relationships with the people that you work with and those that you are talking to through the work. With that, I believe good design results from this understanding. Alongside my client work, I also seek out more self-authored work, which reflects messages I’m specifically looking to communicate. In the end, it’s about finding balance in the work. I love to work more freely, but I believe in my clients, and when I design something for my client that truly reflects who they are, that is why I go to work everyday.

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Your website states that you take into account “economical, social equity and ecological factors” in your designs. How do these attentions affect your design process? What challenges do these factors present?

Generally, I think it’s important to understand how design affects the world. Whether it’s the method or materials of production we are looking at, or the clients we work with, it’s important to understand our role within the world, and try to do our best to tread lightly.

How do you believe good design impacts the people who use/inhabit it?

This could be a very long answer, but basically I believe that design is everywhere, and if something is designed well, it can change things. It might make things run better. It might make your day easier. It might impact the world less. It might communicate a positive message. It might teach you something. It might make you smile. It’s important to focus on good design, and look at the outcomes and impacts of design on anything.

How did the learning atmosphere at BC contribute to your growth as an artist?

I loved my time at BC. Many of my classes focused on aesthetics whether through the philosophy or art history classes that I took. With that, BC helped prepare me, by teaching me to look at things critically, but also creatively…two important facets of design.

What advice would you have for undergraduates hoping to turn their creativity into a career?

I think it’s important to take classes and seek experiences in the field that you are interested in. I ended up working at Harvard University Press, and that’s how I learned about book design first, and eventually pursued a career in design. Seek out new experiences always.

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To check out some of Karen’s designs, visit her website at goodgoodland.com.

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