connie birdsall is a senior partner and creative director who leads the design practice at lippincott. her experience encompasses over 20 years of managing and creating global corporate and brand identities, marketing communications, information graphics, launch and implementation programs, and developing the tools and processes for successful brand management. she tells designboom about her work and influences…




delta identity







DB: please could you tell us about your career thus far?
CB: as a child I was really interested in all things hand made and artistic from drawing to ceramics to water colors. my dad would always encourage me to do art projects like plaster sand castle molds and make our own christmas tree ornaments. he instilled the love of art and crafts in me from a very early age. he was a doctor, but also an amateur water colorist who built beautiful model boats, so he was very positive about me going into a creative field. the other thing I really loved since age four was ballet. I spent hundreds of hours practicing and performing. from that came photography – I was interested in combining the things I was doing… photographing the ballerinas in the studio and then making silkscreen prints from them. I am pretty certain that my earliest graphic design project was the cover for one of our yearly dance programs.


when I graduated from high school my dream was to continue to study to be a ballerina. but, that is sort of like one in a million – my body, my age and few other hurdles made me realize that I would never dance at lincoln center. so I went from dreaming of being a ballerina to possibly being a set designer at the university of colorado, and from set designer to possibly a painter at the university of iowa and from painter to a summer class in typography at the kansas city art institute. there is a definite theme in all of this –  but I think my love of art, and the hours of ballet helped instill a strong sense of discipline and belief that I could make these things I loved merge into a career that would be something I could be good at and could make a living doing.


I was pretty naive at the time – advertising and graphic design weren’t words that were used often where I grew up. I went to kansas city art institute and learned the basics of typography and color and pattern. after working for a few years, I went to cranbrook academy of art where everything was expressive and experimental. I then got a job as a junior designer at anspach grossman & portugal, here in new york, working for ken love and gene grossman. this was really my second graduate school education! I became fascinated by the complex problems they were helping solve for businesses through the application of design, and it was this more rational side of what design is that kept me focused on the practice of identity design, and helped me end up where I am today.



ebay identity







DB: how would you describe your job / role to someone unfamiliar with what you do?
CB: I used to say my job was to help companies develop the core design elements that they communicate with, independent of ads, such as the names, logos, colors, the livery for an aircraft, the design of the collateral etc, and then the documentation of the use of these into a set of guidelines so that all of their communications partners would be able to interpret a more consistent approach to applying and managing the identity on behalf of the client.


today I describe it as being the chief cheerleader at lippincott. my job is to build a world class design practice that is now much broader in how we think about brand expression. over the last decade, since I have been creative director, the focus has been on building the right team. we’ve built our reputation inch by inch by hiring amazing talent and winning opportunities to work with the world’s best brands.



DB: what would you say is your strongest skill, and how did you come to hone it?
CB: my strength is in the logic side of design – building the rationale for bringing brand expression to life. given that, I am a much better systems designer. I can see the connections. I have been blessed with an ability to do that.


I also recognized that I need to let those around me shine… this is in the DNA of lippincott. we work on big complex projects that require lots of talent to solve. we work collaboratively on teams, pulling in each others strengths, and that’s what helps define us.




meredith identity







DB: what is the attraction of designing identities for you?
CB: the attraction of any kind of creative endeavor in the design world is that what you are doing and creating is out there in the world, and becomes part of our day to day landscape and culture. it is exciting, but can also be scary, and can make you pause. if its not right, you don’t want to put something ugly out there. I want our design to be beautiful, which can be a challenge with all of the complexities that come with big global assignments.



DB: what mistakes or ‘traps’ should a young designer avoid when working on an identity system?
CB: I tell young designers that you have to remember that you’re part of a big team… the idea could be yours or someone else’s but together we’re working on building something great. you should be open to feedback, push yourself — work really hard. people in this industry are no different than those in any other industry — like malcolm gladwell, who says it takes at least 10,000 hours to start to become great at something.







SK identity







DB: what are your thoughts on specialization vs generalization?
CB: at lippincott, we believe in generalization because we like the idea that as you grow in your career, you are able to make the bigger connections and build bigger teams and understand on a larger level how to help a client solve problems.



DB: do you draw very much and do you think it’s important for a graphic designer to be able to draw?
CB: I draw because it is my tool. writing yourself notes and the practice of writing is the way to connect your mind and your hand, and that is still very important. I think all of these other tools are great, and allow you to incrementally riff on things that couldn’t happen otherwise. but, when you are dreaming about the solution, even doodling is a way to open your mind. the tools can sometimes get in the way



DB: how do you think online resources have influenced the design being produced today?
CB: when I was coming up in the industry, we didn’t have design criticism like we do now, and I think it is very welcome. I believe that having a public discourse on creative work is necessary, and it has allowed all of us to think about the rationale for what we do and to think hard about the reason for why we did something.






starbucks identity







DB: what is something that currently fascinates you?
CB: I am fascinated by how visual information has become the delivery of information. to me, it is so exciting to see the advances in infographics and storytelling. the amount of creativity we have brought to it is amazing!



DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs or rules by which you live or work?
CB: we should always plan for success and not failure. never ever think about failing.



DB: what do you want to do in 2014 that you have never done before?
CB: gut and renovate my own home in NYC and make it uniquely mine!