Deborah Gassner '87 graduated from Colby with a degree in art history. Not drawn to the major's more traditional career opportunities in museum work or art writing, Gassner relocated to Los Angeles and enrolled in CalArts for a degree in graphic design. "While Colby taught me to question, write, and express standards and settings in an analytical way, my studies in art school enabled me to shift this method of thinking to a more creative expression in design," Gassner said.
After completing her B.F.A., Gassner migrated to New York City and then Milan, Italy, where she worked in design firms. "I specialized in print collateral, corporate identity, and advertising. It was just as much learning for me as creating. Creative design is very liberating in that sense," said Gassner, relaxing outside a Seattle café.
When she relocated to Seattle in the mid-1990s, Gassner worked as a designer in several firms—retail, financial, and high-tech companies, including Microsoft. "Designing for a massive corporation required a different approach than a smaller company, because typically the brand [for the large corporation] is very strong," Gassner said.
Gassner now prefers the freedom—both creative and personal— afforded by freelance work for developing companies. "More often these days, I am inspired by working with new companies who are just beginning to identify who they are or what they want to be," she said.
While collaborating with a local clothing store, for example, she studied the company's audience, mission, and competition. Gassner then created several design directions in which the company could begin to define itself as a business. This included a logo, a color palette, and some promotional materials associated with the brand's character. "The client really responded to one of the options, and we moved on from there. Design is essentially problem solving, a task that draws from both my B.F.A. and my Colby degree," Gassner said.
"What I love about design is the challenge of solving a problem in a creative way. Each project for me is a fresh start where I have the opportunity to explore and learn about a business in order to help them grow."
Gassner described wandering down an aisle of products in a grocery market and recognizing her packaging design for a Seattle chocolate company, a product on which she worked a few years back. "My job is to create the face of the product. So, to then watch a company grow, in part because of my relations with them, is very rewarding."
Still, new challenges always await.
"My test now is to find a good balance between kids and work," Gassner said, smiling as she cradled her coffee cup. Despite this negotiation of time, she is glad to have some flexibility and to be free to plan her own day. Also, with both of her daughters still under 5 and her husband, Joe Park, pursuing his own creative ambitions as an artist, this artistically oriented family is free to travel and find inspiration abroad.
"We are looking into visiting relatives in Seoul, South Korea, for an extended period of time in the near future. Both my husband and I can use new environments as creative inspiration for our work."
—Robin Respaut '07