Alumni Update: Interview with Kara Smarsh
Senior Art Director at AKQA
Kara is an art director and photographer working across digital, motion, video and photographic mediums to create impact full brand stories. She has led in-house and agency teams, on set and on location, to create elegant and well-considered solutions for fashion and retail client campaigns.
Why did you choose BGSU to study Graphic Design?
I was already attending BGSU on a full academic scholarship under another major. When I met design students and realized that I already had many of the skills required for the degree (and that I would prefer to go into a creative field), I chose to work toward my second degree in the design program.
What made you decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Biology? Has your interest in Biology impacted the work you’ve done?
I studied Biochemistry as a pre-doctoral requirement to studying Pharmacy. In the end, I finished that degree early and knew that I wouldn’t be happy with a career in that field. I wouldn’t say that it has impacted my work, but like science, design (marketing) is very data-driven and a to of my career has been based on design in response to analytics.
What do you like most about working at your current job?
My current job is going to be a mix of design, art direction, photo and video direction. It’s exciting to work on brand campaigns and push my skills in areas outside of design.
What (or who) are some of your inspirations when designing?
Most of my inspirations come from experiential agencies like Collins, work coming from brands that are pushing the envelope like Nike, or from photographers working in fashion or directors in the film industry. I think a lot of my inspiration comes not only from the work but also hearing about the process or the work ethic of a particular person or group.
What was the most challenging project you have worked on?
The most challenging project, again there have been a few because of the varied experiences that I’ve had, but the most technically challenging are typically projects where you are working for an inexperienced client who doesn’t understand what they want or more typically, what they need. In more stable environments, the more challenging projects tend to be ones that need to refer to the past while moving a brand forward. There can be a lot at stake in those situations.
What advice would you give for students currently in the program?
For students currently in the program, I would say to immerse yourself in the work being done by both independent contemporary artists and designers and mid-level agencies that are pushing groundbreaking work. When you look at those levels you can see people who are either too talented to be at one agency and are typically pushing the envelope, or agencies that have a less overhead and can take bigger risks.
Interview by Kathryn Meenan