Meg is my secret web design crush! Our styles are different but I love everything she does, her attention to detail is exquisite and her passion for creating well thought-out and visually stunning websites is palpable. So when I learned about her background in design I was not surprised, she is a professional through and through. And also just a wonderful, generous and lovely person!
Next Interview → Jannessa Rae Slangen on April 5, 2018
Starting from a young age, I was always designing brands. From neighborhood lemonade stands, fashion design brands, I would ask to make name cards for my parents parties, tags for Christmas gifts and draw out letters and icons on the side of every notebook. After attending Rice University in Houston, TX for undergrad, I went right into my MFA at SCAD in Graphic Design, where not only design, but teaching and process was paramount in my education. It was then I knew that education would be a big part of my future.
After graduate school, I honed my skills working for well known brands designing in house, from high-end photography studios to well known handbag companies, working in print and digital design. In 2011 I started my own blog, and found a great love of taking traditional brands and bringing them to live in web via Squarespace. Today, the cornerstone of the studio is Meg Summerfield Studio, but we also teach at Square Design Guild and mentor and run a community of over 100 designers from over 10 countries.
1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?
I started out my "creative path" when I knew I wanted to do something with applied design when it came to college. I ended up landing on Architecture, because I loved how it shapes everyone's day, how they interact with people, or can have a great quiet space to be themselves. I got to college (the Rice School or Architecture) and liked it, but didn't love it like my peers. When we did specialized drawings, color or most 2d modeling/drawing I felt it, but when we started building UP, and 3d, I didn't really feel as in touch with the process as others. Rice is an incredible architecture school, and in our tiny class of 24 people, I just knew my path was different than the others. After freshman year I decided to try out other things. Rice didn't have marketing, or design outside of a fine arts so I decided to take an alternate path. From there I did every internship, every poster, every volunteer position that had anything to do with design. That plus my insistence that I had some design classes before applying to grad school, brought me to SCAD right after graduating Rice.
For the next couple of years, I worked full time between barista-ing and a photography studio while working on my MFA in Graphic Design. I got crazy lucky early on in my career, in that a tiny photography studio in my home state needed a full time designer. They were growing at lightening speed and needed someone to do custom anything that their clients wanted. The studio became nationally known within a blink of the eye for the crafting and creativity that everyone put into the sets, but most noticed was our "cake smash". Working there I was able to see what owning a small business was in the creative field, see how to grow and not just in numbers but in different ways, but most importantly how to work with clients in a revision method (2 revisions for their custom cards/wall displays/whatever you can imagine).
From there I knew I could do so much more, and with my photography experience I went into the art dept at a New England based handbag company. Here I went from designing marketing and baby sets to working with a high end brand. At the time, the main ads were produced at Vogue Creative, so our seasonal catalogs were done inhouse, by the art dept. I got my feet wet the first day - which was the summer catalog shoot. The next week, I was making final selects with the team for the photographer, and in a week and a half from then I had produced, written, designed and sent the catalog off to the printer. It was my first MASS produced item, when I saw the mailing list of hundreds of thousands my hands quivered a bit. It was a blend of everything I loved, but I had nowhere to go unless I moved to NYC, or I decided to not actually do the designing any longer. I knew I had to jump out and do it for myself.
One day, my Dad had to let go his office manager at his Investment Firm. I knew this was my chance. So I jumped on it, took the job and for two years worked my butt off at every moment I wasn't organizing IRA application paperwork, and filing SEC questions. I was blogging, designing for myself, and working on a little creative project in the background that at that time was this dinky food blog. That dinky food blog turned pretty darn successful, and my blogging picked up, and all of a sudden within a few months I had my first client - in the food blogging world. The next year, I worked my usual 40 hr/week job, while also working full time at Meg Summerfield Studio. A little over two years later I was moving into a bigger apt, with a second bedroom for an office, and had started my online Squarespace community.
2) What was your safety net (e.g. a partner, another job, savings etc.) when you first started out and how did that help you?
My safety net was that finance job. I couldn't have started my studio without the ability to open my laptop between work at my job and get some emails or some mockups done. I was beyond lucky in that way. In the end, I really didn't do much actual design work while at work, but I had the creative urge to keep going when I got home. If I had stayed in-house I would have been exhausted creatively at the end of the day.
The bills had to be paid, and I could say that family is nearby, but I was determined to make it work on my own. As a single girl, living on my own, I knew I had to just jump. I didn't have as much in savings as I should have when I made the leap, but it wasn't a matter of savings, it was take on new clients and a heavier work load, or turn them away, which didn't feel right.
3) How many websites did you design during your first year and how did your clients find you? Please share three sites you designed during that time.
My first year huh! Umm - let's see. In 2016 were 13 done exclusively through the studio. In 2015 I launched my first client in late late fall, so I don't really count it as my first year. There were actually a few others done contract (5 total) so the first year was 18. I know that's insane - what can I say, I really just worked my butt off! I mean honestly, if you counted sites for family members and SSDG then you are really looking at 21, but since they didn't go through the client process we won't count them :)
4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?
I tend to do complex layouts, for people who are ready to take their Squarespace site design up about 10 notches from what they could produce on their own. Generally my clients are creatively inclined, love clean typography, and want a custom design look, in Squarespace. For a long time my specialty was food-blogs, because I had one of my own and was pretty successful at it for a Squarespace blogger, but in reality, food blogging is just a complex blog that has lots of data, not anything specialized or niche.
5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?
1. JUST start. Get your portfolio up, get your name out there.
2. Befriend other designers! Seriously. Write a nice email, send them an Instagram message - don't ask for advice, just join their community. One of the biggest streams of income for me are referred clients - from other designers.
3. Learning to read client feedback without emotion is key. Remember they probably have never done this before, so if they are frustrated. Stop, pause and listen to why they are frustrated, it's probably something simple that is easy to explain or fix.
4. Do your finances. You can't hate spreadsheets, you gotta love them. And if you can't get yourself there then you MUST hire someone. How much needs to be saved for that quarterly tax bill, did you correctly apply that Target run receipt?
5. Do your own thing. You have to find your own process and flow. If you follow someone else's to a T then there will no-doubtedly be parts you hate. Ask yourself what you could edit in that section to make it better for you AND your clients. Always changing and adapting to make it work better and better.
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