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Q&A with Lauren Hom: HOW Design TODAY November 2022

Work hard, snack often. 

This is Lauren Hom’s personal motto—which she got tattooed when she was 23. And work hard, she has.

After studying advertising at the School of Visual Arts and embarking on a string of low- and high-profile internships, Hom became a junior art director at BBDO. But it turns out the ad world wasn’t for her, and she quickly got severely burned out.

As fate would have it, she had followed her passions before taking the gig at BBDO, and had landed a book deal for Daily Dishonesty, her love letter to handlettering and humor. So she went solo with her lettering practice, and in the years since has amassed a brilliant body of work for such clients as Adobe, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, Target, Vans, Veuve Clicquot, and so many others.

Along the way, she reexamined that motto and redefined her relationship with her work, realizing the brilliant results of giving herself a break. As for the “snacking” half of her motto: Next year, she is taking her love of it pro, and expanding her career into the culinary realm. (As it turns out, design and cooking have a lot more in common than might first meet the eye.)

In this interview, she riffs on that, her best advice for artists and designers, her creative journey at large, and more.

How did your creativity manifest at an early age?

I was always a creative kid. That’s just part of my nature. My mom is quite creative; she said she found me cutting off the sleeves of my dad’s dress shirts, trying to make dresses for myself. I was always drawing—on the walls, on paper, anywhere I could get my hands on sidewalk chalk. I guess I was that artsy kid in elementary school, middle school, where I was drawing on the back of my notebooks in bubble letters. Kids would ask if I could customize their notebooks and their sneakers, all that kind of stuff from the early aughts.

My mom introduced me to lettering before I knew what it was (I mean, she probably didn’t even know what it was). She would write my name in bubble letters on my lunchbox, and as an after-school snack, as a treat, sometimes she would cut my brother and my names out of slices of American cheese.

You ultimately went to SVA, where you majored in advertising. What drew you to the field?

It seemed like this perfect intersection of practical and creative. My parents weren’t super thrilled about art school, because art as a career path seemed like a shaky, uncertain way to make a living. So when I found out about advertising, it seemed like a more stable way to make a living, and I could still be creative. So I sold them on that. The way I ultimately found design was just through being drawn to it. The extra classes that I was able to take outside of advertising in college were typography, communication design, and screenprinting during the summer. I’ve always loved drawing and painting and other kinds of art. It’s always been a part of my life. I just never thought that that was going to be something that could support me financially. But now it does.

You had some pretty remarkable internships, from Nickelodeon to Louise Fili. What’s your best advice for students looking to land high-caliber internships, and your best advice for them on the job?

I’ll start with the Nickelodeon one. I just applied on Viacom’s general internship application. I was hoping to get an internship with MTV or something cool, but I submitted my portfolio and resume and ended up getting placed at Nickelodeon based on my style, which in hindsight made sense. I had a cuter style; I was using a lot of bright colors, pastels. My natural style just fit better there. And at first I was like, oh, is my style childish? Like, is this bad? But I had a great time interning there. I likely ended up getting that internship because I had some other internship experience. I was pretty scrappy—I had moved across the country to go to school, and I had found a bunch of other internship opportunities, believe it or not, on Craigslist when I first got to New York. I had interned for three months at a luxury bowling alley in the graphic design department. And then I interned at a hair care company. And so I had those two things under my belt before I ever applied to Viacom or Nickelodeon. I think that experience helped.

My best advice for landing the higher-caliber internships is to just try a lot of things first. Get some experience under your belt. Know that with the stepping-stone smaller jobs, the maybe lower-profile internships that you might not be that excited about, you’re going to learn something from them. And those will be the stepping-stones for you to bring that experience to land higher-caliber internships.

As for my best advice on the job … I feel like anything I could say is going to be kind of cliche, but just soak up as much as you can. Even if you’re not doing the most exciting work in the world, there’s going to be something good that comes out of it. Like, my internship at Nickelodeon, none of it was portfolio work that I ended up with, but I learned a lot of cool Photoshop techniques. And believe it or not, a lot of the Photoshop brushes that I still use to finish off my lettering work now, in 2022, I got from my boss at Nickelodeon. That was something I took away that I never, never thought I’d still be using to this day.

You started Daily Dishonesty in your senior year. Did you have any idea where following your passion would lead you?

I had no idea. I started it just as a fun side project, mostly to make my friends laugh and to have a container that was just for my lettering work, under this one kind of specific theme. I think because I was an advertising major, I was used to thinking in ad campaigns—so one central theme, with one message, in one style. And I was just lettering these little white lies, publishing them to a Tumblr blog. I had no idea that it was going to catch a good wave on the internet and lead to a book deal and a following. But I think that’s just an example of where following your passion can take you; because I was so excited about it, it led to me wanting to work on it. The more I published, the bigger the following got. It just kind of fed into itself.

After graduating, and with a book deal, you got a job at BBDO. Was any part of you longing for a design job instead when you entered the ad world?

At the time, no. I think it was the sunk-cost fallacy thing happening—I knew I had spent four years and all this money going to school for advertising. And I just couldn’t bear the thought of not using my degree for what it was for, which was to get a job at an advertising agency. So I was quite excited to work at BBDO—it was my dream job. No part of me was longing for a design job. I had been doing some freelance work based off of Daily Dishonesty and its success, and yes, I had a book deal—but at the time, you know, I was 23/22 and couldn’t see a book deal and occasional freelance work being a viable way to support myself the way that a full-time job at BBDO was.

You quickly got burned out. How did you give yourself permission to pull the plug?

I gave myself permission to pull the plug when I had the realization that I was the only variable that could change in my situation—the agency world likely wasn’t going to change. I had the same complaints week after week. And I was going to need to remove myself in order to change something. I was definitely excited and terrified—kind of like the excitement though of getting on a roller coaster. You know what you’re signing up for, you waited in line, and you know it’s gonna be an up-and-down ride. There was a lot of unknown. But I had been preparing for it for at least three months, and I had been unhappy at the job for a while. So I think I’d had time to kind of prepare emotionally, and then practically, leading up to when I quit my job.

I think there’s an understanding that you have to be engaged in the work that you’re doing. And if it’s not for you, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. I will say that I likely would not have quit my job so soon, even though I was burned out, had I not had that book deal and the money from it under my belt. I also graduated with no student loans. I think that’s an important caveat.

How do you approach lettering and design projects these days? In a nutshell, what’s your process?

Currently, when I’m doing a lettering project or a design project, I prefer to sketch analog. So just with pencil and paper, because when I’ve tried to sketch on my iPad, I find that because I can so easily erase or edit things, or double-tap to undo something, I am not as loose with my ideas, and I can’t quite get things onto paper. And so I get a little bit stuck. But with pencil and paper, I’m a lot looser—I’m not constantly erasing. I’ll do my thumbnails that way, I’ll do my rough sketches that way. And then once I have a direction that’s either my own chosen direction or the client chooses the direction, I’ll go ahead and refine it on my iPad or in Photoshop, and then finish it up that way. The creative ideation part is analog, and then the execution part is digital. And that’s worked the best for me to get kind of a unique handmade feel, while also keeping up with the speed that I need to produce.

I read that salsa is also a key to your productivity.

When I’m feeling stuck, I’ll just get up and do something else. And oftentimes that’s cooking or making a snack, because it just takes my mind off of the work. I got a lot of pushback on this because people call it context switching, where you’re switching to another task. And apparently that can make you even more unproductive. For me, if I’m stuck, doing anything that takes my mind off of the stuck thing is helpful. So I’m probably not the most productive person in the world—but most creative people I know aren’t the most productive people in the world, because creativity isn’t always productive. And I think it’s important to realize that and stop beating ourselves up for it when we aren’t feeling entirely productive.

If nothing is urgent, or absolutely like “do right now,” I will just do something else. And I love cooking. I love crafting. I have so many other hobbies.

Broad, impossible to answer question: What is your best piece of design advice, or the best piece of design advice you’ve ever received?

This ties into the question you asked about when I was giving myself permission to quit my job. So maybe seven months into my job at BBDO, when I was unhappy, I met up for coffee with my friend and mentor, Justin Gignac. He runs the website Working Not Working. He had come from an advertising background and then quit to go freelance, and then started his own company. And so I was telling him that I studied advertising, but I didn’t know if it was going to be the path for me. I told him I wanted to stay for at least a year so I could have a year on my resume, because I didn’t want to be one of those flaky millennials who quits after seven or nine months, and then my next employer is going to look at my resume and think that I’m weird. And Justin looked at me, and he was like, “well, if you know you don’t want to work in advertising and it’s not for you, why does your advertising resume even matter?” And I had a lightbulb moment, and I was like, oh shit, he’s right. That was the best career advice I’ve ever received. And honestly, it’s something that I think about now, as I’m about to make a career expansion.

As I prepare to go to culinary school, I’ve had my own kind of brain garbage about people thinking that I’m abandoning design or abandoning lettering, or I couldn’t tough it out or make it or that I don’t care about it anymore. And the answer is it doesn’t really matter what other people think. As a creative person who’s running their own business, you’re in the driver’s seat of your career, and staying engaged in the work you’re doing is such a vital part of sustaining a creative career. I’ve been doing this for a decade, which I think is a significant amount of time, but it’s still just like between a third and a quarter of my overall career.

What has cooking taught you about design and creativity, and vice-versa?

Oh, there are so many parallels. I’ve been a home cook my entire life. And I am going to go to culinary school next year to see what that might look like to pursue it professionally, to see how I might incorporate that into my design work, or how I might incorporate design into my cooking work. I’m really excited because I don’t really have a specific plan or goal with this training. And so it’s kind of like the possibilities are endless. Uncertainty can be unnerving sometimes, but I think mixing things up feels exciting for me right now.

What has cooking taught me about design and creativity? With cooking, you’re oftentimes following a recipe, similar to design—there are rules, right? This goes together, or these are the steps you can follow. But also, if you change things up and you want to try something else, amazing things can happen. Also, awful things can happen. But that’s kind of the fun of it, is even when you switch something up and it goes poorly, it’s not the end of the world. You can always try again. And more often than not the happy accidents yield some kind of lesson or learning experience.

One thing in particular that I’ve learned from cooking is patience. You have to wait for certain things to either rest, or rise, or marinate. If I know something needs to marinate overnight, I don’t even question that. It’s like, oh, OK, this needs to ferment for a week. Cool. But with creativity, oftentimes I want it to happen right away, or I beat myself up if I can’t come up with a good idea or concept—where oftentimes things just need to marinate or percolate. And it can’t really be rushed. Time is an essential ingredient in cooking that really can’t be substituted. And I think the same goes for creativity.

You teach some great courses and classes. Why is passing along your collective wisdom imperative to you?

Passing along what’s worked for me is helpful so other people can then take what I’ve done, or what I’ve learned, and apply that in their own creative work or career and experiment, figure out what works for them. Then they can pass it on. It’s kind of like passing along recipes and adapting recipes. You see something a friend brings to a potluck and you ask for the recipe. You tweak it to your liking based on your dietary preferences or your family’s taste. And then someone asks you for that recipe and it just keeps getting circulated and shared, and everyone gets to eat more delicious food.

As creative people, we have to engage with both parts of ourselves—our creative brains and our business brains—when it comes to freelancing or building a career. And it can be extremely daunting and overwhelming. And so anything I can do to help quell some of that for people is a good enough reason for me. I’ve benefited so much from people sharing what they know with me, both for free and paid. It just has always felt like something I wanted to do—and something I should do.

What projects are you working on next, if you can give any clues?

Preparing for culinary school is my biggest project. I can’t really talk about too many client projects, but I will have some exciting things going on. I’ll be in New York City next year doing some cool things with brands. I’m being very vague right now. But those are the clues I can give you.


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