Vikki Wiercinski

Graphic Designer & Visual Artist

12 years experience

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Vikki is a multi-disciplinary designer who's made the 12 years of her career all about experimentation and entreneurship. Named Designer of the Year for her patterns and colourways at Mezzaluna Studio, Vikki also licenses custom artwork to companies focussed on the apparel, home goods and architectural fields. She enjoys making bright and bold graphic design work for local arts non-profits, and maintaining a visual arts practice in drawing and ceramics. Vikki is also an event director bi-annually curating and producing one of the best art and design fairs in North America: the Royal Bison Fair.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

I have vivid memories of designing greeting cards for my family when I was 5 or 6. I always liked art class in school, but I didn’t know design was thing until I was in high school in the late 90s and I was looking at the difference between the art options—there was straight up “Art” and something called “Commercial Art,” which involved computers. I thought I like art, and I like computers! and promptly found myself learning Photoshop and designing posters for the high school’s drama class plays in the nerdy computer lab filled with 98% tech boys. We had a lot of fun, they all taught me how to play Dungeons and Dragons while those late-90s computers worked glacially on our 3D renders!

I was hooked on graphic design by the time I was 15—being the right age at the right time helped as well. “Desktop publishing” was just becoming a serious thing and I have followed its natural progression ever since. I stuck with design because I get to be creative every day, I solve people’s visual problems, and I get to be an entrepreneur (my first business was a lemonade stand when I was seven). Design is like this magic skill that seems very normal and easy to me, but nothing quite replaces a designer in your rolodex if you need to make your idea a reality—it’s so fun to collaborate in this way.

Describe your design process.

I get ideas as I work—I’m a believer in process! I start with sketches, or even sometimes some very clear ideas will flash into my mind as I’m speaking to the client about their project, and I roll with those until I’m sold on what I’ll present to the client. Client feedback is always a very helpful thing—you can’t design in a vacuum.

Someone once told me I’m a graphic designer’s artist and an artist’s graphic designer, so my process can be loose, or it can be very prescriptive; it just depends on who I’m working with and what the parameters are. I have a really beloved client that tells me to “do whatever” to begin with, and often my best visual results are when people really let me loose a bit and sprinkle some art over the design.

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What inspires your work (professional or personal)?

I can’t NOT make work, be it art pieces or book jackets or colourful patterns or just doodles while on hold on the phone. It’s an inner drive that I can’t really explain. Influences I return to time and again are Maija Louekari and Saana Annuka of Marimekko, Lucienne Day, Alexander Girard. I love colour, precision, and mid-century aesthetics, so artists like Atelier Bingo and Julie Mehretu mean a lot to me. I love to stare at a lot of mid-century book covers and packaging too.

What project are you most proud of?

I’ve done a lot of client work that I’m pleased with (book covers, especially!), but if I had to choose one project it would be my own surface design work with Mezzaluna Studio; that I get to take abstract shapes colours and spread them out across the world is just delicious.

What is your personal or professional motto/philosophy?

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s my mantra for minimalism in design and for sustainability in product production.

What does success mean to you?

Work-wise: spending my days in a creative capacity working on satisfying projects.
Life-wise: having the flexibility to travel as much as I possibly can.

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What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a female designer.

I once had a design firm (led by a woman, no less) that I was subcontracting with ask me to lay out a sexy-picture annual calendar for some client of theirs, and I just flat out refused.

I haven’t felt many barriers as a female designer, to be honest. I’m just as skilled as the rest of them, the work gets done well, and that seems to be that. Being a female entrepreneur can be an eye-opener, but it honestly hasn’t been too bad—I’ve always chosen to work with clients I like, and we exist in a sphere of mutual respect.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

I feel that I am judged by my portfolio and technical skills, not by my gender, and the playing field is more equal because of this. If someone wants work done in my specific style, they will call me as I’m the only one who can do it. If you have a strong ‘look’ to your work, design in many ways feels more equal than other spheres of work, as you can make your ideas stand out regardless of gender.

Business wise, I did need to learn how to take up some space in business situations, learn to speak confidently and sometimes loudly, and not take things too personally. These traits are often only taught to men, not women. It’s worth learning them.

What was your educational experience like?

I learned all sorts of type and detail-oriented skills from Sue Colberg at the University of Alberta and I am forever referencing those skills to this day. My design program required formal fine art courses that had a steep learning curve for me, but nowadays I’m making art because of them. I also had to take humanities-based options, which showed me how to be curious and think critically, and which introduced me to activism and social justice.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

I wanted to be fighter pilot in my late teens (seriously) but for some reason they wouldn’t let me have a nose ring or left wing pacifist politics in the military!? Creatives have such ADD, and I love doing new things all the time: movie set design, architecture, it’s endless. I’m a big-time cook—I love food and I travel a lot. My husband and I joke about one day buying an old motel on Vancouver Island, fixing it up into the kind of place we’d love to stay at, and opening it up for business. Of course, I’d still have a studio in the back.

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?

“It’s not good enough.” “I’m going to fail.” “What I do is so weird. Maybe I should just get a real job.” Etc. etc. etc. Bizarrely, I just get up in the morning and get to work.

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when starting?

I would have still majored in graphic design, but I would have gone into an undergrad program that had a craft department in conjunction with its design department. I know I would have been able to experiment with so many more mediums so much earlier.

Who are your design heroes?

Inspiring stuff just off the top of my head: Atelier Bingo. Saana Annuka. Zaha Hadid. Julie Mehretu. Charles and Ray Eames. Annie Albers. Lucienne Day. Canadian weaver Marion Smith. Regionally/currently: Zoe Mowat. Geof Lilge. The Loyal Loot collective. Concrete designer Amanda Nogier. I could go on and on.

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What are the best and worst pieces of advice you’ve ever gotten?

Best: “Always track out your capital letters.” (Thanks, Sue)
Worst #1: “Make sure you can re-create a lot of different styles so you can do all sorts of different kinds of work.” Newsflash: Designers are not photocopiers!
Worst #2: “Design is a great career for you (a woman) because when you have kids you can work from home while they nap!” Cue the heaviest sigh on the planet.

What advice would you give to a young woman designer?

Believe in yourself! Don’t look for acceptance before you think it’s safe to present an idea. Create your own future, don’t assume others will create it for you. And if you can, spend time in high school in a computer lab full of boys. It’ll teach a thing or ten about what it’s like on the other side of the gender spectrum, for you and for them.

How would you design the ideal creative workspace?

Lots of natural light, a plant or twelve, and two big desks—one for drawing, one for computer work. Make it a laptop so you’re portable. The rest can fall where it may.

Which of your traits are you most proud of?

I seem to have a good balance between artistic weirdness and analytical logic (my dad was an engineer and my mother was a fine artist). I love how design is really a wide-open playing field for people with both these traits.

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Is it possible to be unique or original in the Internet age?

Absolutely! Just stay off all those inspiration sites and run away from fads! Let yourself make things that don’t look quite “right.” You don’t want your work looking like everyone else’s, anyways.

What was the worst trend in the history of design?

That “artisanal” cross logo with four icons, one in each quadrant. Make it stop!

What about the current state of graphic design could you do without?

The race to the bottom where everyone sells a logo design service online for $5. That’s not a thoughtful result, and design is a thoughtful field.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m keepin’ on with my pattern and graphic design work these days, plus a public art mural. Architecture school is a tempting next step—someone once told me architecture is a way of being in the world, and that speaks to me a lot.