University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Maria Lindenfeldar

#UpWeek

In honor of University Press Week, we’ve been featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community. Today, Maria Lindenfeldar, Creative Director, shares some thoughts on the tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of a job in design:

Maria LindenfeldarHow long have you worked in design and how did you enter publishing?

I have worked in some form of art and design since college. My explorations have included: painting, architecture, art history, and interior design. I finally honed in on graphic design in my late twenties while working as a writer in the marketing department of a benefits consulting firm—our proposals were great to read but needed help with how they looked! From there, I discovered the subfield of book design and have been in love with it ever since.

How is working in design for a publishing company unique from other industries?

In my experience, publishing attracts smart, engaged, and idealistic people in a proportion greater than other industries.

Your title is creative director. Can you describe what your work encompasses?

A joke among designers is that the higher you rise on the creative ladder, the narrower your toolkit becomes, ultimately requiring just one tool: email. There’s some truth to that. I no longer design books on a regular basis and most of my day is spent keeping multiple balls in the air. On its most basic level, I see my job as that of a facilitator. I am lucky to work with incredibly talented artists who are able to bring physical form to an idea. My role is to make sure that they have the information they need to do that to the best of their abilities. This requires an open forum for discussing ideas and a firm commitment to the value of multiple opinions. Everyone involved in the creative process—editors, authors, designers, sales, marketing, publicity—has something to contribute, and my job is to sustain an environment where that can happen. I am proud of the award-winning results our collective efforts produce.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love looking at the finished catalog each season, admiring the beautiful book jackets, and thinking about how we can be even better next time.

What’s the most difficult aspect?

By far, the most difficult aspect is the inherent tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of the job. To make beautiful and original things, a designer has to invest herself or himself, drawing from a deep well of visual references and experience. In its best form, the alchemy of the design process is magical and surprising even to the maker. The hard reality (and the most difficult thing to explain to less-experienced designers) is that even great and innovative designs get rejected, sometimes for very good reasons. The design approval process is a real-life extension of the art school critique system; it requires sharing ideas and depersonalizing feedback. On the job, the never-ending challenge is to digest commentary, determine what is useful, and incorporate that into the final product. I think everyone should go to art school—it forces you to develop a thick skin!

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to break into the field?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t go into graphic design because you think it’s a “practical” career with more guarantees than say, life as an artist. It’s not—it’s competitive and difficult. On the flip side, if you are passionate about art and ideas and are willing to work hard, there will be a place for you. To find out more about the field, take a really good typography course at an art school. Many of the designers I admire have broad educations in disciplines as varied as philosophy, music, and film. What they all have in common is that they are good conceptual thinkers who love type.

Any career paths you’d have pursued in an alternate universe?

I was a government major who planned to be a lawyer. Go figure!