in conversation with

Mallory Kubenik

We spoke with Mallory Kubenik, a freelance designer and art director living post-graduate life in the time of a global pandemic. She navigated us through the difficulty of graduating in 2020, the way storytelling is reflected in her art, and her tips for other creatives.

Photos provided by Mallory Kubenik, artwork by STRÅLANDE

The Basics

I grew up and am still located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I recently graduated in May of 2020 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). I’ll be honest, it was a bit of an anti-climatic end to my college career (most 2020 graduates probably share similar experiences due to circumstances around the current pandemic). However, I think ending it on such an uncertain note has increased my determination to keep moving forward in whatever way that I can, both as a designer and as a person. I’m still on the hunt for a full-time Designer / Art Director role, but in the meantime, I’ve been freelancing through MIAD and taking advantage of the time I have by evaluating my portfolio, pinpointing what it is missing, and creating work that fills in those gaps.

Starting Her Career

I’ve been freelancing through MIAD as a designer and art director. Most of the clients I’ve worked with have been local to Milwaukee and vary in needs for their company or brand. I’ve been on projects with clients such as the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, SolarBag, and Milwaukee County Employee Retirement Plan System. Personally, I am most drawn to projects around identity design as well as building out an Omni-experience or multi-channel campaign.

I've always been passionate about design and its potential to help the world, especially when it comes to addressing social issues, bringing together communities, and even helping a brand define their identity by communicating their story to their audience.

Developing Skills and Design

During my time at MIAD, we were always given a variety of projects to sharpen our skills. My professors, especially during my junior and senior years, pushed conceptual thinking, which is an important skill to have in this industry. Recently I completed a year-long internship with Cramer-Krasselt, a full-service advertising agency located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. I worked alongside some really amazing people that taught me so much.

I truly believe that to be successful in telling a brand’s story, a designer needs to embrace beauty. It is a fundamental part of the design’s function. I learned this during a lecture by Stefan Sagmeister in Whitewater, WI. The topic of the lecture was “Why Beauty Matters” and it really was an eye-opening discussion. A major takeaway I refer back to when designing for any project, nonexclusive to branding, is that to design for the sole purpose of functionality is to design without love or care. I recommend watching his lecture - it can be found on YouTube.

Work Day Routine

A typical workday involves checking my email and making sure I am caught up with my team and correspondence with clients. From there, I like to make a to-do list and prioritize the tasks I need to complete for the day. Once I am prepped, I move into the design work. I am always toggling between Adobe Creative Cloud apps and saving progress every few minutes to avoid losing my work (truly a catastrophe).

Creative Inspirations

Pinterest is a really great place to reference inspiration. I like creating boards for different types of design work or when I begin a new project. It helps me kickstart the research process. Jessica Walsh also recently opened her own creative agency in NYC called &Walsh. The work I see from her is always a major inspiration. It would be a dream to work alongside her one day.

Freelance Challenges

Clients can sometimes be hard to work with. I think all creatives know the struggle in some way or another; The type of client that is over-demanding and oversteps the bounds of the project’s scope. This is just one of many struggles an art director and/or graphic designer can face. But that being said, I have to acknowledge my privilege as a designer. I get to make beautiful things every day for a living.

Creative Advice

To other creatives, don’t be so afraid to fail early on in school. And if you don’t go to school, set aside time to experiment and try scary things. Break the rules. I used to be so afraid to make mistakes or create work that I considered “bad,” but in doing so, you’re drawing a map that points in the direction of success.

Self-Care Routines

Both morning and night routines are essential to my self-care. Dedicating time to stretching, applying skincare and makeup, taking a hot shower, sleeping in a little extra, etc. are all things that get my mind ready for the day or ready to wind down in the evening.

I like to get up and get in a workout in the mornings. Even if I don’t feel like doing it at that moment, I always feel better afterward. Next, I take a shower and spend some time on skincare and makeup, which is the fun part. Skincare products I’ve been loving include Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, Ole Henriksen’s Truth Serum, and Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer Balance. I keep it light with makeup but if I could recommend one makeup product, It would be Chanel’s Water Fresh Tint.

Wellness Tips

Taking time to practice self-care in your daily routine is not selfish. In fact, I would consider it to be essential as we are living in a non-stop culture. We often equate our importance to how busy we are when creating a balance between work and personal time is so much healthier.

For lifestyle, skincare, and beauty inspiration, I usually turn to Instagram or YouTube. I like to follow people that I find authentic. If you haven’t heard of @matildaonvideo on YouTube, check her out. I’ve been obsessed with her content lately. It’s both informative and relaxing!

If you were a cocktail, what would you be and why?

An espresso martini maybe? Anything coffee or espresso-based. Coffee fuels the creative soul.