University of Minnesota
Photos by David Mendolia.
Passion for pattern
Design fuels the whole world, says Amber Billings
By Bill Magdalene
This past spring, Amber Billings competed nationally with other college students to design a pack for Orbit gum. The second-year U of M graphic design student was named one of the eight contest winners. She received $5,000. And her design and signature appear on limited edition packs of Orbit's Melon Remix gum through February 2012.
Recently, Amber Billings discussed what inspires her design work.
Q&A with Amber Billings
Why did you enter the contest?
My academic adviser had sent us the link to this contest shortly after the spring semester had ended. I figured I would just try it because I really had nothing to lose and if I won, I would be $5,000 richer.
What were your first thoughts about the task?
I wanted to do something that would really show my style. I am obsessed with geometric shapes and patterns. A lot of the designs I do involve some sort of trapezoid. I also wanted it to be unique and eye catching. There were a lot of entries so I needed it to stand out. It was intimidating knowing that professional art directors and designers would be looking at my design.
How did you arrive at your idea?
I had just finished a color theory class when I did this design. In the class we made a lot of designs based off of a square module that was repeated. I definitely would not have won this contest without that class. The design I did is a square module repeated. I tried a few different ideas with different shapes before using the concept from the class.
Can you describe the concept?
I had looked at a bunch of other Orbit pack designs before starting. The newer ones had a lot of geometric shapes and patterns so I assumed this is sort of what they were looking for. The point of doing the pattern I did is to get away from focusing on an object or shape. When you look at my design, you follow the colors through the pathways created. As your eye moves around, you can experience all the different interactions going on between the colors.
Did you keep the sketches of your various attempts?
The only thing I have is the original pattern before I cut it down to the shape of the box. I think I just deleted all the other things I tried that I didn't like.
If a sixth grader asked you what a designer does, what would you say?
I find inspiration and make it into something that will inspire others.
How did you discover your creative path?
I have always been artistically talented. In elementary school, I was in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) art program. I don't remember how old I was but I remember the moment that I became inspired to actually do something with art. My aunt, who was in school studying graphic design at the time, brought some of her drawing pads over. There was this one drawing of a martini glass. I thought it was drawn so beautifully and perfect. I tried so hard to copy it, but it was never as good as what she had done. I knew I had to practice to get better so that is exactly what I did. I drew a lot and took as many art classes as possible. In high school, I took the one graphic design class that was offered and I knew if I could do that for the rest of my life, I would be perfectly happy.
What do you love about design?
My favorite thing about creating something is when someone else really likes what you've done. I don't mean when everyone in your class is like, "Oh, this is so cool!" or, "That's really good." I mean when you see someone really look at your work, when you can tell they really appreciate it. They take the time to see all the details and hard work you put into it. You feel like you've inspired them and, in turn, you become inspired as well. It's amazing knowing you have really influenced someone else, even in a small way.
Why is design important?
Design fuels the whole world. You can't look out your window without seeing something that wasn't designed for a specific purpose. Design inspires progress. I wouldn't be able to call my mother when I miss her if Alexander Graham Bell hadn't designed the telephone. You wouldn't be wearing the shirt on your back if someone hadn't designed it. I wouldn't have won this contest if someone hadn't designed chewing gum.
What's your big dream?
To have a job I love. Right now I am doing what I love so I seem to be headed down the right path. I would really like to do something with magazine layout or advertising. But now I'm thinking I should get in to package design. I seem to have a knack for that.
What do you do beyond academics?
My second love, besides design, is music. I go to shows when I have the money and I just recently started playing the ukulele to occupy my free time. Music is the inspiration for a lot of the work I do. I can't focus on a design without listening to a great song to motivate me.
Why the University of Minnesota?
I knew I wanted to major in graphic design when I started applying for school. The U has a great design program and not many other universities have graphic design as a major. I wanted to have the experience of a four-year college instead of an art school. I only applied to two schools, but I knew I wanted to come here. It's far enough away from my family so my mother can't ask me to go to lunch with her every weekend, but close enough so I can go home when I need to.
What's been key to your student experience?
Friends are really the key to anything in life. They are a source of motivation and support. It's always a difficult transition from high school to college. It was especially hard for me because my hometown is 6 hours away. I can't easily go home to see my family for the weekend. My friends here have been like a second family. I can always count on them to be there for me and tell me when I have charcoal on my face after 3 hours of figure drawing.
What inspires you in a teacher?
I love when teachers are really excited about what they do. They come to class with so much energy and do everything they can to get the students to participate and pay attention. It's really great when they genuinely care about the work you do and whether you attend class or not.
What inspires you in a student?
I'm really jealous of students who have everything figured out. They know exactly what they want to do with their life and can plan for it. They seem to know how to keep themselves in check, and can balance their academic and personal lives.
Any advice for others on the creative path?
Just do what you think is right. It sucks when a professor tells you that your work sucks, but you take their advice and make it into something good. Some people are going to hate your work, trust me, and others will love it. You just have to make sure that what you're doing is what you want to be doing. If you like what you've created, others will too. I wish I could say that it doesn't matter what other people think, but when it comes to design, it does.