Please tell us about yourself

Gopika graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Fine Arts, she started her career as both the visual designer and a volunteer teacher for The Art of Living Foundation. She is currently the Chief Creative Officer at Elefint Designs, which helps good causes create beautiful design that makes a difference.

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1. Tell me your design story.  How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

I went to the George Washington University for undergrad and was exposed to a lot of different types of people in D.C. I have always been interested in design and because of that felt somewhat out of place in college. My peers were aiming to work for the government or finance or consulting – and I wasn’t. I saw undergrad as a way to get technical skills that I could take into the real world and looked for ways to do so with art and design. It wasn’t until I studied abroad at Richmond, The American International University in London (Marketing/Advertising) London when I saw how design could help solve real-world problems.

After graduation, I went off the beaten path and volunteered full-time for the Art of Living Foundation. I traveled around North America teaching people how to meditate and be stress-free. As I was working there I realized that the organization had no marketing materials, business cards, etc. I saw this as a good opportunity to apply my design skills to help this organization better position itself and tell its story.

Within a couple of months, I created materials for the Foundation that were later translated and used internationally. It was so cool! I saw the power of design in non-profit organizations first hand from that experience.

I later joined an ad agency called Greenfield/Belser and then served as Art Director at Atlantic Media Company, both in Washington, DC. These experiences exposed me to another world of design where I was surrounded by incredible design talent. It was intimidating, but a great learning experience. After a few years, I realized that I ultimately wanted to use my design skills to have a greater impact and to work with causes that I cared about…

In June 2010, I went to Hawaii with four other Art of Living volunteers, to help the Foundation build out a marketing campaign and supporting design deliverables. We had a relatively short timeline and needed to focus entirely on this project, and so we all took time off work, flew to Kuaui for 5 days, and worked/played like crazy. We accomplished more in those five days – mapping out a plan, creating assets and materials, and generally just feeling great about the work we were doing. It was such a great – and rewarding – experience. Coming back from Hawaii, I started chatting with a friend who was out in Hawaii with me, about starting a design studio where we could help more good causes tell their stories through design. Within a matter of months we founded Elefint Designs, a studio that helps good causes create beautiful design that make a difference.

2. How do you view your design world?

My world at the moment consists of digital, print, interaction and information design.

A lot of our clients – NGOs and nonprofits – have incredible stories to tell, but struggle with execution. The data is there, it’s just a matter of visualizing this information in such a way that every day people can understand, and feel inspired to get involved. It’s been fun to experiment with different forms of media. We love data visualization and believe, when done right, inspires curiosity and expands ones’ understanding of a topic.

3. What do you think every designer should know?

Part A – I teach a visual communications class at the University of San Francisco. I am a firm believer that my students, designers and everyone else should understand the world better. This could range from learning more about economics, politics, among other topics. Your clients are probably NOT designers, being in tune with your clients will lead to better designs.

Part B – It is shocking how many designers don’t know how to code!

4. Do you have to know programming?

It’s an advantage to understand the world of code – the possibilities, restrictions, etc. Being able to code your own designs will give you an edge.

5. What resources do you recommend to LEARN design?

Here are a few of my go-to online resources I use for inspiration and to be part of the design community at large.

  • Dribbble
  • Behance
  • Communication Arts
  • Fast Company
  • Design Milk
  • Abduzeedo
  • Design Observer
  • Lynda

For inspiration, The Manual – a compilation of inspiring essays written by leading designers from around the world, and put together into a really well designed series called The Manual

Tufte’s books on data visualization and information design are amazing, both in execution and for the avid learner who wants to really understand data viz

In SF there are a lot of ways to learn design:

  • Cooper University
  • General Assembly
  • Bay Area Video Coalition
  • Meetups – attending or even hosting design meetups could help you meet local designers and be part of the community
  • AIGA – hosts open studios which is a great opportunity for students to get an inside look at different studios, their teams, and their work

6. What resources do you use NOW for design?

For my work I use:

  • Illustrator
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign (primarily to make reports)
  • Balsamiq (wireframes)
  • Good ole fashioned sketching on paper

I’m also a big fan of listening to podcasts to stay current with what’s happening in the world.

7. How do you get inspired?

I believe whenever people expose themselves to something new they can become inspired. For me, whenever I travel, I come back home and want to incorporate new ideas into my company and designs. Detaching yourself from your work is necessary to not get burned out. I also meditate twice a day which keeps me energized, clear-minded, and pretty happy most of the time 🙂

I feel lucky to get to work with inspiring people – my team and clients – and this definitely keeps me going as well. If you love what you do, then it doesn’t feel like work.

8. What advice would you give a young aspiring designer?

The world of design is pretty vast. Before deciding which area of design you want to pursue specifically, try to expose yourself to as much as possible. Take on side projects, talk to industry professionals, be proactive in understanding how the world works, stay curious – and keep strengthening your skills so that when the time is right you can jump right in!