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Meet Carol Neiger of NeigerDesign and Strategic Marketing in Evanston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carol Neiger.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.

I loved to draw from the time I was a child. I was encouraged by my parents and took art lessons when I was a teenager from a local artist whose studio was at her farm. She gave me my first lessons that taught me “how to see” which is the essence of all art. In high school, I took as many art classes as possible and began to do calligraphy—in both English and Hebrew.

I was encouraged by my school counselor to attend a liberal arts college with a strong art and design program. I worked hard to prepare a portfolio during my senior year and was accepted into University of Cincinnati’s Design, Art and Architecture program (DAA, now DAAP).

I entered DAA as a Fine Arts major and had an amazing experience ranging from learning to draw the figure in “life drawing” and painting as well as the technical skills required for fine arts printmaking like lithography and intaglio.

My sophomore year in college I became interested in typography, which stemmed from my love of calligraphy and letterforms. I learned more about the Graphic Design major and became interested in double majoring but had a choice to make. UC has a very strong internship program that all design students participate in every other semester after sophomore year. The fine arts program required continuing to work in an intense studio program. DAA did not support double majors.

In order to be able to pursue fine arts and design together I applied to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was accepted as a junior transfer student. There I studied graphic design as well as painting and printmaking with one of my mentors, Michael Miller. https://artinprint.org/article/the-third-way-michael-miller-interview/

I had many internships during my college years, ranging from working for a typographer, the design department at Quaker Oats, and Gregory Fossella Associates in Boston. The importance of internships in the design profession is invaluable. It is because of my internship positions that I grew more quickly early in my professional life.

I had wonderful mentors in my early career. After graduating from SAIC, I freelanced for a summer at The Design Partnership in Bruce Beck’s studio working under the direction of Rick Valicenti. I also met and freelanced for the other partners, Hayward Blake and Jack Weiss. From there, I worked at Robert Case & Associates, a package and product design firm. My early jobs in design taught me a great deal. We worked very long hours often logging between 70-80 hours a week. That part was not easy as it gave me absolutely no time to have any balance in my life, and most importantly, no time to paint.

I found my next job while admiring award-winning work in Communications Arts Magazine. Barry Slavin of Slavin Associates influenced me with his talent, great sense of humor and family commitment. It was there that I began to form a model in my mind about what makes a great workplace. Slavin Associates was a boutique design studio where I was given the freedom to exercise my management skills both with projects and people and expand my design branding experience. I honed my skills in the practice of design and simultaneously became interested in the business of design.

Has it been a smooth road?
I worked for Slavin Associates for 7 years. I stayed for a year after the birth my first daughter, Eve. The struggle of balancing a demanding design career, a long commute, and taking care of a family was taking a toll. And, always lurking in the background was my extreme frustration at not being able to pursue art.

I decided to start my own business.

I realized that I had always loved business and I guess you can say I was entrepreneurial from an early age. My first business was creating and running a neighborhood art camp when I was in 7th grade. I employed at least 3 of my 5 sisters to be my staff. (I probably still owe them wages!)

Struggles continue to exist in many forms. One is the road chosen when a road splits in two directions. To get good at something takes hard work. The challenge of incorporating both the business of graphic design and the development of a strong fine arts studio practice has been my lifelong struggle.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with NeigerDesign & Strategic Marketing – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.

NeigerDesign was born in 1989. It’s hard to believe we are beginning our 29th year. We are a woman-owned agency (WBE certified) focusing on providing innovative solutions to complex challenges for businesses, associations, and non-profit organizations. We are a single source for brand-building from strategy development through actualization at every customer touch point: from integrated marketing strategy and brand strategy to every form of tactical implementation.

Though our clients range in size, from non-profits to start-ups to large global companies, but they all share one thing in common—they understand that “design thinking” and strategic planning can help reshape their brand and drive the success of their organization.

Through a synthesis of ideas, words, and images, our team of strategists, designers, content creators and web developers work collaboratively to create the story that brings a brand to life.

There’s a lot of process that goes into our work. Our team values the back-end research that goes into the successful design solutions. We learn about our clients and help frame their challenges using mind-mapping to sort out complex situations. In many ways, our job is to make the complex simple. One of the reasons all designers at NeigerDesign work on every project in a sketchbook first is to solve the problem. The idea must come first. And that concept must be borne of knowledge—knowledge of the problems, obstacles, as well as the opportunities that are present.

What sets us apart?

1. There are two walls I’m trying to break down. One is between fine arts and graphic design and the other is between design and marketing. In the old days, a design firm did design. Our work is informed by both a marketing sensibility on one hand and a fine arts sensibility on the other hand. Neither of those things was traditionally associated with graphic design when I got into the profession—in the days of “commercial art.” At that time you did one or the other. You need to have an artist’s sensibility to do great design. You need to have a marketer’s sensibility to identify, focus on and achieve results. Trying to do both completes the circle of wholeness for me.

2.Another way we are set apart is our constant reinvention. One example of this reinvention when I tried to resolve the struggle of finding time to increase my fine arts practice and expand NeigerDesign at the same time. To facilitate this reinvention, we retained a consultant specializing in organizational development, Nehama Morton, (https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Nehama+Morton_Evanston_Illinois_151107), to conduct a fun series of workshops with the entire staff of NeigerDesign. The goal was to get “unstuck” and incorporate more things that have deep meaning to each one of us in our work and life. The outcome was Studio//Shift http://www.neigerdesign.com/studio-shift.

Studio//Shift is an art collaborative of NeigerDesign team members and alumni. It is a catalyst for creative growth and a channel for idea and information sharing. Whether it’s painting, writing, acting, fashion or jewelry design, we encourage and promote each other’s personal artistic passions. This ignites and fuels the creativity and problem-solving talents that we employ in our daily work lives at NeigerDesign. Each designer/artist contributes a distinctive perspective and style. The give and take of collaboration energizes all of us and provides a wellspring of creative solutions, personally and professionally.

3. Another example of our reinvention was to become a HubSpot Agency partner, which allowed us to expand our tools, expertise and analytic tools for inbound marketing. Our work is also informed by a marketer’s sensibility. There are no good solutions without discovery, strategy and results analysis. We now can really live up to our tagline: Brands that stand out. Results that stand up.

4. At NeigerDesign we want everyone to feel like owners, not renters. We want people who work here to want to grow and make sure they have room to grow. It is up to the individual to discover their interests and up to me as the owner to give them space to thrive. If someone comes to me with an idea and they want to do something that will help them feel fulfilled and help the office grow, the answer is a resounding “yes”! I concur with the thoughts of Kenneth Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” One of our team collaboration and growth opportunities is our annual Summer Fun Day. Each employee comes up with an idea that will improve our design practice. It could be any topic from international design trends to how to improve our blogging and social media strategy. These topics are researched, presented and then implemented throughout the following year by each employee. The day commences with several hours of these presentations and for the rest of the day we enjoy all that Chicago has to offer for a fun, enriching day together.

Past summer fun day activities have included “Behind the Scenes in the design departments of Chicago’s great Museums http://www.neigerdesign.com/insights/blog/blog-post/item/summer-fun-by-design, biking through the historic Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Oak Park, “Devil in the White City” tours, canoe survivor challenges, glassblowing workshops, and this year we will explore ethnic Chicago as each of us will express our connection to EthniCity in Chicago. Watch our blog for our individual poster interpretations http://www.neigerdesign.com/insights/blog/.

5. Design for Social Action and giving back to the community has always been important to us. At NeigerDesign we understand the importance of community to us as individuals and as an organization. It starts with our commitment to maintaining a culture of work/life balance, knowing that each of us needs to nurture the many aspects of our lives in order to focus our passion where it does the most good.

Although each of us is a member of many communities, including family, neighborhood, social, religious or spiritual, special interests, etc., as an organization we focus our giving back to the Evanston Community, the Chicago community, organizations for individuals living with disabilities, and the design community.

6. We love Evanston! NeigerDesign has been a member of the Evanston community since 1989. Some of us live here, some live nearby, but we all work, dine, shop and enjoy entertainment here. It is with a sense of pride that we contribute our talents to supporting this wonderful community.

One of our Evanston passion projects is The Creative’s Guide to Evanston. Spearheaded by marketing strategist Denae DiVincenzo and designer Jessica Morrow, along with the help of two talented summer interns, Hayley St. Germain and Whitney Colley, The Creative’s Guide to Evanston is a city guide created by and for creative people. It is meant to direct people to all of the truly inspiring and unique places in our city. Whether you’re just visiting, moving into your dorm at Northwestern, or are a lifelong Evanstonian, you will find somewhere unique to eat, shop, listen, enjoy, or create in Evanston http://connect.neigerdesign.com/creatives-guide-to-evanston-home.

Other examples of “giving back” passion projects have included designing posters for the 606 Trail and creating new branding for Anixter Center.

http://www.neigerdesign.com/insights/blog/blog-post/item/designing-for-a-new-urban-development

http://www.neigerdesign.com/insights/case-studies/case-studies-posts/item/rebranding-disabilities

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Chicago is a beautiful city, rich in its design and architectural history. I’ve been to many amazing art museums but I still think the Art Institute of Chicago is second to none. I love the mix of ethnicity and the food that goes along with that! What I like least about the city is the traffic and how difficult that makes it to get away from the city when I need a break.

Where do you see, your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc.?
The world will, without a doubt, get even more digital, though a part of me wonders if it will come full circle. It is tough to get noticed in an environment of limitless space. I wonder if we will come back to a printed world.

With the prevalence of automated tools like website and logos becoming commoditized, the artistry and the marketing power of differentiation is in danger of disappearing. That too will cycle. Who wants a world of replication? We are attracted to beauty and although sameness may seem easy, or more affordable and “safe,” safety does little to stretch a person, light their imagination and fuel emotional responses. At NeigerDesign we work against that approach every single day and hope we are contributing to creating a more beautiful and meaningful world.

Contact Info:

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