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Behind the design: my mabl origin story

byMichaela O'Neil

I graduated from Fordham University this past May with a degree in New Media and Digital Design. New Media and Digital Design was a relatively new major integrating computer science, visual arts, and communications studies – perfect for the indecisive person that I am. After completing Fordham’s rigorous core curriculum, I spent the rest of my time learning everything from typography and branding to motion graphics and web development. Like many other recent graduates, a quarter–life crisis soon came and I was plagued with the question, “What are you going to do with your life?” My degree granted me enough experience to cover most job applications’ requirements, but I knew my existential plight would continue if I chose to work at any place that just needed me to slap a logo on something and call it a day.

 

Along came mabl.

I decided my job search would be most productive in the start–up/tech field. To me, these companies had the most promise of an innovative role where I could grow as both a designer and a person. As a graphic designer looking for a job, you kind of have to judge a book by its cover. I used my best judgement to determine which companies I could vibe with and which ones feigned me zero interest. Covering all the bases, I applied to both internships and salaried jobs. I discovered mabl on internships.com, advertising a Graphic Design Intern role that seemed tailored to my exact qualifications and needs.

Right off the bat, mabl’s aesthetic was different than most – it was clean, colorful, and my favorite part – it didn’t take itself too seriously. I was also intrigued to see a software company seeking someone with experience with graphic illustration. I knew I liked their style and luckily, the feeling was mutual. I was asked to interview after sending in my online portfolio.

During the interview I was asked, “Well, what drew you to mabl?” I didn’t know how to word it eloquently then, but I just knew I could do something with it. Again, they saw some of that same potential in me and I was offered the internship.

 

Making mabl my own

In one of my first meetings with my mentor Chou, I was asked the head–spinning question, “What inspires you?” I was taken by surprise – in my four years of college, I don’t think I was asked that question once. It was strange having to put something so broad into words, but I knew then mabl would give me some serious help on the search for my creative identity.

Taking note from the talent at HelpScout, I sought inspiration from my surroundings and chose to take my designs outside the well–defined realms of the tech world. In truth, I had no connection to the barren landscapes and robotic characters that seem to dominate web pages across the industry. Looking back now, it was mabl’s departure from that kind of imagery that drew me to the company in the first place. Thankfully, Chou shared the same line of thinking. She encouraged me to stay away from clichéd images of technology and let me define my own relationship with our product and whatever I was making. I am an animal lover at heart and have always been drawn to scenes of nature. In case you haven’t checked out our blog page, it’s slowly starting to reflect that. 

Of course, you can’t use an animal reference or natural landscape for everything. However, finding out how to incorporate my personal style outside of subject matter has been an exciting and challenging part of the job. I was most attracted to organic shapes, and to me, an illustration never feels complete to me without adding shadows for depth and highlights to demonstrate natural light. With Adobe Create Suite at my disposal, I began experimenting with tools I never knew existed – things like the drop shadow effect, inner and outer glows, and burning and dodging on graphic elements – not just photographs as I had previously been doing. 

style-1 style-2

final-product

Style 1: basic graphic illustration; no shadows or highlights Style 2: burn/dodge tool used in Photoshop to add dimension Final design: drop shadow and inner glow effect used to add dimension

Another freeing aspect of the job is how I’ve been encouraged to expand upon my designs to include animation. I would think most companies would advise me to spare the time experimenting in After Effects if the static image will do, but having the option to animate my illustrations has made me think about them more actively – about placement, movement, and the story they tell. 

css-selectors
Animation for CSS Selectors Webinar

I am still figuring out what I like and what I can do to make my style unique, and mabl has been a place where I can push myself outside of my comfort zone and explore what I’m able to create. At the end of last month, I was asked to be full–time. As much of a sigh of relief as it was, I don’t want to get stale or too comfortable in my role. I've been trying to look at every project as an exercise in skill and personal expression. As mabl grows, I’m sure I will too and I’m eager to see how my designs will reflect that. My goal is to keep learning as much as I have in these past couple of months for the rest of my time here. I know mabl is the company to help me push those boundaries.

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