I first met Maya Bruck in 2008 when she and her friend Madeline Woods were conspiring to start a new design organization in town. We had lunch at Atlanta Bread Company and dreamed about bringing the local design community together. Before I knew it, the dream became a reality and they had launched CUDO.

Fast-forward to four years later and CUDO (aka Champaign-Urbana Design Organization) is now more than just a reality, it's an unstoppable creative force to be reckoned with. Over 100 people have become members of CUDO since its inception, so it's safe to say that CUDO is here to stay. As co-president of CUDO, Maya and her people have produced eight Pecha Kucha events, curated two art shows as part of the Boneyard Arts Festival, hosted three non-profit makeover charrettes (CUDO Gives!), and hosted numerous socials that have made connections with just about every design professional in town. CUDO and Parkland College (full disclosure: where I am currently a graphic design professor) have worked together on events like movie premieres (Typeface and the upcoming Linotype: The Film) and out-of-town field trips (Seek Design Conference and Wayzgoose Type Conference). I think it's time to nominate Maya Bruck as the "official" design ambassador for our community.


Recently, Maya asked me to join CUDO's board, so I get to see her every other week. What continually amazes me about Maya is that she has one mood: "up." I've never seen her in a bad mood or pissed off or say anything negative in any way. In fact, hanging around her gets you high by osmosis. Can one person be this positive all the time? Apparently the answer is a resounding "yes."

In preparation for Maya's upcoming presentation at Parkland's "Meet the Pros" lecture series, I asked her to answer a few questions over email. Here's what she had to say about her work and her life.

Smile Politely: What's your day job?

Maya Bruck: At Pixo, a technology, engineering, and design firm in Urbana (formerly know as OJC Technologies)

SP: What do you do at Pixo?

MB: I design websites, mobile apps, anything that requires a graphical user interface.

SP: What's it like to work there?

MB: It's great! One of my favorite parts is getting to be involved with our clients right from the get go. Pixo puts a really strong emphasis on getting to know our clients inside and out before we start the design process, and that allows me to design things that are actually useful and that will probably be around for a while. I love the process of learning what someone needs and wants, and then being able to make that come to life.

SP: Where did you go to school?

MB: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

SP: What did you study?

MB: I actually started out studying fine art – specifically installation/fiber art and printmaking.

SP: What led you to graphic design?

MB: It took me two years to realize I wasn't cut out to be an artist — I just don't have the drive to create work for myself. In my second year I took an artist book class that sparked an interest in graphic design. The next semester I switched my focus to design and discovered I absolutely love creating work for other people. My education was almost entirely print-based though. I ended up teaching myself web design and have learned most of the skills I use day-to-day on the job.

SP: As a visual person, how do you think of about the user experience?

MB: As a web designer, I think of the user experience as the most important part of my job. How many times have you been on a site that's absolutely gorgeous but was a total pain to use (here's looking at you, Flash sites)? You just close the tab and vow never to visit that site again. Of course I want the sites I design to look good, but the bottom line is that I want people to enjoy using them.

SP: What websites have you enjoyed using recently?

MB: I recently booked a room for an upcoming trip to Portland on airbnb.com, a new site that lets people rent out rooms in their homes to travelers. It was the most seamless web experience I've had to date, and I left not only with a room booked, but with an enormous appreciation for the designer's attention to detail. Every single thing I could think of wanting to do on that site was right there and easy to use. It was such a positive experience that I've been raving to all my friends about it, and I haven't even gone on my trip yet! That, to me, is success. When a person leaves delighted, satisfied, and wants to use your interface again.

SP: What is information architecture and how important is it to visual designers?

MB: This ties in really closely with the previous question. Information Architecture is designing the navigational structure of a site. The better your architecture, the better the user experience. I think it's a vital skill for visual designers to have if they're interested in web/app design.

SP: With web technology changing so fast, how do you keep up?

MB: I read blogs, I make friends with technology geeks who keep me up to speed, and I attend every conference/talk related to web design that I can get to. And even with all that I feel like I'm constantly one step behind. I've only just started working on my first responsive web site! I've been itching to design one since I heard about the concept almost a year ago at the U of I's webmaster forum.

SP: What's a responsive web site?

MB: A site that reformats itself based on the size of your browser. Responsive sites will often have 4-5 different layouts for the same content – each optimized for different screen sizes: large screens, small screens, tablets, mobile devices, etc. The Boston Globe's web site is one such example.

SP: Do you care to share any of your favorite blogs?

MB: Sure. For web design: smashingmagazine.com. For general design: pitchdesignunion.com and studio-sweet-studio.com. For interior design (I'm obsessed): designsponge.com and apartmenttherapy.com.

SP: When is web 3.0 coming and what will it look like?

MB: Oh gosh, I don't know. My guess is that it will be very mobile-focused, and that touch gestures will really inform how we design new interfaces.

SP: What does "community" mean to you?

MB: On the most basic level, people who I share an interest with and enjoy spending time with.

SP: Is that why you started CUDO?

MB: I co-founded CUDO with Madelin Woods and Christina Tapp in 2009 (we just celebrated our third anniversary!). CUDO came into existence because I was new to town and was looking to get involved in the local design community. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it's been one of the coolest things I've ever done. There are a LOT of really awesome people in C-U that I've had the pleasure of meeting through CUDO.

SP: As a fairly new arrival in Champaign-Urbana, what do you think of our town?

MB: I love living in Champaign. I certainly didn't expect to when my husband moved here and I followed him three years ago, but living in C-U has afforded me opportunities that I don't think I would have had elsewhere. Plus we've got great restaurants, the fastest growing food co-op in the country (Commond Ground), low real estate prices (I love my house!), and loads of culture. It's all a girl could ask for in a town, really. I do wish we had more walking-friendly areas though. And a few more hills.

SP: With your day job and taking care of CUDO, do you have time for anything else?

MB: Oh yes. Being a homebody. I love spending time at home with my husband, cooking, watching movies, having friends over, feebly attempting DIY projects. And when we're not at home, my husband and I take every chance we get to hike and do something nature related (we both grew up in Canada and are big on outdoorsy stuff).

SP: How does it feel to finally have a driver's license?

MB: Amazing. It was a marvelous day when I finally conquered my stick-shift phobia and actually learned to drive our car. I grew up and went to school in cities that have excellent public transit and walking is actually encouraged, so I never needed to get a license. It took me getting a job in Urbana and living on the outskirts of Champaign to finally buckle down (literally) and learn how to drive. I only waited till age 28. No big deal ;).

Maya Bruck will be speaking at Parkland College on Wednesday, April 11 at 12 noon in room C118. Maya's presentation is the sixth event of "Meet the Pros," a new lecture series sponsored by Graphic Design at Parkland College and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators and other commercial artists in our local creative community.