I've known Vanessa Burgett for almost ten years. When she first showed up in one of my graphic design classes at Parkland College where I am a professor, she was only 22 years old. She immediately struck me as someone cut from a different cloth because she was fearless about speaking up. Not only did she ask questions no one else asked, she also liked to argue with me during critiques. And she argued well, always defending her position with strong evidence and sometimes even winning the argument. I have fond memories of those days when students were less timid. I don't know why, but for some reason students always seem to believe everything I say these days.

When Vanessa graduated from Parkland in 2003, she joined the board of the now-defunct Ad Club of Champaign-Urbana and volunteered her time to chair their annual awards show. I was also on the board at that time and I was witness to her "can-do" attitude as she managed to pull off one of the best awards shows in the Ad Club's history. As a recent graduate, Vanessa had very little experience under her belt. Yet, she fearlessly dived in and designed the promotion materials, found the judges, supervised the jurying process, and produced (along with her then-fiancée Doug Burgett) a hilarious awards ceremony presentation that had everyone in stitches. After the awards ceremonies, she also created a web site that showcased all the winners from that year. No other student of mine has done so much with so little resources and, best of all, she did it with a smile.

As a direct result of being on the Ad Club board, Vanessa was offered a job by another board member. From there, she grew from one job to another and finally landed at what many local designers consider the primo design job in Champaign-Urbana: working for Krannert Center and promoting the arts.

Vanessa and I see each other at least once a year because she is a key member of the graphic design advisory board at Parkland College that meets annually to advise us on industry trends. We also had some opportunities to interact professionally since I occasionally do freelance projects for Krannert Center. In all our interactions, Vanessa has been a "pro" in every sense of the word. Her high level of integrity as a person as well as a professional has always shone through brightly.

In preparation for Vanessa'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 job and her work.

Smile Politely: What do you do at Krannert Center?

Vanessa Burgett: I design most of the motion graphics that appear on the three monitors in our lobby. I also work on our TV commercials along with print and web projects.


SP: How did you get this very desirable job?

VB: I'd like to think it's through hard work. I have always been driven to learn and progress in my skills as a designer. I feel I've done that in prior jobs and I continue to do that in my job at Krannert Center.

SP: What's it like to work at Krannert Center?

VB: It's great. As part of the Marketing team, we're all always busy with a variety of projects, which can be very involved, but also very rewarding. I like knowing that my job helps to support the arts and sustain having the Center as a resource in Champaign-Urbana.

SP: What did you study in college?

VB: I completed the Art and Design foundation courses at the University of Illinois and went on to graduate with a Rhetoric degree. During my last year at the U of I, I decided to double up my efforts and go to Parkland to earn an associate degree in graphic design.

SP: What did you learn at Parkland?

VB: I learned that what you get out of anything in life is equal to what you put into it. Parkland is a great resource and their graphic design program is very accessible and inclusive. I'm not sure I would have been able to successfully pursue being a graphic designer in Champaign-Urbana otherwise.

SP: Did you study motion design in school?

VB: I didn't. I think the closest I came to using motion in school was creating animated GIFs which I am still a big fan of.

SP: How did you learn to think in a time-based environment?

VB: I'm still learning. As a graphic designer, I think the easy part for me is making an image and coming up with different ways it can move and transition through space. The more challenging part is coming up with the story and mapping out the plan for the bigger picture.

SP: What do you mean by "a story"?

VB: The story is the through-line or the overall message for the piece. Or more abstractly, it's what connects one sequence of images to the next.

SP: How is designing for motion different than designing for still images?

VB: Determining the flow and storyboarding out your ideas makes it different. It's nice to have that plan in place before working on a motion graphics piece, because unlike still images, it can be challenging to make larger edits. Knowing the bazillion ways you can save a video and figuring out how to compress it can be an art in and of itself.

SP: So do you "storyboard" everything before you begin animating?

VB: Figuring out a way to communicate what the plan is before animating is really important. On some projects, I have worked with storyboards that actually end up looking more like scripts since they are more written than drawn. Fine-tuning the process, for motion projects or otherwise, is an interest of mine. I think there is always room for improving and growing. Right now the workflow varies based on the project's team, but usually we go from discussing ideas to creating clips of a working video.

SP: Since sound is such an important aspect of the finished product, how do you go about designing the soundtrack?

VB: At Krannert Center, we are really fortunate to have our audio director on staff who can serve as part of the television advertising team. For all other projects, I usually weigh whether or not there should be sound (i.e., do small web clips on the web need audio or is that annoying to the user?). Sometimes I also work with royalty-free music sites.

SP: What is the difference between animation and motion graphics?

VB: I always think of animation as cartoons, but I know that's not accurate. I'd say that they're close to being synonymous, except motion graphics can also include video footage where animation wouldn't. That's my two cents, definitely not the technical answer.

SP: Can motion enhance any type of visual communication?

VB: You need to be intentional about choosing the appropriate media for the various parts of your communication plan — you don't want to make things move for the sake of making them move. Motion can enhance your message if, for example, you have a story to tell or you want to engage your audience on a deeper level.  

SP: Did you study film history?

VB: In school, but not much of it stuck. I do enjoy watching movie title sequences, for both contemporary and older films.

SP: Where do you find inspiration for motion graphics?

VB: On the web, TV, movies, photography, happy mistakes. I like what MTV and the Sundance channel do with their graphics.

SP: Do you see everything moving in the future?

VB: That would be way too overstimulating and everyone would have vertigo. The advertising world seems to be moving in the direction of intrusive. Wow, that's dark. Let's go with the more hopeful answer, "no."

SP: What do you do for fun?

VB: I'm a Catsnap volunteer so I periodically trap stray cats for their Trap, Neuter, Return program (you may see me lurking in some odd spots around Champaign-Urbana with a trap). Also, my husband and I like to go hiking and to travel. My last trip was to Montreal this past December to plan for UCDA's Design Conference. Montreal is a cool city with so much charm. I am really looking forward to going back in October for the conference.



Vanessa Burgett will be speaking at Parkland College on Wednesday, January 25, at 12 noon in room C118. Vanessa's presentation is the fourth 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.