Interview with Megan Bowker

Megan Bowker is a practicing graphic designer who is interested in evolving beyond our current definition of those words. After years of practicing commercial design at scale for top branding agencies, she has began an independent practice seeking unlimited and non-traditional applications of these skills.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Well hello, my name is Megan Bowker. I am a creative person living and working in New York City. I am endlessly curious, energized, optimistic, and would have a drink with anyone reading this to tell you more.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Wasilla, Alaska—a small town about an hour outside of Anchorage. I had a super—what I’ve come to learn is—rare, upbringing. 

I grew up hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, swimming. Very beautiful. Very remote. Very wild. But in other ways, also very regular “American midwest suburb with strip malls and high school drama”—just sub Sarah Palin as a neighbor.

Why and when did you move to New York?

I moved to New York in 2014 to study graphic design at SVA.

At the time I was more certain than anything in the world that I wanted to pursue a career in design. And if I wanted to be serious about it, I needed to be at the center of the industry. I had to get crafty with transferring credits and taking a year off to save because it’s so expensive to go to art school in the states, but I was single-mindedly focused on getting there. It was a strategic move to get plugged into the industry, and it worked—in terms of the internships and jobs I was able to land after graduating. 

Now that I’ve been through the industry, and seen the top, I’m questioning what other ways might exist to practice "design" outside of branding agency models.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in design?

Wow. It’s the ultimate love story. 

I’m so lucky to have discovered a career that is in line with the purest essence of my desire which is—to seek, share, broaden, and change perspective(s). 

Luckily for me, there are commercial applications of this skill. But these days, what I’m interested in is less conventional—but still value-based—applications of this skill. I’m interested in understanding how we might generate value based on uncommisioned applications of creativity.

Contrary to common belief, this discipline is supremely elusive and malleable. While our text books seemed to define the beginning of the discipline as Bauhaus, which transofrmed into “commercial art” in the 60’s (think Mad Men), visual design and communication has been an essential aspect of human existence for as long as we have communicated with one another. The pace at which the industry of design is evolving is equal parts frightening and exciting—even for a self-proclaimed optimist. The rate of change we’re seeing with technology and culture today is causing designers’ and studios' output to become irrelevant faster than they can create it.

The evolution of this discipline is something I am very keen to both witness and help shape.

How would you describe your creative process?

My life is my creative process.

I’m still shaping it.

Some things I’ve learned: 

- Always start with an idea.

- Allow things the time they need.

- Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter.

- Don’t be afraid to talk about ideas before they’re fully formed.

- Challenge yourself more.

- Judge yourself less.

How much does your city and surroundings affect your creative output?

Endlessly.

Because exposure to new inputs shapes creative output. Every day my perspective here is broadened because I am exposed to both new and old ideas and inputs. In New York you are inundated with the most concentrated, diverse, and vibrant culture.

Culturally, socially, conceptually… 

Of course, the visual inputs here are vast and infinite. But this is the type of input I am least focused on. All visual culture is fascinating. But meaning, intention, and context get overshadowed, or unattended because the gaze is valued over all. Everyone wants to look at the glossiest, flashiest, shiniest new thing. But where is this leading us? Are we getting distracted?

Why are we making things? Who are they for? Why do they deserve to exist? 

We should really be more critical. I am guilty of this.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like New York? 

This is an interesting question. It’s also hard for me to answer because I don’t struggle living or working here. I fully love it.

The thing you hear over and over is “rent’s expensive”—but that’s just part of learning to navigate this city. The thing I probably struggle with the most is trying to maintain an abundance mindset in what often feels like a scarcity mindset city.

I also think in New York we can lose perspective of the broader culture and feel overly important. We have to keep perspective. Remember to have everyone else’s best interest in addition to our own.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that still evident in New York?

What a nice idea…

For every city to provide a solid foundation of art and design. New York is blessed in that sense with the amount of exposure and resources there are to the arts and creative endeavors between public museums, galleries, film, theater. 

But education in America is sadly broken and the arts are the first to get cut, no matter what city you live in. This is something I care deeply about as I think about fostering new creative minds and talent. I'm interested in finding ways that we can collectively invitie and mentor young people to join creative industries intentionally and meaningfully.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

I think artists and creatives carry significant responsibility in every sense of the word. 

But with an increasingly global world and economy I think that responsibility often extends well beyond our cities. Asking ourselves— who is on the other side of the project I'm working on? And do I have their best interest in mind?

The influence we hold as creative people is so extreme. The world follows artists. They are visionary. Pioneers. Directing that power towards goals beyond sales would be a good place to start.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about every project I touch. Because there is overlooked potential, meaning, and value in literally every opportunity that seeks out a creative person’s input. 

However, after working at a branding agency for over six years, I’ve recently become inspired by projects that don’t serve the primary function of sales. I’ve started a project with Kendall Henderson of Please Respect Our Neighbors called “Stop Designing”. It’s the beginning of a collaborative effort to test some of these new applications of design. Our goal is to have an ongoing series of projects that blur the line between art and design by creating outside the context of the client > service provider dynamic in service of those who deserve design services but cannot afford it.

More to come. 

If you could add or change something about New York, what would that be?

No more brokers.  

What would be your dream project?

Probably some kind of school-like setting where I could be a cross between mentor / teacher / coach / motivational speaker. And add value to any noble creative endeavor that rewards all contributors equitably.

In other words, help shape the future of the design industry. I’m working on it.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

The next Virgil.

He didn’t operate within confines or expectations. He was unapologetic. He was visionary. 

How many people have his ideas that aren’t being heard, seen, or given opportunities? He was expansive. He broke down boundaries. And no one could or can ignore his impact. He creatively expanded everyone's world. For better.

In that sense, more than collaborate, I want to support and pool resources and effort with other creative people who have shared values. To organize, mobilize, and inspire others to do things better than I or anyone could alone.

What do you do to switch off?

I’m not sure what that means, or why I would want to. 

I never want work to feel like a thing I go to or leave. But for the energy in my life to feed my work and my work to feed my life. I’ve also learned to try my hardest not to judge myself for days that I feel “off” (unmotivated, uninspired) because things take time. Patience, consistency and diligence. Do a little bit every day. 

What Does Home Mean to You?

Home is where the heart is. Cliche? I don’t think so. 

Home is belonging. It's what, where, or who you decide to invest in—the unique confluence of people, places, or ideas you decide to spend time, effort and energy on that also support you back.

And home can change. The amazing thing is you can have many homes! Home is not singular.

Describe the perfect day for you in New York.

A perfect day in New York is never the same. It’s the potential and unpredictability of where a day can or will go and the connections you’ll make along the way. 

This Wednesday, it’s picking up a flat white on my way to get a McGriddle on my way to the studio—sharing an affirming nod with the MTA driver on the commute home—and then sitting down to write an interview I’ve put off, but in which I get to share your innermost goals and dreams.

Last Saturday, it’s walking home from Basement with my best friends at 8am, sleeping til noon, waking up to my neighbors grilling fish on the roof and ending the night cooking marshmallows for s’mores while exchanging our favorite recent films and listening to 2003 Greatest Hits.

I don’t know what the next perfect day look like, but it’s probably tomorrow.
And the next day.

megan bowker - mixtape

It probably goes without saying, that we listen to different music every day, but one thing I seem to come back to while I'm working is jazz and instrumental. Perhaps because it’s good for both making things with my hands, but also good for thinking, speaking, or writing, which are equally (or sometimes) more important in the work I'm doing.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does New York evoke a personal smell to you?

The exhaust coming from the restaurant on the ground floor of my apartment building. Or Chinatown streets in the summer that smell like garbage. 

It’s endearing.

If you weren’t living in New York and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

It’s funny—I used to think about living in another place as a fantasy, but now the idea is so achievable with remote work. I really like the idea of being able to bounce around. 

A friend once told me, you belong everywhere and nowhere. I like the idea of living everywhere and nowhere too. To endlessly spend time in new places and keep broadening the range of experiences you have. To never feel fixed. Permanent. 

I’m about to spend a good chunk of time in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi for a design project. Then I’m going to visit Japan for the first time in Naoshima and Tokyo. 

Lately Lisbon has been on my mind.

Hopefully I'll get to live in a few.

new york by Megan Bowker

A selection of places in New York - Recommended by designer, Megan Bowker. See Megan's citylikeyou profile page here

www.meganbowker.com

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