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My name is Dani Nordin, and I run a graphic/web design and branding studio called the zen kitchen in Somerville MA. My goal is to help clients create a brand that tells their story in a way that relates to their audience as human beings, not as just another demographic. In addition, I help my clients promote themselves in ways that have less harmful ecological consequences by supporting sustainable printing practices and finding ways to provide more information via the Web, which reduces paper waste. On less overly business-minded notes, my various passions include photography, cooking (which is part of the reason my studio is called “the zen kitchen”—my monthly newsletter includes a recipe, always from my own kitchen), yoga, most things spiritual and/or holistic, and looking for new ways to both fuel my creativity and give back to the community. I’m also a somewhat obsessive learner and sharer of things learned, which often results in more stress than it needs to—but I’m working on that! Apparently I also like to invent words—is “sharer” a word?

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
Working at kinko’s when I was in college (back in 1995), I got really bored one day and decided to ask the Computer Services guy how to scan things. From there, I started teaching myself Photoshop, and then Quark. After leaving kinko’s to work at a mortgage company for a couple of years, I experimented with a few different design things while keeping the rent paid, until I decided one day in about 2000 that I was a designer and that was going to be it. I ended up going back to kinkos. Didn’t stay long there, but it got me on the path and I haven’t looked back since.

Who or what inspires you?
My yoga practice. Nature. The photography of Nan Goldin. The paintings of Edvard Munch and Kathe Kollwitz. I like art (especially photography) that expresses emotion and shows snippets of real life, as it’s happening. I love the work of Milton Glaser, the stuff at CSS Zen Garden, actual zen gardens, anything that can teach me something I didn’t already know, or show me a way of doing something I hadn’t thought of before. Kerouac, the Beatles, Sarah McLachlan and Jim Croce (I always listen to Croce when I draw). And Jeffrey Zeldman is my lord and master—he is the reason I do websites, and I actually like doing them.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I am, in fact, almost entirely self-taught—I had been doing design off and on for about four years when I decided to go to school for it, but I wasn’t able to finish my degree due to budget issues. I started out as a theatre major, actually—but I’d always been creative in one way or another. I was always singing or acting out weird skits when I was growing up, and then at 15, I discovered writing and fell in love. About the same time I found acting, but I found myself ultimately unwilling to put up with the body image issues an acting career forces on you, so I focused on design instead. Now, I find every opportunity for self-learning and creative challenge I can—I recently discovered a few online that I’ve started contributing to.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
There are a few magazines I read every month—Print, HOW, and Yoga Journal are the ones I read most often, and there’s a new environmental magazine called Plenty that I really like—amazing articles about green life. I also spend time on Speak Up, the HOW forums, and occasionally Design Observer, and I’ve recently become somewhat addicted to the articles at Creative Latitude. In addition to reading about design, I also spend a lot of time reading about things that matter to me—sustainable living and organic food are two of my pet causes, as well as domestic violence and equal rights. Wind energy is another current fascination of mine—there’s a scientist in Australia who may have discovered a way to harness the power of the jet stream to produce renewable energy at 90 percent efficiency (modern windmills are currently only at about 35 percent efficiency) for as little as one cent per kilowatt hour! I like the idea of renewable energy, of processes that sustain themselves rather than sucking the life out of the earth without giving anything back.

What are some of your current projects?
I’ve been getting a TON of web work lately—I just finished two sites, and I have one in process (for the Picklepot, a craft store in Salem, MA) and another one that’s due to begin development soon. I also get a good amount of work from Virgin Life Care, which runs a web application that helps you track your workouts in health clubs and gives you rewards for healthy behavior. On a more business-centered note, I’ve been re-focusing my marketing plan, and working on getting more print work, which is really my first love. And I’ve been writing—blog entries, poems, articles, etc.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Definitely, my favorite work is the work I did for Branches Fine Gifts— (whose logo will be featured in the next edition of LogoLounge) and Sojourner House—, a Providence RI domestic violence agency. The Branches stuff got me to try my hand at illustration, ad copy, and product photography; Sojourner House gave me an opportunity to bring broader exposure and a more professional image to the great work the organization does. In addition, both clients helped me learn how to make the best of a tight budget, and I got to use my own photography in many of their pieces.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I can honestly say I’ve never designed an entire book or magazine before (aside from my poetry chapbooks, but I don’t count those—they’re hideous). I’d love to try it!

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Learn everything you can, but don’t make this your life. Your life informs your design; it shouldn’t be the other way around. Find other things you love and work that inspiration into the design you do. I’m still learning this lesson.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
Ultimately, what makes a piece successful is not whether a client loves it (although trust me, that makes life easier), but whether the client’s AUDIENCE loves it—and how they express that love. Some of the best compliments I’ve gotten on my work have been from clients who tell me how often the work I do for them gets praised.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I’m still working on the right answer to this one. Yoga is a big one—I try to make sure I do it at least three times a week, if not daily. Also, making sure I don’t over-book myself (which is a trend), and making sure I get to have a social life that isn’t just business networking.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
LOST!!!! It’s flipping addictive. Even American Idol I can forget to watch after a while and be fine (although, being a bit of a karaoke diva from way back, I still enjoy it when I do get to see it).

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