3 Questions with Dawn Hancock
Designer and entrepreneur Dawn Hancock on keeping a beginner mindset, working with a team, and finding creative outlets in unexpected places.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
“Don’t be afraid to always be a beginner at something.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
Take risks. Try all kinds of things. And don’t be afraid to always be a beginner at something. We all start somewhere and it’s very easy to forget that when you’re in college or are just graduating. I think it’s very easy to fall into a place where you think just because you are done with college, that you are done learning or that the next step must be success. That kind of thinking only hurts your progress and ultimate mastery in whatever areas you’re looking to hone. If you continue to remember that you’re always a beginner at something while at the same time keep in mind that you’re many steps ahead of some people who are just learning about this area, you’ll stay fresh, hungry and keep a level head. And don’t forget to share what you’ve learned with those up-and-comers. We shouldn’t be in competition with each other, but rather help each other become better human beings.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
I decided about 6-7 years ago to let go of being a graphic designer on our team. There were a number of reasons, but the most significant was the realization that I could not do anything well if I was trying to do everything well. The designers that I was hiring were killing it. I was trying to run from meeting to proposal to email to phone call and never had time to work on the actual design. So because of that, my skills suffered and thus so did the work in the studio. I was a detriment to the people I was trying to help and ultimately, I was not helping either of us… so I decided to focus my energy on other pursuits like new business, managing clients, and making sure the business stayed afloat. While those may not sound like creative endeavors, I very much think that, like design, it’s all about problem solving. So while I’m not sketching layouts or retouching photos anymore, I am still solving our clients’ problems and in creative ways.
And I think the biggest thing that keeps me motivated is my team. They are the reason this whole thing works, and at such a high caliber. They inspire me every day with the work they do and the ideas they come up with. I’m constantly thinking to myself, “I could never have come up with that.” That said, I do still need my own creative outlets and travel and photography are two of my favorite things. And food. I love food + cooking + sharing it with others.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
Alluding to it above, I mentioned that I decided to let go of being a graphic designer… well, the story goes more like this: we were fired from a client (our brand new biggest one at the time) because, frankly, the work was not good. And I was the only person who was responsible for the particular project they were unhappy with. It was the writing on the wall that I had known for sometime before, but needed a kick in the ass to change.
I think it’s hard when you open your own studio because you think you can (and are supposed to) do it all. After all, you decided to start your own thing because you were better at some aspect of the business than your previous boss and the rest looked easy enough to figure out (at least that’s what I thought anyway). Oh, the lessons we learn. Ha!
Dawn Hancock knows that sustainable innovation and social responsibility are not simply badges or buzzwords. They are principles. Ways to live. Through the Foundation’s work and her civic and social engagement, Dawn is ceaseless in her dedication to building and inspiring, to connecting ideas to individuals, and individuals to each other. Upon joining the board of AIGA Chicago as Community Outreach Chair in 2009, Dawn seized upon the opportunity to create a free mentorship program available to the entire Chicago community. Each year, nearly 300 individuals from all areas come together in design therapy groups. They share their success stories as well as their missteps and questions, seeking and offering guidance regardless of career level. Together they form a community that believes, as Dawn does, that we are all in this together.