Melissa Carlson

My day job is being a graphic designer. My company is Melissa Carlson Creative.

I love the whole process of talking to a client and figuring out how to solve their design challenge. Some clients are new and need everything—the logo, the website, the branding. Others are established and need help on a project or taking their brand to a new place.

Annual reports—which, of course, go by lots of names today, like sustainability reports and accountability reports—are my favorite. I love that they encompass everything: photos, illustration, typography. It’s an interesting assignment to take what can often be a bit dry and straightforward and do something special with it.

And it’s especially fun when the project isn’t just a pdf but goes to print. I love the tactile aspect and the aesthetics of a beautiful print piece. I’m actually going to a paper show in a few weeks and I can’t wait—I’ll get to collect samples and go home and play!

My father was a creative director for a packaging and point-of-purchase company and his work was a source of inspiration for me. He was an artist who also understood the production aspects—creative and practical!—and I like to think I bring that same combination to every assignment.

I’ve worked as a freelance designer for much of my career and really enjoy the flexibility and the range of assignments it allows.

It’s been interesting to experience the impact of the computer on my field—and every field. It’s blurred the lines that used to be so distinct between the creative director, the art director, the graphic designer and the production artist. There are so many amazing things that can now be done quickly and well because of computers, but I also think there are some losses associated with it. For instance, the typographers have disappeared and they brought something special to a project. Just because each of us can have access to tools to be a photographer, a designer, a writer, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the skills and knowledge to play that role well.

My most memorable caffeine was my first French press coffee, courtesy of my son-in-law. I have a Bunn coffee maker, which gives me a whole pot of coffee in three minutes. But I love watching my son-in-law go through his process to make coffee with a French press. Plus, it’s delicious and very different from my typical coffee—it’s chewy and strong! I’ve started making myself a French press decaf, but only at night when I’m not in a rush and I can enjoy and appreciate it.

My current caffeine of choice is a light roast, typically with 2% milk. Though if I’m at a coffee shop and the choices are skim and half-and-half, I’ll go for the half-and-half. I sometimes enjoy a whole milk latte, which my hairdresser got me started on. The first time I tried one I ended up going back three days in a row to have another. And then I was surprised when my stomach said, “enough with the whole milk!”

My favorite place for caffeine is Helbach’s. I love their coffee, that they have an extension chord for my computer and that I see the same friendly faces every time I go in—the sign of a good employer. It doesn’t hurt that the owner’s name is also Melissa! It’s a place that feels genuine.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine are my grandmas. I’m especially struck by a desire to spend time with my relatives because we’ve had a lot of losses in our family the last few years. It makes you appreciate your traditions and wish you could have one last chance to sit down with loved ones.

Both of my grandmas were amazing cooks. My dad’s mom actually won a trip to Hawaii courtesy of her pineapple dessert recipe—and then she won another $10,000 prize once she got there. She took the whole family to Disney World!

My mom’s mom was a flapper. She played the piano by ear in the bars in the Dells. Her husband died young and she never remarried. To help support herself she’d rent rooms to the college kids who came to work on the Ducks or as waitresses in the summer. She always had company and she always seemed so happy. She lived to be 98.

My grandmas worked really hard but they also enjoyed life. And they enjoyed each other too—they even went to Vegas together! I’d love to have a cup of coffee with the two of them and ask all the burning questions I never had a chance to ask. I’d suggest that we make a batch of that pineapple dessert or those delicious cinnamon rolls so they could show me how it was done.

 World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  Pretty much anything—as long as we take the time to sit with someone and really see and understand them. I just finished reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography and she encouraged people to travel, see the world and understand how people live and what they need.

Eleanor felt that once you’d seen someone starving, you’d do something about it. She talked about all the committees she was on—for organizations like the U.N.—and the reality that people got so much more done when they just got together socially, instead of a meeting with a big agenda.