Community building with a creative bent
Suzanne Calkins, a senior designer at 2A, always knew she wanted to follow a creative path. After earning her degree in studio art, she first worked as a studio assistant to professional artists. But something was missing. “I was drawn to educational environments and the community-building aspects of art,” she says. This landed her in the role of junior designer at a music and performing arts school.
Driven by the desire to contribute, Suzanne also took a part-time job at a community arts nonprofit, which required her to commute hours from her home in Los Angeles to Joshua Tree and other small towns in California. She fell in love with those small desert and mountain towns and eventually left the city to settle in one of them. “I wanted to feel connected to the work I was doing and the effect it was having in the community,” she adds. “I can feel this impact much better in small towns. I ended up in a town where I could experiment and try a lot of different things when it comes to community building and the arts.”
After a detour in environmental education, Suzanne found her way back to art as a freelance graphic designer. Eventually, she found 2A, whose community-centered values reflect her own. A natural collaborator, Suzanne was drawn to 2A’s culture. “I was impressed by how well everyone worked together,” she notes.
A collaborative approach to design
Suzanne enjoys the camaraderie of the creative brainstorming process. She also appreciates 2A’s approach to design projects. “Coming into a team with good processes in place and great communication has allowed me to fall back in love with graphic design,” she explains.
A great listener, she delights in engaging with her clients, learning their vision, and understanding the emotional impact they want to make. “I love this phase because it allows me to pull in the storytelling element,” she says. She also has a knack for seeing the big picture while also managing the details—a skillset she honed as a freelance designer.
Suzanne draws on her community-building skills when feeling out the aesthetic direction her clients want to go in—innovative and experimental, stylized, techie, human-centered, or something else—even if they don’t initially know. “Sometimes clients have a hard time verbalizing exactly what they want, so my role is to guide the conversation in a way that pulls out the core of what they’re trying to say,” she says. She then collaborates with fellow 2A designers to bring those ideas to life—whether it’s an infographic or ebook, or a full-blown visual identity.
Finding inspiration everywhere
Outside of work, Suzanne finds inspiration in the natural environment that surrounds her home near the Sierra Nevada foothills. She also enjoys volunteering at her local radio station, where she hosts a show that spotlights talented, lesser-known artists. “I love nerding out about music—going to live shows and finding new artists to listen to. DJing is a nice way to stay involved in my community and share the things that creatively inspire me,” she says.
Though Suzanne’s background is eclectic, collaborative storytelling and the arts are common themes. As she puts it, “I aspire to live a creatively fulfilling life, and working at 2A is a big part of that.”