Zaine Vaun is a recent graduate from the Graphic Design program at ACC. This past semester she was selected by YETI to be a featured artist for their “Artist Series”of customizable drinkware. YETI customers can choose from five of Zaine’s unique nature-inspired designs to customize mugs, tumblers, and water bottles. I met with Zaine over g-chat to discuss her design process and what it was like working for such a huge brand.
Zoe: First of all, congrats on being a featured artist for YETI!
Zaine: Thanks, it was a really fun project and I felt honored to contribute to their Artist Series.
Zoe: How did you get connected with this opportunity?
Zaine: Well, the Associate Credit Director reached out to me and asked if I wanted to participate. And of course, I said yes. I think I came on their radar via Instagram, but over time I became friends with them. I don’t think that is the only reason I got hired, but I’m sure it helped!
Zoe: That’s amazing! What do you think caught their attention?
Zaine: I think I’ve done a good job of creating a niche for myself. I focus a lot on creating work that uses animals and nature as a main subject, which works well with outdoor companies like YETI.
I also have a pretty unique style, that is illustrative yet graphic. So I think they saw potential in how it could be applied. When an image is etched on a product it has to be pretty bold and simple, and work in just one color. I guess they saw that my style would work for that.
Zoe: I do see how your brand/niche and YETI’s brand seems like a natural fit! Were these designs that you already had on hand, or did you create them specifically for YETI?
Zaine: I created them specifically for YETI.
Zoe: What was the prompt that you were given, and what was your inspiration for these designs?
Zaine: The prompt was “High Desert”. When we met for the first time, they showed me a few different pieces of mine they liked and kinda just let me run with it.
Since this was an “artist series,” they had chosen that prompt for me specifically because it jived with my other work and common subject matter.
I drew inspiration from my time in the Southwest… Colorado, Arizona, Texas. I have spent most of my life in the more arid desert regions.
There were five designs commissioned, and so I had to be choosy about which animals I displayed. We played around with a lot… coyotes, hares, snakes… it was hard to decide!
The five we settled on were: bighorn sheep, mountain lion, collared lizard, gambel’s quail, and roadrunner.
Zoe: I think my favorite design is the Roadrunner! How did you narrow it down to those five animals?
Zaine: It was a combination of trying to find a balance of representing the animal kingdom and attempting to choose the designs that felt the most unique. I really loved the coyote, but it’s a little overused to represent the region.
Reptile versus bird. Predator versus prey… that kind of thinking. Comparing the demographic that may choose one over another. Lots of thoughts on that sort of thing.
Also, just which ones we thought looked the best played a role as well!
One that didn’t work very well and didn’t make the cut was a peccary. It’s a type of wild pig; they are cute in real life, but it was hard to make it look cute.
We did three rounds of designs, the first being a variety of sketches that approached the project in different ways. From there we homed in on the approach we wanted to take and which animals to highlight. The last round was just a few small tweaks to make them compatible with the etching machinery.
Zoe: Have you ever designed anything for etching onto a rounded surface before? If not, what did you learn from the process?
Zaine: Nope, this was my first time. It was pretty easy since YETI already knew all the specs. The big thing was just making sure the line width and spacing were to spec.
Otherwise, it is as simple as making a vector graphic. The cool thing is that YETI actually has a place on their website where anyone can upload anything they want (to spec) and make a custom mug or whatever. Mine are also available of course, but anybody can do it!
Zoe: Wow! I didn’t know that; that’s pretty cool! Other than making sure your designs were to spec, how did you approach the designs for this project? Did you have to take into account the way that the etching appears on the various colorways of the products?
Zaine: Yes, I definitely had to take into account how it would look etched. My designs use quite a bit of texture, lines, dots, etc. Since there was only one color I wanted to make sure they still felt dynamic. When I was deciding on the patterns to use I had to play around with whether they would be inverted or not, and how that would work with the etching.
Doing mock-ups was a helpful tool for checking my work along the way and for showing the client what to expect.
Zoe: Was it a challenge to be so limited with how you could approach the design? Or did you enjoy having those limitations?
Zaine: I enjoyed the limitations. Boundaries create opportunities to explore new ways to approach my style. It kind of puts it to the test in a way.
Also, I knew what they were expecting, which is helpful. But they gave me complete artist’s freedom within the boundaries as well.
Zoe: It sounds like YETI was pretty good at collaborating on this project. Was it intimidating at all to work for such a big company?
Zaine: They were very good at collaborating and made me feel welcomed and appreciated. It was a little nerve-wracking getting on our first call with everyone in a conference room… but I was put at ease pretty quickly.
Zoe: That does sound like it could be nerve wracking at first. Do you have any advice for other students heading into their first client meeting like that?
Zaine: My best advice is to take ten minutes or so before the meeting and just refresh yourself on who you will be meeting, their names, positions, et cetera. Maybe refresh over the emails or whatever you have already talked about so that it is fresh in your mind. That always makes me feel more prepared.
Additionally, remember that whoever you are meeting with are just people too, and there’s a reason they want to work with you, so act with confidence!
Zoe: Good advice for any situation! Especially job interviews!
Last question: Do you have any advice for students looking for opportunities like this or just looking to get their work out there in general?
Zaine: Yeah! It’s all about the time you put in. You have to make a lot of stuff to get good, and you have to share a lot of work to be seen. Showing consistency in your work allows potential clients to feel like they can know what to expect from you, which they like. So, making a body of work is good for that. Even just a series of ten things can help.
Also, there’s so much out there to learn and absorb in the design world. You have to be proactive in educating yourself with what is important historically or on trend currently.
Lastly, make friends and be friendly! There is no substitute for real-life friends and mentors.
Zoe: I love that. It’s the connections that make all the difference, in your career, and in your life.
Find Zaine on Instagram: @zaine.vaun
Visit Zaine’s Website: zainevaun.com