If there is anything this world has in abundance, it is content.
There are more flashy images, videos, words, pages and stories than we could ever keep up with.
But, there is refinement in all of this. And just as the need to sort through the constant stream of information has grown, so has the passion and minds of creatives everywhere.
Designers have stepped up, offering so many new ways to absorb and make use of everything we see and come across in a day, and as consumers, we’re having more fun than ever.
Here in the OTA region, that fun is only amplified because of people like Amy Colgan, a carefree but authentic designer who works hard and appreciates her community. Her passion makes her happy, but it’s for us, too, and she’s invested in us more than you know.
Amy Colgan is the creative director and co-founder of Lemonly, an infographic design agency in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She helped to build this startup with John Meyer, and they opened shop in the summer of 2011.
Even though they began with just two desks and their own ambition, the team now consists of almost 20 employees and clients around the world.
“We all really enjoy working together, and we are learning as we grow,” Amy says. “It’s trial and error, so a couple times a year, we are revamping our process and asking the team what they think and how they feel.”
As part of that process, Lemonly has retreats, workshops and weekly creative meetings to openly discuss one another’s work in progress.
They are each other’s biggest fans. “We talk about professional and personal goals, because as a team, we are invested in both. We are incredibly supportive of one another.”
Amy’s biggest role right now is design work, but she is also helping with management and training.
“I like pushing people to try new things, because I am pushing myself, too,” she says. “Every day, I want to be a better designer than I was yesterday — learning new things and thinking about what is next.”
Surely, her family at Lemonly is helping her get there.
“We’ve grown more than I ever thought we would at this point, but I think it is our team that makes us who we are.”
It’s about who we are, not what we do
Lemonly is a small company living and working and thriving in South Dakota, and it intends to stay that way. Amy thinks our strong Midwestern work ethic and support of one another helps.
“Sioux Falls is a great community, and it has been a really good support system. Everybody is willing to kind of raise each other up a little bit.”
But when Amy first moved to Sioux Falls, she concedes that even though the support was here, there wasn’t a burgeoning young community who was willing to get to know one another. She knew the names of big designers from the big agencies, but a “casual community” was missing.
“Who were these designers outside of their job title and where they worked?”
Amy wanted something from her community that so many of us don’t take the time to invest in.
She just wanted to get to know us better.
“I think sometimes the best way to build community is to not talk about your work at first and get to know who a person is instead, what their hobbies are and, ‘Oh! You love this? We should go do that sometime,’ and maybe that evolves into working on a project. But at least you have a resource that you feel comfortable with emailing at midnight.”
We are more than our work, and coming from a co-founder from a really successful local startup? That’s reassuring.
We are so much more than just our job titles.
“In college, it was, ‘I am this person from this agency,’ ‘I am a graphic designer,’ or, ‘I am an art director,’ but that is basically all we talked about, while some veteran designers in the community are like, ‘Hey, let’s go grab a beer and not talk about design!’ We will probably still end up talking about design because we are obsessed, but that is not the point of why we are there — it is just commonalities, and we should figure out what some of those are outside design.
“We are so much more than just our job titles.”
So, then, who is she?
“I am Amy, and I grew up in the Black Hills and went to SDSU. I am a West River kid who now is East River. I have a cat who is very interesting … I mean, I have stories about that guy. I live downtown, I am addicted to Pinterest recipes, I love traveling, I can talk about New York for days.”
And she’s a fantastic designer with a flair for art, respect for her company and a lot of heart.
Inspiration is everywhere!
Amy’s intent has long been to pursue design.
“I have always been really passionate about art,” she says. “In high school, I started to realize I could probably do that as a career, so I started researching what types of art I could go into and then just kind of fell into graphic design because I knew it covered a very broad spectrum of things.”
And like most with that kind of vision, she assumed an agency was her only bet.
“When I was going into college, I envisioned myself at a huge agency, just like in the movies — the Don Draper type stuff.” She smiles.
After a few internships with larger, structured establishments and some time in print work, her vision changed, and digital work made more sense.
“I just fell in love with digital and new media because it is constantly changing and it is always new.”
This passion is alive in every aspect of her life.
“I am always looking at and absorbing design. I am always thinking about it,” she says. For her, inspiration is everywhere.
“I have a huge passion for architecture. I love old buildings and bigger cities, where there is that mixture of old and new,” she says. “I love traveling and soaking in all sorts of new experiences and cultures, and sometimes that might transfer into something that would inspire me for a project.
“I like to get away from my computer and have that definite separation. I am always thinking creatively and doing creative things, but it doesn’t always have to be on a computer screen.”
Fine arts is a break for her.
“I loved taking studio courses in college because it is very much for you and letting your brain let loose for a bit. Wherein design, it is a little bit more controlled. Everything has a reason for it.”
At Lemonly, that reason and that mission is to create an understanding through telling a story visually. And quite beautifully, too.
“There is a lot of interesting stories and content out there, and our mission is to get people to understand it and read it and care about it. It is really about telling as concise of a narrative as we can with the information we are given but still making it fun for the user.”
With that comes balance.
“We are very much on that marriage of illustration and design storytelling, so we have to make sure that we use each medium properly and that there is a purpose for it,” Amy says.
“Whether it is industrial design, architecture, graphic design, illustration or fine art, there has to be a why to it, not just because.”
Amy’s why is clear. Her eye and heart go out to design, and it’s impossible not to be engaged in her work.
“We always talk about attention versus retention. Visuals make retention of things so much easier and you are much more likely to remember something if you have an image to tie to that.”
So what’s the image to tie to this story?
It’s bright and it’s enjoyable, but it’s whoever you are, too. If Amy believes that we can be a stronger community simply by investing more in who we are and less in what we do, let’s come forward as we are and see where that inspiration can lead.
I bet it would look like a really great story, too.