Spill It: A Coffee Chat with Olivia Hutto Lopez

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Spill It is a weekly interview series with outstanding creatives, activists, glamour queens, movers and shakers, outside-the-box thinkers, subject matter experts, and agents of change.

Charlsie: Right now at this very moment...this specific moment in time...this split second...tell me where you are in your business creatively and emotionally?

Olivia: I’m so, so, so burnt out. I actually reached a point of success I didn’t know how to handle, because freelancing / self employment is just now really coming onto the scene and I don’t think there’s good, deep resources for it yet. I don’t have good management skills to manage those who help me, and I’m bad at reading new clients to tell if they’ll be red flags or not. My time management is also admittedly awful. I’m pretty sure I’ve started every email in the past month with “Sorry for my late response…” It’s a tough spot to be creatively and emotionally because I know I can really do better but there’s no time for ‘better,’ just ‘passing,' so I know I’m not maximizing my potential. That’s a bummer feeling.

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Charlsie: I often feel that way as a freelancer, and you’re right - it’s an awful feeling. I think it’s so hard to keep momentum when it’s just you. We’ve both had many corporate jobs before, so what was the final straw that made you say "Olivia, get your ass in gear and become a freelance?"

Olivia: Two things, really. In my first job (you know the one, haha) I saw how unequal the workplace really was, due to work politics. Ew. Being a good designer didn’t really get me anywhere. Learning how to say the right things in meetings did. What kind of crap is that? There was a severe lack of humility in leadership there and I felt lost. Why wasn’t my good design enough to get me a raise, or a salary? (I was hourly right up until the end.) In my second and final corporate job, I realized that working on the same brand every single day in a small cubicle was going to ruin me, and I was constantly showing up late because I just couldn’t wake up to face the day. I think I stopped when I realized that Sunday nights were full of dread, and they didn’t have to be.

Charlsie: Everything you just said has a lot to do with why I branched out on my own too. I don’t get the mentality of office politics to get ahead when you are producing out of this world stellar work and exceeding goals. I think you and I had a lot of similar learning experiences especially in the office where we first met each other. What always stood out to me about you was your ambition and your eye for design and creating work that felt special and inspired. Now, I would assume your life is consumer by design…is it the end-all-be-all when it comes to your work? Where do you stand with it right now?

Olivia: I’m not as consumed by it as you would think. Do I sometimes make purchases based on good packaging design? Absolutely. Do I think a bad logo is representative of bad service? Nope. I’m learning that good design doesn’t represent a good heart. You can be a stellar designer and bust out awesome logos for clients who turn out to be really mean. A good logo does not equal a good company. I’m standing at a spot where I’m screaming at clients (metaphorically, of course): “Think about your identity! Your offerings! What you’re giving to the world!” And they’re saying “Okay…but what if that shade of blue was just a *bit* brighter? Is that the right font?” It makes me lose faith in people a bit, that they’re willing to see round 10 of a logo before they focus on writing their content. I’m feeling anti-design lately and jaded because of that fact, and wondering how we can bring people back to the messaging and spirit of what they’re doing, which should always take precedence.

I don’t get the mentality of office politics to get ahead when you are producing out of this world stellar work and exceeding goals.

Charlsie: Messaging! The spirit of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it! It’s so critical and that’s why brand messaging and true marketing clarity is SO valuable for businesses and entrepreneurs. I wish everyone understood this because you’re 100% right — the spirit of the why is what should take precedence. Ok, so let’s get weird…. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now tell us what's your sweet spot when it comes to your work and what's the uncomfortable sweater, "why do I have to do" responsibility on the to-do list?

Olivia: Sweet spot: When I have an afternoon clear of meetings, no looming deadlines, and I can design a really cool logo or website with Spotify jamming in my ears and a coffee in hand. Uncomfortable sweater: MEETINGS. I wish I could force all clients to give me email feedback. Some people just really can’t do it, though. They want to talk me through everything, make me be the one to record their thoughts as notes. Every meeting I have takes up two hours - 30 mins of prep, 60 minutes of a meeting, and then a 30 minute debrief as I type notes. So wasteful.

Charlsie: Meetings are so exhausting as a freelancer. It’s not like meeting in a corporate setting, it’s just what you said - the prep, the meeting itself (which I swear always runs over), and then the debrief. It takes up so much time when 98% of things could be handled with a simple e-mail. What keeps you motivated and inspired even on days with multiple meetings?

Olivia: I’m a big believer of the 5 Love Languages. Words of Affirmation happen to be at the tippy top for me. It feels like a thousand dollars to hear a client say “Wow, this is a really good design and I’m glad I hired you.” That’s pure gold to me. The downside is that I always crave and need it, but when I do get it, it fuels me. Sometimes if I really need a quick motivation fix I’ll show my sister, husband, or best friends my logo designs. They’re always really supportive.

Charlsie: I, too, am a Words of Affirmation love language type and it absolutely impacts the work I do every single day. I think a lot of people assume freelancing is just going to lunch and drinking wine and breezing around town without much to do. That kind of thinking drives me crazy, especially on days when I’m not as motivated or inspired. What do you do to pick yourself up when you have those types of days yourself?

Olivia: Still working on this one, honestly. Lately when my creativity is drained I’ve been trying to avoid designing and do more business-based stuff, like finally getting around to emails or writing a tactical blog post. Giving myself space. My creativity runs out, and that’s okay. I need to give myself space to let it fill up again.

Charlsie: I think it’s important to hold space for yourself, so your cup can be filled back up. I think as women, giving ourselves permission to have space is a big deal. So now that I’ve thrown down the woman card, let me ask you this….As a female in business, can you share any moments where gender played a huge part of a project and made you have to fight for your work, your opinion, and your work ethic? How did that moment change your work process from that point on?

At first, I wanted to say nothing - that being a woman hasn’t affected me at all in the workplace. And then I realized how false that was.

Olivia: I was asked this same thing recently, and I sat on my answer for a while, because at first, I really wanted to say “nothing.” I wanted to say that I haven’t really faced challenges because I’m so strong and resilient. And then I realized how false that was and how much I feel the need to put on a strong facade to get by. My emails (compared to my male colleagues) are so much more full of excuses and emotions. If I’m late, I can’t just say I’m late - I feel the need to explain myself. Clients argue with me a bit more. Clients feel they can take advantage of my time a bit more. I have a very emotion-based design strategy, and I always over-explain why. It’s all subtle, but the subtleties add up, and I didn’t realize until this question how tired I really was of overcompensating.

Oh, and there was a time when a male colleague got very confrontational about the fact I refused to give him a midday hug to “cheer me up” because I “looked sad." I felt humiliated that he made a big deal about it in front of others, but I also did not want to touch him, and I was so young and naive at the time that I didn’t realize that it was a form of harassment and that he was in the wrong.

Charlsie: I’m an over-explainer too and I’m constantly apologizing for things I know our male peers would never, ever say “sorry” for. Also, a midday hug? I hope that guy has learned from the #MeToo movement because honestly, a midday hug that you aren’t consenting to dances along the lines of sexual harassment. Ok, you know I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift and she has that song “Fifteen” … it’s not one of my favorites of hers, but the line “But in your life you’ll do things / Greater than dating the boy on t he football team / But I didn’t know it at fifteen / When all you wanted / Was to be wanted / Wish you could go back / And tell yourself what you know now” has been on my mind a lot recently. What would you tell your fifteen year old self about where you are right now in life?

Olivia: This question literally made me weep at therapy the other day (Therapy is great. Everyone should go. Weeping is encouraged). My fifteen year old self was so insecure about everything and was living in a small town in Alabama, where she was teased for reading books and being smart. I think if she knew I was doing my thing in this great city, she’d look forward to the future with a hopeful outlook instead of a scared one. I’d also tell her to code more.

Charlsie: I cannot say it enough, so I’m going to say what you just said again…Therapy is great. Everyone should go. Every single person should go. You should be so proud to be a top expert in your field and I know your fifteen year old self would be really impressed and happy with how things have turned out for you. Speaking of being an expert, what trends do you hope will stick in the world of graphic and web design?

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Olivia: User experience taking precedence over design. The “why” and function behind design. Your cool design doesn’t mean shit (can I say shit?) if you’re not actually saying anything. Stop expecting designers to read your mind and focus on how you can give the designer the most out of your brain and personality so that the logo is a reflection of meaning. Design should be all about making the user’s experience better and clearer, not just putting up a trendy font and the Pantone Color of the Year. Oh - can I say something I hope dies? The Pantone Color of the Year. That color does not mean it’s right for your brand or personality! Stop telling me to use it!

Charlsie: From a social media and marketing perspective, the Pantone Color of the Year makes for a great talking point and campaign but I completely agree with you — it has no place in building out a brand or personality in design. Alright, as we start to wrap up because we both are anti-meetings, I have to ask this question because it’s such a hot button issue. Tell me how you feel about the phrase “girl boss.”

Olivia: This is a tricky one, because I don’t like to judge or limit things other women enjoy saying, but I personally don't use the phrase. I’m a boss, that’s it. You wouldn’t say “boy boss” or “man boss.” But, there’s nothing wrong with women raising up other women by saying that. When I introduce myself to others, I don’t say “I’m a female entrepreneur!” I just say “I’m self-employed.” I feel the more we can neutralize and not make this extra huge deal about how we’re women succeeding, the more normal it will feel when we do succeed.

Charlsie: I would pay money to call a guy a “boy boss” to his face … just to see his response. “How’s it being a boy boss?” Oh my goodness, I think you just released a beast in me. Alright, last question, friend: What is one piece of advice you think every woman in business - even in the corporate world should know?

Olivia: Learn what imposter syndrome (phenomenon) is. Realize it, sit with it, reflect on it, and grow from it. Understand when you’re doing it and when it’s preventing you from succeeding. Because I bet with 50% of the women reading this, just knowing this term exists will help you immensely. You’ve got this, you’re better than you think, and what you’re doing is definitely enough.

Charlsie: Thanks for spilling it with me. You know I adore you and without you, my business wouldn’t be what it was. From the first website you designed for me (which got me compliments every single day) to the new website that just launched (which is now getting compliments every single day), I feel so grateful to have your talent and energy in my life.

If you want to check out Olivia’s work, visit her website: oliviadesign.co. If you are looking for someone to completely transform your brand into exactly what you want it to be (I send EVERY client of mine to her, FYI), Olivia is offering discounts to my followers, potential clients, current clients, frenemies, enemies, lovers…you can check out the referral page here: https://www.oliviadesign.co/referrals