Meg Lewis on breaking industry rules

The Brooklyn-based designer talks about her career so far, how she's no hardass and the perks of being your own boss.

One of the 10 nominees for Designer of the Year in the 2014 net Awards, Meg Lewis is founder and partner of web design, branding and illustration studio Ghostly Ferns. Specialising in web and UI design, Meg's career has seen her work with 50+ companies, from small stationery studios to early-stage startups. We chatted to her to find out more.

Give us a summary of your career so far.

I went to design school specifically to become a freelance designer. I didn't like the confines of designing for a company and loved the idea of getting away and seeing an afternoon movie on a Wednesday. While I was still in school I was determined to be a freelancer.

I started freelancing full-time, while living off of those lovely student loans, and was able to build up a professional portfolio by the time I graduated. My design studio, Ghostly Ferns, is now five years old and going strong with a team of five! I still make sure to work whatever hours I want and escape on weekday trips. I have the best boss.

What have you been working on over the last year?

I've been working on an internal CMS for the entirety of Condé Nast and all of its brands. This is essentially UI & UX design on steroids, as we have to account for the design working appropriately for all 20+ brands. We were able to start with GQ and move on to Vanity Fair. The system, called Copilot, is getting great feedback from writers and editors but we have a long road ahead of us to get Copilot across all brands effectively.

Lewis has spent the last year working on an internal CMS for the entirety of Condé Nast and all of its brands

What have been the particular high points of your career?

Each and every time I receive a new client inquiry in my inbox I think, "What? Who? How do you know who I am? Why did you choose me?" and have to take a step back and realize that I'm worthy of such awesome clients. It's exceptionally humbling working with the people and companies that I am able to design for daily. It's hard to pick a particular high point as I think I have a new one every week.

Who and what influences and inspires your work?

How do I answer this in a non-cliché way? It's not possible. I've been moving around from city to city over the past seven years and was always quickly stereotyped as the "overly ambitious one". It's hard to make friends that way. That all changed when I moved to Brooklyn and started working out of Studiomates. These people are incredibly talented and their motivation keeps me going strong. It's such an inspiration being surrounded by these prodigies and I couldn't be more lucky.

Based in Brooklyn, Lewis is constantly inspired by the other talented artists working out of Studiomates. Image © Julia Robbs

What are you excited about at the moment?

I recently started teaching an Interaction course at Parsons The New School for Design. I'm finally able to tell a group of students all of the things that I wish someone told me when I was their age. These students weren't necessarily interested in interaction before the class. It feels darn good to see them slowly beginning to love it. I'm determined to make them enjoy it as much as I do. I'm also showing them gifs and unrelated videos in class. They like that too.

Tell us about an important lesson you've learned in your career.

Do things the way you want to do them. A problem with our industry is that people like to preach about how you should do your job. Talk after talk about The Importance of Saying No, Concrete Contracts, Being a Hardass to Get What You Want. I'm certainly no hardass and I generally love saying yes.

I've had to learn to take those talks with a grain of salt and do things the way that works for me. I break a lot of industry rules and go against the advice of other designers all the time. That's okay!

Name an 'unsung hero', someone you admire who deserves more recognition for their work.

My Studiomate Dave Dawson is someone that I aspire to be like. He designs and builds products that are incredibly useful to him and, as a result, end up being incredibly useful to others. He is the mastermind behind Get Biked, my favorite innovation for NYC residents, and made Scrtchpd and Stash.

He's one half of On a Wednesday, one of my favorite weekly sites. Aside from all of that craziness, Dave is an exceptionally talented freelance designer. What's also great? He's a genuinely good person and a solid human being.

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