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Happy Cog's Katie Kovalcin on moving beyond your comfort zone

One of the 10 nominees for Young Designer of the Year in the 2014 net Awards (opens in new tab), Katie Kovalcin (opens in new tab) is a designer at American interaction design studio Happy Cog (opens in new tab) based in Austin, Texas.

She spends much of her time creating beautiful, functional design systems and writing articles for Cognition, as well as teaching at Girl Develop It (opens in new tab). We chatted with her to find out more.

Give us a summary of your career so far.

After graduation I worked at a branding agency in Cincinnati, Ohio where I got to do some brand innovation and strategy designing for a lot of large brands, including Old Spice.

I had fun but wanted to pursue web work, so I left to try my hand at independently designing. I ended up generating enough web experience to land at Happy Cog in Austin, TX a year later.

What have you been working on over the last year?

I’ve been at Happy Cog for almost a year now. I’ve been able to really focus on my web process and push my capabilities past my comfort zone, mainly learning HTML prototyping and the UX that comes along with it, in addition to the graphic aspects of web design. I’ve been working on several sites this year that I am very excited to launch.

I've also become involved in teaching and writing. I teach Intro to Web Typography class (opens in new tab) and Intro to Responsive Web Design (opens in new tab) classes for Girl Develop It and have given several design guest lectures to various classes around Austin. I have also written some articles for Cognition.

Kovalcin has worked with various leading brands, such as Old Spice

Kovalcin has worked with various leading brands, such as Old Spice

What have been the particular high points of your career?

Knowing that I wanted to be doing web work and taking my career into my own hands, even if it was at the expense of voluntarily diving into something risky like freelance.

I never imagined that it would lead me to Happy Cog or even Austin, which both have heavily influenced my career for the better.

Who and what influences and inspires your work?

I am always inspired by my surroundings. Cincinnati was filled with tons of ghost signs, hand-lettered typography, and other old remnants and architecture that I really felt in my work. I feel like Austin now influences my work in a different way, especially the tech community.

I’m incredibly inspired by the people around me, both inside and outside of work. I have learned so much from my co-workers from all disciplines. I’m also inspired by teaching and seeing what the ladies in the Girl Develop It community can accomplish, especially given the time constraint of the short lectures!

Kovalcin teaches classes at Girl Develop It

Kovalcin teaches classes at Girl Develop It

What are you excited about at the moment?

The projects I’m working on and the people I'm working with.

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

Learning that people actually want you to succeed. College was so competitive that I thought that the design industry was purely cut-throat. And while it is competitive, in the sense that competition drives us to be better, people informed me of the secret that they’re actually rooting for you.

Once I learned this, it gave me the confidence to reach out to people more. People don't make fun of you because you know less than them, they help you be better.

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

The wonderful project manager, Brenna Heaps. PMs in general deserve more recognition, but Brenna is the glue that holds my projects' teams together.

She’s the wind beneath our wings. She is thoughtful, hilarious, and kickass at what she does. I’m a smarter designer because of her.

Vote in the net Awards!

Celebrating the best in web design and development, the 15th net Awards (opens in new tab) is open for public voting until 24 March. With a record breaking number of nominations this year, it's set to be the biggest and best yet. Have your say by casting your votes here (opens in new tab).

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