Just like a magnifying glass concentrates light at its center, our Managing Partner, Veronna Corral, concentrates her entire mind on one focal point: her computer. She’s got her huge noise-neutralizing headphones on because (as she likes to say) she’s in “the zone.” She’s so close and focused on the screen, the 4-color glow flashes on the surface of her glasses and you can see what she’s seeing reflected on the lenses, her pupils, and even her forehead.
What’s Veronna doing? She’s putting together a product brochure for a South American company that manufactures and sells protective hardware for factories and warehouses; like those black foam/rubber corner guards with highlighter-yellow arrows on them. With every combo of click and mouse motion, a tab is born, and a tab is gone and little by little, the design of the brochure is taking form. Like I said, she’s in “the zone”, but “Houston, we have a problem,” I need her attention.
I tap her on the shoulder, hoping and praying I don’t scare her, but the truth is: I’m the one that’s terrified.
This is scary because I’m yanking her out of “the zone.” I’m intimidated because I know she must be crazy busy. I have no idea how she manages her design studio, does accounting, and pays taxes, all while still designing. The last time I checked there are only 24 hours in a day.
I’m mortified of throwing a wrench in the machine and intruding on her process, but to my surprise, she swivels her comically big Dr. Evil-like office chair 180 degrees to face me and appears unfazed.
Aw come on dude, relax. We agreed on doing this interview for the blog post. (she laughs) By the way, I don’t mind stepping out of “the zone”, my eyes need a break anyway, plus this stuff is not going to leave my head.
Great! Shall we begin then?...
Yeah, let’s go! Where do we start?
Well, my mission is to get you to spill the beans, tell me the secret sauce, to reveal how and why you do what you do.
(sarcastically) I’m a stonewall, you will never break me! (laughs)
I’ll try. Why don’t we start at the beginning?
Why not. Seems logical.
What’s your earliest “graphic design” memory?
I remember I first heard the term ‘graphic designer,’ when I was in the 5th grade. I was at home, and I was browsing the internet and I heard the term in a video that I was watching about different career paths for creative people.
That young and already thinking ahead.
Yeah, maybe it was research for career day or something. (laughs)
Did you know at the time that is what you wanted to do for a living?
Short answer: no.
What’s the long answer?
I didn’t know that that’s what I wanted to do for a living exactly, but I knew I wanted to do something in that field, you know? For a while, I was actually contemplating pursuing a career in video editing, but I ultimately decided against it.
Why didn’t you?
Because when I got to college and saw the curriculum, I saw it focused a lot on film production and film isn’t something I’m really interested in.
Were you that kid in the back of the class, always doodling, always drawing a lot?
Uhm… yes and no. You make it sound obsessive, so no, I wasn’t obsessive. I drew yes, but always in service of something, you know? I would construct things for friends, like little gifts, papercrafts, pop-up greeting cards, and little things like that. One time I made a Wii theme birthday card for a friend. I first sketched out the idea on scrap paper to see how it would come together.
And actually, that’s still how I do things, to this day in a way. If I have an idea for a new website, I first sketch out the grid, you know? I draft a basic layout on a college-ruled notebook before I even touch the computer.
Growing up, when did the computer enter the picture?
When I was 6… I think. It quickly became my favorite toy. I remember I started using Paint and then that program led me to other software and different design and illustration websites and… well… here I am.
Right now, you just touched on your design process, can you tell us more? When you sit down to tackle a project, where do you start? What do you look at?
The first thing I do is write down what the project is in bullet points. I put down the project’s needs, purpose, and basically everything I need and should have in mind as I work on it. This ends up being just a small simple text document I keep in the corner of my screen.
Then, I go into research mode. What do I do? I look at art styles, examples of other similar projects—basically I take a quick look-see at what the competition is doing or what is out there, you know? I take screenshots, create a folder with lots of images, and then—with all that in mind and saved for quick reference—I start tackling the project.
And… that’s it, it’s done?
Well… not exactly. (laughs) It’s done until it’s done, and that’s usually after several drafts. Come on, David, you’re a writer, you know this already. Why am I telling you this?
We’ve talked before and you told me how even though you majored in Graphic Design in college, the curriculum was light in terms of “how-to-run-a-graphic-design-business” …
Ah, yes. That’s right.
So, my question is, how did you teach yourself the business side of graphic design?
Short answer: I read.
What’s the long answer?
Long answer: I read a lot, a lot of a lot. (laughs) I think: to run any type of business from scratch and with no formal education, you have to be really interested, otherwise, it’s really really hard to read all of that business stuff and pick it up. And I don’t say that because I’m trying to toot my own horn—God! I hate that expression, can you not include that? (laughs)
What do you want me to replace it with?
I don’t know man, again, you’re the writer. (laughs)
Fair enough, how does “gloat” sound?
Yes, that’s good, let’s go with “gloat.” So what do we do, should I start over?
So… (laughs) Like I was saying, you have to really really want to own and run your own business to really do this. And I don’t say that to gloat, I say it because I’m not even sure that I would’ve done it, you know? It’s all above-the-shoulders stuff and it can put you to sleep if it isn’t your cup of tea, but it turns out, I kinda like this business stuff. I like to research how to set up organizational systems, how freelancers and online companies price their work, or look into what the latest task management software is. You know, I especially like to learn about e-commerce. Ever since I was young I’ve always wanted to run an online store just for fun.
Don’t you have one?
Well, what are you waiting for? Plug your store! Aren’t you the entrepreneur, here? Why do I have to set you up?
(laughs) Visit phantomdunes.com people! Thank you.
Curious, as an entrepreneur, who do you look up to?
Tough one. I don’t think I have like one role model. I look up to groups or organizations, especially local organizations that have built design/tech-based businesses in our border city where I feel this field isn’t as prominent as it’s in metropolitan areas.
EME Studio, I love their design work and I’ve been following them thru the years, also for Hello Amigo, I love their projects extra-especially the ones they’ve done for this city, like their new line of El Paso, TX-related merch, and website.
I have a lot of admiration and respect for AIGA—
What’s that? Sounds like one of those covert government alphabet agencies.
What?! No! (laughs) It stands for the American Institute of Graphic Arts. It’s the oldest and largest—I think—professional membership organization for design.
Yeah, they have chapters or branches, or whatever you want to call them, all over the country. I was on the board of the AIGA El Paso chapter for five years. I’m still involved with them, but just as an advisor now.
Any role models from the realm of pop culture?
Nothing too specific. I kind of love reality shows that center around businesses. Like Shark Tank, or makeover shows like Hotel Impossible or Tabatha Takes Over. I’m equal parts fascinated and educated by following these sorts of rags-to-riches narratives, and inspired by seeing people succeed—or fail because you can’t always win in life and these reality shows that claim to portray reality are catching up to that hard fact of life—you know?… Where was I? (laughs)
Time to wrap up. Last question and then I’ll let you go.
Looking ahead into the horizon, the future, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Well, first of all, I would like to have three dogs instead of the two I currently have—but wait, I would first need to move to a bigger place so we can all fit, so… Let’s rewind.
I see myself living in a bigger place, with three dogs and I see Paradigm Shift growing.
I see a lot of different projects and products, all under the studio’s belt. I see a large successful e-commerce store, and perhaps a slightly bigger team of creatives to collaborate with.
And I see myself and my business still here in my beautiful downtown El Paso.
No, thank you. Now, let me get back to work. (laughs)
Veronna swivels her big Dr. Evil chair, puts on her headphones, and goes returns to “the zone.”