A Different Side of Design: Meet the BWBR Graphic Design Team

In our latest episode, we sit down with the talented graphic design team at BWBR. Joining us is senior graphic designer Rachel Slette, along with design team members Maddie Smith, Emily Prigge, and Avery Gidley. Together, they shed light on their roles in shaping spaces and their experiences through the creative process.

Once you start seeing graphic design work in the spaces around you, you won’t be able to unsee it. Window films to wall coverings, acrylic panels, signage, lettering, wayfinding messages…the list goes on. A graphic designer’s touch is everywhere. At BWBR, the graphic design team ventures into the physical realm, envisioning three-dimensional spaces and conceptualizing how two-dimensional elements will interact. That means considering an array of materials and components with innumerable moving parts.

Let’s meet the folks making it happen:

As a child, Rachel Slette always carried a sketchbook and dabbled in various crafts. In doing research leading up to college, she discovered that graphic design would give her enough variety to use all her creative powers. She studied graphic design at the University of Wisconsin–Stout and has been with BWBR for 15 years.

Avery Gidley studied graphic design at Iowa State but didn’t explore the architecture side until starting at BWBR as a remote intern during the pandemic. She loved the variety, the workload, and the people — clients and team members — and wanted to stay part of the BWBR community.

Emily Prigge was a creative explorer from early childhood. She admits to stealing her mom’s camera to take photos and drawing on walls — and now that creativity is the foundation of her career.

Maddie Smith started college as a nursing major despite having an interest in a creative career. During her studies, she met with one of the professors in the design school and felt an immediate affinity for the curriculum.

This crew has a hand in a wide range of functions across our firm, from defining and implementing our brand standards to creating incredible graphics that enhance our clients’ spaces.

A (Very) Versatile Role

Rachel says the graphic design team at BWBR plays an integral role in up to 95% of client project work. And it’s not just what you see in the finished project — they’re also working hard behind the scenes. The graphic designers at BWBR work on subtle touches like color schemes for floor plans, predesign reports, and other preparation materials. “You name it, we’ve probably done it either one time or 100 different times,” says Rachel. Their work is essential to conveying concepts and messaging to the client, making sure that everyone’s aligned.

Alignment and collaboration are at the heart of the entire BWBR process, and graphic designers are a big part of that. The graphics team works closely with project managers and principals to establish work effort parameters and timelines. They immerse themselves in the overall design team discussions, often leveraging tools like Miro boards to grasp the project’s visual language. Maddie particularly enjoys seeing the finishes that the interior designer has selected and working within those choices to enhance the project through graphics, making everything “cohesive and consistent.”

Between project managers, principals, and the broader design team, BWBR’s graphic designers constantly interact, ideate, gather feedback, and foster relationships. Each project takes shape through a dynamic, iterative process, and every project is different. Of course, that’s a big part of what makes it fun.

Blending Left Brain and Right Brain

While graphic design might sound like a wholly creative endeavor, there’s both an art and a science to it. The team thrives in an environment where they can balance creativity with structure, and deadlines and parameters serve as catalysts for imaginative solutions.

Sometimes, they’re anchoring dreamy inspirations with practicalities like availability of materials and timeline. Other times, they’re invigorating pragmatic plans, presenting a range of innovative options to enhance a space. And if something isn’t working, they’re consistently prepared to pivot with a lineup of alternative solutions.

Whether they are designing a preschool wayfinding system using color and to-scale animal icons to guide students, creating a nature-inspired wall graphic to provide privacy and soothing ambience in a behavioral health space, or interpreting a client’s branding to reflect their culture and inspire their staff, the team’s journey is marked by navigating technical challenges and transforming them into custom design experiences.

Finding Inspiration Online and Off

Like most graphic designers, our team finds inspiration online through sites like Pinterest. Emily loves perusing Getty images and has also curated an Instagram feed full of inspiration from other designers. “It’s super inspiring to see what other people do,” she says. “With graphic design, there’s always something new, there’s always something that’s changing.”

And while the Internet has opened up a world of possibilities, BWBR’s designers also unplug to get inspired. Avery makes a point of spending time in nature to spark creativity. Maddie pursues new hobbies; ideas for work crop up while baking, sewing, and even building a greenhouse. The group also has monthly “creative collective conversations” where they share their latest sources of inspiration, from music albums to articles — “anything that sparks a little bit of creativity in your week or month,” says Avery. Textures, colors, patterns, and shapes can be found anywhere — and this team will never run out of fresh ideas.

Devan Swiontkowski Named HCD Rising Star

We’re so proud of BWBR Healthcare Planner Devan Swiontkowski, EDAC, named one of HCD’s 2023 Rising Stars! This prestigious list recognizes future leaders of the industry who have already made outstanding achievements in healthcare design. It’s truly a well-deserved honor, and we love seeing her incredible work as a forward-thinking, creative, and collaborative designer recognized.

Devan’s portfolio includes large health systems such as M Health Fairview and HealthPartners, as well as smaller independent and Critical Access Hospitals where she helps to design for future needs, improve the wellbeing of both patients and staff, and set facilities up for long-term success. She is also active in mentoring, supporting knowledge-sharing and upskilling both within the firm and externally.

Better Together: How Clients Can Power Up Design Impact

While a big part of a successful project is the skill BWBR’s talented design teams bring to the table, our amazing clients’ involvement in the design process is a major factor in producing an incredible final product. BWBR designers use their knowledge, experience, and creativity to bring the dreams of organizations to life. However, one of the key ingredients to making this happen is strong communication. It’s essential that design teams understand stakeholder visions, ideas, and goals in order to create innovative, transformative spaces — and the more input, the better the results.

First-time clients might wonder what they should know before going into initial design meetings, while those who have worked with designers may wonder what they can do to enhance the experience. To shed some light, we asked designers at BWBR to tell us how clients can elevate their involvement to create an even stronger project.

Shared Vision, Shared Success

Every project, no matter how big or small, begins with a vision. Clients call on designers to enhance their spaces, find innovative solutions to limitations, or create something entirely new. While our teams utilize a variety of workshops and tools, offering close guidance through the process of conceptualizing goals and articulating ideas, our designers note that it’s crucial that clients are prepared to be open.

“We strive to gain a deep perspective of who our clients are and what they want to achieve,” says principal Doug Wild. “When a client helps us become embedded in their organization’s values, we can create a comprehensive design that embodies their identity and mission, and even evolves with their needs over the long-term.”

Hasnaa Elaraby, an interior designer, shares that when a client expresses their expectations early in the process, design teams can work far more efficiently. “It’s important to share goals, preferences, and constraints upfront, which helps us use our time effectively to tailor our work to meet their needs,” she says.

For Hasnaa, a great client has a clear vision in mind but understands that design is a dynamic process that involves creativity, innovation, and oftentimes change. Being prepared for designers to bring new solutions to balance realities like budget, code, and space limitations with the ideal vision helps the process move smoothly. Although plans may change along the way, it’s all part of making the dream design a reality.

Cause for Collaboration

Of course, bringing a vision to life takes a multitude of individuals, teams, and partners collaborating as one united force. Our designers at BWBR believe in the power of partnership, and that power grows stronger when clients see themselves as a valuable part of the team.

“When clients are engaged in the creative process, it’s a win-win — we’re enabled to bring our best work to the table while ensuring that we are fully realizing the client’s vision,” says Doug.

While engagement on the client side can mean deep involvement in the decision-making process, it can also simply mean putting forward enthusiasm and passion. The impact of excitement for a project is infectious, and the effects ripple through both the design team and the organization.

“A client who is passionate and committed to diving into a project has a transformative effect,” says principal Leigh Streit. “Some of our most impactful projects involved leaders on the client side dedicating the time to getting their own teams engaged and gathering perspectives from stakeholders within the organization.”

Clients’ care and dedication truly shines through in the final product. Not only does this commitment result in spaces that look beautiful, but also in environments that fully meet the needs of users, allowing design teams to solve for limitations that may have otherwise gone unrealized.

Inner Workings

Aside from preparing on the creative and collaborative side, Susan Golberg and Brian Lapham, two of our senior project managers, bring up the technical aspects of client planning.

It’s important that clients come with an understanding of how their own teams will be navigating the project, as well as who the key leaders will be. “It’s good for the client to have an established point person to make decisions. We have been fortunate to work with many clients who have a strong leader as this point person,” says Susan.

Brian agrees that the established individual should have a good understanding of team relationships and stakeholders, as well as expectations like budget and timeline: “It’s important to understand their own internal decision-making and funding strategies, the overall process of construction — from delivery methods to the makeup of the architectural-engineering design team, and what costs are typically in the owner’s scope versus in the AE scope,” he says. For extra points, the ideal client is personable and shares some of BWBR’s core values.

When client teams are engaged, our designers are enabled to promptly dive into the details and set the exciting part in motion — partnering to create an incredible new environment! Every project provides new challenges and opportunities, but one thing remains true — clients have the power to level up designs and create massive positive impact.