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Preface: We came to know Maggie only about a year ago, but in that short time we've cherished her as a friend and contributor to DTG! Most of all, she has gained our highest admiration as a design professional. Her new book Decoding Design is a blockbuster and the DTG Editor's Choice for April -- reviewed last month by George Engel! Since this month is "Design Graduation" month, we figured those graduates would like to get a little insight into how one person grew to become a world-class, celebrated design force .... Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maggie Macnab...

Feature Interview: Decoding Maggie

a personal interview with Maggie Macnab, Designer, Author and Trainer

DTG: Thank you very much, Maggie, for visiting today with our readers! Let's go back to the beginning and find out how you got started in design?

Maggie I left high school after my junior year--I needed one credit for graduation and wasn't interested in enduring another year of high school for a single credit. At the tender age of 16, I went to work for a small typesetting business in Albuquerque that did short print runs on the side. I naively had the idea that "commercial art" would entail drawing all day, which I've always loved.

What I learned were the mechanical aspects of the business--essential to executing the creative idea. You can have all the imagination in the world, but if you can't manifest the design cleanly and clearly, it's meaningless. Both things are equally important.

Paw Story
Macnab Portfolio Sample: Design showing symbolic process. Rough initial concepts tied to the archetypal myth/story of Androcles and the Lion (what goes around, comes around). At the right is the Logo for the Animal Medical Clinic, 1983 AAF Logo Gold Winner (still in use today) See enlargement

DTG: Can you tell us about your experiences in college? What did you expect to study, and what did you wind up getting your degree in?

Thoughts are things when given wingsMaggie I didn't actually attend college until after starting my business in my mid 20s. I was too busy working and learning my trade. I moved to Austin and worked for other graphics businesses, eventually working my way into an ad agency. When I was 18, I pasted up a 300+ page book by hand called "The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock" (this was a hot topic in Austin at the time), and did a little freelance on the side for some of the local bands. Austin was a fun experience, but I missed New Mexico. I moved back, worked a couple of more years for ad agencies, and went out on my own as a freelance designer.

Maggie I found early on that corporate business culture on a day-to-day basis was not for me and fashioned my professional life accordingly. When I did get around to college, I majored in University Studies, though my end goal wasn't necessarily a degree. I took painting, film, psychology, creative writing, and tested out of the routine classes. I was on the Dean's list but left UNM when my business began picking up. I never did get a degree but was awarded first place in logo design in the United States from the American Advertising Federation two years into my business. That was a big incentive to continue on in design. That, and the fact I love what I do.

Arabian Horse Logo package
Macnab Portfolio Sample: Logo and stationery package for Maddoux-Wey Arabians (E)

DTG: What was the path to your career choice? Are you surprised to find yourself doing what you're doing?

Chicken is the egg Maggie Not at all surprised. I've always been interested in art and creative problem solving, and design is a perfect match for this combination. There have been bumps of course; the path less traveled entails a few thorny encounters. Overall, though, having a non-traditional education has had far more ups than downs. I come from teachers and my dad was also an architect in Santa Fe for John Gaw Meem when I was a child. He later taught architecture and archeology at the University of Houston. And my aunt was the anthropology chair for the University of Alabama for over 25 years. My mother taught creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts, was at one point a psycho-therapist, and is a published poet. I got a lot of my schooling by osmosis. Routine just wasn't much of an option with my family's lifestyle.

Maggie I had an intense interest in mythology as a child and it evolved along side my artistic ability. Professionally it translated to having an enhanced ability to translate myth and symbol as an identity designer. I've taught classes in logo design and "symbols as visual literacy for designers" at the University of New Mexico for over 10 years. I am very interested in design as alchemy -- how we manifest widely understood principles into a cohesive piece of interesting and elegant communication. I'm a past president of the Communication Artists of NM, I guest lecture for design schools in and outside of the US, speak at conferences, and give workshops on integrating symbolism into effective design.

Various logos
Macnab Portfolio Sample: Identity program for Heart Hospital of New Mexico (E), and service mark for Green Orchid Software Solutions (E)

I've written a book which just released in February, "Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbolism in Visual Communication". It's a culmination of an unusual and eclectic lifelong learning process. It was immensely gratifying to be able to express my love of creative design, problem solving, and nature in this way. It is published by HOW Design Books -- I will be speaking at the HOW Design Conference in Boston this May.

Macnab Portfolio Sample: 2005 Annual Report for the Los Alamos National Bank. Ad Agency: Rick Johnson and Company; Creative Director: Adam Greenhood; Design Director: Maggie Macnab (AAF Gold Winner)

DTG: What do you do when you're not at work?

Maggie Life is work/work is life, so that's a funny question. I have lived on 5 acres in the mountains of New Mexico for over 20 years. I like gardening and animals. I have two kids: Evan, almost 20 and studying to teach English as a second language abroad in Asia, and Sommer, 16, who is a Rotary Exchange Student in Brazil this year. I am visiting her in late April (and miss her like crazy). I love to travel and am very interested in the ways different cultures are alike under the layers. This not only creates design that communicates widely and aesthetically, but it teaches us that similarities always underscore differences... an important thing to be conscious of in our world right now.

DTG: We certainly appreciate spending a little time with you today! Wow, what a treat -- and I love the work you've shown here! I certainly hope it's a grand inspiration to many young designers just embarking on their journey into the profession.

Most importantly, do not miss owning a copy of her book Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication. I'll warn you now : HOW books doesn't re-print books very often, and we've had too many readers write to say they couldn't get books I've recommended. Landmark books like this become unavailable all too soon. This is one you absolutely must own. Seriously!

So, before you leave this page, go ahead and click below. You'll thank me later.

And, folks, if you'd like more, you can read Maggie's stories here in DTG: Apple's Core Logic; La Revoluti´┐Żn Interior: Notes on the Icograda World Design Congress 2007, La Habana, Cuba, and our favorite Type with Character. You must not miss her web site www.symbolmaker.com for some spectacular visual graphics and symbols you can actually own -- and if you want to get to know her better, just cruise on over to her web space at www.macnabdesign.com


Maggie coverDecoding Design:
Understanding and Using Symbols
in Visual Communication

by Maggie Macnab
List Price: $35.00 ~ Your Price: $23.10
You Save: $11.90 (34%)
Paperback: 224 pages; Publisher: How; Language: English (Paperback Dimensions: 9.9 x 7.9 x 0.8 inches)

See Maggie's previous article: The Apple Core vs. Linear Logic This article appears in DTG Magazine with permission, Copyright ©2007, Maggie Macnab

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