You hear about people roadtripping to catch a concert or a sporting event. But a lecture by a graphic designer? Never!

Jessica Hische demands the exception. A rock star in the design world, she belts out brand work for big-time clients including Starbucks, MailChimp and director Wes Anderson.

So when I saw that she’d be speaking to AIGA in Omaha, I bought a ticket and gleefully made the three-hour trek, never mind the forecasted three to seven inches of snow.

Hische’s name topped the marquee of Omaha’s Waiting Room Lounge, fittingly, a music venue. Seven months pregnant, she explained that the sold-out show would be her last speaking engagement for a while.

Hische is a letterer, not to be confused with a calligrapher who uses a pen or brush to create typographic flourishes. A letterer draws letters. Her breakout hit was Daily Drop Cap, a blog she started in 2009 featuring all 26 letters in the alphabet, drawn one by one over a dozen rounds.

As fascinated as I am by these elaborately illustrated letters — especially the scrolling snake of an “S” — it is Hische’s informative and passionate explanations about design that delight me. Her “Should I work for free?” flow chart (surprisingly, sometimes the answer is yes) is required reading.

Hische’s talk in Omaha, “Remember the Analog,” centered on her creative process for clients. Like most of us, she’s tethered to the digital world through social media and email. But doing one’s finest work requires unplugging. “The best time is no-computer time,” she said.

Her design work is characterized by impeccable style backed with substance. To achieve that she does a lot of research. A LOT of research! When she collaborated with Penguin Books on a series of 26 drop-cap book covers, she spent a year and a half reading the books. Through that discovery process, characters in the classic books informed the letters.  

Brainstorming also is an important step. Hische opened up her sketchbooks to show lists of word associations that inspired her drawings.

“The creative process takes time,” she said. “So it’s best to love the journey.”

Penguin Drop Caps with Jessica Hische

Penguin Drop Caps with Jessica Hische

When it’s time to present concepts to a client, Hische advises to always play your A game — easier said than done in this expect-it-yesterday world. After one client complained that she sent jpegs of sketches, she began taking the time to send PDFs with explanations of her thought process captioning her designs.

“It’s like showing up to a party in black tie when you don’t know the dress code,” she said. “At least you know you’ll be the best dressed one there.”

Hische’s hour-and-a-half talk felt like 5 minutes. I wanted the crowd to clap for an encore to bring her back for more. They didn’t, but no matter. Hische had already given us plenty to think about for the long drive home. 

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