Hi, Could you introduce yourself?
Well, hello! I’m Kate Rooney, the Brand Director for Design Pickle, an award-winning graphic design subscription service. Prior to joining Design Pickle, I was a creative writer and started my career as a marketing professional in the travel industry. While working on a partnership with Whole Foods Market, I developed a passion for design and taught myself how to use Adobe software (admittedly using a bootlegged version). After building up my resume with freelance projects, I eventually transitioned to a full-time graphic designer.
In early 2018, I joined the Design Pickle team — the brand was barely two years old, and I was excited to be a part of a quickly growing startup that needed someone to lead its artistic vision. Almost three years later, we’ve completely revamped the brand, launched successful new products, and have been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice.
Anyone who works at a startup understands that no two days are ever the same. But to sum up my role as Brand Director, I act as the gatekeeper and strategist behind the company’s brand voice and outward image. I’m responsible for developing innovative marketing campaigns and strategies, as well as guiding the production of our content to ensure it drives growth (and stays on-brand).
What are you working on?
I’m writing this right at the start of Q3, so there are a lot of exciting new projects I’m working on at the moment.
Design Pickle recently launched a brand new product called FreshStock, a stock asset library built for diversity. Each week, our designers publish vectors and design templates that span a variety of topics and categories, making it a great resource for creators looking to diversify their content. At launch, the library had over 30,000 assets, and it grows every week.
Another big project that I’m working on (and SUPER excited about) is launching a new podcast called Creatives Are The Worst. Each week my co-host (our Partnerships Director, Jess) and I explore the stories behind famous (and not-so-famous) creatives that have somehow changed the course of history. From globally renowned artists to unfamiliar risk-takers, our mission is to determine if creatives really are the worst — or just misunderstood!
What are the challenges and successes you’ve faced at Design Pickle?
As I previously mentioned, Design Pickle is a startup going through a tremendous growth period. And while that is exhilarating and enriching, working for a swiftly-evolving organization comes with its own set of challenges.
This, compounded with working remotely, has led to many long hours, late nights, and work-life blending into home-life. I’ve thrown myself into the work (as many of us do), and sometimes it feels like an endless grind. We’ve also pivoted so many times it would make anyone’s head spin.
But it’s also safe to say that it is all worth it. I can confidently state that I’ve learned and grown more during my tenure at Design Pickle than I have at any other job (or even college, for that matter). I’m far more confident in my abilities, and I have a deeper understanding of how a business operates. I’ve met fascinating people, have traveled all over the world, and have been a part of tremendous successes — such as achieving record-breaking MRR and making the Inc. 5000 list two years in a row.
What are your goals?
Aside from getting a million listeners for our podcast after we launch (ha!), another big focus for me this quarter is improving our website and amplifying our content. We’re honing in on our buyer personas, and plan to create an all-new library of creative content aimed at those target audiences. It sounds simple, but with a lean team and a growing product line, it’s definitely a challenge to crank out a high volume of compelling content to align with burgeoning audiences.
Along with these improvements, I’m also aiming to relaunch the Design Pickle newsletter (The Creator’s Digest) in the next few weeks. The publication originally started as a fun side project for me, but quickly gained a large following, so I’m focusing on a reboot with more value for its readers.
Do you have a mentor?
I certainly do, and highly recommend that everyone seeks mentorship at any point in their career. When I was new to the design industry, a wonderful woman named Priscilla took me under her wing. She runs a design firm with her husband (Kurt) called Green Pea Design. I didn’t have much experience (if any), but they took a chance by hiring me as a freelance designer. Priscilla and Kurt taught me so much about the disciplines of graphic design and website development — and also how to manage clients. They always supported me and were patient during the learning process. Even though I’ve moved on to greener pastures, I’m forever grateful for everything they taught me and we remain close friends to this day.
Now that I’m further along in my career, I have different mentors that educate and coach me on my journey. Brown-nosing aside, Design Pickle’s founder and CEO, Russ Perry, has been an invaluable asset to my professional and personal development. He has helped me develop my leadership skills through 1-1 coaching sessions and provided multiple opportunities to extend my training through various programs and seminars. Russ is a brilliant visionary for the company, but also really cares about the growth of his individual team members. Many entrepreneurs have paid for his mentorship; I’m fortunate enough to receive it for free (heck, while getting paid!).
Russ also introduced me to a fantastic coach named Ken Mosesian. Over the course of roughly two months, I worked 1-1 with Ken on leadership development, culminating in a group coaching session with our entire team. Through these sessions, I learned effective communication tactics, how to better manage my time, and how to get over looming imposter syndrome.
Do you mentor anyone?
I wouldn’t say that I am “officially” mentoring any one person on a regular basis, but my coaching sessions with Ken made me realize that I’m driven to be an example of leadership to other women. It’s no secret that the tech space is male-dominant, so I’m very passionate about lifting up other women in the industry.
My team is on the younger side — so when I’m not asking what Tik Tok is or what the word ‘yeet’ means, I love coaching our junior staff members on their professional growth. My management style may be similar to Michael Scott, but this lends to an approachable and friendly dialogue. Whether it’s technical training for Photoshop or advice on content strategy, I’m always available for training or discussion.
What could the tech industry do to better foster female talent?
That’s a great question — and a very complicated one. I want to shout at tech companies from a rooftop: Hire women! Promote women! Pay women! But we’ve been doing that for a while. There’s a lot of pressure on young women to fix the problem; we’re told that we need to speak up more and advocate for ourselves. And while that’s true to an extent, it’s also on the executives to actually listen and address these topics when they’re brought up.
Fostering female talent is also strongly tied to company culture. I cannot stress the importance of company culture enough. It’s not just a buzz word; it’s something that can drastically affect an employee’s performance. Developing a strong company culture takes effort, but it’s so worth it. In my opinion, any organization with a strong, unified culture allows its employees to speak their minds and stand up for what is right. Therefore, working on the business internally and empowering your team allows others to either advocate for themselves, or advocate for others. So if you’re stuck in an organization where the men are huddled around a pinball machine, and no one is willing to listen, include, or support you — run!
What advice would you give to people getting into your field?
Never stop learning, never stop growing.
What’s the best and worst advice you have received?
Best advice: I left nearly every coaching session with Ken Mosesian with multiple “aha!” moments. I’m happy to pass on these valuable knowledge bombs:
- On communication: find as few words as possible to effectively communicate your needs as powerfully as you can. Use minimal, precise language. Constructive criticism does not stem from anger, but also should not be “sweetened up.”
- On professional growth: look up, not down, for what you need to be doing.
- On truth: if you say something, it constitutes as a promise — no matter how small. And it is better to consistently deliver on what you promise than to overpromise and only deliver on some items.
- On gratitude: be authentically humble; acknowledge others relentlessly.
As for bad advice: we’re often told to “be fearless.” But after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I’ve realized that this cliched idiom is invalid. Fear is important (and if you haven’t read The Gift of Fear, please add it to your list now!). And being fearless is simply unattainable (unless you’re a certifiable sociopath). Instead, we should understand our fears, embrace them, and work through them. Because being brave does not require fearlessness.
What’s the best way to keep up to date with what you’re doing?
Despite my career, I am woefully bad at social media. But you can check out pictures of my dog on Instagram (@kate_irl), follow my Design Pickle retweets on Twitter (@the_kate_rooney), or connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/katerooneydesign/).
But most importantly — stay tuned for the launch of Creatives Are The Worst podcast, coming later this summer. I cannot express how excited I am to reveal this project. It came from the heart, and I promise it will be full of wildly interesting stories and a lot of laughter.
Click here to get notified when we launch.
Let’s go, ladies!