As an art director at The Black Sheep Agency, Jo Skillman has created impact-driven design for the agency’s clients for close to seven years now. She’s art directed and designed campaigns for the White House (Michelle Obama), The National Women’s Conference and the new HUMAN campaign for BakerRipley, and she’s the creative behind “Design for Good,” a new collaboration between Better Make Room and Zazzle. She also believes that the best ideas come from places other than the internet. Learn more about her below.
Name: Jo Skillman
The Black Sheep Agency
Design school attended: Texas Tech University, College of Visual and Performing Arts, BFA in Communication Design
How would you describe your work?
I like to build things that are clever and unexpected. Everything has layers; the more you look at it, the more you notice small details. I try not to make anything look like I have a style, but just to reflect the client and all the facets of their personality. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes I collage. Sometimes I do neither of those things.
Because I’m Black Sheep’s art director and we’re an impact-driven business, I get to work on things that make life better for people, so that’s a theme in my work.
Where do you find inspiration?
I try not to find inspiration from the internet, or spend too much time looking at what other designers of the day are doing. I do a lot of reading and antiquing and road trips and exploring, so I try to pull inspiration from those things—the things no one else is seeing at the same times or in the same way as me.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
Betty Willis, designer of neon signs back in the fifties and sixties (and the lady responsible for the Fabulous Las Vegas sign), is certainly an icon for me. I admire Dirk Fowler (F2 Design) for his simplicity and cleverness. He was my most influential professor, and posters and logos are still my favorite things to make. Gig posters and album covers are what got me into design. I have to mention my coworker at Black Sheep, Bill Ferenc, who is wildly talented. He’s definitely my favorite designer.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
I got to work on logos for the Houston Spaceport, the world’s first urban spaceport ever. That was a freelance gig. Even the discovery process was really exciting for me. Of course, they chose none of them, but it was still probably my favorite logo work I’ve done to this day.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
In October of 2015 Black Sheep launched the Better Make Room campaign for former First Lady Michelle Obama to get more high school students to attend college. Soon after launch, the American Eagle in Times Square donated the entirety of the digital billboards on the exterior of their building to the campaign, and I somehow ended up with less than a day to design that whole building. That would have been a little stressful, but what made it truly challenging was the fact that the building is interactive, so students could tweet at it and actually see their tweets and Instagram posts on the building if they used certain hashtags. So I had to figure out all that, too. And then I had to design all the instructions for getting your words onto the building as part of the building, so then it was just coated in text. It was a day of panic, but eventually it all worked out.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
The city of Houston is a great place for design and designers, but most people outside the city don’t know that. I think we can put it on the map as a design and arts center. Creativity lives here, too. And we have the best food.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Don’t underestimate practice. You’ll be a better designer in one year than you are now. Not knowing how to do something is not a reason not to do it anyway. Build your portfolio around the work you want, not the work you have. Make friends. Be memorable. Tell good stories.