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Elena Anunciado is in Love with Powerful, Distinctive Design that Tells Stories

Photos taken by Carli Rude for Riff Creative

Elena Anunciado is a graphic designer, word-lover, doodler, and maker of things. Most of what she does on a daily basis is closely aligned with storytelling through design: branding, editorial/layout work, illustration + hand-lettering, web design, advertising, and more. Her inner world is as colorful as everything she makes, and it’s clearly evidenced through how she communicates + interacts with her world. 

Through words and pictures, she strives to create ways for ideas to be communicated aesthetically, but most importantly, in a way that makes people understand and feel something. 

What is the best part of creating what you do?


I love design because of how much it impacts everything. If you take a look around where you are right now, it’s likely that design has played a piece in each and everything you see—whether it be the book on your shelf, the computer on your lap, the chocolate bar wrapper on your bedside table, and even the space you’re in itself—everything in life holds in itself a way it was designed. 

As a believer, I can say the same about our earth—every mountain, valley, sunset, and star was uniquely created for a purpose, with meaning, and with intention by the creator or all creators, God. I love design because of how interwoven it is into every thread and strand of life and culture. I also really love design because I get to pick cool fonts and choose pretty colors, which are among some of my all-time favorite hobbies. 

What do you draw inspiration from in your designs? 


Whew, from a lot of things! Besides the typical Pinterest, Behance, and Dribbble (which is where I get a LOT of my inspiration from, if I’m being 100% real), I find most inspiration from people + places. There’s so much beauty in the world that surrounds us, and my creativity thrives most when I’m out picnicking on a mountain, sitting in front of some crashing waves, or people-watching on a train station bench. Another huge source of inspiration comes from friends, artists, and fellow creatives whom I admire. I’m blessed to be surrounded by many incredibly talented and hardworking individuals whose dedication to their craft inspires me to do the same. 

What is your favorite project you’ve ever worked on? Why? 


Hm, this is a hard one, because I’m generally a pretty indecisive person, but if I had to choose one, I’d say probably creating a magazine for my Editorial Design Class during my senior year of college. We had the opportunity to create a magazine about anything we wanted, and were in charge of creating every aspect of the magazine—from copywriting, designing, photography, etc. Not only did I get to turn a concept into a reality, but I had the opportunity to interview quite a few people and learn about their stories along the way. This project combined all of my greatest loves into one big project—creating visual/written stories and hearing the stories of others.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing all of the hard work you’ve put into a project as a tangible item that you can actually touch, feel, and flip through. 

How do you stay inspired and avoid creative ruts?


This is something I most certainly haven’t mastered, but the best way I try and avoid creative ruts is to just create for the sake of creating. When I’m feeling especially uninspired, I try not to use that as an excuse to not produce something. Sometimes, it’ll take a series of creating some really bad stuff just to get my brain moving. I see it as a muscle we have to keep exercising. 

Creativity isn’t all just waiting for the right moment—it’s also about persistence, and powering through even when all the ideas seem bleak. As someone who has a loud inner critic, just putting something on the page is sometimes the hardest thing I can do. But empowering myself to just do, and realizing that progress is just as important as the end product has been my go-to way of (attempting to) avoid those dreary creative ruts.

Dream job/dream design collaboration?


There’s a creative agency based in my hometown of Portland, OR, called Wieden + Kennedy, and working for them has been my dream ever since I fell in love with design. After touring their offices in downtown Portland and learning about what globally powerful/radical work they do, for such a wide range of clients, as well as finding out they encouraged dogs in the workplace, it’s been a dream of mine to learn from the creative geniuses at W+K. Another dream job of mine would probably have something to do with travelling and eating for a living. If you hear of something that fits that job description and pays, I’m all ears! 

What does your creative process look like?


I would like to say my creative process is dialed down to a tee, but if I’m being honest, most of the time I’m mostly just freestylin’ it. If I were to put some order to the chaos, though, it’d probably look a little something like this: 

1) Do some inspiration digging—scour the depths of the internet, but mainly Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance, my camera roll, or if I’m lucky, my surroundings (naturescapes tend to bring the most aha! moments). 

2) Attempt to get things on paper. This means sketches, doodles, random letters/shapes, or potentially mimicking an inspo pic I’ve found. This is not so much about developing cohesive concepts, but merely getting all of the thoughts and ideas out there. And if there’s no burst of creativity to be found (which, most of the time doesn’t just come, FYI), the act of just doing and putting SOMETHING down on paper helps to get the wheels turning, even if those wheels are slowly churning. 

3) Move from paper to digital, and dabble around with some half-baked concepts I got down on paper on my computer. This usually requires going back on paper after fleshing out some more ideas on the computer. 

4) Tinker around with whatever I’ve got on my computer for literally hours and hope and pray that something decent comes out of it! I’m my own harshest critic, so it’s generally me feeling unsatisfied with what I’m creating for 99% of the time, and realizing in that last 1% that somehow, the powers above made it all come together the way it needed to.

Fave songs for boosting creativity?


My work tunes are aaaallll over the place, but I’d say a mix of: indie, folk, jazzy/soulful pop, contemporary Christian, Spanish, and some good ole oldies (there’s nothing like a rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that’ll get me through a creative rut)

How does creativity bring goodness to your life?


Creativity adds beauty and color to every aspect of life—and not just creativity in the sense of art, or creating something tangibly. I truly believe that creativity is present in the ways people relate, interact, view the world, and love. Creativity breathes new life into the old, brings warmth to the familiar, and opens up a world of possibilities, and also, appreciation. I’m grateful to be pursuing a field where creativity is at the forefront, constantly—and I’m also grateful for the ways in which creativity weaves itself into every other aspect of my life along the way. 

What do people not know about what you do?


Someone once told me that good design, when done well, should be invisible: not in the sense that it should dissipate into nothingness, but that it should just inherently feel right. A lot of people think that the best design is one that sticks out from a mile away, but that’s not usually the case (if that did happen to you, you might wonder if you accidentally used a horrendous font or something else awful like that). 

Great design should ultimately communicate a message successfully because of the ways, big and small, that you’ve worked on so that it just makes sense. Sometimes it might be spending hours on making sure you’ve modified a font so that it fits a brand perfectly. Other times, it might be tinkering with the colors of a packaging label so that the right emotion can be conveyed. In that fashion, a lot of what I’m doing is making what might seem like small changes that will hopefully lead to a big impact. 

How do you express your identity through your art?


Probably through my appreciation of all things beautiful. Colors that coordinate (mustard yellow is my fave!), fall leaves, or a warm cup of chai (always beautiful). 

Let’s be real, what’s the hardest, most frustrating thing about what you do?


Honestly, the hardest part of what I do currently is probably sitting in front of the computer for as long as I do. With work being remote, human interaction time has been incredibly limited, which makes pushing the boundaries of how long I can go at staring at a screen without a break much, much easier. That, and trying to find inspiration when it seems like there’s really truly none to be found! 

Have you ever considered throwing in the towel? What stopped you?


Oh yes, definitely! I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns, typically at 2am while I’m questioning why I ever decided to pursue design in the first place (it’s true, my mom can attest to this—thanks for every pep talk, ma!). I’ve for sure considered throwing in the towel and pursuing something that wasn’t so frustrating, demanding, and (sometimes) soul-crushing. But at the same time, I’ve always been reminded of how much I really do love what I do. Working with clients to make their dreams turn into a reality is never not rewarding; plus, there’s nothing like holding a freshly printed sample of something you spent hours on designing in your own two hands. At the end of the day, no matter how discouraged I may sometimes feel, I have so much fun doing what I do. 

There’s always something new to be made, people to be inspired by, ideas to be turned into reality, and dreams to be made—and those are a few of many reasons why I haven’t stopped since.

Check out more of Elena’s design and editorial work on her instagram or on her website

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