In the fourth of a series on our 10 IMPACT Award winners, Sarah Gaydos, art director at GRAPHEK, talks about creating concept-driven and strategic design solutions. She won in the Emerging Talent category. “It’s really exciting to see everybody putting a lot more emphasis on [DEI] and making sure that people are seeing themselves in the designs that we create,” she said.
In addition to being an 18-time award winner—including 11 EXCELs—GRAPHEK art director Sarah Gaydos has done it all in design, all through the lens of DEI. Her designs stem from deep creative insights, an understanding of audiences, and how to incorporate relatable design elements into her visual design strategy and solutions.
She has advocated for herself and the other designers for additional Paid Time Off for mental wellness, better benefits for all employees, and providing feedback to the company handbook to be more inclusive. Gaydos also takes it on herself to onboard new designers, implement project management software, ask volunteers to help on projects, and organize team-building outings.
Here are highlights from our Zoom interview.
AMPlify: As a designer, what do you see as your biggest strength and how has that developed over the years?
Sarah Gaydos: I’d say layout. One of my first loves was magazine and report design. But I also love data visualization, so [I enjoy] trying to bring data into visual storytelling in a dynamic way and making it scannable, so that people are seeing those impactful numbers. I always try to find opportunities to bring that in. My degree was in publications design and data visualization. As I’ve grown, I’d say the emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion in layout is something that I feel like we’re doing as an industry.
That’s so important in how we present things today. My pet peeve with illustrations is seeing white hands everywhere.
Sarah: Yes, I feel like even just within illustrations [there’s a responsibility]. [White hands] are like the go-to, and it shouldn’t be like that anymore. I make sure that when I’m doing sketching—we still do a lot of pen-to-paper which we love—I’m thinking it through: “What does this look like for all people?” Not just making it a bunch of white hands or white hair styles.
Back to the data visualization. Do you require different elements from your writers now?
Sarah: We have kickoff calls with them at the beginning of every issue or project, thinking through where we could best pull in those hard numbers that we need. And also where we can pull in some of the soft infographics—trying to bring in diagrams or visual storytelling that way because I know it is hard to gather data, especially if your members are survey tired.
Have you been able to return those meetings to in-person? How did it work during the pandemic?
Sarah: It’s great to be able to do the kickoff meetings or wrap-up meetings in person. But when we’re generally presenting concepts or talking through what designs would look like, those have often been online. So it wasn’t a crazy shift into the pandemic, which was nice. The one thing I’ve liked about Zoom is seeing people’s backgrounds and having a little bit of their personalities peek through.
How do you see yourself growing in the next couple years? Are there other things that you’d like to be doing within this job?
Sarah: I started as a designer at GRAPHEK and have worked my way up to art director. I love that we’re geared towards social good and doing work for people and organizations that make an impact on the world. It feels self-fulfilling—as much as I love design, I’m doing it for good causes. So I definitely want to continue that and take a more active role in leading and guiding young designers on our team and having them see their full potential and making an impact in the association communities. [I’ll] continue to push these important social justice rules like causes. And just really try to grow as a leader within our team and move into that role a little bit more.
I’ve been working in associations most of my career; I’ve always liked the idea that we’re helping good, hard-working folks.
Sarah: I have friends that work for some big agencies, and I’m like that’s really cool, but I would much rather be working on something about climate change and the reports on impacts of planting a tree than a Coca-Cola campaign or an ad about McDonald’s. It’s just much more satisfying, and it makes you feel good when you go to work vs. just trying to get the paycheck.
Is there anything else you you’d like to add?
Sarah: There’s no way I would be here on my own without the support of the GRAPHEK team and my mentor Ellen Kim. She’s just been a huge inspiration. It’s a big team effort for everything that we do.