We had the good fortune of connecting with GG LeMere and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi GG, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work life balance is an interesting term. By definition balance is an even distribution of things that are equal or in similar proportions. But as a creative person, striving for (what I thought was) balance was a setup for failure. Early in my career, I was determined to find the balance that the internet said I needed to have. At the time, that meant me looking for a literal balance in time – between work and home. Anyone who’s worked in the creative industry knows when you’re on a deadline, it’s the 11th hour, and the client wants revisions or to see all new options, time at work will end up very disproportionate to time at home. And whether you’re working on a deadline or not, creative work doesn’t come with a stop or start. The space in your brain devoted to work in the creative profession is something that never shuts off. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas when I’m not at my desk… taking a shower, working out, doing anything other than forcing myself to be creative where my brain has space to just be. It’s why some creatives keep sketchbooks by their bedside. We have AHA! moments when we’re winding down to go to sleep and we need to write the ideas down or they might be gone by morning. As a young designer I often wanted to work on extra projects because I was trying to create opportunity for growth at my current job while building a portfolio for my future. And even though my job is and always has been (most days) really fun for me, volunteering for extra projects meant putting in more time at work. Once I had kids, finding what I thought was supposed to be a time balance between work and home became even more of a struggle. It often felt like if work was going smoothly, I wasn’t spending enough time with my family. But if I was focusing on more family things, I’d have to leave the office before I felt settled with what I was working on. Fast forward to owning and running my own design business, and that division of time became even more fuzzy. Ironically, the fuzziness has made it clear that there’s no such thing as a work life balance as related to time. My primary reason for leaving the agency world and working for myself from a home office was to be more available for my kids. To be able to make my own schedule and work early or late or on weekends if my kids schedules needed me during the day. Parenting and running my own business are the two hardest things I’ve ever chosen to do. Doing them at the same time made me feel stretched thinner than I ever had been. But somehow there was contentment in the struggle because I was jumping between the 2 things I love most… my family and my creative work. For me, work life balance is an ebb and flow. It’s a combination of making sure I’m doing something I enjoy as often as possible, mixed with knowing I’ve taken care of the things that are most important when they need my attention — be it at work or at home. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself from running my own business is that being creative IS my meditation. Sometimes that means gardening, sometimes it means reorganizing a bookcase and sometimes it means solving creative problems for my clients. Too many days in a row of office duties like billing or emailing or various account services and I get angsty. I’ve learned I need to take a day to focus on a creative task, so I can recenter myself. Being able to create my own schedule has also shown me that I am most productive in the mornings (often after a good workout). There are days I can get more done between 5am and 9am than I do between 9am and 5pm. The older I get the more I realize there’s no ‘supposed to’ in life and work life balance is no exception. The Googles don’t get to decide how we’re supposed to find it. No matter what your work is… whether it’s working for a business and needing to divide your time between business and family or taking care of your family and needing to divide your time between time for yourself and time for others… our work is part of life. The ebb and flow in and out of doing things to keep our minds happy helps us find balance. For me, my creative work makes me happy and I may dip into the work zone more than others to find my balance. We have to find it for ourselves. And it’s a work in progress. What creates balance now may not be the same thing that creates it later. Saying all this sounds a lot more zen than I ever feel in my head. The real question now is: Does knowing the best way to find your balance mean you always feel balanced? Nope. All we can do is the best we can do.
What should our readers know about your business?
Smidge Design Studio is a multidisciplinary design studio that focuses on bridging our client’s business strategy with a visual strategy. My work life before Smidge was rooted in design for agencies that worked for every type of business from luxury and travel brands to professional sports teams to Fortune 500 corporations to lifestyle and hospitality brands. That diversity has afforded Smidge the ability to partner with a variety of clients of all shapes and sizes. Smidge primarily functions in 2 capacities: 1. Direct to client: Where to put it simply, we become your business’s best advocate by helping your customer understand your product or service in a way that’s sincere, true to your brand story and always visually compelling. And 2. Collaboration with other agencies: Agencies who might need a little extra muscle added to their existing creative team or agencies who don’t have a full design team on staff, but would like to add comprehensive design services to a larger strategic branding initiative. We also just recently opened an online shop called Smidge&Co. with modern prints and paper goods inspired by color, typography and kindness. We’re most proud of our high standards that apply to every project, with a “listen first” philosophy. The name Smidge comes from the concept of always being ‘in pursuit.’ I had a print rep that I worked with for over 10 years who also became a dear friend. He would tease me that I was the only creative he ever worked with who was so much the perfectionist that I would ask him to move something just a “smidge” or a “skosh” … Skosh was too hard to spell … so Smidge was born. Whether it’s from concept to printing, concept to installation or concept to launch, the drive to make it the best it can be is relentless. We commit to worrying about details large and small, so our clients don’t have to. That tenacity paired with a lot of listening and asking the right questions creates a scenario where — whether clients come to us knowing exactly what they need or want, or if they aren’t quite sure — either way, together we come up with a solution to strategically accomplish their business goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than a client who in the end says “This is nothing like I ever thought it would be, and it’s exactly what we needed.” How did I get to where I am today? Lots of hours working alongside some very talented and very wise people. Design school only provides the tip of the iceberg for working in the design business. I knew early in my career that I either wanted to be a top level creative partner at an agency or to have my own studio. In light of that, I was intentional about choosing where I applied to work, and for whom. I wanted to work at the agencies that were known as the best in Phoenix and I made sure to never stop learning. Some people say to get really good at that one thing that you do. Instead, I wanted to be versatile. I knew where my strengths were, but also wanted at least a foundational understanding of all aspects of what a creative agency provides. That meant expanding my knowledge base beyond just traditional design… into areas like account services, printing, how to think for advertising and how think strategically for larger brand systems… while also absorbing as much as I could about the business side of design. Growing a diverse knowledge base, paired with 20 years of creating relationships with some of the best in the Valley for marketing strategy, printing, digital development, etc allows Smidge today, to provide a holistic creative agency service to our clients. Life circumstances have helped me choose the business ownership path. And no, none of it’s been easy, but it’s all been worth it! I love what I do and so do my colleagues. I strongly believe that if we’re having fun creating something, our client’s audience will have fun interacting with it. The joy comes through during the whole process from meetings to execution to the final product. How have I overcome the challenges? Luckily, I have a rock solid support system that keeps telling me not to give up. And a lot of small business owner friends and mentors who are happy to offer their wisdom when I need it. In small business ownership there’s no other way to go but forward. To learn from failures, and to take time to celebrate victories — big and small. I’m also constantly reminding myself that it’s true what they say: In order to grow, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Most important lesson I’ve learned along the way… collect the good people. Eventually, you’ll have an arsenal of support and guidance.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My dad was a residential realtor in Phoenix for over 40 years and he would always tell his clients who just moved here that Phoenix was one of the best places to find all sorts of good authentic food because this city is such a popular place for relocation and we have people who migrate from all over bringing their home cooked recipes with them. Since you can’t come to Arizona without having good Mexican food we’d have to go to Carolinas for the best bean and cheese burrito or to Azteca Kitchen & Bakery for their green chile. And if they liked spicy food we’d make sure to stop in at Los Dos Molinos. My mom is Chinese, so any friend of mine knows they’d be going to Dim Sum at least once. Probably at Dragon Palace. And then stop in to Lee Lee Supermarket if, for no other reason, than it smells like my childhood with all the fresh seafood (some still live) in the back of the market. One day for sure we’d wander through downtown near Roosevelt row to check out the murals by local artists. Or see what’s showing at the Phx art museum or at one of my favorite spaces, the Bentley Gallery. Before we left downtown, we’d have to make a stop at Lux Coffeebar on central for their hipster vibe, funky mismatched decor and local art on the walls. Or grab an iced coffee and a vegan treat at Dark Hall Coffee. We’d have reservations at the Joya Spa at Montelucia, get massages, relax in their amazing (and good smelling) relaxation room and if it were summer we’d spend the afternoon by the pool that overlooks Camelback. That night we’d go to Pomo Pizzeria at Gainey Village for wood fired pizza and then next door to Luna Gelateria for dessert. The passion fruit pistachio gelato might be one the best things I’ve ever eaten. In the warmer months I’d take her to Lake Pleasant to Scorpion Bay. We’d rent a boat, kayak or paddle board and spend the day on the water. I’d also take her hiking. Early. To watch an Arizona sunrise from the top of Piestewa or Camelback mountain. After, we might have breakfast in the courtyard at Luci’s at the Orchard. And since she’s here a week, we may also road trip to Sedona to hike Devil’s Bridge and take a detour to Page Springs wine cellar to sample a flight. Depending on the time of year, our day trip may instead be to Flagstaff where I just did one of my favorite hikes ever for the first time to see the leaves changing color through the forest at Locket Meadow/Inner Basin Trail. Before we came home we’d stop to say hi to my daughter at NAU. For a day when we wanted to stay near home we’d go shopping at Kierland or the Quarter where we might stop in at North Italia for a drink and share an order of their salted caramel budino. (Another one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!) To relax and catch up in the evenings we’d go to Postino for a happy hour glass of wine. Or to the Vig Arcadia for some bocce and live music. We also might just stay home, cook or order takeout and chat on my really comfy couch! And finally, I’d take her to Melinda’s Alley… a speakeasy style bar literally in the basement of a hotel. You enter through a narrow downtown alley at the door under a single red light, go down some concrete stairs and find yourself in a dimly lit bar in what feels like what was once a long storage corridor. There’s two bars, cozy vintage decor and a delicious cocktail menu written on the wall that changes every time you go. You feel like you’ve been transported back in time and out of the desert.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have my parents example to thank for my drive and the “I think I can” mentality. Both of them worked their way up from entry-level corporate jobs into top-level leadership positions. The actual “making it possible” is thanks to my husband. His belief in me, supporting me in giving up a very stable, well paying job for a dream and a desire to be more available to our kids… It’s what continues to drive me today. Without his love, patience and support, I don’t know if I would have wanted to make the leap and I certainly don’t know if I would have stayed the course on days when it’s been most difficult.
RYN Photography Tracy LeMere