Success Ideas and Tips from Master Graphic Designer, Joan Libera


Success Secrets from Joan Libera of Libera Design:

  • Develop and create a vision of what you want to accomplish in your life and life’s work.
  • You have to have the passion and the love to pursue what you want to do.
  • Put the work of artists you really appreciate and respect on your walls.
  • Send for, and study, information about companies you’re interested in. Then call up the CEO or the CFO and try to create an opportunity to meet with them to talk about what their vision is.


Joan Libera has been blending visual art and marketing directives to create dynamic, effective communication tools for over 20 years through her firm, Libera Design. Ms. Libera has won numerous national financial and design awards, including honors from Financial World, NIRI, the Mead Annual Report Show, the New York Art Directors Club, AR-Black Book, AIGA, the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles, and Print. Her client list is quite diverse and has included Borland, Litton Industries, Spelling Productions, SunAmerica-AIG/Kaufman & Broad, LAX, Novadyne Inc./HP, and the United States Navy/NAF/Blue Angels.


On getting started in business:

In 1984, I decided I wanted to have the freedom to create, build, connect, and it was the right time for me to do that. I wasn’t working for someone else, but previous to going it alone I had a business partner. We parted around then, and I thought it was time for me to form my own business approach.


Joan’s thoughts on the keys to success:

I would say that the key to my success is being centered-brained. Not necessarily left-brain or right-brain, but being right in the center. Having a finance and fine art background and literally smashing the 2 together to create a way to work with people and work with companies.


On working with entrepreneur CEO’s and CFO’s:

I found that I like working with entrepreneur CEO’s and CFO’s because I respect their vision and business sense. I wanted to join in and help them realize their goals. An entrepreneur has to have a vision; a unique plan and they can’t always put their vision into what it should or shouldn’t be, or what it should look like.

Most of the time they cannot even describe what their vision is. At least not like they are able to do for a financial document. But to take a document and describe what the vision is, to try to say, “Okay, where you want to be in two years, in five years,” and I have the opportunity to develop a plan with a creative approach to communicate their message to a particular audience.


On translating a CEO’s vision into a particular medium:

I would look at what they are trying to do, and basically look for a common theme in what they were trying to say. If they were able to communicate that verbally, then I would literally write everything down. Then I would look for common themes within the writing, while at the same time allowing the words to depict visual images in my mind. I would then research like and unlike businesses and then use the words and visuals to create a way to market them. I think that is what made me successful and in turn contributed to their success.


On accomplishments that stand out:

I would say that I’m really happy about everything that I did, some things more than others. I think what made me most happy was to living up to my commitments and promises, and accomplishing what I said I would do.

Would you do anything different if you were to start over?

No. Not really. I’ve really enjoyed the entire journey. I only worked for one major Designer in Chicago. He was one of the designers in the “Design 27 Group in Chicago” at that time.


On getting started out of school:

I was born and raised in Cicero Illinois. I went to The Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago. After graduating, I interviewed with some of the top designers, and basically I did not have a design portfolio. Mine was more fine art, illustration and advertising. But when the designer I was interviewing with looked at it and said, “Oh, you’re a designer,” I said, “Well, great!”

I didn’t get the job right away because jobs were pretty scarce at the time. So I went on lots of interviews. After a while, I decided that I wanted to work for Norman Perman and that was it! So I just literally created a plan to get hired, but he wanted to be sure that I could take dictation and type.


The qualifications needed for the job, and contingencies:

Yes, dictation and typing. Both of those I could do, but I was never really good at either. He hired me because I was a total package along with my fine art background. I had the opportunity to work with some very powerful companies, and when he went on his vacation, he left me in charge of everything while he was gone. That was great.

He also had a contingency from the beginning. He said I could work there only for one year. But once the year was up, he wanted me to continue working and I asked him, “Why one year?” He said that in his previous experience working with designers, they started to develop their own vision of what they wanted to be and then wouldn’t take direction. And I said, “Oh. I didn’t know that. I want to design whatever it is for you and the client to be successful. I decided to stay on, but a little bit later I decided to move to California, and that’s when all the craziness started here.


Joan’s thoughts on business development:

Though I don’t have a business development program in place now, I did early on, in the beginning when I get started my company in 1984.

My system was mostly reading. Lot’s of reading: business magazines and newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal. I tried to understand and anticipate where the market was going, and learn the new technologies. Then, I would send away for information about the company, read their information, analyze what they did, and look at how they marketed themselves. Based on my understanding, I would call up the CEO or the CFO and try to create an opportunity to meet with them to talk about what their vision was.


I created a system of indexing clients where I would constantly stay on top of the people I had called and actually develop personal relationships with them. Not necessarily going after their business, but looking to develop some kind of personal connection.

These days that’s harder to do, because so few people take your call.


On going solo:

About 2 years ago, I made a decision to change the dynamics of my office by not having employees and to work with specific people on a contract or hourly basis.

I started by giving everyone in my office 6 months notice, then I followed through. I felt that the technology and the overhead was more than I wanted, and the nurturing and working with the staff was very time consuming, something like 24/7, and I needed to spend more time with my thoughts and what I wanted to do. So, I changed.


The challenges of having employees:

Making sure projects get done on time and within budget is the hardest part. The creative part is easy. I believe I was a good employee. I listened, and if I don’t necessarily agree, I’ll do what someone asks, but I’ll offer other solutions on my time and not on their dime. Many times designers who are employees will do what they want to do, and it doesn’t always work. As an employer you want them to be able to be creative, and express that creativity, but they have to accomplish the task within a certain time frame and on a certain budget, and that is the part you need to manage, as you probably know.


Joan’s thoughts on hobbies and activities to stay in balance:

I had always been a runner. Then my husband and a couple of friends started challenging me. So, for my first marathon I trained for 6 weeks. Then in one weekend, I ran 18 miles and thought, “Wow, if I can do that, I can do the marathon.”

You’ve got to have your physical, but you’ve also got to have your mental. It’s that mental strength that says I’m going to run 4 or 5 hours, whatever it takes. So basically, I was running with my husband and friends and they were running a little too slow for me, so I kind of “left” them. And I beat all of them! I did it in 4 hours, so that was pretty good. It was in Palos Verde’s, CA, over the hills. It was probably one of the more difficult ones.

I also did a double century called the RSVP, 200 miles, 2 days, from Seattle to Vancouver going to the border on bicycles and biking in the Canadian highway.


The Blue Angels

Another thing, and this was really exciting for me, I was a sponsor, worked with and was the designer for the NAF El Centro Air Show, home of the Blue Angels for 4 years. I was able to market their air shows. I didn’t do it for the money; I did it for the experience, and to help our Navy.

What I get out of it was a tent right on the flight line so I could invite friends and clients, and then go to parties with the Blue Angels. I also got to fly jets and do aerobatics. I was able to fly strait up and do all sorts of dives and other challenging maneuvers. They actually gave me the controls. It was great. I loved it. I’d design for free if they’d let me fly every day. (Laughter)


On seminars, consultants and business coaches:

The only consultants I’ve actually used for business are accountants and lawyers. The majority of information I’ve found useful comes from reading books on management, managing people, and managing businesses.

The last seminar I went to was an AIGA conference in Denver, just to see what is going on, to stay in touch, and what progress was being made. Actually I met a lawyer there. She was the speaker on how to draw up contracts, so I spent a lot of time talking with her and have stayed in touch. I felt it was about time that designers stepped up to the plate and became more business savvy. I think that is very important. We are not only designers; we are business owners as well. AIGA is a good organization for helping promote that.


Joan’s thoughts on building and sustaining a career:

In order to grow and sustain a business you have to have the passion and the love, and pursue what you want to do. And if you have the passion, and you make the commitment to what you are doing, and you’re consistent with it, you will be successful. But you’ve got to forge that vision for yourself, push yourself, and enjoy what you do. It’s all about loving what you do.

When I first started out, I put the artwork of artists I really appreciated and respected on my walls. Seeing those images always gave me the inspiration to do what I wanted to do. I looked at what they did, and said, “I can do this.”

Also reading, learning, experiencing life. Walking down the street and really seeing what is happening. Going to the market and studying people and having a consistent focus on what you want to do, and a vision of what you want to accomplish in your business. Hopefully all those things will keep you on tract.

This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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