Design Revolutionary: Melissa Morris Ivone

Girl crush alert! (And yes, I have one on Debbie Millman, too.) When you get to Boston for this year’s HOW Design Live (and you ARE going to be in Boston, right?) you have to seek out Melissa Morris Ivone. Seriously, this girl is remarkable: super talented, super energetic and super nice. (For proof of the latter, see Mel’s website, OperationNICE.)

After attending the HOW Design Conference for the past several years and becoming part of a loose confederation of conference-goers who call themselves HOWies, Mel has scored an invitation to present at this year’s event. And we couldn’t be more excited to have her join the roster of HOW speakers.

A Philly designer who very recently left a 10-year in-house design gig to join a startup company, Melissa epitomizes the Design Revolutionary ideal—a talented creative pro who’s pushing her own boundaries and sharing her energy with her design peers. Given that she started her new job about 10 days ago, Mel is super busy right now … yet she graciously agreed to do this interview via e-mail. Methinks she was up very late over the weekend to send me her responses. There’s so much good stuff here that I’ll be posting Part 2 of my e-conversation with Melissa on Thursday, so stay tuned.

Want to meet Melissa Morris Ivone? Sure you do! And you know how … simply register for HOW Design Live now, and then look for the cool gal in the Warby Parker glasses strolling through the Hynes Convention Center in June.

So, Melissa—you and I have crossed paths many times. But let’s help the folks reading this to get to know you. Tell us a little about you and what you do.

Well, let’s see … I like long walks on the beach, indie rock, plaid and karaoke. I dislike unloading the dishwasher, wind, vegetables and making logos bigger.

Joking aside, I live in the Philadelphia area, which I absolutely love. For the last 10 years of my career I’ve worked in-house as the creative services manager for a pharmaceutical management company in the city. As the solo designer there, I had my hand in everything from marketing collateral to large format displays to 250-page manuals to signs that hung in the bathrooms. Glamorous, for sure. In my spare time, I’ve always been a bit of a serial hobbyist. For a few years I was designing stationery and paper goods for my online shop, melissahead designs. I’ve tried my hand at bookbinding, knitting, sewing, etc. I’ve always been a fan of making stuff.

We’re doing this interview just 2 weeks after you made a HUGE change, leaving a job with an in-house team and going to work for a startup company in Philadelphia. How’s the transition going?

It’s been phenomenal! Initially, I went through a period where I was absolutely terrified. How could I leave the place that had been my “home” for a decade? It wasn’t my dream job in any sense, but I had a massive level of comfort there which can be tough to give up. There are certain perks that come along with a tenure like that: flexibility, a nice office with an Aeron chair, great vacation time. I was giving all of that up, which made me nervous. One of the reasons why I had stayed at the same place for so long was because I was able to pursue so many of the other things I was passionate about in my free time, and I really enjoyed that.

But the right opportunity presented itself, and I was at a good position to make a change. And I have never been so happy. I can honestly say now that I love my job. I went from having that Sunday night dread to actually feeling legitimately excited to go to into the office each morning. It’s exhilarating! I feel really privileged.

What prompted you to make the big leap to a new job?

Last October I participated in an event called Startup Weekend. You spend one weekend, 54 hours, working on a team to create and launch a web and/or mobile application which could be a credible business. It only took that one weekend for me to become fascinated with the world of startups. I discovered that they are an excellent opportunity for designers, and I quickly became more involved with the Philadelphia startup community, even becoming an organizer for the upcoming Philadelphia Startup Weekend.

As a primarily print designer, I started reading up on UI/UX and interactive design and tech blogs and business magazines. I felt like a foreigner. (Still do, honestly.) Luckily I made a friend at Startup Weekend who has more experience in this arena and has selflessly mentored me through this wacky transition. I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to make the leap without his help.

The thing that I really love about being a part of a startup is the fact that I’m not just a service employee anymore. I’m part of a team, helping to build something awesome. What I do matters.

And it’s exciting, knowing that people are going to be using a product that I helped create! Like I said, I really have always been a fan of making stuff.

I’ve always envied your energy level! In addition to your day job, you launched the wonderful website You have a blog, you created an online sketching project a couple of years ago after being inspired at the HOW Conference. Startup Weekend. How do you make time for it all?

My husband jokes that he’s going to get a girlfriend because his wife is never around anymore! Time management has never been my strong suit, so usually when I become obsessed with a new project, I neglect an old one. That’s been the case with Operation NICE lately. I ran that site for years, and now it’s time for a little hiatus while I get settled into my new career.

I do like to keep busy though. Traveling, going to concerts and lectures and festivals, taking classes, trying new things. At a HOW Conference a few years back, I think it might have been Austin in 2009, Von Glitschka talked about a matchstick metaphor in his presentation. He said that we go through life collecting matchsticks. Everything we do is a new matchstick. And one day, that matchstick might light the fire of a brilliant idea. I have been obsessed with that concept ever since, so if I have a choice between sitting at home on the couch or getting off my butt to go collect some more matchsticks, you can bet I’m going for it!

Later this week, Mel will talk about her upcoming HOW experience—and also about another HOW experience that, I can say with total confidence, changed her life.

Learn more about Mel’s HOW session, How to Survive Your Soul-Crushing Day Job … and come to Boston to find out how she escaped that day job in favor of something better. Don’t forget to register for HOW Design Live this week!

One thought on “Design Revolutionary: Melissa Morris Ivone

  1. Runderella

    You cannot miss Melissa’s session! I was whining this morning to my husband because I can’t go to HOW this year, and then nearly went into a full-blown temper tantrum reading this. This will be one of the sessions that you will TOTALLY regret missing. Seriously.