Interview with a Designer: Emily Heling

As BFA Writing and English majors, we are often more concerned with the manuscript when it comes to book production. You might’ve been drawn into the publishing industry because of all the stages of editing and proofreading. There is, however, an essential step in book production that we often overlook due to our obsession with words.


If you’re aiming for the publishing industry, there’s a high chance you’ll have to work alongside designers on a project. Knowing a bit about the Adobe programs and what goes into the design, along with having experience working with words, can make you a double threat to your fellow applicants. 

Luckily for us, UW-Green Bay has its very own student-run publishing group: the Teaching Press. With Dr. Meacham as the director, students can get hands-on experience in design, client-relations, and editing. Recently, the Press has released The VIking House Saga: A Journey into Experiential Archeology at UW-Green Bay, Lower Fox River PCB Cleanup Timeline, and a third book titled A Portrait of Grief and Courage set to be launched this December.

Emily Heling is the designer behind The VIking House Saga and Portrait of Grief and Courage, and she is pursuing a major in both Design Arts and Spanish Translation with a minor in Marketing. In this interview conducted by Creatives Intern Rachel Mendez, Emily shares her experience working with the Teaching Press.

Students who majored in English or Writing (such as Sam Vondrum and Rachel Mendez) worked in the Teaching Press as designers. Designing experience with the Press offers an additional publishing skill for English or Writing majors interested in publishing, so If you’re looking for ways to beef up your resume for the publishing industry, designing for the Teaching Press is the way to go! 

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

RACHEL: What was your design experience prior to the Teaching Press, if any? Did you have experience with any Adobe programs?

I did have a little experience with Adobe programs in high school, but I never did graphic design. The first semester that I joined the Teaching Press, I was also in a Graphic Design Studio 1 class, so I was learning Photoshop and Illustrator skills, but I had absolutely no idea what Indesign was–and that is [the main Adobe program] I use [for designing books].

had no [prior design experience] other than classwork. 

RACHEL: What was your first impression of the Teaching Press? Did you know much about it before joining?

I actually had no idea that it was ever a part of UWGB. I had no idea what it was. I originally applied for Sheepshead Review but I was declined, probably for the lack of experience I had. But [the email from Sheepshead] encouraged me to sign up for the Teaching Press internship. I honestly didn’t see it for a while until I re-read the email, and I thought maybe I’d do it. I didn’t know what it’d entail, but I thought it’d be good for professional experience. 

RACHEL: After you were assigned the role of Designer, what were your initial thoughts? Were you excited or nervous? Maybe a mix of both?

I was assigned the role of designer, which I was pretty much the only one interested in my class right off the bat. I had no idea what that meant or entailed, and I had no idea what that project [workload] would be on me. But I was really excited. It was kind of surreal thinking that “Oh, I’m going to design this book and my name’s going to be published in it, and I’m working with professional people and professional authors.”

I was a little taken aback by the fact that I actually did get the position, but I wasn’t really nervous because I was just ready to learn new things.

RACHEL: What would you say has been the most challenging part about being a designer? How have you overcome that challenge, or is it still something you face?

There’s a little bit of challenging work with the authors. You are designing to their style and liking. You have creative freedom, but it’s within certain parameters. Obviously you have to work with criticism from the authors. You have to work with the authors not liking certain things, [or you might] pitch ideas and get shot down right away because that’s just how it works. With the authors for Viking House, both had very different ideas of how they wanted the design to be. But it eventually came together, and we meshed the two ideas. They wanted a lot more in the book than I put in, just because I wanted [a simpler design]. [But I tried out my simpler design first] and I think that they ended up liking it afterwards. I think every author is going to be selective about their creation. 

It’s just something you have to work through. Other authors like Sandy [author of Portrait of Grief and Courage], she kind of just gave me the freedom to design the book. She said, “I have no idea how I want this to look, so you give me ideas and I’ll have [feedback].” So with Sandy, I started with very basic colors [and we went from there]. 

RACHEL: When you receive a project or learn about one, as a designer, do you already have a concept in your mind of how you want it to look before presenting your ideas to the clients?

When I receive a project I have to read the book first. I have to see what the book’s about. I have to see the tone of it. The Viking House Saga was very uplifting and instructional, whereas Portrait of Grief and Courage is very solemn and memoir-focused and history-based. 

When I get a project, I don’t instantly have an idea of how I want it to be. I have to do some research. Especially with Portrait of Grief and Courage, since it’s about Hmong refugees, I researched Hmong symbols and Hmong culture and what different colors represent in that culture, [and then I went from there]. With The Viking House, I originally gave them many ideas, very [illustrative] and architectural ideas. And I had to talk to them first before I even had the idea of how to even present these things because I needed to know where their style was at, especially since those clients were very particular on how they wanted their own book.

RACHEL: What is your favorite part about being a designer? 

My favorite part would probably be the preliminary [stages]. Even though I go through a lot of stages of [creative back and forth with the authors] and [periods] of taking things out and adding things in, I think that’s the most interesting part. The experimental part of it where you’re playing around with different colors, different [illustrations], different layouts, different texts–everything is just going to be different. And then there’s a very relieving moment where you get the approval of everything you’ve just done, and it’s set in stone.

RACHEL: Are there any specific skills that your experience with the Press helped you refine or gain?

Like I said, I came in knowing pretty much nothing. I know the ins-and-outs of Adobe InDesign now. I know where to go and how to navigate that Adobe program. Same with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator [when it comes to] editing photos, because a lot of photos in Portrait of Grief and Courage needed a boost since they were so dark. And then with Illustrator, creating [illustrations] for The Viking House Saga. I got more fluent in those programs. 

Obviously there’s more learning to do and I don’t know everything, but I ‘ve gotten a lot more practice with these programs and I feel a lot more confident with them. That, and professional experience. I feel it’s really rewarding to work with professional clients and people. 

RACHEL: Recently the Press released The Viking House Saga with authors Prof. Sherman and Dr. Christianson. Can you describe what it was like to see your design as a physical book for the first time?

It was definitely surreal to see my design in a physical book because I had been staring at it for three months on a computer. I definitely wish we had time for a test print–not that I found different things that I didn’t like–but just to see [what it would look like] and alter from there. It’s definitely different on a computer than it is when it’s printed. But it was a really cool experience. I was geeking–it was a geek out moment. I just put all this work into this and now it’s in a physical book with my name in it. I didn’t even know how to feel. I only see [the book] on a computer, [so it’s] weird to see it on paper.

RACHEL: Lastly, would you recommend the position of the designer to others who might be interested? If so, what advice would you give them so they can be successful like you have been?

I would most definitely recommend the position to other people, especially designers. [I might warn someone new to design about what they’re getting into], because it was a bit overwhelming for me right away to be put in that position without knowing anything, and especially having it be a professional project. [It’s being printed], so it has to look good. So I definitely suggest it for a [second or third] year who’s in the position and wants to start having professional experience designing. And I would also suggest [people in the marketing field join the Teaching Press] because there’s a lot of publicity that goes with this. I’m the Publicity Director for the few books we have on the market [right now], so that’s been really cool to lead a team and publicize these books. And if you’re into making books and producing them, there’s a whole section for you on that as well. It’s just really cool, and if you’re an English major, it’s definitely a great experience because you get to copyedit these books, you get to go through them and work with the authors on their wording, and be a part of that book. Just as design is a part of the book, so is messing with the words. You could have a sentence in the book that you wrote yourself–like, that’s kind of cool! So I’d suggest it for all people who are interested in anything book-related. And for the designers, you don’t honestly have to be book-related; you just have to have a passion for design. You get to work with real clients, and I think that’s really cool. 

Any advice I would have is definitely to be a little fluent in the Adobe programs, especially designers. But keep a positive mind and an open mind, because you do have to work with clients that can be more selective at times. So you have to be very open and flexible.