ArtCenter College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.

Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt

Graphic Design '89

When Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt was in the sixth grade, she entered her first national design competition, a birthday card to Little Green Sproutthe Jolly Green Giant's sidekickand won. This life-altering experience set her on the path to graphic design, and she's never looked back. As president and design director of Kuhlmann Leavitt, Inc. (KLI), Kuhlmann-Leavitt oversees the management and design for a variety of corporate multimedia-based communications as well as new business development. A St. Louis-based design firm, KLI specializes in identity, orientation and information design for the built environment, print and digital media. KLI clients include a wide range of U.S. industries and institutions. The office is consistently recognized and awarded for its work in environmental graphics and architectural signage, exhibit, identity, corporate collateral and new media.

Kuhlmann-Leavitt's work has been recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Design (AIGA), American Institute of Architects (AIA), Society of Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), New York Type Directors Club, Art Directors Clubs from New York to Los Angeles and AR100, including a Best of Show Award and the Mead Annual Report Show. Her studio's work has been featured in Communication Arts, Monsa books, Avedition International Trade Fair Design and many other leading design publications. Kuhlmann-Leavitt has served as a juror for numerous graphic design competitions in the United States and Canada and is actively involved in mentoring programs for graphic design students.

Art Center: What inspires you creatively?
Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt:
Mostly people and places. Daily inspiration comes from co-workers, clients, kids, waiters, clerks and carpenters. I never know what I will see while at the park, driving to a meeting, visiting the library or attending a sporting event. If you live in the moment, the everyday world is full of inspiration. You never know when you're going to run into someone or someplace that helps un-stick you from a project that you can't figure out.

AC: How do you balance business and design?
: The challenge with business is keeping it from causing design to be secondary. In running an office, I have found that the best way to keep business and design balanced is to maintain a staff of seven or less. When there are more than seven, I have found that I spend more time managing and selling than I do designingnot where I want to be. Many of the great designers whom I admireMassimo and Lella Vignelli, Michael Vanderbyl, Doyald Young, Robert Valentine, Doug Oliver and Emmett Morava to name a fewhave few employees yet still function at a high level with complex, interesting projects.

AC: Is the world getting smaller, and what effect does that have on your work?
The world is getting smaller, and our work reflects that. I live and work in St. Louis, but 95 percent of our work is for organizations scattered across the United States. I don't think our work has a regional look, perhaps because I studied and worked in California for nine years before moving to the Midwest. Traveling to both coasts and working with clients there and in between naturally encourages a more national and sometimes global awareness. I think that this has had and continues to have a positive and visible impact on our work.

AC: What do you want your work to offer society?
If work is defined as the stuff we produce, then I would want it to be moving, educational, lovely, witty, entertaining and/or fresh. If work is defined as the workaday world, then I want to continue to provide an environment for staff and their families that is relaxed, fun, rewarding, challenging and hard to leave.

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