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Career Corner: Carolyn Bahar | Designer at Odd Dot Books

We all have to make a living—why not do it while #livingLIVELY? Welcome to Career Corner, where we interview badass women blazing trails across all types of industries. Here, we chat about their daily hustle, how they found success, and why they love what they do. Come for the career advice; stay for the inspiration.

Today, we chat with Carolyn Bahar, an artist and a designer at Odd Dot Books, a publisher of children's books.

 

Where do you work?

I work at Odd Dot, a new children's book imprint at Macmillan Publishing focused on in-house ideas, creative non-fiction, and innovative formats. I'm also a freelance designer and illustrator.


What’s your job title?

At Odd Dot, I'm a designer!


Explain your job in 1 sentence.

From the start to finish, I make kids books that spark curiosity with substantive information presented in a fun, appealing, and approachable way.


Now, tell us what you actually do.

That is what I really do! I would say my job is about 60% design and 40% editorial. The design side is laying out the interiors of the books, designing the covers, creating fun marketing materials, etc. The editorial side is developing books with our team, reading our books, and contributing to what could make it even better via art or design. Our team is so collaborative, and it's important that the design, art, and words are all cohesive and meld together. In the industry, it's not very common to be a designer and have a say in the books we publish, so that's something that makes my job special.


What does a normal day look like?

It depends at what part of the season I'm in. Right now, I'm wrapping up a book series that will go to print next month, so my normal day for the last few weeks has been designing the interiors of the books and being in contact with the illustrators to keep their work moving. However, once I wrap that up, I'll work on developing the style/ideas for books on our future list. I'll also work on developing some book ideas. This can be very random. It may be reaching out to people that I think have interesting backgrounds that could teach kids things about anything—space, music, art, counting, shapes, colors, animals, etc. But it could also mean going to museums or watching movies.


What made you decide to go into the field?

I've always loved making things and being very hands on. I gravitated to visual arts and English, so I thought editorial design was a good way to fulfill both of those loves. I was editor-in-chief of the yearbook in high school, and I got addicted to designing the layouts. I would do it during my lunch breaks. I loved it, and I'd spend all night researching what art directors at magazines and books did and how to get there and how people got those kinds of internships.


What was your path to getting to your position?

After my high school yearbook stint, I went to UNC Chapel Hill where I studied graphic design, journalism, and studio art. From my research in high school, I knew I had to get an art or design internship and ideally in NYC, where I always wanted to live. So during college, I interned at The Knot and Lucky Peach. When I graduated, I freelanced for a few months and eventually got a job with the children's book team at Workman Publishing. That team then transitioned to the new imprint that I'm at now!


What sort of skills or experience do you need in order to succeed in your role? When and how did you get those skills?

There are the technical skills like the Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. which you need to be extremely proficient at as a graphic designer. I learned these in school and honed them through practicing a lot. I made so many brochures, logos, posters, and whatever else people needed to keep designing and practicing. I look back at them now and cringe, but that means I got better! Aside from the technical skills, it's important to have initiative and drive. I'm constantly trying to learn new things both about design and books, figure out systems to make my workflow more efficient, etc. I think this is really important in any job.


How has your job changed over time?

I've gotten a lot more hands-on. I really enjoying working with illustrators, so that has become a larger part of my job. I'm usually giving them illustration notes and working with them to make the design and illustration really work together harmoniously. I'm also working on a lot more projects at once.


How did your expectations for your career differ from reality?

I think when I initially started doing children's books, I was tentative if it was for me. However, when I started, I found my team to be such inspiring and out-of-the-box thinkers. I didn't think a book publisher would need a 3D printer, but we do! I think my team completely changed my idea of traditional book publishing.

In a more big-picture thought of expectations vs. reality, I thought having a career where I loved what I was doing would directly translate to my happiness, but it's important to remember that there are so many other things in life than you job to fulfill you! I do love what I do, but it's important to have a balance.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Talk to people in person. Meet and talk to people you are inspired by and want to learn from. This is can be intimidating, and you may not get responses, but this is SO helpful if you are persistent, genuine, and nice. Ask them a lot of questions and learn from them, but also it's important to tell them what you want and what your goals are.


What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, either in your current role or throughout your career? How did you work through them?

I think a big challenge I had and still struggle with is imposter syndrome. I made my own road blocks. I doubted myself and thought everything I designed was bad and not good enough. In the moments I've stood up for myself, I was always so surprised at how much easier it was to achieve what I was striving for than what I expected. I don't think it's something to easily work through, but it helps to have a support system: people that you can be vulnerable with and to tell you that you are awesome and can achieve it.


Was there one defining moment you can point to that put you on the path you’re on?

There have been many defining points in my career. I consider each new thing to be a defining point: yearbook, each internship, each freelance project, each job, each promotion... They are all new things that I get to learn from and progress. There will be many more!


What’s one piece of advice to give to people who are interested in pursuing a similar career?

It's the same as the best advice I've received. Learn from people doing it. Reach out to people you admire and get coffee with them. As intimidating as that can be, people want to help. But also, never stop learning! Always learn new things. There's so much to know.

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