Hey! I’m Rachellynn Schoen – a designer and photographer based in Pittsburgh with an affection for culture, craft, color, and creatures.
I have been working as a graphic designer and digital photographer since 2005 for clients of all types and sizes. I pride myself in my ability to work with everyone and enjoy each and every new challenge.
How long have you been in the design and photography business?
I’ve been working as both a digital photographer and designer since 2005.
What types of companies have you worked for?
I have worked with large corporations and small boutiques, one-person start-up businesses to firms with more than twelve partners. I pride myself in my ability to work with a variety of client types – from architecture firms, non-profits, trade associations, small boutiques, bloggers, authors, health coaches, contractors, real estate companies and agents, an equestrian stable, a tarot reader, and even a haunted house – I honestly love each and every new challenge.
Do you have an office space, or are you home-based?
I have a home-office that is in the attic of my 1905 colonial home in Crafton, Pennsylvania – right outside of downtown Pittsburgh.
Do you travel?
Yes, I absolutely will travel for photo shoots and I can work as a designer for clients all over the country (and world!) Travel time, of course, is considered billable hours.
Can you describe your creative process?
My process with each project begins with the challenge. I generally like to gather as much information as possible about my client. I begin with a very detailed set of questions—that we either discuss in person or via a questionnaire—from the goals, message, audience, budget, deadline, and their likes and dislikes. The way I handle and craft each project is custom-tailored to my client’s specific needs, but the process generally covers a written proposal that ensures we’re on the same page, independent research, sketching of conceptual ideas to make sure that we’re headed in the right direction, and of course execution of the work, revisions, and final delivery.
Tell me a success story where you saved your client time or money.
I have a lot of stories about saving clients time and/or money, but I recently had a client contact me in a panic. The website they had been working toward needed to be launched in just three weeks, but the designer was not able to complete it within that timeline. Knowing the website would heavily support the client’s blossoming career, I approached the project very aggressively by immediately taking a hands-on role. Despite much of the design work having already been complete, I began where I normally do – by asking questions about the needs and goals of the project. These discoveries impacted the design in a big way, so we decided to take a slightly different approach than had been taken in the first design phase. We completed the project within two weeks, rather than three, on an already quick deadline.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Raised by a single mom, getting creative with very limited resources and using my imagination was a must. I learned from a young age that “things” aren’t really all that important; life is about experiences and moments and I certainly had them. While I excelled at other studies like math, I took every opportunity to expose myself to the arts — creative writing, photography, design, painting, theater, music, and architecture — I soaked up these experiences like a sponge.
My mom, like most parents, expressed the importance of higher education to me and the value of working toward a career that I would love to do every day. I worked hard in high school to maintain great grades, simultaneously working one or two jobs on top of extracurriculars like volleyball, choir, and musicals. Knowing that when it came time for applying to college, my well-rounded education was what would grant me one of the 100 slots in Penn State University Park’s highly-regarded architecture program.
After two semesters in the architecture program, I decided that while I loved and appreciated architecture — I wasn’t convinced I would actually enjoy being an architect. I made a gut decision and threw myself into working at The Daily Collegian as a student photojournalist and applied to Penn State’s Graphic Design program. An even smaller program, I was just one of 17 accepted. I continued to soak up all the knowledge I could while there—photography, mandarin Chinese, French, art history to name a few—and interned for PSU designing signage for the on-campus cafés. With enough credits to graduate early, I jumped at the chance and wound up in Boston the day after my graduation.
As soon as I arrived in Boston, I began working for architecture firm Payette alongside designers of many trades. My four years there provided me with fantastic opportunities, but it also made me realize the value of my skill set. In 2012, I decided to return to Pittsburgh in hopes that I could help to revitalize my hometown through my work, join the growing artisan community, and of course, spend a little more time with my family. I began working upon my arrival for the History Center in Pittsburgh as their Senior Graphic Design Manager, and through that experience, I have learned a great deal about my city and its history. While working full-time, I also began to offer my design and photography services to a number of local businesses and shops. I’ve met so many incredible people and am so happy to be home.
What is the thing you enjoy most about your work?
As a photographer, I like to think of myself as a collector of moments. Every one sees things differently and I love being able to share my own point of view. As a designer, I love that I can create and communicate messages that are both important to me and to my clients in a very visual way. The world is such a visual place now and the importance of good design is emerging rapidly.
What is your superpower?
Although I would absolutely love to have the ability to read minds (this would definitely come in handy), I would say improvising is my superpower. In my business, you have to be really good on your toes, because sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Whether it’s an unexpected rainy day for a photo shoot or a design just isn’t working out the way we wanted it to and the deadline is looming, I pride myself in being able to improvise to make each project successful.
How would you describe your style?
My style, although it tends to be minimalist and very saturated with color, is usually heavily influenced by my clients likes and dislikes. I often consider myself a method designer or photographer, where I try to take on the persona and mindset of whomever I’m working with to achieve the look they are going for. My love for bold color, clean lines, and the rule of thirds always ends up shining through, though.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh?
I get a bit of an adrenaline rush with each new project, the challenge is usually what keeps my ideas fresh. I do a lot of research based on the needs of each project and I am usually very influenced by the discovery during my research. To stay with up to date with technology and design trends, I read a lot of blogs and books and stay in touch with a lot of peers who are experts in many different fields. I’m constantly scrolling through Twitter, Mashable, and Fast Company to find the latest and greatest ideas and trends, too!
What do you do when you feel stuck?
When I’m at a stalemate and feel really stuck with a project — my camera and my sketchbook are probably my biggest allies. With photography, I experiment — change lenses, zoom in and out to crop differently, shoot from the ground or grab a ladder, or I’ll switch out the lighting, shoot from a different time of day, or change the shutter speed for more or less exposure to see how my subject responds to it. With design, I like to sketch a lot—I turn things upside down, put it up to a window and see how the light shines through. You’d be really surprised by what changing your point of view for a minute can do for your creativity when you’re stuck.
What areas of your work are you hoping to explore in the next year?
I am pursuing two personal projects with a lot of impact that both involve design and messages I believe are important. The first is a project that I hope builds awareness about endangered species. The second is a line of wearable items that empower women. Both of these projects are providing me the ability to explore my own style and passions, and expand my skills in typography and illustration. I hope to share both of them in a larger capacity on my website soon!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in college?
I went into college with a lot of worries and self-doubt. I worried I wouldn’t be good enough and that I wouldn’t cut it, so I wish I really knew that college is truly about discovery — finding your voice, honing your skills, discovering skills you didn’t even know you had. Not knowing many people that had gone to college for creative studies, I didn’t know that the most exciting thing about it would be that your projects could be about what you want them to cover, to make them fun and about something you actually care about. Working on projects you actually believe in are incredibly empowering and they push you much more than projects that you don’t believe in. I feel similarly about working on projects professionally that you really care about, too.
Why should I work with you?
I aspire to create design solutions that are custom and true for each project through a collaborative process with my clients. I am a great listener—someone who will understand your needs, your goals, your concerns and your values—and I believe those key elements are what shape each project. With an integrated approach to design and photography—you can achieve a cohesive, consistent look across your branding elements (and it doesn’t hurt that it can save you a little time, too). I’m always looking for new projects and I’d love to hear how I can help you.
Still want to know more?