Natalia Trawkowski has been in the retail/customer service sector for over a decade. She began her design career at Merz Apothecary, a small family-owned business on the north side of Chicago. She was hired right after the launch of their e-commerce site as a product photographer (13,000+ products!), and in time grew into a Jill of all trades: answering customer service calls, copywriting, studying analytics, planning events,  designing emails, catalogs, store signage, packaging, etc...  Today Natalia is an e-commerce art director at Crate & Barrel, where she guides a team of web designers and dives into the consumer psyche to flesh out stories and create inspirational experiences. Her humble beginnings in customer service and small business have been fundamental in her ability to connect with customers via design.


What was your very first job? 

I worked at my parents' shipping/print shop, helping out behind the register and practicing graphic design in the form of fitting as much information onto business cards as possible.


Please describe, in your own words, what your job is and what work it entails. 

I am an art director for Crate and Barrel's e-commerce brand team. I help oversee our team of web designers, as well as meet with the other creative teams in our company to create stories and plan imagery for our campaigns and everyday initiatives.


How did you discover that the creative world was right for you? Was there a time in your life that you credit to this discovery? What was there train of events that brought you to where you are today? 

As a kid I was always doodling and writing stories. My cousin and I were convinced that we would create the next great manga that would blow Sailor Moon out of the water. I was also in band and choir, dabbled a little in theater. An art nerd, if you will.


I fell in love with graphic design around the age of 12, when my mother took me to a vintage poster shop in the old town of Warsaw. The prints were pure emotion: fury, despair, sunshine-y joy... I was floored by the idea of being able to tell a whole story with just one image. By the time college rolled around, I was torn between going to school for journalism and graphic design... design won. However I've been fortunate to fall into a career path that involves both.


In your constantly growing and expanding industry, how do you find inspiration to keep your work fresh, innovative and relevant? 

I like to leave my phone at home, take my bike for a ride around the city and just observe. Talking to people, hearing their stories, seeing what sparks a light in their eyes. Don't get me wrong, I spend my fair share of time on Pinterest, but there's nothing like sitting down and having a conversation, learning about someone's life and what makes them tick.


If you had to pick one piece of work or project that you are most proud of, more for the creative work and innovation it required, rather than its recognition or industry “success,” what would it be? 

A few years ago I worked on a project based off the Kübler-Ross model, the stages of grief. I photographed and designed a small book. I had lost my mother not long before that, so it was a very emotional undertaking. I'm typically not one to expose vulnerability, so I was proud to be able to reach in and just lay it out.


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