Melissa Carlson

Melissa runs an intentionally small design agency and always needs her sunglasses.

Tell us what your childhood home was like.  I grew up in small town Stratford Iowa. My home was a ranch home that my hardworking father built and kept adding onto. As a child, I would play outside with my older brothers or inside with crayons and then did a lot of photography and art projects in high school. 

Why do you call Des Moines home? It’s small yet you can get lost. 

What’s currently keeping you busy? Downsizing from a house with a yard to a downtown home where I’ll have more time to focus on people and experiences. And, then there's running 818 – a tiny design empire (3.5 years). I'm looking forward to the growth phase and putting the startup phase behind us. My favorite part right now is that I love feeling that we are growing together with most all of our clients.

Challenges of starting 818? Juggling everything and always getting pulled in many directions. 

Top three apps you currently use at work. Go! Dropbox, Wunderlist and Quickbooks. 

What’s your advice to someone starting something? Be persistent (with sanity and support) and think of failure as not an option — you may not get to where you wanted to be but will get somewhere. 

If you could identify your number one strength and weakness what would they be? My strength is persistence. My weakness is connecting the dots too far ahead where focus can be minimal. It helps to have Rachel as a business partner who grounds me.

Talk to us about your journey to starting 818. After graduating from Grand View with graphic design & fine art majors, I took a production design job at a book publishing company where I learned a ton about print and multi-page design. Funny thing is that I was designing math books, and math was a subject I disliked in school. Then, I worked at an advertising agency as an art director and worked on both local & national accounts in a very fast-paced, challenging environment. After there, I started freelancing for a while. But, then took a job as a graphic designer at an architecture firm where I met and worked closely with Rachel. While there, I always felt drawn back to owning my own business where I was in control of my work. I enjoyed the personal connection with clients that a sole proprietorship brought, but I missed working with a creative team. So, I started 818 with Rachel with the goal of being intentionally small -- keeping the studio size to 8-10 people max.

During your journey who did you look up to the most? The architecture firm I worked at opened my eyes to skills needed in running a business like financials, managing projects and meeting deadlines. Many people I met there continue to be mentors and an inspiration, whether or not they know it.

What is one thing you can't leave home without other than your phone? Sunglasses. I just have to have them.

Walk us through your typical weekend. Used to be filled with yard work and now it’s experiencing cultural events, biking and catching up on life typically with coffee or beer. 

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? A train to go to Omaha & Chicago. And if it runs right by our office in the East Village that would be awesome.

If you could write the Des Moines area a mission statement what would it be? Encouraging and supporting the people who are starting projects and/or businesses in Des Moines. It’s bringing great culture to this city.

Derek Jensen