|Image: A head shot of a white man wearing square glasses and a purple polo shirt. He has short, black hair.|
1. How did you become interested in graphic design?
When I was in school, I had never taken an art class at all. But, I was interested in all things "visual". I initially went to University for business (Northwood University in Midland, Michigan)... advertising/marketing. While there, the chairman of the department sat me down one day and asked me if I had ever considered art school. The explanation was, he was quite impressed with the high level of creativity in some of the class projects I had done. So, from there, I looked into art school, and after business school, continued my education at art school in Cincinnati.
2. What design awards have you won? Have they helped your business?
I have won a few awards in the American Graphic Design Awards competition, which are sponsored by Graphic Design USA Magazine. Then, through my active involvement in the Dallas-Fort Worth American Marketing Association, I was awarded "Volunteer of the Year" for 2015/2016, for my work as the chapter's designer... in developing and designing much of the promotional/marketing materials.
3. You mentioned in another interview that the memoir Pretending to be Normal and the show Parenthood helped you find your way to an autism diagnosis. What other media has impacted your life in a profound way?
Other media? John Elder Robison's book Look me in the Eye, was very eyeopening, as much of what he experienced growing up undiagnosed, I did as well. One often overlooked movie that had an autistic character was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The main character, played by Ewan McGregor, was autistic. I caught on to him being autistic... even before he mentioned it in the movie.
4. Have you ever encountered neurotypical bigotry/ableism in your profession? If so, how did you handle it?
That's a tough one to answer. I was diagnosed at 46 in 2014. Later that year, I did land a part-time/temp role with a company, and that went quite well. But, my first full-time/regular job wasn't until 2018. And, that has been going incredibly well. That being said, from 2013-2018, I was without a full-time regular job, and yet I was applying and interviewing constantly. I am sure being autistic was a huge barrier. Looking back at previous jobs, however, I can recall having great difficulties with communication and interaction with co-workers and such. Those difficulties have diminished now... primarily because I now KNOW I am autistic, and thus much more self-aware... and able to make the needed adjustments.
5. When did you join Toastmasters? How has it helped you?
I started visiting Toastmasters in 2015... but, when we made the move from Dallas to rural/remote northern Arkansas, I found a club here. So, in 2016 is when I joined. And, I was active with them for two years, until I got my job at a job at a university in a nearby town. Because of the job, I had to end Toastmasters... since the meetings were held during the day. Toastmasters helped tremendously with my communication and speaking skills. Gave me that much more "practice" to get up and speak... and develop confidence in doing so. I would highly recommend it for anyone.
6. What is the biggest challenge in running your own business?
For me, and what I do, the biggest challenge of running my business, which is a design firm, has been the task of going out and getting clients. That's such a "people" and "relationship building" kind of role... that I have great difficulty with. So, I built my clientele the hard and slow way... strictly through word of mouth and referrals. Now that I have a regular/day job, and I run my business "on the side", it's been easier... since my business isn't my main source of income.
7. Has claiming your autism as part of your brand changed anything for you in your career?
I almost always identify myself as an #ActuallyAutistic award-winning graphic designer. "Branding" myself that way... has been helpful. First, clients know up front what to expect. Plus, much of my business lately has been working with non-profit organizations... who serve the autistic and disability community. They love it when they find me, and can employ the skills of an autistic designer for their communication needs. So, it has been a plus. Just recently, even though I live in Arkansas, I designed a logo for a newly formed non-profit in Honolulu. And, I have multiple projects scheduled to do for them well into 2020.
8. What (do you feel) is the best project you've ever completed and why do you think it's the best?
Best project? Wow... that's almost like asking me who my favorite child is! Perhaps my favorite is the 2015 Annual Report for Abilities Network, a Baltimore-based non-profit organization. It was 32 pages, and I worked with them for several months. The marketing director at the time was fabulous to work with, too. Which, of course, helped. Projects like that are rarely designed/produced by ONE person. Annual reports are typically created by a team of designers at the very best design firms. So, pulling off the highly-acclaimed project... was certainly a huge accomplishment.
9. What is the best advice someone ever gave you?
Best advice? All during art school... the one thing I heard the most was "Keep it simple". Don't overdesign. Don't overthink. And, that's how I design... even today. Very clean and simple, unless, of course, the client/project calls for a different approach.
10. Where do you see your business and/or yourself ten years from now?
Ten years from now? Hard to say. Ten years ago I would have never guessed I'd be living in rural/remote north Arkansas... and working for a major university system. As for my business... I am just now starting to branch out into public speaking/presenting at conferences and events about diversity & inclusion, being autistic (especially as someone who was diagnosed "later in life"), workplace issues, and what "best practices" have worked best for me. And, other related topics. Over the past two years... I have stepped back from my business a bit... due to the demands of my full-time role... but, will definitely continue it. So, I am not sure what that will look like that far into the future.
Biography: Ron Kerns is an autistic, award-winning graphic designer, and is currently the graphic designer for Missouri State University-West Plains, and is owner of StudioKerns, a graphic design consultancy.
Note: An expanded biography is available on Ron's website (linked above).