Conversation with a Creative

Leslie Haines

Leslie Haines, who is in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, earned an M.F.A. in graphic design at Marywood University and an M.A. in advertising design at Syracuse University.

Before joining MTSU, she was with the Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville, where she was academic director of the graphic & web design and advertising programs. She also served as chair of graphic design at Watkins College of Art, Design and Film, where she built their B.F.A. in Graphic Design program.

Before becoming a full-time educator, she worked for The Syracuse Newspapers and The Tennessean in the marketing and advertising departments. She also ran her own advertising and design business for more than a decade. Her clients included musicians, hospitals, retail, film and newspaper-industry publications.

She created the advertising design for The Free Speech Center and artists such as Kenney Chesney and Shawn Mendes through The Messina Group. Two of her hat designs were sold at Target stores nationwide and she designed the most recent arts license plate for the state of Tennessee. She received 19 ADDY awards and was named the American Advertising Federation "Teacher of the Year" for 7th District. She also serves as an ADDY judge for competitions across the U.S.

She talked to Beverly Keel about the Defend True Blue Campaign, her favorite brandings and what people should know about logos.

  • Tell me about getting inspired to launch a career in the graphic arts/design world. When and how did this speak to you.

    • I was fortunate to have a graphic designer as a high school art teacher, so that’s where I first heard the term and learned I could apply my creative skills. Working on the class yearbook solidified to me what graphic design was and that I liked it. I hit the ground running with an undergrad degree and never looked back!

  • : Tell me about some of your favorite and/or most challenging projects on which you’ve worked.

    • The campaign I created while at The Tennessean was one of my favorite projects. The challenge was to promote the newspaper’s dating ads section called “It Takes Two.” Way back in the mid 90s, before Tinder and Match, people were still placing ads seeking partners in the classified section. I know, can you imagine?! To make the task feel less onerous, I created ads featuring over-the-top people and wrote their classified ads. For instance, my goofy guy with frizzy hair wearing a jacket two-sizes-too-small and holding a ketchup and mustard bottle (shot at Vandyland) declared “SWM seeks SWF who enjoys bowling, condiments and rock collections.” The campaign was a huge hit, increasing ad sales by over 300%!

  • When did you decide you wanted to teach full time?

    • I had been the designer for Watkins College of Art & Design for about 5 years when the Dean approached me about chairing the new BFA in Graphic Design program. I was 40 years old, had taught one class at Syracuse University, and had no clue how to write a syllabus. But, I did have lots of experience in the industry and the opportunity to build a program was too good to pass up. I could create a curriculum that had st

  • Talk about teaching something so creative to students. How do you guide them to understanding the rules of graphic design and making their vision a reality?

    • The best way to teach creativity is to first believe in the student’s ability to be creative. Encourage and push them beyond their comfort zones and then applaud their successes. There is a set process in design that students need to learn. That process, from research to brainstorming to execution, has opportunities to improve at each stage. That’s important. They learn that the first idea in your head is usually not the best one. I make them do 50 thumbnails, 50 concepts, because you have to get all the crappy ideas out of your head and on to paper in order for the best creative ideas to come out!

  • You and Matt Taylor worked with students last summer to create the Defend True Blue Campaign, the highly praised campaign that reminded students to wear masks. Please tell us about that experience.

    • That experience was incredibly rewarding and exciting. As a teacher, I got to help students implement what they’ve been learning in the classroom for an actual client. It was cross-disciplinary and in-depth and involved a lot of collaboration and teamwork. Matt and I had worked together in the NSAC class so I knew we were great partners. Our strengths balance each other out. When I played bad cop, he could play good cop.

  • You and Jonathan Trundle were asked to work during the Christmas holidays to fast-track the creation of the Chris Young mural. What were the challenges/opportunities with that?

    • That was quite the whirlwind project! Make a life-size mural of 32 people. Go! The biggest challenge was getting all the high-resolution photos of the people and coordinate picture taking of those who wanted that. Jonathan came up with the great inspiration of the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper's album cover. From there we could brainstorm how to add depth and interest to the composition. Marketing designers helped greatly with silhouetting imagery in Photoshop and coordinating photos. I’m really pleased with the final result and honored to have my design as a part of the Chris Young Café. I enjoyed working with another professor in the College, too. Always open to that.

  • What do people need to know and understand about graphic design, such as logos, branding and campaigns?

    • People tend to think that designers come in after all the decisions have been made to just make it all look pretty. Nothing could be further from the truth! Smart businesses will work with graphic designers from the start. We understand strategy, marketing, conceptual thinking, color theory, copy writing, etc. It’s not about creating something pretty, it’s all about creating effective communication to a specific target audience. The designer can help you determine what media to use and how to use it, as well as create effective messaging that works best for that media.

  • You worked with Ken Paulson on the Free Speech Center campaigns. What can you tell us about that?

    • Working with Ken and the Free Speech Center team has been an incredibly rewarding collaboration. First of all, it feels important to support the education of the First Amendment to our younger audience. Then to be able to tap into the many resources and connections the team has to bring celebrities on board has been incredible. The 1 for All campaign features celebrities who each speak to one of the freedoms and how it’s important to them. This helps to break through the clutter a bit and approach the First Amendment kind of through the back door so that people will stop and look. The ads are colorful and engaging. We have versions for both print and Web and they are seen all over the country. I also was glad to design ads promoting our legitimate COVID-19 source of news, especially important when so much misinformation was running rampant. Ken’s passion and knowledge ignite the whole team and we work great together.

  • Tell us about your pro bono work with the After Breast Cancer rebrand.

    • The After Breast Cancer (ABC) program is run through some area YMCA’s. The free program is offered to help recovering survivors gain back their physical strength and to have community where they can be supported. My experience there and the strength of the women I met inspired me to create my digital collage series of survivors called “The Real Wonder Women.” So when the founders of the program reached out to me a few months ago to say they were separating from the Y in order to bring the program to more communities, I jumped at the chance to be a part of its success. I will start by designing the logo for Breast Cancer Recovery in Action and then will partner with a friend, another survivor, to create their website. I’m sure more promotional design will happen as they get up and running.

  • What do you do when you aren’t working? What are your favorite shows?

    • You can often find me on the trails at Radnor or Warner Parks. Hiking is my happy place. I love to read and am a huge film fan. Can’t wait to get back in the Belcourt! I tend to find creative outlets off the computer, too, such as painting furniture and torturing my cats by making them wear hats. Schitt's Creek is one of my favorite shows ever. I’m now hooked on Call the Midwife.

  • What are some of your favorite logos/brandings?

    • I dorked out over the Coke aluminum bottles! Yes, there’s a set in my office. The 19 Crimes wine labels grabbed my attention when I first saw them. Now they can speak to you through an app; that’s pretty cool. Mrs. Meyers product design is a great example of how to use vintage inspiration but make it feel fresh.