BY JUSTIN MILLER
It’s been almost three months since the well-accomplished designer and creative director Gretchen Smelter
began her role at Women’s Health.
Smelter transitions from House Beautiful, where she was the design director since 2012, and before Beautiful she served as the Group Creative Director of Edipresse Asia, Creative Director of Brides (where she was heavily involved with two redesigns), and held various design roles at Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and Fast Company.
Gretchen is enthusiastic, inviting, and animated, a combination that makes her a perfect match for the Women’s Health brand, whose future looks as exciting as its new creative director.
How did you get involved with design and who were some of your mentors?
I was the girl in high school who was always good at art, and I feel like that was when my guidance counselor said, “Well, you should be become a graphic designer!” I had always looked at my mom’s fashion magazines, and just loved all of the visuals, so I decided to study graphic design.
My first job was for Ronn Campisi, and it’s a funny story how I met him. I was on my to Florida to visit my grandmother for spring break (because that’s what I did for spring break [laughs]), and I had to transfer flights at Charlotte, NC. Well, I’m sitting on the plane and I notice that the man next to me is reading “Stop Stealing Sheep and Learn How Type Works.” Me being the unshy person I am, I turned to him and said, Oh, I read that book in one of my classes! And so we get to talking, and when the plane lands he gives me his card, and says to call him because he’s looking for an art director. And when I turned it over and saw that he was Ronn Campisi–the Pulitzer Prize designer that I studied in school!–I freaked out.
How do you work with your art team?
Ask questions, give me feedback and thoughts, be involved! I am such a huge team player, and if the team isn’t inspired and excited than what’s the point?
What was your relationship like with Women’s Health before working with the brand?
Women’s Health was always a magazine I looked at and read. I’m all about fitness and nutrition (I even got a personal training certification). I also love fashion and beauty, too, so the magazine is an accumulation of everything that makes me super excited.
Tell me about some of the visual changes you’ve made and what you want to do in the future.
Well, the main goal is to keep the integrity of the brand, I want to elevate what’s already working. So, I’ve been pushing with color, for example. The colors on the cover aren’t the normal primary colors–they’re matched with the cover subject for an added synergy. We dropped the serif font on the cover for a more-stylized, rounded Gotham, and also got rid of the drop shadow on the logo. The drop shadow just looked too dated.
The brand is optimistic, lively, exciting, and accessible, and I feel like there are so many ways to show that visually. Right now, I’m in talks with my design team about playing with and exploring a lot of things: tweak colors, show me different styles, and loosen the bolts!
I also want to bring in some new photographers. We use a lot of stock imagery, especially in the front of the book, and so we’re actually shooting more images, and digger deeper for more exciting art.
And how close do you work with the site and tablet editions of the magazine?
I’m having initial meetings with my digital designer so that we can have consistency with the print and the web. And I’m very involved with the iPad edition; I really want to push the iPad design as much as the actual print.
What inspires you the most?
Aside from all of these magazines [gestures around the office], travel is definitely my biggest inspiration. I had never left the country before graduating college, and seeing all of the colors, and sounds, and smells, and sights of another world–it was so amazing. I love traveling. Hands down.
When you were younger and you met some of the design directors and creative directors at the time, you said it was as if you were meeting rock stars. How do you feel being about being a rock star yourself to aspiring designers and future creative directors?
Oh, gosh, that’s really humbling. If I can be an inspiration, or give back in some way–to anyone–then I have done my job.
You mentioned you’re a certified personal trainer, can you talk about that more?
[Laughs] I got my certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine because I’ve just always been interested in the body and health. I took a lot of fitness and weight training classes when I lived in Asia, but I’m definitely a huge runner now. Running clears my mind.
Do you listen to music when you workout and run or is music too distracting?
Oh, I definitely need music! I have music on when I’m designing, too. I’m a huge fan of Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, JT…
Can we expect Rihanna or Beyonce on the cover anytime soon?
I hope so!