Q&A: Helen Dear and Designing for Our Children’s Financial Futures
Helen Dear is a 2010 graduate of the College of Design’s Graphic Design program and is currently working in Atlanta as the creative director at Greenlight Financial Technology – a company that helps parents manage their children’s financial goals.
Helen has spent the past year guiding the company through a complete brand overhaul. She spoke with us about her roots at the College of Design and discovering a work environment that fits her process.
What were some of your initial goals when coming into the College of Design?
I think the thing that drew me to graphic design, and what drew me to the program at NC State, was the intersection of art and meaning. I’ve always been really interested in art, but also in education and communication.
In high school, my art teacher recommended that I go to Design Camp after my junior year. To me, that experience totally solidified that graphic design was what I wanted to do. I still remember the project that I did while I was in Design Camp. It was incredible to fuse typography – to fuse words with visuals and bring them to life.
I think seeing that studio environment for me and experiencing design camp really drove me to solidify graphic design as the track I was interested in pursuing.
Was there any training or experience that stuck out from the college during your career?
I think the design thinking lectures and classes really come to mind from Marvin Malecha. His classes were super inspiring to me because it was not about making something beautiful on paper, but about using design thinking as a mechanism for driving change. As a way to educate people and make stuff that has a real purpose and kind of something that has an application.
It was really cool to see that it’s not just the technical skills that make you a great designer. But if you can have this methodical design thinking approach then you can overcome any challenge. You can tackle any new project because everything is solved through design thinking.
I have found that to be really inspiring when I was in those classes and also as a professional. Ten years later, I’m still thinking back on those experiences and how foundational that education was.
How did you get connected with Greenlight Financial? What makes it special to you?
I personally am really interested in family personal finance, and that is something that made me gravitate towards this opportunity.
In my last job, I was doing more business-to-business design for corporate law firms and management consultancies. I was not as personally enthused by corporate law and that kind of work.
But you can gain so much from so many different types of roles like at my last job, where I was less passionate about what we were designing for, I found so much joy in having the design be reflective of the strategy. We would come back, and we’d say, “Okay, this law firm we’re designing around should feel pragmatic and discerning and bold.” And then we would design a brand inspired by those words.
… if you can have this methodical design thinking approach then you can overcome any challenge. You can tackle any new project because everything is solved through design thinking.” – Helen Dear
I found a lot of joy in combining the design with those words and finding out how to express the core of whatever brand we were designing for and then designing something that felt like it fit with that. I found joy in the details and crafting work that was beautiful yet strategic, collaborating with incredible colleagues, and learning how to deliver creative presentations and sell through creative ideas.
Before I connected with Greenlight, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be doing with my next design chapter. The great thing about design is there are so many different possibilities for companies to work with. With Greenlight (the debit card and money app for families), I immediately saw potential in the opportunity. I saw that it was an incredible product with a mission that I believed in. Once I saw that they were also open to change, I realized that it would be a great fit, and a cool opportunity to take the mission-driven mentality and help push the brand forward.
What were some of the goals during the rebranding process?
You know, Greenlight has always had a really strong user base who show a lot of love for Greenlight on social media. The numbers have been great recently as well. So, it begs the question – why would we need to change anything? Being tasked with a redesign was more about giving our design team the tools that we needed to be able to scale Greenlight, tell more stories, and reach new audiences.
One of our goals with Greenlight branding and marketing is how to showcase the app in a way that drives awareness of its capabilities. Because there’s so much you can do with Greenlight! Kids can earn money through chores, set savings goals, spend wisely, and even invest all in the app. And parents can manage their kids’ money, set spending limits, and get notifications when their kids purchase something.
But another big part of the Greenlight magic is how it facilitates conversations about money between parents and kids. We now offer educational materials in the app, too. So it’s a fun marketing challenge, to showcase a technology product and all its capabilities, as well as position Greenlight as a way to unlock family education and conversations that can be hard to have (but ultimately bring families closer together).
Something that was really important to us in the rebranding process was to make sure that we are speaking to all families in America. To find a way to create imagery that speaks to what America looks like right now in terms of age, gender, racial diversity, different family dynamics – just wanting to make sure that we have a great product, and everyone can access it.