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The Path: “Always believe in your work and to never hesitate to take chances.”

December 11, 2020
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The Path profiles people working in what we think of as "dream jobs," living their best professional life, and looks at the people and practices that helped get them there. We talk to these amazing folks about how goal setting, great leadership, tough decisions, and other key moments helped  them get to where they are now. And, because so many career paths are inherently winding, we examine what it can look like to handle unexpected experiences along the way.  

Known for its bright, vibrant visual aesthetics, Refinery29 is one of the leading millennial and Gen-Z focused women’s media brands. As one of the company’s Art Directors, Idil Gözde knows what it takes to create visually stunning and engaging experiences for a major brand. She is responsible for maintaining and advancing Refinery29’s visual brand by enforcing brand guidelines across departments, including editorial, to social, and branded projects. 

A creative from a young age, Idil grew up in Brussels, Belgium and was educated in the United States. She is a published, award-winning, and Emmy-nominated multi-disciplinary artist who is known for her whimsical illustrations and love for lettering and visual storytelling. Ahead, she talks us through what it’s like to be an Art Director at a major media company, how she creates physical boundaries between home and work life while working from home, and why she doesn’t believe you have to be in a managerial position to be a leader at work.

What did you go to school for and what did you think you wanted to do at that time in your life?

I registered at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with the interest of studying Interior Design. As a young child, I was always keen to watch house makeover shows on TV. I remember even getting in trouble once when I rearranged my mother’s friends’ furniture when we were invited for dinner. With that instinct and interest in mind since childhood, I thought I wanted to give Interior design career a shot. 

But upon registering, I was advised that based on my sketchbook from high school, it would be good to start out with a couple of Graphic Design courses instead. So I enrolled for Visual Arts & Graphic Design. Shortly after several courses, it all clicked. Studying Graphic Design gave me the opportunity to have a broader range of study encapsulating many mediums that I realized I wanted to pursue. From there, I stuck around a bit longer for a second Bachelor’s degree as my interest in Graphic Design grew into Motion Design. 

Can you give me the ‘Spark’s Notes’ version of your career history so far? 

Through my career, I have had the great opportunity to develop my skills in versatile areas. I started out as a Motion Designer for the on-air department of Discovery LATAM in Miami. I was originally interviewed for Discovery Kids which reflected my portfolio more accurately, but due to some departmental restructuring upon my start date, I joined the Discovery team. In that position, I learned about Channel Branding, Design Guidelines and project management across larger campaigns such as Shark Week and Frozen Planet. I also had the experience of collaborating with studios that were hired for producing the post-production of original content and rebranding of Channel’s Identity. 

From that point, I knew I wanted to work with a studio that provided full capabilities of creating original content and wanted to get my hands on that process— from storyboarding to final motion execution. That’s what led me to take on a new opportunity on a show called Brain Games on the National Geographic channel by relocating to work with a studio based in Pittsburgh called Animal Studio. At that point in my career, working at a Studio was a dream come true (the culture was very different from what I was used to in bigger corporations). The experience I gained there came full circle as I learned the art of pitching, producing, directing on set, and even set designing. Working at a studio also gave me the opportunity to work on a motion essay project that grew my interest in being a visual storyteller in publication forms. 

Shortly after that I took on freelance projects where my animation skills could be adapted into GIF animations on editorial publications, leading me to work with Buzzfeed News and relocate to New York to work on their original Netflix production Follow This. The show led me to joining NowThis. Ultimately, shifting from a TV-Motion Design to the editorial industry seemed like an unlikely pivot, but as my interest in visual storytelling grew, so did my vision to explore new territories.

How did you end up getting hired for the position you’re currently in?

For my current position, I was contacted by a recruiter on Working Not Working. While building my profile on the online platform for creatives, I had selected Refinery29 as a company I was interested in working for. My portfolio was then visible to the recruiters who then contacted me to gauge my interest in their Art Director position.

What do you love most about your job?

What I love most is the team I get to work with every day — the authenticity we get to convey. Representing each story we are presented with bold and unexpected visuals to captivate the audience is only possible through the team’s unwavering talent and the ambition they bring to each project.

What are some daily habits you absolutely make sure to schedule into your day?

I am still working on perfecting some habits and scheduling them daily. I do find that on the days I make time for yoga in the morning and have had my smoothie by 10 am, I really am able to set my day up for success.

Tell me about someone who’s made a significant impact on your career trajectory.

The person who’s had the most impact and influence over my career is my mother. Even though our generation and field of work are very separate from each other, she has had a very strong and significant impact on my work ethic and discipline in which I apply to my daily work life. Whether it is about how I would approach a situation or need the last bit of effort or fuel on the last leg of the race on a big project’s completion, her advice and support has played a big part in the success of many projects I have been involved in. 

What’s been the biggest learning lesson in your career so far?

My biggest takeaway and personal learning lesson has been to always believe in my work and to never hesitate to take chances — whether that’s on accepting a challenging task on a project or relocating to a new city. In my experience, every ‘yes’ has brought me new experiences and growth that I can continue applying in my work even to this day.  

What do you think makes a good leader?

A good leader to me is a person who guides people towards a common goal. Showing up can mean providing people with guidance and allowing others to voice their concerns and ideas to help facilitate a more productive and engaging space for creativity. It can also mean checking in with each other, setting the right examples, sharing and discussing projects you all have aspirations for; I believe these are all ways to guide your peers for success. 

To me, a leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a manager or be in a position of power, but rather is someone that you can look to for direction. We can make space for more people to step into leadership roles even if they aren't in positions of power by creating a diplomatic environment that allows people to express their views. I believe this is what makes space for growth and opportunity.

Work culture looks completely different than it did even a month ago, how are you adjusting? And what practices are helping you stay centered amidst increased uncertainty and anxiety?

As I've become acclimated to work-from-home culture in the midst of the pandemic, I have had to adjust my personal direction towards work-life balance. Like many, my work space and personal space are physically overlapped and it has become apparent and important to create more tangible boundaries between my personal and professional life. I find it helpful to set myself a sign-off time before dinner and make a point of stepping out of my apartment for either a walk, make a phone call for a quick chat with a close friend or family, or stop by a coffee shop for a non-caffeinated drink such as turmeric latte. 

I also often find myself having to make hard stops at the end of the day in order to create more balance in my day-to-day schedule. This allows me to create mental and physical separation from my work environment once I’ve finished working. That way I am able to truly have some time away from a screen before adding more screen time to my night to catch up on the news.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Always follow your instincts and keep creating. Never be afraid to reach out and pitch your work or a project you have been envisioning. I am a true believer that each and every project you partake in, whether personal or professional, will lead into the next project in your career. 


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