She joined us at Dropbox to share her creative process in making the book. We learned a lot about her during her visit. Here are some key takeaways:

What was your journey to become a published author? I studied journalism with concentrations in graphic design and advertising. I wanted to be an art director at an ad agency but I couldn't afford portfolio school (do they still call it that?), so I took creative classes at night while I worked as an account manager at Ogilvy in New York.

I ended up leaving advertising because I couldn't transition to the creative side and freelanced at magazines while teaching English at night in Flushing. I took photographs of restaurants, color-corrected Fashion Week photos, and created photo illustrations until I got a job as a web producer at a media company.

I asked for design work on the side, then asked if I could design flowcharts and graphics for bloggers, and then started pitching my own ideas that I'd design and write. I did this until I got the attention of an editor who hired me as writer-illustrator. I got rejected from a lot of design jobs along the way and realized maybe I should be combining my skills to make something more unique to me, since I’m not strong at any one thing.

Can you tell us the story of how this book came to be? I made this series after I quit my graphic design job due to chronic repetitive strain injuries. I had to be off the computer but I wanted to keep doing something creative so I started making simple analog charts. They were similar in content to ones I had been making as a writer-illustrator at BuzzFeed and for other publications, but simpler and off the computer. I started adding objects to make them even easier to make and ended up with enough to use for a book proposal.

How did you decide this was going to be your first book? I briefly entertained the idea of making a book of a different chart series in 2014, and went to a talk about art publishing hosted by Chronicle Books. It planted the seed in my head, but I didn’t have enough faith in that project to move forward with it. I started the project that became the book as a 100-day project because I didn’t have the confidence to make something if it wasn’t for a media outlet, but this framework gave me an excuse to make something without a purpose.

What have you learned about information design along the way? People on the internet don’t want to read.

Where do you get your inspiration from? From a young age, my dad always encouraged me to recognize the beauty of patterns and mathematics in everyday things. That foundation, plus everyday thoughts and the form of objects are things that inspire me. Also: drinking coffee and walking through SFMOMA.

What if I fail?

Illustration by Michelle Rial

Michelle articulates big, scary questions through lighthearted charts.

What questions are you currently exploring in your work? I set out to make an Art book and a Humor book and I found that people loved the things that ended up being helpful or gave them hope and inspiration. By just doing the work as it came and attempting to visually answer life questions, I stumbled upon images that really resonated with people, and my instinct is to purposely try to do more of that but I also know that the best ones came by accident. I guess I’m trying not to overthink my next big project.

What would you like to share about your creative process? It always gets better if I let it sit for a bit. If I do this, I will usually come up with a way to make it better or more interesting. If I send it to myself in an email as if I’ve submitted it or sent it to a client, I can always find a better way to do it or an error I would’ve otherwise missed.

What do you want to work on next? I recently worked on making graphics for a few walls (and floors) in Color Factory’s new Houston location, and I really enjoyed being able to think about the physical space and what type of ideas would work best where. So, more of that.

At Dropbox our mission is to design enlightened ways of working. In service of such an ambitious mission, we’re always looking for inspiration in how we work and unique creative process across industries. When we caught wind of Michelle Rial’s book we thought we could learn a thing or two about the way she works. Many thanks to Michelle for sharing both her personal and professional journey with us.

Latest in Creative Culture