Executive Interview: Kathleen Marinaccio

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Marinaccio, creative director, artist, professor, and freelance designer. Kathleen is a whirlwind of a person, fast-paced and quick-witted, easy to talk to and happy to share her experiences with me.

I first heard of Kathleen through an AT&T internship program. She was one of the speakers, and showed us what it was like working as a creative director at Warner Bros. Immediately, I was intrigued. You can be creative and work in corporate America? Getting a degree from an art school doesn’t mean you’re doomed to become a starving artist?

Kathleen knew she wanted to be an artist since she was in the ninth grade. She had her heart set on the Pratt Institute, she never even considered applying to any other schools. Fortunately, she was accepted, and majored in drawing before switching to communication design with a film minor.

Kathleen has a long and impressive resume; she’s worked as a courtroom illustrator, as a graphic designer for companies like Marvel and HarperCollins, as an art and creative director, and even started her own creative firm. Currently, she is the Vice President of Design Services at the Research division of Warner Bros. A creative director can do a lot of things for a company, and Kathleen handles branding and marketing for her research group, as well as helping her team to come up with ideas. In her AT&T talk, she showed us some of the slide presentations she’s created.

A wall of pieces created at Fishbrain, the design firm Kathleen started in her NYC apartment in 1991

These presentations are what I would call advertising on a corporate level. Essentially, she tries to tell a story through her presentations, utilizing key art, eye-catching graphics, and easy-to-read information. The corporate world suffers from “slide fatigue,” so Kathleen strives to make her presentations a piece of art, rather than just another boring PowerPoint. She says she doesn’t think of herself as a designer who makes things pretty, but a designer who takes in complicated information and tries to organize it in a way that makes sense.

A presentation deck in the storyboarding phase

Although Kathleen is highly successful and driven, the road hasn’t always been easy. Serving as the creative voice within the business setting is difficult. She told me that it takes longer for the creative voice to be heard over the voice with an Ivy League degree. Corporate America is full of fine lines, but she says that being humble and “doing her thing” has brought her success. Kathleen has an unabashed confidence about her, without coming across as conceited. She’s good at what she does and she knows it. Her confidence in herself allows her to be heard even in a room full of Harvard degrees.

A working session where a client is explaining to Kathleen what they’d like to convey in their project

When Kathleen isn’t working—and she works a lot—she can be found creating. Painting, sculpting, looking at art, buying art, you name it. She loves to paint the places she’s been, and finds a way to sneak glitter into almost all of her pieces. Her home is full of art, made by herself and others, she has cabinets full of her creations and walls covered in art made by friends and artists she admires. Before the pandemic, she used to host paint and wine nights with her friends, and sends out handmade Christmas cards every year.

A painting of Times Square from a NYC themed paint and wine night Kathleen hosted

Before we ended our call, I asked Kathleen if she had any advice for recent graduates and college students. She emphasized the importance of networking, and how good connections with people can help you get your foot in the door. She praises independence, and encourages young professionals to take chances. Don’t wait around for the perfect job, if you want to work in a certain field, get a job in that field, even if it’s not the exact, perfect job you want. You might be surprised, Kathleen’s favorite job to work at was at a tiny ad company in New York. It’s okay if you don’t land your dream job right away, Kathleen isn’t sure that she has yet, but she still loves what she does.

“I don’t know if there’s a dream job, but I know there’s a dream life.”

To see some of Kathleen’s art or to learn more about her, check out her website at https://www.kathleenmarinaccio.com/