Up Close with Heather Novak-Peterson

Heather Novak-Peterson

Heather Novak-Peterson recently joined HGA as a Senior Environmental Graphic Designer focusing on branded environments and products. She has more than 15 years’ experience creating custom art, graphics, finishes, signage, and products for corporate, public, and civic clients. In the following, she discusses her life-long love for art and how environmental graphics express a company’s brand.

What influenced you to pursue a creative design career?

I came from an artist family. Both my parents are architects, so I grew up drawing as I watched them work. My younger brother was inspired as well and is now an architect. Today, I have my home office in the living room and my kids love watching me work; they are witness to the artist process as I was as a kid. Being surrounded by creative people was a huge influence while growing up in Fargo.

What is environmental graphic design?

I am coming at it as an artist working in the architecture world. Environmental graphic design is an artistic interpretation of the built environment. It is a modern-day version of the commissioned artist doing larger pieces, a hybrid of public art that combines custom finishes, textiles, and wayfinding to create branded experiences. This can include anything from swatches of color in parking ramps to help direct people to corporate identities and logos. I’m a visual interpreter for intangible ideas.

How do you apply environmental graphics to build brand identity?

Branding is storytelling. It’s about capturing a company’s story and the meaning behind the business. For individual companies, environmental graphics are marketing tool to help recruit employees and customers through visual storytelling. For developers, the logo and other graphic elements likewise are marketing tools to attract an intended audience. The branded graphics reflect a company’s values and beliefs. Environmental graphics and signage will become even more important as people begin to return to the office and companies implement new workplace strategies that promote social distancing and staff wellbeing.

How can this enhance civic spaces?

Civic spaces push me a lot further as an artist because I must balance different opinions, stakeholders, and issues. Social media can impact the design process as you navigate feedback and try to express the community voice. Public art is subjective, and it can be challenging to authentically represent the community.

What is the one graphic element every company should consider first?

It is different for every company because environmental graphics reflect their history and mission. There is such a diversity of stories being told within different companies, so one preconceived design element doesn’t fit all. Yet one signature element I try to bring is an original gesture—an original imagery that distinctly captures their identity.

You’ve illustrated children’s books. Do you have a favorite illustrated book that inspired your work?

I’ve collected children’s books for years. There are so many great children’s books, the variety and creativity are amazing. My two books—A Bear from Eau Claire, and A Horse in the Tree—can be enjoyed by adults and children. I especially love it when different cultures come together to tell a familiar classic story, such as a Korean version of Little Red Riding Hood that I particularly like. Children recognize good design and good storytelling, and they are inspired by it.

If not a graphic artist, what would you be?

I’m an avid gardener. I was a floral designer in college. I would love being a floral sculptor, owning an artsy studio, and getting my hands in the dirt.

Find more information about Heather’s work and our environmental graphics here. See a gallery of her work below.