Art and communication are a natural pairing. After all, what is art but an attempt to communicate with each other on a deeper level? When applied properly, both art and communication can create a feeling of community and bring people closer together. This is exactly what we talked about with Mariel Alvarado, a humanitarian turned graphic design professional.
And that’s what Mariel Alvarado is all about. Her personal website, CommunicArte, is her professional portfolio and a mission statement rolled into one.
In her own words, Mariel is also a former Community Health professional, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, a Qualified Health Care Interpreter in Oregon.
Mariel also calls herself a Venezuelan-American hybrid. Born in the US, she comes from a Venezuelan and Polish-American family. Her bicultural upbringing and the work she did abroad gave her a strong zest for life and an open-minded worldview.
Today we have the pleasure of helping you understand her better by sharing an interview we did with her.
Read on to find out more about this remarkable woman!
First, we wanted to learn a bit more about her.
We asked Mariel to tell us a bit about herself – what drives her, what inspires her, and what makes her want to contribute to this changing world?
Born in the Bay Area of California and brought up in Portland, Oregon, I come from a Venezuelan and Polish-American family. I spent most of my childhood living in the Portland suburbs, a relatively homogenous, white part of town.
I’d also visited Venezuela, my father’s homeland. If it weren’t for those visits, my view of the world would’ve likely remained one-dimensional all of my childhood. These trips sowed seeds that grew into a strong commitment to this Caribbean country.
And my grandmother, a retired public health gynecologist, was one of the first female doctors in Venezuela. She would share her stories with me of working in Latin America. Early on she worked at health posts in the tropical regions of the Venezuelan coast. Later in her life, she worked with the Ministry of Health in Caracas. She dedicated her life to serving her country with pride and compassion. Her legacy has left an indelible mark on me.
And then I got to live in Latin America myself. I spent one semester in Chile and two years in Nicaragua as a Community Health Educator with the Peace Corps. That’s when the fervent love I’d developed for Venezuela expanded into a greater love for Latin America and its people.
Graphic Design Meets Justice
Volunteering at the Peace Corps takes significant dedication. Mariel Alvarado was happy to elaborate further and tell us what she learned.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked closely with people. Worked with men, women, and youth of many backgrounds, cultures, ages, socioeconomic statuses, and abilities. Effectively, I sought to understand their experience and support their wellbeing. I regularly taught sexual and reproductive health classes in local high schools and led presentations on HIV/AIDS prevention to Nicaraguan men and women.
I gained insight into the importance of empathy and interpersonal communication. My eyes opened to the realities of generational trauma, poverty, and lack of access to health and education. And these communities were similar to those my grandmother had served. Those two years set my professional path and intentions.
Since 2007, I have set out to improve access to health information and services. I do this wearing many different hats. These include: a contact tracer, a medical interpreter, a volunteer coordinator, a health educator, and a graphic designer.
She continued talking about her company, its mission, and the drive for justice.
In 2014, I established CommunicArte LLC, my independent design company that contracts with social justice and health care organizations. I also work as a full-time graphic designer for Partners In Health, a 501(c)(3) committed to ensuring health care access and social justice.
In the past 8 years, I created my niche as a graphic designer working for and with small and large nonprofits. Nonprofits that believe, like me, in a world where social justice is the standard and health care is offered equitably. A world where people have access to correct health information regardless of their background. And where entrepreneurs are supported to reach their goals.
In our current world, the reality is that inequalities are pervasive and will take generations to dismantle. This inspires me to help tell the stories of marvelous examples of equity and social justice through design. My grandmother and other Latin American female mentors inspired me to commit myself to create a more just world.
Looking Back And Looking Forward
A retrospective can sometimes help us plan for the future.
We asked Mariel what she would change if she pressed restart on her graphic design career and started out anew.
When looking at college options, I considered going to an art institute to pursue graphic design. In the end, I decided to go to a 4-year liberal arts college where I studied psychology and Spanish.
Now, I’m content with my decision. It was my college advisor that encouraged me to further explore my Venezuelan side and study Spanish. And this ultimately led me to apply to the Peace Corps. It’s crystal clear that my experiences abroad thrust me in the direction I’ve been going all these years. If I could restart my career, I’d probably make the same decisions I did. I would pursue graphic design at an earlier age, though, as I had originally intended.
Mariel has remarkable achievements and drive. So, we asked her what project or aspect of her graphic design career she was most proud of.
My heart is really in the work I do with the larger Latinx community in Portland. I’m probably most proud of my social impact project “¡Buen Provecho! A Local’s Guide to the Portland Mercado.” It’s a fun project that uses storytelling to increase visibility and patronage of the Portland Mercado. Portland Mercado is a hub of POC and Latinx-owned food carts and small businesses. ¡Buen Provecho! started as a printed dining passport (a.k.a. coupon incentive program) in 2017. This was when dining passports were starting to be a ‘thing’ in Portland.
I hit many roadblocks in the process and had to completely pivot and move the project entirely online in 2019. Currently, the vendor interviews and content are on the website. They’re accessible by scanning the unique QR codes that are posted at the participating Portland Mercado businesses. My dream is to expand and update the content and convert the passport coupon booklet into an app. But I’m still waiting for that partnership to appear.
Things are changing quickly in the world, especially when it comes to careers. We asked Mariel what she did to prepare for the current situation and what her plans are for the future.
In 2020, I experienced the side effects of the slowing economy in my independent design business. Much of my freelance design work dried up. I wasn’t sure if I would survive as a designer, so I decided to pursue further training in medical interpretation. In previous jobs, I had to wear the unofficial hat of a medical interpreter. So I feel comfortable working in medical settings after working with medical personnel for 7 years before studying graphic design.
In the summer of 2020, I completed formal training in medical interpretation and am currently working towards certification. I’d like to integrate interpretation and translation services into the offerings at CommunicArte, in alignment with my focus on health communication. My vision for CommunicArte is that the company will grow its membership, invite collaboration with other communication professionals and sharpen its ability to leave an impression in the fight for social justice.
Tips For Starting Out In Graphic Design
We asked Mariel to share a piece of advice for young people starting out in graphic design. And this is what she had to say:
I would recommend new graphic designers to accept volunteer work, do low-bono projects, and focus on building skills and relationships. Make the most of your free time as you’re building up your professional portfolio. Relish in the fun of working on personal projects, explore new design techniques, and enjoy the process.
The Importance Of A Personal Website
In your experience, how important was a personal website in acquiring clients? Did it have a direct or indirect impact?
My professional .ME website has been crucial in reaching and acquiring new clients. Prospective employers and new clients will always expect graphic designers and artists to be able to show their work online.
In your opinion, what is the most neglected (but important) part of a personal website?
Speaking of my industry, it’s clear there are many super talented independent creative professionals showing mind-blowing work in their portfolios. The graphic design industry is steeped in talent, and it’s crucial to stand out from other creative professionals.
In my opinion, a very important part of a website that’s often neglected is a strong brand promise. What makes you unique? How is your story as a creative compelling? What skills distinguish you from the rest? How do you help clients reach their goals?
Put Your Work Out There
Many creatives are hesitant to make a website themselves, with the most common excuse being that they’re designers/writers/etc, not developers. Mariel is not one of them. She believes it’s important to get your work out there, learn from your mistakes, and not worry about it looking perfect.
When I first built my website, I also bought a Squarespace subscription. The templates offered by the platform gave me a framework to start with. The first iteration of my website pales in comparison to my current website.
But over the years, I’ve learned a few best practices. Tell the world what you do best. Be clear and be brief. Tell potential clients why your solution is unique and works. Share your story, and give examples of your work (professional or personal if you’re just starting out). Get something up and don’t fret if it doesn’t look perfect — your website will develop and improve over time.
A Truly Personal Domain
Of course, we had to ask Mariel why she chose the .ME extension for her website.
I stumbled across the .ME extension when I was searching domain options to register my company’s name, CommunicArte. I liked that it brought a human, personalized touch to something so inanimate as a URL.
Anyone who cares strongly about social issues and graphic design can take their cue from Mariel. She brings a lot of herself into her work so it’s only natural she chose .ME domain for her website. In her own words, it’s important to put your work out there and display strong brand promise. Having your own website makes you stand out from the crowd, and the .ME domain adds a personalized touch to it.
In the end, all we can do is thank Mariel for her time and her insight. Her career and her drive to make the world a better place are truly inspiring. We wish her all the best and are proud to have her as a member of the .ME family.