Sarah Gugercin is a horticulturist turned designer. She's also one of our Spring 2022 interns!

When scrolling through Sarah Gugercin’s Behance, you may notice a recurring theme: an affinity for incorporating nature into design. And there’s an excellent reason for that: Sarah is a horticulturist turned designer. She’s also one of our Spring 2022 interns!

Sarah (she/her) is currently pursuing her B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Virginia Tech. She has joined the Firefli team for the Spring Semester to gain experience working at a digital agency. Kelly and Phil sat down with Sarah to learn more about her journey from horticulture to graphic design and hear about her goals for her time at Firefli.

Q: Introduce yourself – who are you, and how did you get here?

Sarah: I’m originally from Jackson, Michigan, but I’ve been in Blacksburg since 2006. I moved here to pursue my Master’s in Horticulture. We stayed because my husband is a professor in the Department of Mathematics.

Q: So horticulture is very different from design – what inspired you to pivot?

S: During my Master’s program, I found that I really enjoyed presenting the information even more than I liked the research itself. I really enjoyed putting together the presentations and communicating the data visually. I didn’t want to keep going for my Ph.D., and my advisor said they did have a need in the department for someone who can help with the visual elements of the research.

I started working with different professors on websites, posters, and presentations and currently still work with some as a freelance designer. I was primarily self-taught, but there came the point where I wanted to take things to the next level, so I started taking one class a semester at Virginia Tech while I worked. In 2018, I started working with the Society of Municipal Arborists to design their magazine City Trees.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of design project to work on?

S: I think it can vary, but I am really attracted to working with content. It’s similar to the way we have to take a lot of information in research and present it in a way that simplifies complex concepts.

But different from big research posters, my favorite medium is websites because you can always change them. You can get information after the fact and tweak things. Or you can see what activity is happening on the website and adjust accordingly. It’s really exciting and interesting.
I’m also a love working with typography, even though it’s challenging.

Q: Why did you want to work with Firefli for your internship?

S:  Initially, I heard there was a new professor teaching web design that incorporated WordPress. I was really excited to hear that because most classes didn’t typically include a CMS, and WordPress is what I usually use when working with people. Unfortunately, I had already taken web design a previous semester so I didn’t take the class. But I did talk with students taking the class about what they were learning and the tools they were being introduced to and decided to learn more about Firefli.

I especially loved the Women Peace and Security Index project with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security. When you’re doing websites for a researcher, it’s usually pretty low-key because they don’t have a big budget. When I saw the types of work you all were doing, I knew I wanted to be a part of that and I contacted John to see if I could apply to be an intern.

Q: What do you hope to learn from your internship with Firefli?

S: I’m looking forward to seeing how each specialist interacts with the other and the project to produce a high-level website. I typically work on projects alone, so I’m interested in seeing how the designers, developers, writers, and marketers work together.

The best part is the project we’re working on is Firefli itself. So we get to explore different directions for the brand and how that drives what the website will look like.

Sarah's passion for design is contagious. Her love for typography, attention to the smallest pixel, and curiosity make her a great addition to our team!Jeremy Basham, Product Design Manager at Firefli

Q: What’s next after graduation?

S: I still really love working in science, but I realize there are fewer opportunities for design in that space because of a limited understanding of the return on investment.

I graduate in May, but I’m still exploring my options. I’d be interested in working for a digital design agency or continuing to freelance.

Q: Now for some more fun ones. What brands do you admire from a design perspective?

S: Skittles! Their commercials are just so funny and bizarre – not to mention they’re delicious.

Q: Who are you outside of work?

S: I love plants (obviously), so I spend a lot of time messing around in the yard. Last fall, I went a little overboard and planted 500 daffodil bulbs. I can’t wait to see how they come up.

I also love photography and traveling. My husband is from Turkey, so we try to visit his family once or twice a year. Berlin is one of my favorite cities—we have spent a lot of time there for my husband’s sabbaticals or during the summer.

Q: As a plant person, you have to tell us – what’s your favorite plant?

S: Wow, it’s so hard to just choose one. Right now, I’d say my favorite indoor plant is Amaryllis. I just got some Amaryllis Picotee with white petals with a red edge. They’re so pretty. I also love succulents because they’re so easy to take care of.

Outdoor plants, I love witch hazel and edgeworthia. Especially in the late winter and early spring because they are one of the few things flowering.

Sarah has already proved her affinity for design in the projects she’s worked on with our other Spring design intern, Arya Meade. We’re so excited to see what these two put together for their Firefli project and look forward to seeing their careers in design bloom (see what we did there?).

From instructing courses at Virginia Western and Virginia Tech to offering internships, we love connecting with students from local universities and colleges to share our insights and provide a real agency experience. We’re also hiring! For more information about joining the swarm full-time, click to view current job openings.

March 28, 2022 in Article