Hornbeak reflects on design experience, teaching photography

Heather Hornbeak, adjunct photography professor, graduated from Union in 2004 with a degree in graphic design. Like many graduates, she had to answer a challenging question: What’s next?

Hornbeak’s friend was working at Griffin Technology, a rapidly growing company in Nashville, and encouraged her to join the company as a graphic designer. iPods were beginning to drastically change the way people listened to music, but the majority of people could not play their iPods in their cars. Griffin Technology changed this with the invention of the iTrip.

Most cars now have the ability for an auxiliary cord to connect iPods to them. The iTrip would connect to iPods, submit radio waves and allow one to sync their iPod with the radio in the car. Apple and Best Buy took immediate interest in the device. Hornbeak had just graduated from college, and she was already working with colossal brands. She designed the packaging for the iTrip that would eventually end up selling in Apple stores but also left her mark in another way. If you look at the photo of the iTrip packaging, Hornbeak’s ear is displayed on the package.

After designing the packaging, the next step was to make a deal with Best Buy. Hornbeak and her colleagues presented a plan that would radically change the entire store layout. The team proposed that Best Buy take the phones out from the front of the store and trade them with the phone accessories in the back of the store. By the end of the meeting, the executives were in complete agreement with the idea. Suddenly Hornbeak had helped change the entire floor plan of every Best Buy in America.

Hornbeak collected many great memories from her time collaborating with Apple and Best Buy, but her most fond memory actually came from a mistake.

“I was given the task of sending Christmas gifts to some of the key executives we knew through our business network,” Hornbeak said. “I had to go through the shipping system after I put the packages together and put everyone’s email in there at once, and it accidentally went to Steve Jobs. Jobs ended up emailing my boss to ask why he was getting cookies and a T-shirt from us.”

After one incredibly successful year with Griffin Technology, Hornbeak could feel the corporate winds shifting.

“They hired the mad men of New York to take over all my previous roles so I was now using the pen tool all day on graphics and making the sales sheet graphics,” Hornbeak said. “The leadership started to change, and people were getting pushed out of the company so I knew the wind was changing, and it was time to go.”

Hornbeak had always wanted to create her own business and found it fascinating how her boss at Griffin Technology could set his own schedule. Thus, she set out to become a photographer and photographed more than 200 weddings over the next seven years. Heather has now been teaching photography at Union for three semesters and has discovered a passion for teaching.

“The mentoring is my favorite part,” Hornbeak said. “They really need a coach, someone they can text and ask how to do certain things. Having someone that is accessible and there for them is great. They can YouTube how to use a camera, but they can’t ask YouTube for help with the bigger picture elements of photography.”

See some of Hornbeak’s work in the art department gallery exhibit through March 3.