Amy Willis // Quest
For over five years, Ker & Downey graphic designer Amy Willis sought inspiration for her luxury tour company’s bi-annual print travelog, QUEST, by visually globetrotting through stock photos. That changed in 2017, when the 8-to-5 in-house graphic designer turned digital nomad, signed up for a year-long, 12-city, 10-country, three-continent odyssey through REMOTE YEAR, a company that facilitates travel and accommodations for people interested in working remotely.
“Frankly, I was feeling a bit stuck, even though, at 32, life was pretty great,” Willis said of her time in Katy, Texas, working at Ker & Downey’s headquarters. “I was single, I’d just bought a house, I had a good, steady job, close friends, a killer fitness routine and a dog I adored, but deep down I knew life in Katy was no longer where I wanted to be. Then one morning, up pops this image on Instagram of a smiling young woman, working on her laptop next to an ocean that said, ‘Travel the world while working remotely.’ I was in.”
A designer exploring new paths
Willis isn’t afraid to take the non-traditional route. From securing her first design job via a tweet to selecting an online printing resource some 1,200 miles away for the premier tour operator’s flagship, 100-plus-page travel log.
“It’s about overcoming your fear,” Willis said. “When I first contemplated the idea of working remotely for a year, it terrified me. I didn’t know if it was going to work out. I wasn’t sure I’d be a great traveler. I didn’t know the language or the currency. Initially, I felt very insecure about it. Then I went and discovered that I could figure it out. It was very empowering for me.”
Managing both deadlines and time zones
Luckily, according to Willis, Ker & Downey couldn’t have been more supportive. Even though their sole designer was going to be out of the office and out of the country for a year, her boss said, “Hell yes, we’ll make it work.”
“I knew they trusted me, that they wanted to inspire me and keep me engaged,” Willis said. “We scheduled weekly status meetings before I left and relied on Skype. I packed my trusty vintage 2011 MacBook Pro with a battery backup and made it a priority to stay connected, wherever I was in the world, even if it sometimes meant having to do conference calls from bed late at night,” she said.
Designing a work/life balance
“When I first started working on QUEST, my boss told me not to think of it as a travel brochure but as the Ker & Downey travel experience in print. It was incredible advice. From that day on, I made it my goal to create pieces that inspired people to travel, to discover the unforgettable. Ironically, that’s exactly what my year abroad did for me,” Willis said. “It awakened me to a new way to live, a new way to work and a new way to be.”
“It pushed me, personally and professionally. I did things I never dreamt I’d do,” she said. “I rappelled down a waterfall in Colombia, hung out with elephants in Thailand, biked in Kyoto, Japan, and still managed to put in a 40-hour week.”
“My experience with Remote Year taught me that I can do it,” Willis said. “That you can find a workspace and an Airbnb and work remotely wherever you are. It’s not as hard as you think.”
“Mexico City was one my favorite stops last year,” she continued. “It was one of the most vibrant cities I’ve ever been to. It’s really trendy and cool. And cheap. I felt right at home. I’d love to live there.”
A new perspective on design—and on the world
“Looking back,” Willis said, “it couldn’t have worked out better. Living and working abroad offered me something I’d never experience if I’d stayed in Katy, Texas. I had the chance to feel what it’s like to be there. You really do start seeing things in a totally different way. By being immersed in the culture, colors and smells around you, I think I became a better designer.”
Willis created QUEST with Perfect Bound Booklets and employed Smartpress’ online printing services to turn it into the inspiration it is. Custom booklet printing is easy with recycled stocks, text and cover weights, UV coatings, full-color and more options to choose from.
“After this year of travel, I’m more committed than ever to preserving our earth and its cultures,” Willis said. “I’ve already approached my boss about taking on the company’s philanthropic efforts, which includes advocating our partnerships with Nets for Africa, About Asia Schools and Wild Aid, among others. I’m hoping I can take my work at Ker & Downey to the next level by getting people to experience and appreciate what’s out there and realize how important it is to save it.”