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Meet Belinda and Karsten Ivey of KarBel Multimedia in Fort Lauderdale

Today we’d like to introduce you to Belinda Ivey and Karsten Ivey.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve always had a passion for writing and art. A journalist since high school, I originally wanted to be a sports reporter but always had a knack for designing the student paper. Then one day, a college advisor gave me two books that would change my life: The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook (a how-to on the basic design and infographic principles) and a copy of the Society of News Design’s annual showcasing the winners of their newspaper design contest.

My career has carried me from the halls of the University of Florida to the design and graphics departments of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, the Arizona Republic and finally the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where I landed my dream job creating infographics. Between 2003 and 2011, I worked my way up to senior graphics reporter and won a few awards along the way. I got married, had two kids, but eventually wanted an opportunity to spread my wings as a designer. I started freelancing in 2007, mostly as a means to earn extra money to pay for our wedding. Within a year, my husband and I had incorporated a business and I was a new mom.

By 2011, I was offered a part-time lecturer position at the University of Miami’s School of Communication, where I taught infographics and multimedia design to undergraduate students. Over the past five years, I’ve been working on a master’s degree and this past June, I graduated with my Master in Fine Arts degree in Motion Media Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

My husband, Karsten Ivey, is the former assistant graphics director for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where he helped manage and develop our staff. He is also the former Region 3 director and board member of the Society for News Design. When I first moved to South Florida, he became my mentor and taught me the ins and outs of infographic design. We clicked on the very first day we met, laughing and joking so much that I thought I was in danger of not getting the job.

Obviously, I did get the job and learned that Karsten doesn’t usually express emotion at work. Nevertheless, we quickly bonded over a shared love of superhero movies, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Publix subs. Like me, he has also taught many interactive and infographic design classes and workshops for students and professionals.

By 2008, our newspaper began its first of a series of layoffs, following the national trend circumvented by the Great Recession. We decided that in order to secure own future, we could not depend on the newspaper. We were expecting our first child, so we hoped we could at least earn extra money to offset daycare costs. So we started our creative agency, KarBel Multimedia. Within three years, we were able to leave the newspaper to work full time at our company.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road hasn’t been smooth. Naturally, when we started our own company, we wanted to control our own destiny. So we came up with a plan to start slow: pick up some projects here and there, enter contests — whatever we needed to increase our portfolio and get our name out. Keep in mind that we grew our company while still working full time at the newspaper. It wasn’t easy. We put in a lot of long days, nights and weekends. We’d both spend long hours in the day for the newspaper, and then log in a few hours when we got home on our company projects. We worked overtime on the weekends to meet deadlines, or search for new opportunities. And during this whole time, we were young newlyweds raising a toddler and expecting a second child.

Once we left the newspaper, we had to adapt to a new lifestyle. We’re not business people, nor did we have the slightest idea on how to maintain a rapidly growing design firm. We had to quickly learn accounting, advertising, hiring, contract negotiations, and even marketing thanks to Google and several design groups such as AIGA and the Graphic Artists Guild. We even had to keep up with new trends in infographic design and illustrations — something we weren’t used to in the newspaper industry.

The next challenge was learning to create a better work-life balance. As journalists, we were used to a fast-paced working environment with projects being done in a day or within a week. While we continued to work those long hours and weekends to grow the company, we eventually realized our pace wouldn’t be sustainable let alone healthy for us and our family. We had to learn to manage our time better, learn that saying no to clients wasn’t the end of the world, and know that some things can wait. Quality was suffering, and that couldn’t continue to happen. There are still some late nights and weekends from time to time, but it’s no longer a routine. We take our time off to enjoy life. We work during vacations, but we get to spend time with a family and we have more flexibility with our children. Ultimately, for us, they’re the most important part of this work-life equation.

Please tell us about KarBel Multimedia.
KarBel Multimedia is a creative agency specializing in infographics and data visualizations, whether it be a print design, motion graphic, or interactive graphics. We also pride ourselves on being a one-stop shop: we can offer traditional design services such as advertising, templates, and report design but we can also provide the infographics for the report, or transform a presentation into a motion graphic, and transform key parts of a report design into an interactive. We provide our clients with services that span multiple platforms, but our journalism background sets us apart because we can also offer research and writing services as well.

Our motto is content drives design, and we’re certainly capable of helping our clients visualize design solutions to fit any project, goal, or initiative. We believe our clients should maintain a voice in the design process and make sure they’re part of the brainstorming and development stages of each project. We try to be flexible with our clients’ needs and do what we can to ensure the success of their project.

I often tell people that we’re fortunate to continue to do the same types of projects that we used to while we worked at the newspaper. The highest compliments we’ve received are from former colleagues, who look up to us and our success as freelancers. We’re often approached for advice on freelancing, starting a business, or even how to expand your design skills. I credit Karsten with his passion and drive, as he’s always wanted to own a business. It started out with me following his footsteps, but we have certainly grown this business together.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Both of our favorite memories from childhood were family trips. For me, I used to spend some time with my grandparents at their farm in Utah. My father was in the Air Force, so we have stationed about 4 hours away in Idaho. For eight glorious summers, my sisters and I would get to spend at least a week at our grandparents. His farm was a co-op that he ran with his neighbor. There were horses to ride, cows and pigs to feed, strawberries to pick, and tractors to ride (I still love the smell of fresh hay). I even have a soft spot for those evil peacocks that would terrorize us during the few times we dared to feed the chickens or collect their eggs.

Some years, my grandparents would take us to either Hogle Zoo or Lagoon — the best amusement and water park ever. And the trips were always capped with a weekend barbecue, where my aunts and cousins would join us when my parents arrived to take us home. Over time, the surrounding farms were eventually taken over by housing developments, including my grandparents’ farm. We haven’t been back since 1993, but they were certainly the best moments of my childhood.

Some summers, Karsten’s mom would surprise him and his three brothers and sister with a fun trip somewhere. The most memorable was a trip to the Bahamas in the summer after he and his twin sister graduated the fifth grade. He remembers how excited he felt when she told them about the trip, but got a little nervous when she explained that they would need to fly to get there. Being as he’d never been on a plane before, he was more than just a “little nervous”. Needless to say, he’s survived, and the trip turned out to be a great one.

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