In the movie, 13 Going On 30, Jenna Rink, the main character, embodies what it’s like for a woman in the journalism/corporate design world to take ownership of her design skills and create a series of vision boards for the cover of a magazine. Among those inspired by the movie was PLNU alum Jenna Johnson (14), who not only shares a first name with the main character but is also equally design-savvy.
Like Jenna Rink, Johnson’s interest in creative design surfaced during a crucial time in her life: high school.
“In high school, I took a photography class, and it was the first time where I was exposed to Photoshop. I found in the photography class I didn’t love taking photos. That wasn’t the part I was super drawn to,” Johnson said. “What I really loved doing was going back and doing cool things in post[-production] and messing around in Photoshop, adding graphics.”
As she dove deeper into graphic design and post editing, looked into colleges, and saw 13 Going On 30, she found that graphic design was calling to her.
“In my head, I was thinking, ‘That looked amazing,’” Johnson said. “It looked creative and fun, so I knew I wanted to do something there. Is it journalism? I was trying to figure out what that career was called. I didn’t even know graphic design was a thing back then, but I was kind of doing graphic design without even realizing I was doing it.”
As she started looking into colleges, she realized graphic design was actually something she could pursue as a major. When got accepted to PLNU, she knew she would declare graphic design with a marketing minor. Through her experiences on campus, she began to see the ways in which her marketing and graphic design strengths could mesh within the business world.
“I would say I ended up taking just as many business classes as design classes at Point Loma,” Johnson said. “Now that I own my own business, those were so valuable to me. I was just as drawn to the business side of things as I was to the actual design part. It was the perfect in-between area. I love that graphic design is ‘businessy’ just as much as it is ‘art-forward.’”
“I would say I ended up taking just as many business classes as design classes at Point Loma. Now that I own my own business, those were so valuable to me. I was just as drawn to the business side of things as I was to the actual design part.”
After she graduated in 2014, she spent a few years learning more in the field of marketing and working for a smaller company, while also utilizing her graphic design skills.
“I worked as an in-house designer. It was a really small company, so I got a lot of experience in all of the different designs,” Johnson said. “We did everything from photography to websites to packaging to social media. We literally did everything. But also what came with being part of a smaller company is that I felt I was hitting a ceiling very quickly. After a year and half there, I was like ‘There’s not anywhere for me to grow.’”
At that time, she started using her free time to get online and research what it would look like to have her own studio.
“There weren’t as many of these online studios as there are these days,” Johnson said. “Back then, I hadn’t even heard of people having design studios on Instagram. I came across one person who did. I was like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t even know that was an option to have a studio on Instagram.’ I took that concept, and it opened up this whole world of people who were starting businesses and using Instagram as their main source of getting inquiries and business.”
Finding that initial pioneer in the social media world encouraged Johnson to sit down and have conversations with her husband to see if this dream could turn into reality.
“Me and my husband sat down and talked about our future and goals for our family,” Johnson said. “It felt like the next natural move for me to try it out, start a business, see what it would be like so I could have the flexibility whenever we had kids.”
Her design studio White and Salt was born.
White and Salt helps brands tell their stories and create marketing based on clients’ themes and goals.
“Every business owner has a reason for why they started their business and has a story of their own to tell,” Johnson said. “When it comes down to brand, that perception is what informs everything. We always start projects with brand strategy because that’s where we learn about the business owner, the history of the business, and why they exist. [We figure] out what their strategy is and how they are different from others in the market and based on all that, how does that translate to the design?”
She initially started managing everything on her own. The endeavor and pressure came with learning curves and setbacks.
“A lot of it is going with your intuition and leaning into what you feel is the right next move,” Johnson said. “There’s so many different ways to do business and structure things. You can learn a lot in the classroom, but when it comes down to it, the world is constantly changing. You have to adapt to the change the world is going through. So much of it is learning from experiences and being willing to pivot. That’s what I’ve learned from starting a business: You only fail if you stop. It doesn’t feel like a failure if you’re willing to pivot.”
As her studio grew, she realized that it was time for her to get back to the drawing board, gain more experience, and figure out how to fit her family in amid the business.
“I took a break from White and Salt for a few years where I wanted to get better at the craft and learn from somebody else,” Johnson said. “I hit the peak of what I could do on my own. I was like, ‘I kind of want to go back and learn on the ground-level, learn from another creative director, learn more about business and get more experience.’ I did that for a couple of years. After I had my son, I had the most ideal job, and I still wasn’t happy going into the office. I took that as a sign: I think it’s time for me to head back to White and Salt, and that’s why I started this business in the first place. For this moment when I have a child, I want to be available.”
Her transition back to White and Salt took some unexpected turns as she tried to market in a social media world that looked a lot different from when she first started in 2015.
“The biggest thing was I had taken two to three years off of marketing on Instagram,” Johnson said. “I had let that road go dry. Refiguring out Instagram again, it’s not as easy as it used to be. [I worked on] cracking the code again, starting from zero again, and rebuilding a client base.”
Now, she has grown her studio to the point of hiring additional designers and a project manager. As she continues to explore what it means to juggle the roles of in-house designer, entrepreneur, and art director at a full service creative agency, she’s also recognized that the balance with family and well-being is essential.
“My business has changed a lot over the past year,” Johnson said. “Up until last year, it was really just me — picking up clients on my own, handling all of the admin, marketing work. It was getting to the point [where] with where I’m at with my family — we have three kids now — it just wasn’t sustainable anymore for the amount of time I had to work. I’ve never wanted to be a full stay-at-home mom nor full-time at work. I like the balance of being able to do both. With how busy we are as a family now, I knew I needed to figure out a better way of doing things. I took a leap, and now I have a little team.”
With the changes to her agency, concerns over whether her design strategy and style would change were something to consider.
“It was tricky. That was one of the hardest parts of growing: trying to find a designer who could basically be me. People were hiring me for my specific style, and I had become known for that specific style, and it was also balancing the idea that people were hiring me for me because they wanted to work with me specifically. It was super tricky navigating how to do that.”
Her team has helped her maintain the mission her agency focuses on: helping companies create designs that express innovative ideas and specific solutions to niche problems.
“I’ve always been drawn to businesses who not necessarily are in a specific niche, but more the person behind the brand and what their goals are: people who are forward thinking with what they’re doing. We really love working with business owners who are doing something different in their space, who are the pioneers and looking at things from a different angle.”
“The brand is the natural extension of the story, and it’s a visual representation of what they’re offering, what their product is, why they exist, what their brand persona is,” Johnson said. “All those things play a part in how something should visually look. I’ve always been drawn to businesses who not necessarily are in a specific niche, but more the person behind the brand and what their goals are: people who are forward thinking with what they’re doing. We really love working with business owners who are doing something different in their space, who are the pioneers and looking at things from a different angle.”
With the continued new opportunities for White and Salt, Johnson expressed that the experiences she has had with her company all come down to the intentional message she wants to send to her clients and employees.
“Having White and Salt, it feels like it’s so much bigger than me at this point. I have employees that I’m taking care of, and I feel a huge responsibility towards them. I really do believe design has an impact and has the power to really make a difference in individuals’ lives. Brands these days are so much more than just making money. They have a mission, whether that’s donating to different causes or whatever it is outside of the financials; it’s really cool to have such a big part in the success of that. God isn’t something that I talk a lot about outwardly with my clients. But hopefully showing my morals and who we are as a foundation and how God is the foundation of all that. How that translates to my business is always being forthright, transparent, putting our best foot forward and best end product that we possibly can, treating them with kindness. Those aren’t always principles that you see everyone else doing these days, which is so sad. That’s what makes us stand out. We have a very truthful business.”
From a 16-year-old in photography class to an adult going on 30, Jenna said she’s excited for what is ahead for herself, her family, and White and Salt.
To learn more about White and Salt, visit https://whiteandsalt.com/about.