“Guess What?” is a common question used by many people to share news of happiness and mirth. But in the case of graphic designer Lori James, “Guess What?” is also the name of her design studio business in Nuʻuanu.

James creates card designs for events such as birthdays, graduations and weddings. She was a student of Honolulu Community College’s communication arts program, but took a roundabout path to get there.

After graduating from Hawaii Baptist Academy, James attended Oregon State University for two years working on a liberal arts degree. Then James returned to UH Mānoa with intentions of obtaining a degree in art, but instead took up business for two years at the request of her parents.

In 1996, James graduated from UH Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree—in music—instead of business or art. But art kept calling her and eventually she decided to attend Honolulu CC and study communication arts.

“I really enjoyed my experience at Honolulu CC,” she said. “I loved the smaller, more intimate classes. You really build a camaraderie with your classmates and professors.” James also said that although she was a few classes shy from completing the communication arts program, being at Honolulu CC contributed to her successful career path. “It broadened my knowledge of design and gave me the confidence and inspiration to pursue a career in the creative field.”

The beginnings of Guess What? Designs started when James designed her daughter’s first birthday party invitation and cake. James received so many positive comments and encouragement from her friends and family that in May of 2008 she decided to submit her designs to Minted, an online website dedicated to stationery designs and invitations. James’ first design submission won fifth place in Minted’s monthly challenge, earning her prize money in return.

Getting an early start in graphic design at Honolulu CC really helped James. “The learning was very practical and hands on,” she said. “The professors were great. They were very supportive and encouraging, and they were all industry professionals who either had their own business or had a very successful career in the creative field. They were able to give us a lot of valuable insight into the world of design.”

“The thought behind Guess What was like, ‘Guess what? We’re having a baby, guess what? We’re getting married.’ So it’s kind of like a happy surprise,” James said.

At home, James works on her own schedule, creating designs based on requests sent to her through her website at guesswhatdesign.com. Most of James’ clients come from outside of the islands. And so far, all of her clients have been satisfied with her work, she said. Guess What? Designs has been in business for eight years. As the owner, James is responsible for high-end custom event stationery, pattern designs, art prints, etc.

A mother of two children, Rebecca and Ethan, James is a stay at home mom, working straight from her desk filled with paint brushes and pens neatly organized in cups.

“The best part? Well I work from home, so I get to see them, you know? I get to spend time with them when it’s vacation time, I don’t have to find someone to babysit or find someone to watch them because I’m home. It’s nice and it’s filled with inspiration from my kids,” James said.

Written by Honolulu CC journalism students Chanelle Amoguis and Justin Baptiz