Jen Serafini’s art teacher in elementary school constantly encouraged her, teaching that art can have an impact on our culture and society. Jen tells us of the 3 biggest lessons she has learnt along the way, and also how open and generous the design community is in Chicago. While how important it is to embrace your design community!
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? I always enjoyed fine art, and I attribute a lot of my early interest to my elementary school art teacher. He constantly encouraged me, and showed me how art can have an impact on our culture and society. Simultaneously, I found myself collecting clothing tags, as well as bottles because I liked the way they looked. I never really understood how all of this worked together, or what it meant until I was introduced to “graphic design” in high school. As soon as I took this class, I knew it’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Since then, my idea of what design was has immensely evolved, from pen and ink drawings and calligraphy in high school, to understanding how to use design as a tool to create a visual language that can change the way people think, act, and feel.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? I studied communications design at Syracuse University in upstate New York. Our program was very grounded in creative problem solving. Every project we did needed a problem, and a solution – which could be anything from packaging design, to editorial, to digital, etc. This taught me to look at design in a very holistic way – not just making things look pretty, but having a purpose and telling a story. After I graduated, I landed my first full-time job at an advertising agency. Advertising seemed like a great fit for me, because I enjoyed brainstorming, coming up with big ideas, and executing them across multiple platforms.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. In 2014, I left my full-time job to start Serafini Creative, where I work with my clients to build their brands from the ground up through intentional design and art direction. I also still freelance with an advertising agency, because I enjoy working with a team and coming up with big ideas, as well as mentoring younger designers.
What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in? What I love most about the design landscape in my city (Chicago!), is how open and generous the design community is here. Everyone wants to help each other, and it’s so refreshing to be surrounded by people that support you. Since I’ve moved here 5 years ago, I’ve made so many creative friends, as well as joined the board of AIGA – where I continue to discover ways to connect people to the amazing design scene in this city.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? 1. Maintain Relationships – Opportunities are not just going to fall into your lap – you need to create them. Every time I meet someone at an event I make sure to send them an email, and see if they want to grab a coffee. It helps take our relationship past “I met them once and I’ll never see them again” Also, a lot of my business and/or job opportunities come from referrals from friends, other designers, or past clients that I’ve formed relationships with over the past few years.
2. Define your goals & stay true to your passion – It’s so important to evaluate your career and where you’re at every once in awhile, because you don’t want to get stuck doing something that doesn’t make you happy. It took me a while to figure this out, but it’s all a learning process!
3. It’s okay to put yourself out there – You can be a great designer, but if no one knows about it, you won’t get very far. So share your work as much as you can, because you never know who might see it.
What advice would you give students starting out? Be open to opportunities! You never know where an opportunity will take you, and it’s important to experience as much as possible throughout your career. It’s the best way to learn about what you love to do, but more importantly what you DON’T!
Also, embrace your community. When I moved to Chicago 5 years ago I didn’t know ANYONE. This community has been so welcoming to me, and I’m forever grateful for all of the friends, mentors, and designers I’ve met over the last several years. Even if you’re timid, it’s important to put yourself out there as much as you can and meet people in the community, because you never know where a connection will lead you. I’ve gotten new clients, jobs, and opportunities to do fun things in the community just through the people I’ve met by going to AIGA events, reaching out, etc.