In 2008, I finished my BFA in Graphic Design from Appalachian State University in North Carolina, where I grew up. My first design job didn’t start until several months after graduation. I started as a designer for a large non-profit research organization based in North Carolina. A year later I moved to NYC to attend Pratt Institute and later received my MFA in Communication Design. In grad school, my favorite internship was at Jonathan Adler, the cheeky retro-inspired home décor and pottery company.
Currently my typical working day is pretty nuts! I work fulltime for an advertising agency based in Atlanta, in addition to designing for several freelance clients. I also try to carve out time to pursue my own passion projects and side hustles. I wake up as early as possible, typically before 7am, and design a few hours before my day job starts at 10. That might include finishing up freelance work or designing fun stuff for my social media accounts. Then I head in the office, where I work until about 5 or 6. Most nights I come home or work from a coffee shop on my freelance or personal projects.
My newest passion project is my “art” Instagram account the Digital Treasury Dept (@digitaltreasury). I’ve always been into history. I love vintage maps, old photography historic buildings, basically anything old. Many libraries have vast collections of historic images, maps, and photographs. Several libraries have begun digitizing their assets and you can explore their collections online. The New York Public Library and the Library of Congress are two good examples. It takes some effort to search through everything, but to me, it’s like hunting for treasure. I juxtapose images together using the Instagram profile feed. I love the idea of taking something from the 1800s that was lost or forgotten and creating something fun and new with it. The images and maps are beautiful works of art in themselves, so it makes me happy.
Atlanta has a small but active design community (small compared to NYC where I moved from). My most-inspiring discovery in Atlanta has been Switchyards Downtown Club (IG @Switchyards). Switchyards is a design and brand-focused start up hub founded by Michael Tavani and Dave Payne in Downtown Atlanta. They took an old neglected building and turned it into a vibrant coworking space, coffee shop, brand incubator and all-around cool place to hang out. They have a monthly event series called “Made in Atlanta” where they invite Atlanta brands, politicians, companies, etc to speak about how and why they started. It’s a great way stay inspired and hang with a diverse and hustle-oriented crowd of people. They also have an amazing IG with the coolest Switchyards branding, so I can’t get enough!
Those who create the future will be blessed with luck. - Tadashi Yanai, founder of Uni Qlo
I read this quote several years ago in an interview with the founder of Uni Qlo (one of my favorite brands) and it really hit home with me. Growing up, I think we develop this expectation that work, or a job, or even people, will fulfill or inspire you. And while I think that CAN be true, it’s also rare. Especially starting out, design jobs are hard. There’s long hours, countless revisions, many layers of approval and hard to please clients. Even as you advance in your career, there’s typically always someone above you calling the shots. I’ve fallen victim to this, and still do to this day. When I read this quote it really struck me that we as designers really have to create the future we want for ourselves. Don’t sit back and expect a job to make you happy or give you everything you need creatively. While it may happen for some, it doesn’t happen to everyone, and that’s okay. So, when you get time create your own design work, side hustles or start your own brands. Create the work you’d like to create, even if it’s just for you. It will make you a lot happier.
Create your own future and never stop looking for inspiration. The field of design will probably be totally different in 10-15 years. While technical skills are important, your IDEAS will keep you working and designing no matter how technology changes. Most importantly, you’ve got to feed your creativity. Make time to create and experiment. Share your work and seek feedback. A creative life takes hard work and courage. Just like you train at the gym, your creative mind is a muscle. If you don’t push and replenish yourself creatively, you will burn out and run out of ideas. And while Instagram and social media is great for inspiration, see art in person, make your own stuff, and experience art with friends!