It's true, we're a little obsessed here at TDK with OTHER Studio's Creative Director, Eileen Tjan. Besides her super colorful work, we love her approach to working with young designers. Here we chat about the idea of merging creative freedom and passion projects with client jobs; the 4 qualities she looks for in a graduate; and how networking is really just 'making friends'!
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
I went to the University of Michigan School of Art and Design in Ann Arbor, MI. My very first job out of school was interning at a digital agency, but my first “real job” was working as a jr art director at Proximity BBDO. After that, I continued on at Digital Kitchen and then Design Army in Washington, DC. Now, I’m currently running an independent design practice, OTHER Studio and co-own Grand Circus Magazinewith my partner Alex Trajkovski.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
When I was graduating, the economy wasn’t in a great place… so I was in a panic to immediately get a decent paying job. A lot of my friends kicked back and enjoyed a summer backpacking in Europe (looking back, I kind of wish I had taken that route ha), but I scrambled to interview for as many internships as I could. Most of my interviews were in New York, a few in Michigan, and only one in Chicago. To my surprise, most of the internships in New York did not offer any kind of payment to their interns. Only the Chicago internship offered to pay me, so that was the choice I made. I’ve always been curious what my career would have been like had I started off in New York vs Chicago…
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.
I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer and art director. I currently head up my studio in Chicago IL as well as co-run an independent magazine in Detroit, Grand Circus Magazine. The studio is easily considered a branding studio as we deal with a variety of creative deliverables that all deal with understanding our client’s brand. Whether we are producing print, photography, video, websites, posters, packaging, or animations we’re creating conceptual solutions to better establish the brand voice of our clients. But, in my opinion the studio is a concept studio. We come up with unique ideas for any creative problem. I’d like to think we stand out in that way, where thinking and progressive ideas outshine purely playing into design trends.
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
We’re all visual people, so of course I want a portfolio to look great. I want to see that the designer/presenter has good taste, attention to detail, and a general understanding of how content should flow, even if it’s the content of a personal portfolio. I want to see if they’re pushing their understanding of design. Unique, risk-taking solutions that satisfy the creative ask and honor the initial intent make for a designer with the potential to evolve the design scene. But, when I’m reviewing projects I really want to see the thinking behind it. I want to know that the initial idea was rooted in a concept. I’m less interested if something looks good but holds little relevance to the project or client.
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?
Desire. Respect. Drive. Comfort in discomfort.
1. If a graduate were to come on and intern for me, I would want them to WANT to work for OTHER. I don’t do it for my ego, but we’ve all had bosses or places of employment where we weren’t sold on who they were, what they did, or what they sold. If you don’t like the kind of work you’ll be doing, it’s hard to muster up the energy to put in your best. And then we’re wasting both our time!
2. Respect is important and ties in to whether or not the graduate has the desire to work together. Time is energy and precious, so if someone is working with you it’s so important to respect their time. I want to respect the time of any graduate that spends time with me and likewise I hope they respect mine.
3. Drive, without drive a graduate can’t progress as fast as their peers. There needs to be an internal push to learn, grow, and practice. You shouldn’t have to wait for projects, or wait to get better.
4. Comfort in discomfort is super important. Whether you’re being asked to push your style, medium, or maybe you’re waiting for the right job or internship… being able to find comfort in yourself and capabilities will take you far.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice?
I occasional travel for talks and conferences, and have been trying to speak more at Universities. Recently, I gave a talk and workshop in Monterrey Mexico at UDEM. It was really engaging to be back in an academic environment on the other side of the desk! It definitely shapes my practice, because students inform me of what they’re hoping for and looking for when they leave school. I started OTHER in hopes that I could make it a stable place for young designers to grow as well as evolve myself. So listening to the dreams and desires of students keeps me feeling inspired and fresh, and keeps the studio evolving into a place where I hope some of these students will end up!
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
Be proud of your hobbies and passions, any of them can turn into a career if you love it enough.
Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?
I think design is interesting because it’s a service. All the creative industries kind of inform each other: fashion, film, music, art, and design all dance around with other to establish trends. But as a service, commercial design dances with a lot of other industries. At the end of the day, we are catering to the needs of clients and their businesses. So, aesthetically I think designers need to understand trends to offer up relevant solutions to clients, but all that kind of cycles in response to each other. I’m less curious about what design looks like in the future and more curious about what the asks will be. With tech evolving and becoming even more integrated into our lives, what will designers be asked to solve? I also think that the workplace in which creatives want to work in is changing into something much more different than it has been in the past. People are trying to merge creative freedom and passion projects with their client jobs. So, a more flexible workplace seems to be the dream.
How important is networking to you?
Very, but I don’t consider it networking… I’m like “hey I’m making friends!” I don’t know if I have the right mentality about that, but I’d honestly rather get to know a person behind the talent than let their talent overshadow who they are.
Who would be the “dream client” that you would do anything to work for?
I would LOVE to start making visuals for events, shows, musicians, concerts. I’d like to try that at least once. Branding a parfumerie would be really cool. I love that it blends the space of art, fashion, sensation, and emotion. I'd also like to keep working on branding for safe sex shops and video games/board game companies. :)
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