People were more interested in how and why I did something than the end result. The small assignments will turn into your projects which will fill your portfolio which will at some point transform into your job. You should be doing work you’re excited about, no matter how small, because people are intrigued by conviction.
Also—if you think someone’s work is cool, go talk to them. You officially have one thing in common with everyone in the room; design.
There’s a creative bug in my family that manifested as a branding agency for my mom. I grew up in the creative department there, always bothering the designers and digging through their supplies. I remember finding the Creative Director’s sketchbooks full of logos and I thought they were so beautiful, which is what catalyzed my own interest in design. A huge foundation of what I know actually comes from him, watching and talking with him all those years.
I did a summer program at Ringling in high school and then attended SCAD where I studied Graphic Design and got to work with big brands like Google, BMW, and L’Oreal through their SCADpro department. Working in those classes taught me a lot about collaboration and made me want to find a place where I could stretch my skills.
I am now a Brand Designer at Red Antler in Brooklyn. Their bread and butter is startups; one of the founders, Emily Heyward, says, “Make sure you’re solving a real problem and a problem you feel you absolutely must solve.” They really care about who they’re working with because you have unique access to the founders and the original intention behind their business, so the how’s and why’s really start to matter.
When I’m not designing I’m working at a pottery studio, sketching, or writing. I think allowing a personal space for failure and experimentation, which I’m finding are pretty interchangeable experiences, is really healthy for my professional design practice.
I still think a sketchbook of logos and ideas is one of the most beautiful things in the world and it’s very cool I have my own stack of them now.
One of my favorite professors said if I really want to be great at Graphic Design, I should go learn about everything else first. I thought he would recommend a workshop, a book, or extra hours in the studio, but it’s turned out to be true. If you learn about the things you are interested in and fill yourself up with different cultures, thoughts, and perspectives then it will inform your design and what will result will be honest and accessible.
I took so many different classes: Industrial Design, Motion Media, Service Design, User Experience, Advertising, Photography and even Fibers. I’ve done improv and love basketball. I read the news every morning and carry around a huge book about the human body. I can’t say for certain that I’m a better designer because of it, but the practice of learning new material makes it easier to adapt to clients’ needs—I think that’s sort of the empathy thing designers are always talking about.
I moved to New York specifically for the design scene. Really great design was something I saw mostly online or in catalogs, but here, it’s everywhere. Walking to the grocery store can be inspiring. The city is special because design doesn’t just come from agencies, it can be a poster on a phone booth or a bodega’s awning.
I think one of our greatest luxuries is deciding who we work with. It’s a choice that in recent years has become both political and polarizing as a reflection of values. I don’t know if I have a list, but more than anything I want to do some good, whether it’s on a big global scale or on a more intimate local one.
My guess would be at a branding agency here in New York or on the way to starting my own. But I’ve spent most of my life planning for the future answering that question and I’m finally in a space where I’m not worried about the answer. I’m enjoying that. Right now, I can say that I have surrounded myself with incredibly smart and talented people and I’m doing the work I love. I hope I’m still doing that in five years.
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create…they can go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” Elisabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic is one of my strongest recommendations for anyone in a creative field, especially someone beginning to cultivate their life around it.