In elementary school, I designed anything I could in Microsoft Office – a book cover for my (very brief) autobiography, a menu for Salmonairloafé (the restaurant out of my garage), business cards for Holly Radio (the radio station that broadcasted live from my karaoke machine that I would face out my bedroom window). When my childhood dog, Trudy, got sick she had to have meals on a strict schedule. I designed and printed out a worksheet and posted it near her food bowl so that our family could mark when she ate and not overfeed her. I think from a young age I always saw design as a way to understand information and make sometimes imaginary things more tangible.
I studied film and painting at the University of Vermont. Learning how to shoot and edit video helped me discover my interest in creative work with a technical underbelly. Learning how to use Final Cut as a means to express my ideas at a higher fidelity was game-changer. I loved that you could become fluent in this very technical thing, but use it to express an emotional or abstract idea. When I graduated I set out to work in film, so I took an unpaid internship at a small marketing agency in Burlington, Vermont making music videos and promotional shorts. I was the only video person on staff, so I had a lot of autonomy and needed to figure out most things on my own. After several months with the marketing agency, I moved to Boston. I didn't have a job, but I had a free place to live for a couple months and thought there might be more opportunity for work in a larger city. After weeks of reaching out to SO MANY COMPANIES, I got a job as a Digital Producer at an advertising agency. The fast-paced and wide-ranging nature of the work made it a perfect place to learn. Managing digital projects that were part of larger advertising campaigns that also had print and broadcast components taught me a lot about how teams work together to get work done and how digital products fit within a much larger ecosystem. I also had the opportunity to work directly with clients, which was a great foundation for the work I'm doing now. After working as a producer for a few years, practising design on the side, and teaching myself how to code with online tutorials, I took a position at Upstatement and have been here for over three years.
I’m a designer at Upstatement, a digital studio in Boston. We build products for organizations we admire like NPR, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Everytown for Gun Safety, and MIT Technology Review. We’re a group of almost 30 designers, engineers, and producers. It’s a really special place to work because everyone does a bit of everything. All of our designers code, each of our engineers have an eye for design, and our producers strategize – this makes for super flexible and collaborative project teams. Recently, I’ve been focused on documenting our process, especially around how we design and facilitate collaborative workshops with our clients. We printed some of the activities that make up the bulk of our process in a little series of books call Interrogate the Premise. I feel really lucky to be at Upstatement and to have the opportunity to work with so many kind and talented people every day :)
I think that folks in the design community should do all that we can to educate young people and expose them to design early on – especially communities that are currently underrepresented in our field. Whether it’s hosting workshops, volunteering, or donating resources, supporting the future design community is crucial.
It’s okay if you don’t have a 5-year plan. Just focus on your next step – what interests you right now? Where can you apply your skills? If you’re interested in a design career, you don’t necessarily need to work at a design studio. You could work in-house for a non-profit you support or for a product you love. It’s more important to enjoy what you’re doing and the people you work with than getting the job you think you should have. You’ll make better work this way. Also, sweat the details of your cover letters when applying for jobs! Look really closely at the organization's website, become familiar with their work, read things they write. The more specific you are about what you could bring to the team, the better. Reference specific projects, initiatives, pieces of writing, etc. and what you like about them. It’s easy to spot the difference between a templated cover letter from one written by someone that is genuinely interested in the company and the work they do.