Why I Stopped Designing for a Year
If you had asked me last year at this time what I did for a living I would not have said that I am a graphic designer. Heck, I wouldn’t have even said a web designer.
In my professional life, you could see where I was at that time by looking at my personal logos. I’ve been through a few in my day. That’s because I’ve gone through a few iterations of “myself” or whom I thought I was. I’ve done the first name, middle name route and at one point tried to Cher myself and go by “Allyssa” alone.
Most recently I thought I’d use Drop The Disco Ball as the branding of who I am but mostly because I was hiding. You see, a little background on me is that I’ve always been a designer. Since I was a kid I loved designing even when I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing with my time. I created a magazine called Smash during the peak boy band phase of the early 2000s and in high school, I was the go-to designer for student council, sports, homecoming fliers and everything in between. But if you asked 15 year old me what I was going to do with my future I would have said without hesitation that I was going to be a history teacher. That was until the summer before my senior year when my mom took me to Los Angeles for a mother-daughter trip. I didn’t know that trip would make such an impact on my future. If my life were a movie that would be the big aha moment.
On that trip, we met up with my godfather who is deep in the entertainment fashion industry. He’s worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and everyone else on your go-to upbeat Spotify playlist.
I remember exactly where we were when he said: “Allyssa, have you ever thought about going to FIDM?”
We were in the elevator at Hollywood and Highland. Moments before I had just taken a picture with some celebrity handprints at the Kodak Theatre.
I said, “you mean that school from The Hills?” Because at 16 that was all I knew of what was going to become my future alma mater. To me, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising was where Lauren Conrad went to school. Her “classes” were filmed in The Annex, a media and study center faking as a classroom for the MTV crowd. (PS: I later met Lauren downstairs during a class break by the cafe. She was very nice.)
My godfather proceeded to tell me more about FIDM and how they had a graphic design program. I didn’t even really know what “graphic design” was at the time. He knew I was designing stuff for my school and that was kind of my thing. He said I could make a career doing graphic design. At that moment he planted a seed and as soon as we got home I looked into FIDM and the rest is history.
(Quick history: I applied to FIDM that December. I completed the admissions project and as a bonus, I brought examples of my physical work — a t-shirt I designed for Rally Club — to the interview and bam by Martin Luther King Jr. Day I was accepted in the school of my dreams.)
After college, I attempted to run my own graphic design and screen printing business with my now husband (yay love!) and ultimately realized I hate the business side of things so I closed up shop. I worked with kids as an after-school counselor then decided to give sales a try so I could see the other side of design and business. I did that for nearly a year and during that time I was getting the itch to get back into designing. After closing Drop The Disco Ball at the end of 2010 I didn’t really design much. I kind of avoided it.
Fast forward to 2012 (that’s a song by the way), I was working as an in-house graphic designer for a medical devices company. I was a grown up with a real j-o-b. Or so I thought.
I learned a lot at that job. I made a lifelong friend and freelanced a lot with bands and music outlets so I could keep my sanity. No offense to the medical devices industry but it isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of design.
While at the medical devices company I saw what could become my future and it scared the heck out of me. I saw a middle-aged graphic designer clearly stuck in her ways and grumpy at the world around her. She had been at the company since she graduated college. I was determined to not be that person. After all, I was still just 22.
So after leaving that company I bounced around looking for my permanent home. I wore the art director hat for a bit then when the work dried up I knew it was time for my exit. That brought me to my first start-up in the summer of 2014. It was a learning experience, to say the least. I involved all my creative friends in any way that I could. I made two commercials for them in my time there. One of which actually broadcasted during the Alternative Press Music Awards. Our traffic jumped 400% during the show. It was really cool to see that kind of exposure to something I created.
While at the startup I even hosted, ran and marketed a hackathon for their B2B API product for 100+ coders. It was 48 hours cooped up in a co-working space in San Francisco. It was tiring, to say the least but it was one hell of an experience.
The company ended up moving out of my commute zone so I packed my bags and headed south of the 101.
I freelanced for a second then got a “corporate” gig at a company I was sure was going to be my long-term home. Boy, was I wrong. The project I was brought on to work on got put on hold and as fate would have it I got laid off, two weeks before Christmas I might add.
I learned about unemployment fairly quickly and in the meantime worked on my portfolio relentlessly and then in February of 2015 I scored the perfect job. After finding the job posting on Craigslist I was hired as ScriptRock’s (now UpGuard) first graphic designer.
I was employee number 18. I worked there for nearly three years. During my time I was the graphic and web designer, the design and content manager (still designing stuff), the website team lead (still designing stuff and staying afloat) and then the SEO guru and at the end a QA engineer for the website.
When I was designing for ScriptRock aka UpGuard I got to wear every hat in marketing. To say I learned a lot would be an understatement. My time there felt more like ten years. I was balancing design with coding with social media and everything else a startup asks of you. But as time pressed on I was getting burnt out and not able to “design well” or to my standard. All my design work was getting rushed because of all the other work I was doing. Eventually, I just got tired of it and decided to take a beat.
Through all the juggling I started to think I was a really bad designer so in the Fall of 2016 I made a conscious decision to stop designing. I’m not going to air any dirty laundry or what was said to me to make me feel this way but I really felt design inadequate.
So instead, I turned my focus toward marketing automation, content marketing, SEO and testing. And during that time I listened to a lot of Whitney Houston.
The marketing side was a different change of pace for sure but I sharpened my technical skills and became a marketing-head. I learned about each stage of the funnel, ABM and every other buzz word you hear your VP of Marketing use.
I made some incredible lifelong friends at ScriptRock aka UpGuard and I got to attend a coding bootcamp as part of my job enrichment. It was seriously the best job for where I was in my life at that time. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, I and majority of the company fell victim to a huge layoff in the Fall of 2017.
When I stopped designing people in my life would ask why I wasn’t designing anymore. I would brush it off or give some answer about being tired or wanting to try something new. I had no desire to talk about design or even do it. My husband, who was used to my creative side was at a loss when I didn’t have Adobe Illustrator always open or that I just didn’t want to make anything.
It wasn’t until I got laid off from ScriptRock aka UpGuard and had a life-changing pep talk from a former colleague (and now a great friend of mine) that I realized, wait a second.
I am not a piece of shit. I can design. I am good at designing.
Sure I went through a rough patch (like any other designer) but you know what I want to get better. I want to design again. I want to do something great. The best is still ahead of me.
So here I am. December 2017. Back at it.
I’ve been working relentlessly on my portfolio, writing a lot, reading, interviewing and meeting anyone who wants to connect and talk shop. I’ve met some incredible people who are inspiring me and giving me hope. And I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts* as a form of motivation. I even made a vision board again, woot woot.
I am proud to say I consider myself a designer again.
I also made a new logo.
I wanted something to symbolize where I’ve been and where I am. It’s 100% me. You can still just call me Allyssa though.
I’m back and working to get better every single day.
Let’s do this.
Thank you to the About Last Night podcast. It’s a podcast about comedians and actors who’ve hustled and been told no but have continued to persevere. It’s incredibly eye-opening and motivational. I suggest starting with the Judd Apatow episode. You should also listen to the Anjelah Johnson episode of The LadyGang podcast. Very inspiring.
I’m Allyssa. I am a hybrid designer who likes to front-end code, who loves marketing ops and marketing automation, growth hacking and content marketing. You can find me on Twitter usually tweeting about sports, music and whatever podcast I’m listening to. If you want to chat over email you can jet over to my website to send me a message.