Pursuing The Fantasy of Becoming An Epic Designer.
Like every other industry we have our own juggernauts, like Paul Rand, Seth Godin, Paula Scher, Steven Heller … I can go on forever. We watch and learn from them — witnessing how they rose to glory and fame. Did you know that the Nike “swoosh” logo was designed for $35 by Carolyn Davidson, who was a student at Portland State University trying to earn extra cash for art classes? We can even glimpse into the world of advertising by watching the AMC series The Pitch, where you see the day-to-day operations of advertising and design agencies. Then you think, “Wow, that can be me someday.” It was stories like that and people like them that motivated many of us to pursue this career, and so the fantasy begins.
I didn’t need a fancy art school but a tech school with a hustler’s spirit.
Graphic design found me before I knew what it was. My best friend and I wanted to create a magazine for young African-American women. I was the creative friend, the one who could draw and who had ideas. That magazine that we later published was called Shuga.
After fidgeting around in York College under their fine arts program, I researched and tried to figure out how I could create a magazine. I didn’t want to be a writer, although I knew that would play a large role. I was more interested in designing how it looked and felt. Ultimately, we wanted Black girls that looked like us to have their own version of Teen Vogue and Essence. I’m going to fast forward now to how I found out about this career. After learning that York College, where I attended, didn’t have a graphic design program, I decided to transfer to CityTech, which was no art school — it was a technical school.
My motivation the entire time was to make a glossy and legit magazine for people like me. After a short stint in their print production program, I changed my major to communication design and graduated with my bachelors degree in 2008. Throughout my college career, I attended talks from former students and professors working as creatives in publishing, finance and entertainment. During this time, I fantasized about living the life of a Creative Director; winning big awards and making impactful work that solved real problems for real companies.
Design Manager Today and Over the Fantasy
My design career evolved during the dawn and evolution of social media and self-proclaimed fame. The world became a large high school with too many cool kids. I think I felt like I had to create work that needed to be recognized. I was lucky to even get employed in 2008, because it was during the worst economy the country had seen since the internet bubble collapse, and the job market for creatives was looking dismal.
Nevertheless, I prevailed and landed a design assistant position — and that’s where the fantasy ended and reality set in. I was part of a design team of two within an in-house design department at a sports and entertainment company in New York City. My boss was the epitome of a problem solver and his work — which I could see all around me — was just amazing. The entire time prior to my hire I was fantasizing about working at a big agency but was getting turned down left and right. My boss, however, saw my potential, and I saw a man who created all the print and advertising collateral for four businesses all by himself. Now, this is a reality that I was proud to witness and be a part of.
I was excited to see how things were really done in the real world. We didn’t get to flush out a million logo concepts, but over time and with much practice you learn to explore solutions and execute ideas that work. I was part of an agile environment before agile was a cool term for a job posting. It was here that I learned process, method and managing expectations.
To be honest, I still desire to to win design awards. I have already had the honor of recognition as a valuable member of our design and marketing department. I’ve become a senior staff member in a department that went from two to five people. Now I get to guide my peers through the reality of offering our clients feasible ideas and solutions. This is my reality and it sure beats the fantasy. I hope my story pushes you to pursue your dreams.