I am a senior designer in Chicago. I work at a company called Landor. Landor is a global design agency. So they have offices all over the world, working on some of the world's most well-known brands. I've been there for about four years now.
I did not know about design until pretty late, to be honest. I was always into creative things, whether it's drawing or painting or just any sort of creative outlet. I've had that creativity and I knew I wanted to do something in the creative realm, but I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do.
After high school, I still knew I wanted to go down a creative path, but I didn't know anything about design at that point. So when I went to undergrad, I actually majored in advertising, thinking that might get me into more of the creative side of advertising, like art direction.
I found out my program at Penn state, where I went to for undergrad, was not at all focused around the creative side. It was more focused on the media side or the business side, I would say. So after graduating, I ended up getting a job in media buying and planning, and I absolutely hated it. There was a lot of spreadsheets. It wasn't interesting to me at all. I did that for two years, but after the first year on the job, I was like, okay, this is not it. So I was trying to figure out what I was going to do.
Then I started looking into portfolio schools. To get a creative job, you have to have a portfolio together, and I didn't have one. I found a portfolio school called Chicago Portfolio School. It was actually down the street from where I worked at the time and it was a year-long program. They offered three different routes: art direction, copywriting, and graphic design.
I applied and initially thought I might go the art direction route, but then something in the back of my mind just told me to go do the graphic design route. And I'm super glad I did because that's what I'm doing today. And it's what I love actually.
I honestly can't remember why advertising was the thing. I guess I saw myself like one day making commercials. I guess that was the closest thing to what I thought I wanted to do at that point.
That's kind of how advertising became my major, but again, in Penn state, it was focusing more so on the marketing side and business side of things. It wasn't the experience that I thought I was going to get out of it.
And obviously, I didn't leave with a portfolio that would be able to even get me in the door at any advertising firms.
I had started playing around a little bit. I remember starting to teach myself Illustrator and starting to learn the pen tool and just randomly watching YouTube videos and just trying to start learning some of the programs a little bit on my own.
Then the portfolio school had a partner called Digital Bootcamp as part of the program. Every quarter you would do a bootcamp that teaches you Photoshop, illustrator, InDesign, and other major programs that you need to know. They did that as a bootcamp class, a full day long. Every week it was a seven or eight hour class. It was like a crash course to get you to that level of being really familiar with the program. Yeah, we learned a lot. It was a really intense year.
To be honest, I was still just trying to figure things out and just taking all these different types of classes to see the type of design I might be interested in. I wasn't thinking that I was good at that point, because I had a long way to go.
It's maybe in the last few years I would say that I've come into my own with my craft. I've been in the industry about eight years now. And since my time at Landor, I feel like I've gained my confidence as a designer and feel like I know what I'm doing. I think the experience that I've gotten in this particular role has kind of given me that skill set to feel really confident about myself as a designer.
So, yeah, it wasn't something that happened like super early on in my career or anything. And there's still something you're always working towards, something you can always get better at or continue to learn.
Absolutely. If I had been exposed to it in high school or just had a glimpse of it, to know this was even a thing. I could have directed my career path a little better. Maybe it would have been a little bit more straight line on my career, as opposed to going down this route and then changing directions.
I think that there's definitely an opportunity to gain exposure to more different types of careers as you're making that decision. Before you go into college, before you spend four years pursuing something you think you might want to do, just having more exposure to different types of possibilities that are out there is really important.
It's lacking. It was quite shocking when I went to a conference last year. It was called "Where are the Black Designers?" And it was all based around the fact that, within the design industry, literally only 3% of designers are Black. And we're just talking about Black designers here, but representation across all different ethnicities is lacking in general.
Even within the roles that I've had, I'm usually the one Black person. In my company, I'm like the only Black designer in my office. Obviously it's a much bigger company, so there's others. But we're talking about working on these big global brands, and we need diverse perspectives. It can't just be one side. So I think that representation is super important, but it's really lacking.
And so what do we do to bring more diversity into this industry? And I think it's not just design, it's all across all industries. I feel like every industry you bring up, there's always going to be a conversation about lack of diversity. And it's just like, what is the problem here?
Honestly, I think you get out of it what you put into it. Like I said, Chicago Portfolio School was actually one of the more cost-effective schools because it was just a one-year program. Most portfolio schools that I looked up were two years. And so obviously, that's double in price. So the portfolio school I went to was affordable. It wasn't cheap, but it was affordable.
I thought it was worth the money to be able to pivot my career. And in one year, I needed to get the skills that I needed to get and learn what I needed to learn. I think that's worth it rather than staying complacent, where I was being unhappy in the role that I was at in life. It was well worth the money spent.
So, say you want to get into branding. You might come out with a portfolio, but if you don't have branding specific projects in your portfolio – if you go and interview somewhere and you don't have the type of work that reflects the type of work that they do every year – you still might get overlooked. So I think a portfolio school can kind of help focus your attention and get you the type of work in your book that you really need to have in there to at least get your foot in the door at these companies. So I'm all for it.
Do some research. Do your research on the field and try to find out as much as you possibly can. There's so many different aspects of design as well. You can go into branding. You can go into packaging design. There's so many different types of design. I think it's also learning about the breadth of information on the industry itself and seeing what you gravitate towards. What do you get excited about?
Get to really know what the career entails before you make a full-on commitment to go to a portfolio school or spend more money.
Try to learn as much as you can about it before you make that decision.
While I was in school, I took various different classes. There was a packaging design class. There were all these typography classes. There was a class on how to design apps and UI/UX. And once I took the packaging design class, I knew that this was something that I really enjoyed.
My first job right out of school was more packaging design focused. Obviously, there was some branding as well, but it was more heavily packaging design related. And then from there, after my first job, I got into Landor which is a lot of packaging design as well, but we look at it more from a brand perspective. So we're not only packaging design, but also all the other different touchpoints around a brand from the website to the entire brand visual identity.
I would say the people that I work with. There are talented people that I'm able to work with on some really exciting brands and exciting projects.
I would say that no two days are the same. There's always a lot of variety. There's different types of projects, and different brands that I get to touch. Working with our naming and verbal team and working with strategy or working with motion designers or whatever that particular project calls for. I think that's something that keeps me excited as well.
Oh, that's a good question. One of our big clients that we work a lot with is Huggies. Working with baby diapers doesn't sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but the amount of work that at the brand level that we've done with them, completely redesigning their entire portfolio. I was able to go to photoshoots and art direct babies at these photo shoots. Brand launches for Huggies have just been a lot of fun.
For the project called Huggies Made by You, the idea was all crafted around baby shower gifting. How can we introduce expectant mothers to the Huggies brand? The idea was someone going to a baby shower can go and create these custom designed diapers. We created these different custom collections where you can choose your print and pattern.
You can add a monogram. You can make a custom card. And then it comes packaged in this premium opening experience. So the first set of diapers that mom gets are these really personalized diapers and that's her introduction to the Huggies brand.
Those are the types of things that are really exciting, even on something that's not usually sexy. Projects like that keep it really interesting and keep it exciting.
Yes, but we don't call them junior designers. They're just called designers. We do hire entry level designers.
I wouldn't call it a mistake, but one thing I would say is not being vocal. One thing I have learned throughout my career is to become a little more vocal about your career goals. Figure out where you want to be. Be vocal about what you want to learn and where you want to go with your manager. Have one-on-ones with them and be open to having those conversations.
When you're earlier in your career, you might be afraid to say certain things but speaking up is how you get your career to advance in the way that you want it to. I would say the earlier you can find your voice the better.
I don't want to beat you guys over the head with this, but again, portfolio school is a great avenue to get the work that you need to get noticed and actually get some interviews, and get that first design job. Within the portfolio itself is just like tailoring that portfolio to the type of work that you really want to do. I think I mentioned this earlier, but if you want to get into branding make sure that your portfolio reflects that; even if it's personal projects that you take on.
Whether through school or not, try to do the work that that is reflective of the type of job that you really want to get. So make sure that you're not going into a branding interview with a bunch of just UI UX, or make sure it feels like it's tailored for the audience so they can see how you might fit into that role.
I think that's really important. We've been doing a lot of internship interviews and things like that, and a lot of times you're not seeing the type of work that's reflective of what you do everyday. So you don't necessarily have the confidence that they can come in and integrate into the team seamlessly. So I think that your portfolio is really important to craft in the right way. And then just finding a mentor, finding someone that can help you along the way.
I would say storytelling. What is story you are telling? How are you telling a story through the work that you're showing?
I feel like I've seen portfolios where you see a logo and you see the logo applied to various different mock-ups, but where's the real story? What's the real meaning behind the mark that you're showing? And how does that translate across different touchpoints in different ways?
Make sure that you have meaning behind what you're doing. And you're able to communicate that in an interview, as well as showcase that through the visuals. Make sure that the story is tight. The visuals obviously have to look good because we're designers, of course. But I think that that's a really important piece not to forget. Make sure there's meaning behind everything that you're doing and that you're able to explain that and share that in an interview.
I would say my simple definition for branding would be the way that a brand show up and presents itself to the world. A brand is encompassing of so much more than just a logo or the visual identity. The visual identity is a big part of it. But branding is so much more. There's so many different touch points to it from the tone of voice and the way it sounds, the name of the brand.
A lot of times I'm working with the naming and writing team on the verbal identity, but then there's packaging design, there's website design. There's social media, and how does the brand show up across all of these different touch points?
It's all encompassing. It's kind of lofty, but I would say how a brand really shows up in the world and the story that they tell.
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