In this interview series, we put a spotlight on companies that have embraced design apprenticeships, and explore what makes working there both unique and exciting. We spoke with Jen Lemerand, a creative director at Glantz Design to discover what opportunities early career designers should look for when breaking into the industry, and Jen offered a peek into life at Glantz and the kind of work designers can look forward to in a smaller design studio.
So we are a small studio. We've got about 18 teammates. Our work ranges from small mom and pops to Fortune 500 in both B2B and B2C. The majority of our projects are custom web designs and builds of sites in WordPress. We have clients that come to us often with services that they need to promote, or if they have sales or products they want to get out there, we help them go to market.
Oftentimes, we're revamping an older website that has outdated technology, is difficult to navigate, and could use a refreshing design. We also do strategic branding for visual identities and the marketing materials to support them such as PowerPoint, social graphics or brochures.
But the heaviest lift of our work is on the website side. We start with discovery and strategy, to IA, to UX, to design, and finally development.
I am the Studio Lead and Creative Director. I started out with the company a little over four years ago as the Creative Director coming in with a background in working with a lot of smaller studios, but also experience in the large agency side. About a year and a half ago, I moved into a new role with the company as Studio Lead, helping keep the team running smoothly.
Now I not only work and lead the designers. I also lead the account management team and the development team. There's definitely some new learning for me which I enjoy, even on the daily with the development side.
As I mentioned, we work with companies of all sizes. We like to say we are “industry agnostic." Many of our clients are in consulting or service product design, where they work with clients and offer anything – from HR to even another marketing type agency, like an SEO agency where we're helping them with their site and their materials. You may also find us working on a website for a health care practice, a flower shop, or a university.
Overall, it varies, which keeps us engaged and on our toes. Our learning and insights from across industries allows us to find parallels and put them to work.
Being our size, we are nimble and we wear a lot of hats. One might work on a project that has been going on for three months where there's that longer timeline. And then there's also some projects that might be a few days or a week or two, that could be a smaller project. Each person, whether you're in design, development, or account management, you're touching multiple clients every day.
We don't get bored with our work. There's always something new to learn and new to practice, which we get really excited about.
So it could also run the gamut. As a designer, you may be working on some wireframes and user flows in the morning. In the afternoon, you might be working on some iterations of a design that have gone through some client feedback, and we're buttoning things up, getting ready to hand them off to development.
You could even be working on a PowerPoint for a client who has a big pitch that they're going into, creating and doing some fun animation.
We started it back in the fall of 2019. We had our first design apprentice, Riley Nakagawa, and our second was Daniel Aberra. We've had interns in the past where we'll usually work with them over the summer, maybe sometimes in the spring or the winter, depending on applications and bandwidth of projects that we might have. We decided we wanted to open the door and have an opportunity for a role that has more responsibility. Being a longer timeline of four months vs a 10 week internship, we were looking for somebody that had previous internship experience with the hope that an apprenticeship could parlay into a full-time opportunity.
And even though we're a small team, we're always asking what we can be doing to help that designer get to the next level and what is their career trajectory. We recognized for a junior designer we might be able to bring them in earlier and give them an opportunity to get their feet wet. See if a small studio is something that would work for them.
Our apprenticeship has different goals that we put together. We recognized that after having some internships and starting with the apprenticeship, we wanted to have some set things that we wanted to work on and guide for mentorship with an apprentice. I come from a background of love for mentorship. I believe that no matter where you are in your career, you can be mentored and be mentoring.
So even as a senior designer or senior creative, you should still be getting mentored and not just feeling like you need to mentor someone. When we started looking at this as what could work for us, we knew that this would be an evolution, and it was a trial. So when we had Riley and Daniel, they ended up overlapping which was intentional. In a way, we wanted Riley to train and mentor Daniel on our workflow. Along with the overall responsibilities in the apprenticeship, how do you mentor somebody that is essentially at the same level as you? We found that exciting.
While an apprenticeship has some parallels to an internship, there is more opportunity and responsibility. It's a great thing to parlay, whether it was with us or into another full-time job, to get that experience.
That is something that I'm personally invested in. I'm on the board with AIGA Chicago, and it's something that we talk about all the time and that we want to bring into our practice.
We're very conscientious about having a diverse team. For a small team, we have a fairly diverse team. Our team right now is incredibly varied, with their background and where they came from. It's obvious that we want a solid portfolio of some sort. It can be a challenge for candidates who identify as lower income that might not have the same opportunities to get in front of companies looking for a deep portfolio.
I'm always looking for ways to expand on that and see what types of opportunities we can bring and considering other pathways. Maybe there's some place where it could be an internship that even parlays into an apprenticeship. Our team is interesting in that our Junior Designer is self-taught. She has more of a sociology background. And she really hit the ground running. She showed some grit and how she wanted to get in. I actually met her through the mentor program at the AIGA. And our Senior Designer, who started out with us as a Junior Designer, has more of a business degree with a minor in graphic design.
Then our Associate Creative Director started out in journalism. She always saw herself working for The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, and eventually, ended up going through a UX program. She's a fantastic designer and leader, and her journalism background still serves her well with the team. So we don't close the door on candidates that might not have your typical portfolio, where they might've gone to a big ticket design school or anything like that. If you have a couple pieces, if you can show the gumption and show some proof that you have that creative capability, even if you don't have the typical design degree, you can still work. And that's what excites me about that, because that can open the door for a diverse range of applicants.
If a designer only has three great samples, that could be enough. It doesn't need to be 10 or 20. Three samples that show a breadth of capability. It's nice when your work shows some variety and style.
For instance, a candidate that might not be the right fit for us is somebody that is very focused on illustration and hand lettering. That's just not the type of work that we do a lot of. I love seeing that type of work as a sample or two, but it's also important to have, say, a logo piece, that's maybe more corporate or a print piece. It could be a postcard or some type of work that was done in school or not in school. Some variety is helpful.
And I want to see work that you believe in and are proud of. Some people like to throw everything out there with the hopes that something sticks. You need to learn how to cull down your work and show what you think is the best of the best. And again, if that's two to three pieces, that's okay.
And those are the types of things that I'd like to hear about in a cover letter, or just a simple email, a paragraph of where I am, here's what I'm looking for, here's what I am learning. Especially if you are a candidate that is self-taught in training. Be honest about it. And here's what I can bring to the team. It doesn't even have to be that long of a cover letter. It could be a simple paragraph.
It can be a joke these days, but in a designer's resume, a popular thing to do is an infographic with the percentage of skills in programs like Illustrator. You know that is never going to be at a hundred percent. There's always going to be things that you are learning and improving your craft. If you are a hundred percent, compared to what or who? Other candidates at your level? In 10 years, you're not going to be that same “hundred percent”.
For a junior designer or apprentice, a lot of the work can be production work. You might be doing work that takes a concept from a senior designer, and then pull it all together and finish it. Or maybe there's additional materials that come out of that one project. The devil's in the details in that type of work, where you have to proof your work. When I see candidate websites with links that are broken or have spelling errors or even formatting issues, it is a red flag. Let's say you have a resume with bullets, and some bullets have periods and some don't, or the bullet styling is one way or the sentence rags under the bullet, and then on the next one, they're nice and aligned. It's just small details like that that could put you ahead, or behind, other candidates
A common piece of feedback is for junior designers and apprentices to slow down. They work fast because they think speed is important, but they're not proofing the work well enough. And when it comes to a senior designer or a creative director, we have a lot of things that we're working on and looking at. We want it to be as close to right as possible the first time versus having to go through a lot of different rounds. So when I see those types of errors on a resume or on a website, it's usually a no-go right away. They could have the best work in their portfolio, but if there are basic styles of formatting that shows lack of attention to the details, I'm probably going to pass.
The design world is pretty broad. You've got everything from working for a big company, like a big agency, to a smaller studio where maybe craft is more important and you can wear a lot of different hats, to working in-house for an interesting company. Figure out which places are right for you. And then part two would be how to get your foot in the door in terms of where you want to go.
For understanding what type of company you want to work for, that's why internships and apprenticeships are such a fantastic opportunity. If you have the opportunity to have another internship, depending on where you are in school, try a small studio then next summer at a large studio. Or go in-house and see what the difference is. Because it is very different to get your foot in the door and have multiple opportunities, even if it's through some freelance.
On a small team, you're going to be wearing a lot of hats with varied opportunities. You know everybody within a small company like Glantz, which is a benefit. I've been at large companies; my first job out of school was at IBM where there were 300 people on two floors. And I only knew probably a dozen as a wallflower, junior designer.
You go to a big agency and you're typically expected to be proving yourself, late night hours burning the midnight oil. One of our perks definitely is work-life balance. We are 40 hours a week. It's very rare that we put in any extra hours. It might be if there's a specific deadline or something that we're excited about and working on, we then flex that on the back end of that. We'll take a little extra time off next week.
The people. It's an easy one. I wouldn't be able to do the work without the team and the people that I work with every day. Everybody is so smart and we've got each other's backs. There's very little competition that you might see at a big agency. There's always like a little bit of a nice competition, where let's say all of us are working on some branding. Everybody, of course, wants their own work picked, because you can get excited about it. But it's not cut-throat, it's supportive. Everybody really enjoys working together.
We've upped our process and we're always evolving. We're always wanting to grow and change and reevaluate how we're doing things, so that we can be better as a team. And everybody has that mindset.
If anybody's ever looking for feedback on portfolios, Jen has graciously offered to give a tip or two. Contact her at: Jenl @ glantz.net
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