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What was your path to the world of design?

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  • What was your path to the world of design?

    Some questions!

    Why did you choose design

    How did you get into it?

    What road did you take?

    How long did it take and how old were you when you finally started working seriously?

    What direction of design did you go? (Branding, Magazines, etcetc)

    Are you a full time designer, or do you got another career next to it?

  • #2
    Always loved art as a kid
    Took as much art in school as possible, couldn't imagine a career that didn't involve art
    Went to college. AA degree, then transferred to complete my BFA. Decided to major in graphic design so I could still be an artist while earning a paycheck.
    Got a job in my field three days before graduation.
    Reality. Discovery that graphic design has almost nothing to do with art. Still getting a paycheck. Content.
    Rinse and repeat.

    I have worked as a graphic designer for a sports apparel company, a large craft wholesaler and a cleaning chemical manufacturer. I currently work full-time in-house in the health care industry. I've had this job for 17 years. I don't make as much as I'd like, but who does. I have insurance, benefits, a retirement plan, etc. I have so many vacation hours banked I can take every Friday off this year and not make a dent in it. Still content. I do my art on my own time.
    Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.


    • #3
      Loved drawing as a kid (specifically Dragon Ball Z) and loved making my own comics.

      Took all of the art classes I could throughout middle school and high school. My mom signed me up for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh - Online. A recruiter called me at 6am and talked to me on the phone for like 6 hours then the next thing I knew I was enrolled.

      I initially started pursuing video game art and design but quickly realized I couldn't afford the software or classes so I switched my major to graphic design.

      I got my first (and current) graphic design job about two and a half years after graduating college. Since I did school online I worked at an insurance company during that time. By the time I graduated I was so complacent at my job that I had to quit my job and invest full-time into my job search as a designer. It took me a little over three months to find a design job once I quit, but I was offered a job after one month of searching which I declined.

      So now I'm a graphic/web designer /social media person for my company and I've been here for 1 year next month. I love it. I love that I get to do this for a living and I feel very blessed. While it's not as artsy as the stuff I did in design school I still find ways to incorporate creativity in the things I produce.


      • #4
        I grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch in rural Utah. There were no art or design classes in the small schools in the area. As a kid I had little desire to brand cattle, ride horses and shear sheep for a living, but had no particular interest in art either.

        In college, I started out as a physics major, thinking that I'd become an astronomer. I soon got bored with all the memorization, and started looking for something else. One of my electives was a design class, which I didn't do all that well at, but it was the only school subject I had ever encountered that required me to think creatively and not just memorize a bunch of stuff. I was pretty much hooked by the challenge, switched my major and enrolled in a larger university's fine arts and design program after spending a summer cobbling together what passed as an entrance portfolio.

        While at the university, I landed a part-time design job and a good internship at a fantastic design studio. While in school, I also painted signs for a supermarket chain and worked for an exhibit fabricator as a screen printer.

        After graduation, it's been a whole series of design, publishing and marketing jobs for the past 30 years, plus graduate school. This whole field has been very good to me. If given the chance, I'd do it all over again without a second thought.


        • #5
          Somewhat unwittingly shoved through a back door...
          Came out of the military (where I was an X-Ray Tech) in the early 1980's and took a relatively high-paying factory job in the little town where I was born and raised. After 6 years on the production floor, I pursued and landed a "company" position as a Service Adviser. The job consisted primarily of answering technical support calls from service technicians installing or servicing the company's gas and electric commercial cooking appliances.

          Not long after, being low-man in the department, I was assigned the relatively mundane and historically thankless task of writing and "typesetting" the company's product instruction manuals and other technical documents. I was running WordPerfect under DOS 6/Windows 3, and handing off "camera ready" laser prints to a local print shop. Over several years, I evolved the position through self-teaching and ongoing research into the blossoming technology that was desktop publishing. I continued upgrading the methodology as new applications became available, eventually establishing an all-Adobe workflow and building an in-house creative/production/distribution department that absorbed, assumed, and consolidated all the "literature" functions for the company and 3 of its sister companies "under one roof."

          Concurrently, I took on the role of "brand police," while my technical background with the company's products and familiarity with its market (not to mention a pathological and still-inexplicable attraction to the food service industry), positioned me to be involved in new product development to the point that my operation became a natural fit to slide laterally under the auspices of "Marketing" during some inevitable and not-uncommon restructuring. In my 27th year with the company, I held the position of Director of Marketing Communications until a new parent company acquired it and downsized the hell out of everything. In 2012, I walked out of there for the last time, about to turn 50, and unemployed for the first time ever.

          Since then, I've been in business for myself, freelancing for the side-work clients I had while I was still employed, as well as several associates from my former industry with whom I've sustained business relationships. Currently, I'm making decent money under contract as an Engineering Communications consultant, a function which has an awful lot in common with my original "design" position, making instruction manuals.
          Last edited by HotButton; 02-03-2016, 08:42 AM.
          I'd rather be killed than come to your party, but if you don't invite me, I'll kill myself.


          • #6
            I grew up cutting my teeth on kneaded erasers and playing with rub-down type in my parent's small advertising agency during the mad men days. Apart from having too much fun getting high on studio markers and glue fumes, I was totally disinterested in being a part of ''the biz''. I hated the office and the long hours my parent put in to writing ads, TV and radio commercials.

            I never took any art classes in high school, where I was from only ''dummies'' did art, and I excelled in the sciences - biology being my favorite. I started college and like B (so weird B) I quickly became bored with academics, which I found easy as pie. A neighbor in my first apartment off campus was studying to be a ''graphic designer'' and I thought what he was doing was oh so much cooler than advertising. And like B (so weird B!) I liked the idea of taking on something that I was totally unfamiliar with, something I couldn't do easily.

            I enrolled in a couple of drawing and painting classes at my local community college - and while there, I saw a poster advertising a summer course in NYC at one of the top design schools. I emptied my bank account and headed for NY. That summer ''intro to graphic design'' course changed the course of my life. I changed my major, transferred to an art school, and as I've mentioned before, while in school I worked in any capacity for any design or graphic or printing or advertising job/project or opportunity. I swept floors in copy and print shops, pulled stats, cut film, answered phones, I designed signs for coffee jobs or retail jobs I worked, designed resumes for fellow students, designed posters for dancers, theater performances, music gigs. I did everything and anything I could get my design-greedy little hands on. Then I graduated having achieved my BFA.

            After what seemed like forever and thousands of resumes and applications sent, I got a part-time, night-shift production job in a ''blue-chip'' ad agency. Irony at it's finest given my teenage dislike for the industry. There I went from production night guy, to production day guy to Jr. Art Director, to AD to Senior AD working on some of the biggest global brands in history. That experience lead to another big agency and another and another until I was a Creative Director, and then a Senior CD, Group Sr CD, and eventually Exec CD, partner.

            Then I cashed out and opened my own shop. I've been riding that chill train for about 15 years now. I work on global brands mostly on stuff most people have either seen on TV or on store shelves. I did tech brands and pharma for a while, but I got bored with the sameness of it all, so I moved over to consumer goods and have enjoyed the variety that sector allows me for the past 4-5 years or so. I must admit, I am getting bored with that also, so I'm looking for something new, more challenging, different.

            The only thing that has been peaking my interest is what PD does in the large format world. Although I have done some cool stuff in that medium, like wrap a train station and plaster an airport terminal, it was all essentially flat print. PD does some sweet sounding display and signage work with materials and forms that I have never had the opportunity to work with, and it makes me salivate a little. So maybe I'll take a walk on the wild side and check out his world next.

            Either that or retire to my fantasy island and be done with it all. Given where the industry has gone over the course of my career, the island idea is winning.
            Last edited by PanToshi; 02-03-2016, 12:12 PM.
            Sketching not only helps you work out good ideas, it helps you get past the bad ones.


            • hyena
              hyena commented
              Editing a comment
              I do things like wrapping now, though mainly cars. SWIM even wrapped a plane!

              Funny to see how a lot of GD's want to do Sign Work. I'm the other way around actually, though who knows that'll change in time.

          • #7
            I love reading these stories!
            Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.


            • #8
              I love reading the stories too.

              Mine is a little bit of Pan's - child of a Madman, never wanted to be in advertising, but ended up there nonetheless. My major regret is that I never finished college, but I'm not unhappy with how things turned out. I had a lot of on the job training, at printers and trade typographers and two years as a go-fer at an ad agency. Now have my own business as a designer and printer. It's mostly fun, and I don't have to worry about getting rich any time soon. Sigh.

              How old was I when I took this seriously? 28 - a late bloomer. I had some help along the way from friends who gave me contact names. It helped that I was willing to work my butt off, do overtime when no one else would, and take on glamour chores like cleaning the film processor or do mechanicals for cardboard boxes.


              • #9
                I'm an engineer trapped in the mind of an artist. As a kid I had a high aptitude for math and science, but my mom didn't nurture that side of me because she didn't grow up thinking people like us had opportunity. Instead, being the youngest of 5 and rarely taken seriously, she encouraged my cute artistic side. Like most kids from underprivileged neighborhoods, I grew up believing that life was about entertainment and fame. I under achieved in everything else.

                I had planned to go to art school straight out of high school, but I took a detour in the military to gain some financial stability. I had planned to be a fine artist when I got out. But after losing all of my fine art work in a theft, I decided to do commercial art so I wouldn't be as attached to my art work ever again. I went to art college after the military and found out that it's better to go to college after you've had a taste of a blue collar real world job than before. That way you appreciate your education opportunities and apply yourself more in school.

                The rest is a bitter sweet story of going between in-house art departments and design firms, in and out of various unrelated industries that I wouldn't wish on anyone interested in this field. A few moments I'm proud of, but most I would trade for a more stable career.


                • seamas
                  seamas commented
                  Editing a comment
                  " went to art college after the military and found out that it's better to go to college after you've had a taste of a blue collar real world job than before. That way you appreciate your education opportunities and apply yourself more in school."

                  I agree.
                  I worked full time after graduating HS. That helped motivate me. I was a very poor student in HS, but was hungry to learn once I was in College. (I didn't do military though)

              • #10
                Really like reading these stories too!

                I grew up with a fairly under developed art talent and never thought much of it. After High School I got into the construction trades where I mostly worked for the next 18 years. About the time I was sick of hammering my thumb and digging splinters out of my hands I found myself with an opportunity to go to college and change my life's direction completely. Here I come Graphic Design.

                My mother enrolled me in some pre-college art programs at CCAC when I was in middle school, one of which was a scholarship I won on a fluke water color. Remembering to good times of the experience I revisited my long abandoned art talent, and applied what I could to designing. I did very well in college and earned an AAS in Graphic Design in and met the love of my life, my wife Melissa...who is also a designer.

                Skipped around a bit at first but since I was able to put together a descent portfolio and had the paper to match, I scored a bearable designing job; something I can definitely build on. Also, with my freelance I bring in as much as I ever did in my best year of construction and without all the backache. Did I mention I have a two year old energetic daughter? lol

                Middle aged and learning more than I ever have these days and loving it. I may not be the most bleeding edge designer out there, but I score a win when I can apply my life's experience to my client's graphic designing and marketing goals and put a smile on their face. Right on.
                Last edited by B; 02-03-2016, 06:07 PM.


                • B
                  B commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Woops, I accidentally hit the edit button instead of the post approval button. I didn't actually edit anything. Sorry.

                • MumboJum73
                  MumboJum73 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  wish you would've ... I see a typo lol

              • #11
                In some way, my story mimics designszombie's story.

                Long story short, watched Finding Nemo and I knew right there that some type of design is what I wanted to do. I took a design class in high school and won portfolio of the year. That was great! Then headed off to a CC where i began animation, won a short story animation award, but then turned to design because it was more work than it was play for me so graphic arts became my focus. After CC, i went to CSUCI, studied studio art and had a great time studying it there, although my teachers weren't the greatest which may in turn be why I am having difficulty now with finding a permanent job..

                In school, they never tell you about the harsh realities of an art career in the real world. While i thoroughly enjoy what I do, I always question myself if its something that I should do. My success isn't all that grand compared to others, nor is my talent as great either from what I have seen, but I'd like to think that someday, somehow, I can achieve what I want on a personal and professional level. Somedays I think I would have more success working in a restaurant whether that is McDonalds or Maestros, or just completely changing careers. The over-saturated market and overwhelming submissions for jobs I have pursued has just become an extremely negative experience for me and something I wouldn't wish upon anyone. A career filled with week/month long contracts was never something that I truly wanted, but wound up in. If I had known that prior to pursuing graphic design, well, lets just say I wouldn't be driving a 1992 nissan maxima with $300 in the bank.

                Starving Artist


                • MumboJum73
                  MumboJum73 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Even people at the top of their game have doubts Alex. I've picked many a brains. They all say not to forget to keep learning and remembering that you will always have far to go in the designing fields, and your skills will be constantly sharpened. Think about how boring it would be if it weren't like that. Success is in the eye of the beholder.

                  I drive a 96 mini I mean man van and my wife cruises a 2001 Subie. Straight rollin'. Might be the top of our game idk 💵🤓
                  I like your story! I still wonder what a welding career would have turned out like for me haha I'd probably be welding wondering what it would be like to be a graphic designer.
                  Last edited by MumboJum73; 02-04-2016, 12:39 AM.

              • #12
                Originally posted by alexfrank41 View Post
                The over-saturated market and overwhelming submissions for jobs I have pursued has just become an extremely negative experience for me and something I wouldn't wish upon anyone. A career filled with week/month long contracts was never something that I truly wanted...
                Yes, on this forum you can find many posts seeking advice about branding and promoting oneself, if not straight-out asking how to get clients. Peppered among the replies you'll see the veteran designers warning the aspiring about how the profession has become one that is not for the faint of heart.

                What percentage of all small businesses fail? I don't know what the current statistic is, but historically, it's always been most of them; and if you're a graphic designer striving to work your own game, you are squarely and inescapably among the small businesses potentially doomed to the unpleasant end of that statistical stick, perhaps now more so than ever.

                It may be cold comfort, but I consider it a good thing that you're dissatisfied. I don't know if you read my story, but it glosses over 6 years of working on a factory production floor. During that time, my coworkers and I were making enough money to sustain a simple, modest life, doing essentially the same things everyday. Actually, I held every position in the place during that 6 years, but many around me were very content to stand at the same press-brake, bending the same sheet-metal parts, then having a few cold ones at the same bar before going home to rest up and do it over again and again, day after day. And they found a strange (to me) form of happiness in the hope that the opportunity to do that for the rest of their lives would never be taken away. After a while I couldn't help seeing them as willing drones.

                Maybe they never had it, or didn't want it, but you have what they were missing in their lives; the heat-producing friction that fuels exciting and necessary things like passion, creativity, love, exploration, innovation and risk-taking. You instinctively seek comfort, but trust me; the moment you find some, you'll chew it up and swallow it, and it will be gone. The next bite you take will have to be bigger and last longer, so you'll keep pushing along looking for it; dissatisfied that you can't eat your cake and have it too. If you start to look at it this way, you'll realize you're already in this pattern, and it doesn't have to be a negative thing. There's no guarantee you'll ever create anything "great," but if you ever find a way to be 100% safe and comfortable, it will reduce the probability significantly. Try to stop separating what appears to be outside of you from what's inside.
                I'd rather be killed than come to your party, but if you don't invite me, I'll kill myself.


                • #13
                  Picking up on HotButton's post, I sort of glossed over how difficult it was for me in the beginning. After my undergraduate work, finding a full-time job was very difficult. Making ends meet meant cold-calling every ad agency in town and constantly walking into small businesses to propose advertising ideas to the owners. The money was uneven and there was no stability or benefits. It wasn't what either I nor my wife expected after four years of college, and the strain of it all ended the marriage.

                  Despite all that, over those two or three years, I ended up freelancing at half the ad agencies in town, doing contract work for design studios, building up a client base, making dozens of connections in the business and getting a very painful but extremely valuable introduction into how this business really works and the toll it can take.

                  Sometimes I was tempted to just toss it all aside get a job doing something else. What made it all finally work, though, was that I just flat out refused to give up. Each time doubts would surface, I'd sit them aside, keep slogging forward one day at a time and with my vision always set firmly on the future.

                  Eventually, I landed a good-paying job as a technical illustrator for a big computer company, then increasingly better jobs at ad agencies, design studios and eventually to senior designer and design director positions specializing in publishing, news media and, today, working as a communications director overseeing the creative efforts of a staff of writers, web developers, videographers, social media specialists, designers and public relations specialists.

                  Like I said in my first post in this thread, I would do it all over again if given the chance. I would certainly do a few things differently (especially as it relates to the marriage thing), but in the end, it's worked out very, very well. I can't really imagine what would have happened if I'd given up too soon.


                  • #14
                    My senior year of high school, I was spending a week at a vocational school near my small town. I went on to college, but in that week of trying five different vocations, I most enjoyed the graphic/print design class. I created a simple drawing and text using Letraset that read: 'Caution—Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.' We made notepads out of our designs and I was hooked.

                    I ended up taking a summer job working for my brother who was a traditional typesetter and owned a small newspaper. The following summer I started working for a publishing company in the needle craft world, affectionately known in our circles as crochet doodoo. All work was done by hand. What we can do now on a computer in a few minutes would take days or weeks to create. Some of the patterns I laid out were that time consuming. I lived in a world of cut and paste, PMT cameras, newspaper ink and print shops.

                    In the late 80s we started using QuarkXpress (try pagination on a monitor that small today and I'd have to jump out the window) and around 1990 on my trusty Mac 128K, I was introduced to an image program called Photoshop (I think there were a 1/2 dozen or more floppies we used to install this). I love this video. Brings back wonderful memories!

                    By the mid 90s, I became a pre-press manager. This, after training five men for this position and the owner of the company finally giving the job to me.

                    In the late 90s, I started my own business, and after a couple years was approached by one of my clients to work at his Web design firm. We added print design, marketing, copywriting, etc., and I stayed there for 16 years ending as a creative director. The new skills in Web design and development that I learned over those years have been invaluable for what I'm doing now.

                    Last year I cashed out, moved to a tech city and am now full-time freelance once again. I'm fortunate that I still do work for my former company and have added some great, new clients. So when I post on here about my experiences, I mostly reference my former job.

                    This field has been very good to me and my only regret is that I didn't finish my degree. I left college with about 80 credits and am toying with the idea of going back—just to realize a personal goal—and now I have the flexibility to do that. (So any youngsters who happen across this—GET A DEGREE!)


                    • designzombie
                      designzombie commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Love that video you linked. I remember using photoshop without the benefit of layers. Lots of saving multiple versions of the same file, cut and pasting, and hoping you didn't blow your one chance at an undo.

                  • #15
                    I became interested in art & design in High School.

                    I was mostly interested in music album art and fantasy art at the time. Quasi psychedelic dragons and castles, etc.
                    My art teacher really encouraged me to take on all sorts of media.

                    If anything, my direction at that time was to go into commercial art of some sort. ( didn't know what many terms meant or encompassed).

                    I took a year off after HS and enrolled in a Liberal Arts college in their Art department.
                    They had different majors for BFA--Sculpture, Printmaking, Painting, Graphic design, etc

                    Somewhere in my freshman year I became drawn tremendously towards fine art / painting.

                    I saw the Graphic Design that my roommates were tracking to as tedious (which it was).
                    This was the days when the department didn't have a computer workstation with Photoshop 1.0 until my senior year.
                    I remember their assignments being focused on minute technical skills ( a dozen perfect circles just touching each other--no overlaps, etc)

                    At this school, due to studio constraints, you couldn't take any Graphic Design classes unless you declared yourself a GD major (where GD students could take as many fine art electives they wished)

                    Though the Fine Arts were more free and open, there was a ton I learned about foundations of art, color, gestalt.
                    I also took a ton of Art History, sculpture and Printmaking.
                    I ended up with a BFA in Painting.

                    I continued painting for a number of years (augmented with low paying jobs), and got into doing commercial work with a friend--Murals and sculpture and environmental design for some higher end restaurants.

                    Around this time (about 16 years ago), my wife and I got our first computer. I had been making long and steady progress as an artist, but wasn't making much money. The commercial work was lucrative, but not steady at all. I was determined to learn graphics, mostly to promote my work.

                    I took a couple courses in Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator--but used my foundational knowledge of art and design as my real skill.
                    I have to say I was never REALLY passionate about Graphic Design--but I think this was a good thing. Since I never saw it the same way I saw fine art, I was very open to criticism.
                    My main challenges were about working with text. I started off being WAYYYYY too creative with my choices of typefaces.
                    Luckily I knew typography was my weakest point and set out to learn crucial aspects of typography.

                    Since I had experience in several forms of painting and printmaking and sculpture I had a pretty substantial appreciation for process--so I was VERY keen on making sure I worked in a process that was anticipating the output: How do I create files that won't make my printer think I am a total asshat?

                    I made sure to keep things simple. I generally design in terms of clarity and hierarchy. I like dynamics and form. What is nice is that simplicity can easily facilitate dynamics, and it also facilitates flexibility.
                    Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.






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