Graphic Designer's Journey

There’s just… no posts today.

So perhaps it may be interesting to talk about my path as an artist. From degree to present day. Abridged version of course. And to hear from other designers and their paths.

  1. Community College Associates in the arts (hey, you have to start someplace. College is expensive)
  2. First job was as an animator working on an education kids series called “The adventures of young Thomas Edison”
  3. Employed by a pretentious photographer designing wedding albums. Mastered Photoshop and won a local award for creative album design.
  4. While getting my portfolio printed, the shop owner offered me a position. Struggled with the concept of Indesign and vector graphics tremendously, was clueless on setting a file up for print. Eventually learned the ins and outs of the trade. Little did I know, I would never leave the industry.
  5. Completed Bachelors degree from Rutgers University. (AAS degree just wasn’t cutting it anymore)
  6. Hired by a large magnet printing company in a busy city. Went from a pre-press technician to managing the company’s newly constructed in-house print facility. (mastered Indesign and print production)
  7. The business was sold, and times were desperate. Worked nearly 4 years for a popular office supply print company
  8. After being at my wit’s end, found a job at a large trade printer with big toys. Upon hiring back the gentleman I was positioned to replace (seriously?) it was obvious that we had conflicting management styles, and I was let go.
  9. Goes BACK to working for popular office supply print company with a promotion (I know)
  10. Arrived at wit’s end once again, and upon inquiring about starting my own business, and realizing I hadn’t anywhere near the assets to do so, I was informed of a position for production manager/art director for a new start up. Located literally moments from my home. And here. I remain to this day.

Nice topic! I’ll try to keep mine brief.

  1. Started college back in the age of dinosaurs, at a 4-year university (at my dad’s insistence) in the fine arts program. Lasted three semesters.
  2. Came home and went to community college. Got my AA in fine arts - drawing, figure drawing, sculpture, painting. Took one class on “computer design,” which was three months of typing code to create an image of a cereal box. Was filthy 24/7, but happy. Sneezed charcoal and tried to wash oil paint out of my hair.
  3. Transferred to an art college in Memphis, TN to get my bachelor’s. Got my BFA with an emphasis in graphic design and a mild twang. Learned Photoshop on version 2. All other work was paste-up. Got to learn from calligrapher Bill Womack (he lettered the word Tennessee on all the signs), which was amazing. Worked at a clothing print house for a summer. Learned Illustrator, scanning and cutting rubylith separations.
  4. Got hired as a Junior Package Designer two days before graduation. Made labels, product cards and package hangers. Nothing fancy. Learned some adulting. Stayed for 2.5 years.
  5. Wanted to move home. Got a crap job for even crappier money working as a graphic designer, but it got me back to my home town. Learned that most managers didn’t know what graphic design was, but still wanted it. I did more labels, newsletters, some logo work. I worked in Quark, Pagemaker, Freehand and some Photoshop. I was still under the impression that my designs were art and tried to fancy up things that should have been left alone. Toured my first print house and learned quite a bit. Never got the raises I was promised and the work environment was crazy misogynistic. Another two years.
  6. An ex-coworker put me in touch with a woman who had been looking for a designer for 8 months. Between my semi-competency and her desperation, it was a perfect fit. I’m a Senior Graphic Design Coordinator who coordinates nothing, lol. I work in health care, for two specific departments within a much larger corporation. I primarily work in InDesign, but also use Illustrator, Photoshop, Visio and PowerPoint. Next March will be my 20 year anniversary.

I just turned 32, so my “Journey” is probably quite short:

I was in high school and started taking dual credit classes at a community college. I actually never planned on being a graphic designer. I was going to be a tattoo artist and graphic design would be a fall-back career.

I completed high school at 17 and then then got an Associates of applied science degree in Visual communications the following year from a combination of summer, winter and short term classes. Obviously the core design classes were full length.

Before completing that, I started working at a sign company creating the wire-frames for 3d lighted sign cabinets, engravings and designed vehicle wraps.

I worked there for 3 years while I tutored, worked in the IT department of a college, and went to (a different) university to get a bachelor’s in Graphic design. Eventually I started working at the sign company full time and stopped working IT. I also did a lot of freelance design for business cards, brochures- things like that.

The son of the owner (he owns many businesses) took over the company and started doing everything that could potentially make money. We had absolutely no focus. Suddenly the things that I was doing on the side became a problem, because we’d be “competing”. He also started stealing money now that he had access to the bank accounts. So I bailed.

I did freelance programming and web development for a while. Life was great, except that I was still in my early 20’s at the time, and it was really difficult for people to take me seriously. People would say things like “wow, you’re really talented for your age”, and “I expected someone a little older”. We had a supplier that we used for certain products and I talked to him about developing a system for customers to use that could streamline the ordering and shipping process (having used the previous system myself). He wanted me to work on site, so I did. While I was working on this project, the graphic designer had some medical issues (lost his leg from diabetes) and had to quit, so I took over that- and a lot more. Pretty much everything.

I’ve been here for 8+ years. While doing this job, I went to college and got a Computer science degree for fun.

We do nearly every type of printing and design for customers all over the US and Mexico. If they have QUICK, MINUTE, FAST, POST, KOPY in the name, there’s a good chance that they’re a customer of ours.

At this point, my boss only comes in for an hour on Fridays to write our checks (we get physical checks for some reason). I oversee 2 graphic designers and a person who does production. Then we have a warehouse where some guys just screen-print (and everything that entails) all day.

But even though I make a lot more money than I ever thought I would (or was even possible with a graphic design degree), and my boss wants to retire soon and have me run everything- I want to try 100% freelancing again within the next year or two. I’m not a natural leader, and I think it’s the only way I think I’ll be able to professionally do everything that I want to do while still working reasonable hours.

  • Home from a stint in the military where I trained and worked as an X-Ray technician, and back to my previous job as a pizza maker, I eventually took a higher-paying factory job in my hometown.

  • After working on the production floor of that commercial cooking equipment factory for 6 years, I landed a company job in the Warranty Service department, answering tech. support phone calls. Having assembled and tested all the company’s products on the factory floor, I was a good fit for the job of assisting field service technicians over the phone.

  • At the time, it was that department’s responsibility to write and design installation/operation and service manuals, as well as price lists, parts lists, specification documents, etc. As low man, it was pushed to me, and I started the process of self-training.

  • Learning on my own as I went, and attending the typical Skillpath workshops, etc., I got the company to buy Quark and CorelDRAW, and later, Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.

  • Late in my second year in the position, the parent company announced it would unify and consolidate all Sales and Service “literature” operations for our facility and 3 other sister companies under one roof. A day later, thinking I was getting pushed out of the document business, I was called in and offered a promotion to head the new department.

  • Over the following 10 years I established an all-Adobe workflow and built out the department to include in-house authoring/design, production, and distribution of all printed and multimedia materials. Another 8 years on, with the title Group Director of Marketing Communications, I became unemployed for the first time in my life when the company downsized 9 of its facilities out of existence and moved most of its production out of the country.

  • I stayed afloat for a few years on my severance combined with freelance work from the many contacts I’d made in my time with that company. I also picked up some extra scratch driving a taxi and leveraging my pathological attraction to the foodservice business in miscellaneous gigs like short-order cooking, supervising banquet staff, etc.

  • Eventually I started doing contract work and landed my current primary client. They needed someone who was mechanically savvy enough to hang in with senior product development Engineers but knew how to design customer-facing materials. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, and most designers would rather hear the sound of their own flesh tearing than get stuck in a position like this, but I’ve really taken to it. And, the pay is good.


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