More Design Profession Q & A


Here’s another interview I recently completed for a student at the Art Institute International MN. Enjoy!

1.  Tell me about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?

I went to Winona State University and graduated with a major in Psychology. I went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota to work toward a PhD in Neuroscience, but left after two years (and straight As!) to take a job at the Science Museum of Minnesota as an exhibit developer. I led the development of new exhibits, working with copywriters, builders, programmers, designers and marketing professionals.

In the process, I fell in love with the design aspect of my work. I enrolled in the Graphic Design and Visual Communication program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to pursue an AAS in graphic design while still working my full-time job at SMM.

I graduated in 2005, and worked for a year as a freelance graphic designer for a number of Twin Cities design firms. I later landed a job as an Art DIrector at a St. Paul-based advertising agency. It was a dream at first—great digs, fun clients and challenging work. But later, I realized the owner was over billing, encouraging us to cut corners on the design to make a quick buck, and not providing the type of service our clients deserved.

So in 2007, I left that job and founded Mix Creative, with a commitment  to provide clear, effective and consistent brand communication across media, while delivering top-of-the-line service with integrity.

2.  What is your job like? What challenges do you face as a designer?

My job is rewarding and demanding. I love getting to know my clients and their businesses and feel a great reward in being a part of their success. On the down side, when you’re good at what you’re do, you become in demand. It’s difficult to manage my time and projects to keep everyone happy at once.

3.  Tell me about the design industry? What is the competiton like? Is there anything special you think I need to know before getting out in the design world?

There are a lot of paths you can take in the design world, and a lot of potential audiences to work with that make it possible to have friendly relationships with a lot of designers and firms without feeling competitive. I belong to a Google Group of Twin Cities graphic designers that help each other with problems and questions that arise in their work.

My route has been the small agency route. Others go to work for agencies. Those jobs are difficult to get and the least stable when the economy turns. A lost account can cause a designer at an agency to lose their job. That said, the larger agency environment is exciting with great clients and a fun atmosphere. The best way to get in to an agency like that is to network with other designers so you’re the first to hear about potential openings.

4.  Describe a typical work day.

I work in a home office. Because I don’t commute, I have extra time to read the paper and work out in the morning. I start my day answering emails and creating my task list. Then I tackle any big projects and start to knock the small to-do items off my list. I typically work from 9am to 5pm, with just about a half hour for lunch. I rarely take vacations but have some freedom to take a day off here and there as needed. I work evenings and weekends as needed, but try to keep that to a minimum.

5.  What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were entering this field, but didn’t?

Oh geez, lots of things! A good understanding of how to run a business and a firm skill set for CSS and HTML are a good start, though.

6.  What inspired you to work as a designer?

My work at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Creating compelling graphics that people will actually READ is not a simple task. I enjoy the challenge! I also love the psychology of reaching a specific audience and the thrill of creating something that looks expensive for a small business that may not have been able to afford a big agency.

7.  Do you find your job enjoyable?

Most of the time, yes ; )

8.  Are there things you struggle with in an office not having to do with graphic design but interoffice duties that you wish you know more about?

I have people that help me manage my accounting and IT stuff.

9.  What is the first thing you look for when you look at a design or ad?

I suppose if it’s just ONE thing, it would be that the overall impression is that it looks like it was done by a professional. Then I would take notice of whether the brand is targeting its audience well and is consistent with the overall brand message. Finally, I would take note of whether a consumer would be likely to remember or take action from the ad.

10.  What do you do to balance work and home? Does a happy medium exist?

Some days are better than others! Working at home affords me the opportunity to be here for my school-age son, but sometimes parenting duties infringe on my ability to be there for my clients. I think working out of a home-based office is a optimal, though, for attempting to achieve a happy work/home balance.

11.  What is the best advice you could give to a me to help me for when I graduate?

Build your portfolio with real-world work. Work with other designers and watch/listen to them carefully to see how they solve design problems. Think of your first year out of school as your “final semester,” one in which you achieve real-life experience.

Also—and this is critical—follow up every digital job application with a WRITTEN letter and/or samples. Nobody ever mails things, so you’ll TOTALLY stand out if you reach out to creative directors with a handwritten note and portfolio samples printed on nice paper with high-quality printing.

12.  What are the most valuable skills to have on the job? How do you keep updated with skills you have now?

Non-negotiable design skills are Adobe Creative Suite programs and a knowledge of CSS and HTML. It’s extremely helpful to also know how to create an e-newsletter, customize a social media page, make a custom Powerpoint or Word template, and even design something in Microsoft Word or Publisher. If I don’t know how to do something, I teach myself or ask other designers for help.


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