Why I Became a Graphic Designer
Third grade: I’m crying amidst all my classmates because I just can’t figure out the reading comprehension questions that they all answered with ease. I read the story fine but I just couldn’t make it make sense; it was so hard for me to process what I had read. Ms. Vonderhaar (now Mrs. Gardner) was of course super supportive and patient, but I’m not sure I ever made it through those questions.
Junior year of high school: My next terrible memory of reading was completely giving up on a literature exam in Mrs. Grise’s class my junior year of high school. The questions were just too hard, I’d probably only ready half the book (90% sure it was Madame Bovary), and having a bit of a flair for the dramatic, I laid down on the floor and refused to take the test. I eventually probably wrote some half-assed answers and turned the stupid thing in. Thank god Mrs. Grise was such a sweet person and didn’t send me to detention for my antics. And she let me be in book club even though I was only in it for the donuts.
Senior year of high school: After junior year, I moved down from the honors class (why was I even in honors lit in the first place?!) and that year I had one of my best friends write my final exam. (Shhhh… don’t tell or they might take my high school diploma back! But I’m sure I did someone’s math homework at some time or another, so let’s call it even.) The exam was on Heart of Darkness, and while the edition I bought had a beautiful fountain gradient with an engraved illustration on the cover and pages with deckled edges, it just did not interest me in the LEAST and reading seemed like such a chore when I had fun end of year art projects to wrap up.
On to college: In my architectural history classes, I didn’t read the material (architects are notoriously bad writers), and just squeaked by with lecture notes and memorizing slides. But I really enjoyed laying out the displays for my design projects and coming up with unique ways to make them more eye catching and appealing and really lead the viewer through the story. (Yes, buildings have stories.)
Then some friends of mine wanted to start an independent newspaper and needed a designer.
I knew I’d be good at finding ways to make the text easier to read and easier for folks to dive into and stick with it. Image here, pull quote there, add a caption so people might get interested in the story. Being a bad reader has its benefits.
I’d learned how to use Pagemaker in high school so jumping over to InDesign to lay out the newspaper was an easy transition and learning the ins and outs of the print world was really interesting. I learned about dot gain from the newspaper printer that we worked with and how to adjust my images to print correctly. I also started learning about CMYK and RGB and I quickly fell in love with graphic design.
One of those early fliers I did for a friend in college.
Friends started asking me to do little flyers here and there for their events and I applied for and landed a job designing a magazine for the college’s radio station.
One of my first spreads from the magazine at the radio station.
If the university had had a graphic design program, I would’ve switched at this point. But, they didn’t and I didn’t want to lose a bunch of credits switching to a different college. So I completed my architectural degree and continued working as a graphic designer on the side.
After some fits and starts with other ventures, I eventually decided to complete a second Bachelor’s degree in graphic design (at a different school) because I felt like I’d keep being looked over for the types of career-oriented graphic design positions I had been applying for. I was luckily able to land a position as a graphic designer at an architectural firm (lots of good synergies there) and cut my teeth in a field I wasn’t properly prepared for but in an industry that was really familiar for me. So I diligently worked on that degree, taking lots of pointless humanities classes (yes, I took a class on musicals and a class on Martin Scorsese films) just to get that official piece of paper, while working at the architecture firm and eventually I graduated and felt like I could really officially call myself a graphic designer.
Now, lots of designers, don’t have or need degrees to be awesome in their field. You can become a super awesome designer with just the internet as your teacher. But, I felt like I’d always be looked over because of my architectural background – I see a lot of architects that think they can be both graphic designers and architects and I can totally see where a Creative Director wouldn’t want to spend time on someone with that mindset, so I think it was a good choice for me to go to school and work at the same time to build up my portfolio. (PS – Architects: stop using all caps, Copperplate, and full justifying all of your text.)
So how did you become a designer? Or how did your favorite designer get into the field?
Me, I came into the field because I am (or at least I was) very bad at reading. And now I have a passion for making your resume easier to digest, making your brochure easier to scan so people can quickly get all the pertinent details, making it easier for your readers to find exactly what they want in your eBook, because I have been there before and I am the worst of them – lazy, dense, easily distracted.
I think that a lot of graphic designers have really interesting ways that they came to be in the field so it’s always interesting to ask. And those unique ways they came to the field, really inform their work. Your designer may have an interesting background in animation or video that make their skills unique. For me, a combination of being a terrible reader, an artist, a photographer and having an architectural background, really inform and enrich my work. I can understand how a 3D package is put together and needs to be laid out in 2D; I can layout a complex magazine or book to make the content more digest-able for your readers; I make unique, artistic backgrounds for stationery pieces; and I can retouch your baby’s photo to make it the most glowing-est, happiest baby on earth.
People are always saying that you don’t have to let your past define you, but in my case it really does and I love to share with people how I came to be where I am and how my skills and experiences inform my work and can help with your project.
PS. I might also be slightly dyslexic but at this point I’m not going to worry about it.
I like this.
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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Thanks for posting this Jessica- I might have found this 5+ years too late but your post has really convinced me to keep going with my mid-career change! (scary but worth it)
I went through the EXACT same thing for my design papers in architecture school, I really relished laying them all out just the right way and and in hindsight- that was all I cared about!