Just Getting Started

Man – I just never feel like I’m good enough at what I do, accept for a few hours or days after I make something better than most of what I’ve ever made. Today I got a chance to reflect on my past and give a bit of advice to a dude named Melvin who is looking to get into the graphic design industry, and that helped me realize that even though I have a terrifically long way to go, I’ve also been at it for awhile and have made some good progress. Maybe its useful to others? If anyone reading this has any more questions feel free to write me.

1. After you graduated from college, how did you get your foot in the door and market yourself as a designer? Additionally, I would like to know your approach for finding job opportunities. 

So after I graduated I had a tough time getting my foot in the door. I just started working doing odd jobs like house painting and stuff, and took on any small freelance projects I could get, and I just kept working and working on my design skills. Doing a lot of personal work is important at certain stages in your development.
Finally, I went and talked to a placement agency – I was in Kansas City at the time. They hooked me up with a very repetitive and boring production job at a real estate magazine. Basically copying and pasting pics of houses, and their descriptions into grids – just really basic layout work. Way below what I thought I could do. But it was my first gig and I was making some money.
I was in a fraternity in college, it was really small and we were close knit – one of the older dudes left his graphic design job at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and he helped me prep for the interview and put in a good word for me. I got the job and I was so stoked. It was my first real design job, where I did a ton of print design for tons of different university organizations. I had a lot of different responsibilities and I learned a lot, and built up my portfolio and knowledge of the biz.
When I moved to DC, again I relied on a placement agency called Career Profiles, that deals specifically in creative fields. they got me a couple interviews and I landed a contract gig at Discovery. This meant that technically I was working for the placement agency, but I was placed at Discovery, and I started to build a lot of relationships there. I will come back to this later.
Here are some other ideas:

• Get involved with AIGA or some other professional org to make connections. 
• Find out the name of an art director or creative director at a place you want to work and cold call them or email them, and ask if you could buy them coffee in exchange for an informational interview. This is an interview where you are not so much looking for a job as you are advice, feedback and any other networking help that might come your way.
• Make sure design samples are part of your resume so when your resume hits someone’s email inbox along with some others, yours stands out and shows your work with no further action necessary on their part.
• Make sure you have a nice web portfolio and business cards etc. so you look legit in your own brand and can be found easily. (My portolio site is woefully out of date, but then again I am not looking for jobs right now. Still, its a problem.)
2. From what I’ve heard, most designers need to have a broad range of skills from web design to photography. Based on your own experience, what are the necessary tools needed to survive in the design industry?


Well, I think there are a lot of different ways to stay relevant in the industry. The more tools in your belt the better, and a lot of places want designers that can do some amount of coding for web, especially smaller operations would need that – so if you like coding, that could play to your advantage. I think at a lot of places, being a strong designer with strong conceptual skills will be enough but its a changing world, and the more you know about something other than print, the better.
My niche is motion graphics. I discovered the medium towards the end of college and did independent study, then just kept up with personal projects. By my 2nd contract at Discovery I finally had found my way to getting paid to do motion graphics. I had met a dude there during my first contract who did mograph and I became friends with him and let him know how badly I wanted to get involved in it professionally. He hired me later and I owe him big time, because once I was doing it on the daily, my skills just took off exponentially. 
3.  How do you find inspiration when you’re in a creative block?
I try to find inspiration in the raw material of the design problem I guess. What I mean is, every piece of communication needs a design that will best express its ideas as well as its attitudes, and you can experiment a lot with how to do that – there are infinite ways to solve the problem, and that’s pretty cool. 
I think it gets easier as you gain experience. You gain confidence and learn to trust your instincts about how a certain piece should look or feel. I often see flashes of an image in my mind when I start to think about a certain project, and these guide me a lot – you have to be ready for that flash of inspiration though. You have to do tons and tons of projects until the shortcut keys are so hardwired, you do them a thousand times a day but if someone asks you what they are, you don’t know. When you are that connected to your tools, it is much easier to get your idea out. Its basically like drawing practice. I use Adobe stuff to get the vision out of my head, instead of using charcoal to draw the model on paper.
Also – get inspired by the tons of amazing designers all over the internet. Take notice when you see a poster that you think is cool. Follow design blogs and sites every day so you have a finger on the pulse and you get new inspiration and intimidation all the time. Find some way to get an idea, and then get lost in it.



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