I was recently interviewed by a student of my former High School for a class project on career exploration. Students were tasked with interviewing a professional from an industry of their choosing to gain some insight into that industry. I found the questions thought provoking, and wanted to share my responses with you now.
A. I think my first taste of graphic design was right there in Kelvin High School in grade nine or ten. Mr. Zonneveld was the teacher at the time, and in his class I had an opportunity to try a lot of things iI had never tried before—logo design, vector drawing, photo manipulation, and screenprinting. I always had an interest in drawing and other forms of art and creativity, but this was the first time I was creating art for a purpose. My interests in design quickly expanded to include learning Cinema 4D in Mr. Hamlin’s Comm Tech class next door. Learning 3D is actually what got me hooked on the creative arts, and I ended up spending every lunch hour trying to learn as much about 3D and graphic design as I could. At some point Mr. Z recommended that I go to Red River College for their great graphic design program, which I did after graduation. I completed the two-year graphic design program, earned my third-year advanced graphic design diploma with honours, and went back again a year later to take the 3D computer graphics course, just for fun.
A. A recent project that stands out is the identity I designed for Oxbow Restaurant. The owners trusted us to create something great, and I think we did. I believe we gave them something timeless, that can easily be applied to anything from business cards to billboards. After hand-off to the client, they produced their own sign for the front of the restaurant which I think turned out great. It’s always amazing to see what other people do with your work after you’re out of the picture. Clients don’t always do great things with your work mind you, but it’s great seeing my work hanging on the front of a restaurant that I love to eat at. As a designer it can be really satisfying seeing your work on display. Just remember to stay humble, and be open to other people’s opinions of your work.
A major project that I’m proud of is Greyston. They’re the bakery in New York state that produces the brownies for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and they’re staffed by an open-hiring policy. That means that they hire anyone without requiring a criminal background check. Put your name on the list and no matter what your circumstances, the next time there’s an opening you’re invited in for a job. This approach to hiring is revolutionary, and a major role of the website we developed for them was to promote the open hiring model to other companies and organizations around the work. My role for this project was lead web developer, so I coded a significant portion of this website, and was involved in some of the strategy and planning. Being able to contribute to a project that’s helping so many people both directly and indirectly is a career highlight of mine. Your work as a designer is usually helping someone else achieve a goal. It’s been said that, “design is not what we make, but what we make possible for others”. You should make your best efforts to help the right people for the right causes.
A third project that means a lot to me is Nunatsiaq News, the newspaper of record in Nunavut, and the Nunavik territory of Quebec. Their online newspaper was in dire need of an update, requiring a refresh of the design without the change being too jarring to its long time readers, it wasn’t yet mobile friendly, and it needed to be converted to a new content management system to make managing the newspaper easier. I designed and developed this website providing everything they needed which significantly improved the mobile experience, as well as accessibility and performance. I believe this website has more web traffic than any other website we’ve created at manoverboard, so knowing that I created a digital news platform that works just as good for its readers as it does for those who are tasked with maintaining it makes me feel good about what I do for a living.
A. Even if you create something that you think is going to be your career-defining best work ever, you write the best rationale of your life to justify your design decisions, you passionately present it to a client and you just know that it’s the best possible solution anyone on earth could come up with, that doesn’t guarantee that a client’s going to like your work. Rejection is a big part of this industry. Even when a client approves one of your solutions, that also means the rejection of whatever alternative ideas you had. Negative feedback is okay. It’s also okay to feel things. Just make sure that when you receive negative feedback that you remember it’s not personal, and try to understand what it is the client is reacting negatively to. That’s often a good place to start in revising your work, or inspiring your next concept. Stay humble. Be resilient. Everything is going to be okay.
A. Two projects I’ve probably sunk the most hours into are Knife Dots which I designed to hold my kitchen knives on the side of my fridge, (which eventually evolved into a short-lived small business), and a drone I designed that is powerful enough to carry a 4k camera, while still coming in under 250 grams so it’s safe to fly anywhere. I’m sure if you tallied up all the time spent planning, designing, revising, iterating, building and so on, they’d both be over 100 hours, easy. Other times, the first scribble of a logo you make on a napkin gets quickly revised into a final winning solution in just a couple hours. Design can be full of extremes like that. Personal projects are the easiest ones to drag on endlessly because you rarely impose the same limits you would for paid work. I bring up these two non-graphic design examples as a way of highlighting how being a designer of any one kind, can easily spill into other types of design. I have trained as a graphic designer, created motiongraphics and interactive exhibits for a museum, worked as a freelance photographer, taught design as an instructor, transitioned to a web developer, and currently spend a lot of my free time on personal projects that involve woodworking or electronics. This is the number one aspect of a career in design that keeps me interested. There’s always something new you can learn or do, and it’s always within reach because what you’ve already learned probably applies.
A. There have been many forms of design since the birth of written language, through print, to digital, to the future of augmented reality and vr design. The technology keeps changing but good design is always good design, regardless of the tech or the medium. If you want to prepare yourself for the future, start with the basics and study everything you can get your hands on. Design principles, typography, illustration, color theory, history, technology, interior design, architecture, fashion design and more. There’s so many sources we can learn from, and there’s no rule that says you have to restrict yourself to only learning about one type of design. The more diverse your expertise and worldly experience, the more influences you can draw from, and the more you bring to the table as an individual. Though, I should really emphasize here that typography in my opinion is the key if graphic design is your chosen path. Graphic design is communication after all, and more often that not, that communication starts with words on a page or a screen. Good typography can add credibility, emotion, style, historical context, and more to your message. Learning to use it well, and how to combine it harmoniously with images and other elements in a composition will get you started down your path to becoming a great graphic designer.