Where are you working and what do you do there?
In October of 2011, I started up my own business as a freelance graphic designer. I currently split my days between clients and set up a schedule with 3 main clients, working on-site at an advertising agency a few days a week, while working from home with my other clients the other days. I design catalogs, brochures, fliers, marketing collateral, packaging, websites or whatever else is needed. I also do production work to take and touch up photos or other production work that needs to be done to complete a project.
What is your typical work day like?
With the agency I help at, we start out with a meeting to see what the work load is for the day. Then my day is split between the agency's clients, so from about 9-5:30 every day I bounce between clients and projects. About half the day is actual designing and concepting, with meetings about projects, while the rest of the day is production work. On the days I work from home, I get emails and projects from clients throughout the week so the days are pushing projects through (designing and producing final pieces), routing them, and making revisions as needed. I try to work at night at least one night during the week as well to get ahead and do any of the "business" work (invoicing, following up on payments, tracking expenses).
What path did you take to your current career, were there other jobs along the way?
I worked at an internship while in college, doing direct mail pieces for a small plastics company in Milwaukee. I then got a a summer internship at Reiman Publications, designing magazines and learning about the printing process. My next job went for almost 5 years, at Actuant coproration, working in their internal marketing group to design marketing collateral that was needed for the various brands the company owned. After this job, I had built up enough experience and networked enough to freelance full-time. It was my contacts at this job that let me pursue freelancing, as each client I have now was referred to me at my last job.
How did your liberal arts education at UW-Eau Claire help prepare you for your career?
I minored in advertising so this helped me to gain an "edge" while looking for a job, as I knew a bit more of the business side of things and had more knowledge than only design. The experience with an overall fine arts major helped me to showcase photography skills, illustration skills, and color theory, which are skills that students at other schools often don't get. I came to the field very well-rounded and had learned to give, and receive, feedback and criticism, as well as speak professionally to others and work in a team. These skills are crucial in our field; you really need to know how to speak to clients in a professional way, as well as take their criticism and work with them to come up with a solution that they will be happy with, while offering professional recommendations that might better the outcome.
Is there something more you wish you would have done in college to prepare for your career?
I would have asked if we could go to a printer for a few days to learn more about setting up files properly. This is the only thing I didn't know anything about when I entered the workforce that I was expected to know. The technical aspects of the job and software you pick up quickly when you get your first job, but the printer information was something I had to go learn on my own, so I wish I had asked questions about this while in college. It's good to know what kind of paper to choose when printing a project, as well as different printers and how they need files set up depending on what printer is being used. I also would have pushed myself to work quicker in college.
I thought we were working "fast-paced" on projects but quickly learned that real-life projects can be INCREDIBLY fast paced. It's good to do a few projects at a really fast pace to start to learn how to think a bit faster. You rarely have a full week to concept, ads and brochures need to come together in a day or two with a few extra days for any production work.
What advice do you have for UW-Eau Claire students to become successful in their own careers?
Network, ask questions, take every class you have time for that might pertain to your degree. HTML classes and web design classes are huge; even if you don't retain all of the information, at least you have the basic knowledge since almost every job has an element of web design. Check out design firms while in college, people in this field know what it's like to try to find a job and want to help you. Be professional when asking questions, even to former students, since they may be the ones who write you a recommendation later on. If you go into a graphic design field and feel it's not a great fit, there's so many other options. Corporate settings, magazine publications, ad agencies... they all have a different feel and structure, and one might be a better fit than another. It's a great career, have fun and enjoy it!