27  November  Posted by Aaron
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A designers life after college

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This is the story of my experience in college and shortly thereafter. College and the subsequent years after is a relatively short time period and is a huge change in most peoples lives. This post is to share my experiences and hope that it might help or inspire someone to get over a challenge they might be facing at the moment.

“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” Rocky Balboa


COLLEGE AND LIFE LESSONS

Like most, I look back at college as one of the best times of my life. Full of exploration as to what I might want to do the rest of my life. The decisions made seem nothing but straightforward and very optimistic. Thoughts of paths in the future with no forks or turns in the road. “I’m going to be an industrial designer” I once thought. “I would live in a big city” because that’s where the big fancy jobs are “and I will be a badass industrial designer!” It’s a straightforward way of thinking and I feel that this is the way most people approach their thinking and decisions while choosing their path in college. Although eventually fate always seems to butt in and sends you an a different path.

For the longest time in college the majors that I chose just weren’t the right fit. My first was industrial design. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and thinking about it now industrial design is very similar to graphic design: solving problems, form and function etc, which is what I ended up doing. Why am I not an industrial designer then? The competition to make it into the junior industrial design class and beyond was stiff. For me, my head was not in the right place and I just didn’t have the drive that others had. I might have been a bit too interested in beer drinking and messing around. One thing I know is that the people that did get in deserved it more than I did. It’s always embarrassing to admit failure but in the long run I learned a valuable lesson and I don’t regret those years at all. From time to time I use techniques that I learned with my graphic design, which can have a unique look.

Failure and Fine arts: Before finding out that I did not make the cut my fellow hopeful industrial design majors and I were told that no one has ever made it on a second attempt, they made it seem like trying to would be useless. Another thing they mentioned was that if we did not make it, that graphic design is probably not all that great of an alternative because they also had their cut which was just as hard to get into and nobody had ever done this. Maybe they did not want to see anyone fail twice, and I understand that, because it hit me hard when I did not make it into industrial design. I would like to add that the Industrial design professor that I had was a wonderful teacher and person and in no way am I attempting to throw him under the bus.

After getting the bad news I turned to art classes for comfort. I have always been heavily into art and since art and design have a lot of strong ties together it felt natural and easy to make the switch. So I was now an art major, basically just having a good time creating and learning different crafts and techniques.

Fast-forward a year or so and only a couple classes away from graduating with a fine arts degree in mixed media. I enjoyed art a lot but one thing that always bugged me about it was that there were never any rules per say. It sounds weird but at times this was really tough for me to swallow. Because of this and also because of my dad I thought I would give graphic design a try. I’m pretty sure that my dad thought that I was going to become a “starving artist”. So I owe my dad a great deal for where I am today. Thanks dad!

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Graphic design school: My first class in graphic design and I was sold. It had the creative side but also had the rules that fine arts were lacking. So I had a choice, take just a few more classes and graduate as a fine arts major or change and try to get into the graphic design program and make the cut. I chose both.

Surviving the cut: I’d been there before and even though it was a couple years prior industrial design was still a painful memory. I decided to go for it, but I knew that I would not fail. I would give it my all and put in the time and effort that I did not give in industrial design and I would succeed, there was no other option. When I was accepted into the graphic design program one of my teachers said that I was one of their top picks out of the class that year. I believe I was the first to successfully make the leap from industrial design to the graphic design major (at my college). I refused to walk away from design and it seemed to cause a bit of a paradigm shift as other industrial design hopefuls shortly followed my lead.

Design school and graduation: The next two years became even more challenging. The design program at WWU is pretty well known to produce talented designers. I feel that the professors really knew how to make us work hard, they were our coaches and the last thing we wanted to do was to let them down with shabby work, so we worked our asses off. It wasn’t uncommon to see graphic design students in the computer lab at 3 or 4am working away. In those two years I finished up my graphic design major, took my remaining classes for the fine arts major and had a part time design job… At this point, again I had a vision of myself living in a big city, being a badass graphic designer. Like most students right out of school, I thought I was hot shit, although I soon realized that my schooling had just started and that my visions were not completely accurate and straightforward, but filled with all sorts of twists and turns.

Side-note: Book arts class Backing up a bit, in my sophomore year of graphic design school I met a wonderfully talented designer named Elena that always seemed to have different and original views on things, plus she could lob a frisbee better than most guys. Needless to say I was impressed and we started dating.


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LIFE AFTER COLLEGE

A month or so after graduation and completely out of the blue, I was contacted by a design company in Wenatchee who was looking for a designer. I was thrilled and surprised that there was design work to be done in a smaller town Like Wenatchee. Within a couple days Elena and I were packing up and moving to Wenatchee for my first job.

You might be asking… “What the heck?! You envisioned yourself in a big city? Did you just give up?” I was raised in a small town and like to hunt and fish etc. Originally I thought that to be anybody big in this industry you have to be in a big city (which is not necessarily the case). Again, it did not work out the way I thought it would.

My first job started out great, I had the opportunity to work on a number of different projects ranging from creating illustrations for a large fruit company to designing labels for a wine bottle.

A month or two into my first job there was an incident. A co-worker of mine had an iPod stolen from his desk. The boss came to me (and only me from what I had heard) and interrogated me, sure that I had taken it, simply because “you listen to the same type of music.” Needless to say I was shook up. Some people said that I should have stormed out and quit on the spot, but I stuck it out.

Time went by and things felt like they smoothed out with the whole iPod incident. I was really starting to feel like part of the team and was encouraged to speak up if I ever saw any need for improvement. Naturally, me always looking to perfect and improve things realized that the websites that we were designing and building were being done by people that were not web designers or developers, sometimes sites were even being designed by project managers. I brought my concern up to the boss, that we need a web designer and it seemed to make a lot of sense to him. To my surprise about a month later I was told that it was my last day because they needed to go in more of a web based direction (they hired a web designer and had to get rid of me).

My overall experience at my first job was pretty crappy to say the least, but I did meet some wonderful people there (one of them, to this day, a very close friend) and I also learned a couple things you should not do in running a business.

Unemployed and motivated: The next day after being laid off I started in on learning how to build websites with the intensity and drive that I had in college. I was determined to learn the ins and outs of web design and development. After a couple months of my marathon web training I was offered a design job that happened to be mainly web. After landing this job it was pretty smooth sailing for quite a while. The people I worked with were great and I really appreciate the boss for taking me under his wing since I was fairly green at web design at the time.

A while down the road, I received an offer to take a position at a startup web design company. There, I honed my skills and picked up quite a few more. I learned a lot about running a business and working closely with clients. Here, it was only two of us. We did not pay attention to how long a project took, that did not matter so much. The main goal was to do the very best work we could do. To a degree, I still follow this approach of doing business. Unfortunately, after about a year the owner decided to close up shop. So again I was out of a job.


aaron-payne-2STARTING MY OWN BUSINESS

After the second time being laid off I came to the point where I was tired of working for others. I longed to be in more direct contact with clients and do what I thought was right and best for them. I felt and still feel that a lot of the businesses in the area are not getting decent work for the money they pay (it’s not all bad, there are some great designers in the area, you know who you are!). I also feel that a lot of people do not understand what goes into design and the importance of good design and how it can help their business. (IE, potential client: “I know a kid that only charges 100 dollars for a logo! So why would I pay 2,000?!”)

This was my new goal: To help people and businesses to succeed with professional designs with excellent user-experience. Also to educate people on the importance of good thought-out design and strategy.

About a year later, Elena now my wife quit working for others to work with me. While over the years I have been specializing more in a web design related direction Elena has always gravitated towards print. She has a vast knowledge of packaging design and print process so we pair well and are able to meet most design needs that our clients have.

Currently our design business is doing well and I even have a couple other side projects that I’m working on, which I will probably reveal in the near future. I love what I do and I am excited for what’s to come.


If my story didn’t convey this, or if you skimmed to the end (shame on you!) this is what my history in a nutshell has taught me. Don’t worry about the past, learn from it and move forward. Enjoy the present and embrace challenges head on and don’t give up on something you really love. As for the future it is good to have an idealistic vision but expect and embrace changes in your vision of the future. Also remember that the hardest and most painful experiences in the long run tend to turn out for the better

The ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns are what makes life interesting. I would rather turn the pages, one at a time than ever attempt to skip to the end.

Full steam ahead and cheers to the future!

One comment on “A designers life after college”

  1. Aaron Vazquez Reply

    Hard worker indeed you are. I’m one of those humans that always had a passion for art but didn’t pursue it as a ‘career’. It’s going to fit in there somewhere. Your article was encouraging to say the least. Way to go

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