Hometown: La Harpe, IL
Year graduated: 2003
Currently working as: Designer at BoxCrush (Indianapolis IN)
How does it feel to be a professional designer: I feel like a celebrity in a way. It's always fun to tell people what I do, and what projects I've worked on. It's a cool feeling to see someone's eyes light up when they tell you that they've seen that project before.
How do you like your job: I love it. I've found a great place to work. It's a small design firm. There are only 2 of us full-time. The boss and myself. But we do have a couple others who work for us either part time, or on a free-lance development basis. The relationship I have with my boss has been the best one yet. We're more friends working together than the typical boss/employee relationship. He sets up the projects, I knock them out. It's a great feeling knowing that I have someone who can give me criticism as well as listen to my ideas and trusts them.
How did you get this job: I had been unemployed for a few months, so I was trying every single job search website out there. But was even having a hard time getting interviews. I would contact design and advertising firms in the area. I would force myself to what I hated doing, making cold calls. Then finally, I got a call from this small design firm who wanted to set up an interview. And after 2 hours of talking about my work, Macs, PC, iPhone's and the weather, I was offered the job right there on the spot and was asked if I could start the following Monday.
What are you doing for fun? I run a side business called HANGER 3. I make and sell necklaces that feature retired subway tokens. It's been a great way to express my own design style. During the first year of the site being live, I was published on several major blogs, featured in Real Simple magazine, shown on the CBS Early Show, and was published in along with classmate and fellow Parkland Alumni Barry Abrams (BarrysFarm.net ).
What was the most exciting project you've worked on since graduation: It was a campaign for an all-boy Catholic school at Communica. I had previously done a direct mail piece with a grunge theme that they really liked. To my surprise, they wanted a whole campaign revolved around this style, because their previous conservative and clean-cut campaign just wasn't getting the attention of potential future students. So being the only staff designer at this time, I was put in charge of the whole design concept. I had to create a 20-page 8.5 x 11 brochure, several direct mail postcards, a 30-second TV spot, and a 10-second cinema slide. Unknown to my previous employer, I was using this as a major portfolio piece to help me find a new job. I would work on it all day at work, and then take it home to work on it some more. The campaign was a total success. After the first postcard was sent out, the phones were ringing off the hook at the school. Students then started collecting all the different postcards to hang in their lockers. And the client wanted more. They came up with the budget to do even more pieces than they had previously asked for. But by that time, I was already on my way to Borders. The whole project was a great learning experience. I also picked up After Effects as a new skill. And the best part was, I paid $10 to go see a movie, just to see my cinema slide play. Best feeling ever...so far.
What were some of the most important things you learned while at Parkland: That you cannot learn everything from school. Parkland gives you the foundation that you need, but you need to take ownership of your own education. And I did not realize that when I first started. In the beginning, I did the minimum that was required, never expanded on anything, and never looked at new resources. But then it hit me, and I started figuring things out on my own. I would finish most of the in-class exercises ahead of time, so that I can learn something new that wasn't going to be taught. Don't expect that just by being in the design program, you're going to be an award-winning designer. You need to outdo yourself everyday.
Who is your favorite designer and why: It would have to be David Carson. David Carson had no formal training as a designer, and he is considered a pioneer of the "grunge" look. His designs look so random, and thrown together. But it's probably furthest from the truth. He probably puts more thought into how it looks than the average designer puts into their design. Just try to design something that looks like David Carson’s work — it’s not easy.
What is your favorite typeface and why: It used to be Futura, but now it's probably Frutiger. Both are very similar sans-serif typefaces. But if possible, I try to incorporate my own handwriting in my designs. It just gives it that much more originality.
Do you have any other advice for recent graduates? In the time since I've graduated from Parkland, I've had 5 different jobs in a 7 year span. I've lived in 4 different states. I've been laid off twice. And the longest I've held a single job was just shy of 3 years. But you know what, I got to where I'm at now by going through all that. I've learned a lot over that time too. And I wouldn't have it any other way. But the most important thing I've learned about being a designer is to enjoy what you do. If at any point you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're probably at the wrong place. The thing I love about being a designer is that this "job" doesn't feel like a job. If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. If it ever starts to feel like a job, it was always a sign for me that things weren't working out like I had hoped. I saw my work performance start to take a hit, and was stressing about getting projects done on time. I learned the hard way that when it gets to that point, its best to not keep it to yourself. Being a designer should be fun. While there is work that doesn't require a whole lot of designing to it, it shouldn't feel like work. If you find a place where things just feel like they've snapped into place, I'd recommend staying there as long as you can. Good work gets noticed. And while you may think the grass is greener on the other side, it may not always be.
Web links: www.dustinwood.com, www.hanger3.com