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Join me on a journey from old school, to new school

When I was younger, I was fascinated with all things space. To this day, I remember watching a NASA documentary in grade school that ultimately had to do with the difficulty of space missions and how precise every detail needed to be. One part in particular really stuck with me. I can almost remember the narrator’s ominous voice stating that even a 1% change in trajectory can equal a monumental shift in an intended destination over time.

I feel like this is a pretty decent analogy for my career path.

I treated college like an all you can eat buffet. I put all the courses that I thought were interesting on my plate and completely ignored the vegetables my body needed for graduation.

This was around the time that Yahoo ads informed me that the internet was going to be a big deal. I figured out that I wanted to be a part of how people experienced this new technology, so I decided to drop out and teach myself graphic design.

Not knowing anything about what I was doing, I took a job with the first place that would hire me, which happened to be a small press shop. (1%)

Understanding the situation I was in, I learned as much as I could from this older, salty coworker who had been there forever. To his credit, he answered all of my questions, even if it was through gritted teeth. To my credit, I never stopped asking.

I worked really hard on my craft, taking side jobs while mostly faking it and saying “sure, I can do that”. Then I’d frantically tear through books at Barnes and Noble after work trying to figure out how to get myself out of the mess my mouth had committed me to. I’d go to networking events and stand around people who were saying all the things I’d want to understand and laugh when they laughed or get upset when they seemed like something was infuriating. I remember this one time sitting at a table with some people I had just met and excusing myself to run to the restroom and jot down in a little notepad “what the hell is Macromedia Director and do I need to learn it??”

I was eventually able to put together enough of a (physical) portfolio to apply for other opportunities. Through sheer luck, my resume landed in the hands of someone I went to high school with. She was able to open some doors for me and get me a gig moonlighting at JWT.

The next 10 years of my life feel a bit like that story, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly”.

JWT opened up the advertising path (1%), which I parlayed into branding and package design (1%), (1%). When the economy tanked, I moved into training development and network diagrams(1%), (1%). Then started a new job where I wiggled and wiggled my way into marketing, and web design, corporate design, infographics, proposal graphics, design process, corporate design leadership, UX/UI, (1%), (1%), (1%)(1%), (1%), (-1%), (-1%).

At this point there are a few things that have become quite evident.

  1. Yahoo was right, the internet did indeed become a big deal.

  2. I’m way off course.

That is not to say that I never worked on user related solutions, but that “rocket” that was once my sole purpose for learning graphic design has crash landed somewhere off course. Today I’m the Design Leader for a really successful in-house graphics team. I’m grateful for everything that I’ve learned and where I am at. It’s not a bad place, it’s just not solving the problems that got me into this.

I’m sure you noticed the two (-1%) above. There is a part of what I’ve built that is directionally where I want to take things. I plan to share about how how user centered design principles can and should be an essential part of any design team, regardless of what you’re creating. Our core as a team is built on empathy, research, testing, and iteration, which has greatly contributed to our success.


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