I’m sort of self-taught when it comes to design. That’s a brag, obviously. I began playing around in photoshop in my teens, and it wasn’t until I was halfway through my first year of college (where I was going to major in Theater and Youth Ministry (!)) that I decided to change course. My boyfriend at the time planted the seed in my brain. He said that he heard freelance graphic designers can make up to $25/hr!!! Holy shit, I was sold. And besides, I didn’t really know what I was going to do anyway with that Theater degree. I left my expensive private college (which my mom was heartbroken over. I had gotten a theater scholarship and everything) to enroll at MCTC, a two year technical school. Not the grand plan I, or my parents, had envisioned.
But I felt better about the direction I was heading in. I was more excited to go to a tech school than a private 4 year anniversary. I couldn’t even start taking Graphic Design classes immediately because of a math requirement I didn’t meet (math is hard). Going to a tech school gave me the bare minimum education in design. I didn’t get mixed media, or 3D design, or extensive InDesign classes. Just the basics. I learned the Design principles (which are the best thing you’ll ever know when you’re a designer), and learned how to critique and communicate, and that even if I loved something I made, it was always possible to make it better.
You don’t know what kind of job you’ll get when you go to a 2 year school. Minneapolis has a ton of good design programs. MCAD was too expensive and I didn’t get into the CDes at the U of M. Those kids get to go work at places like Fallon or Periscope. Kids from MCTC go work in house a wine and spirits distributor (well, that’s what I did). But either through luck or talent or both, I found myself working for the Star Tribune, and maybe newspaper design is only really appreciated by designers, but newspaper design? It’s tough. But it’s rewarding. Mastering grids and typography and balancing art and content teaches you so much about design in general. Many days with the STrib, I pinched myself that I had got the kind of job that could actually sustain me. It had meaning and purpose. I always wanted to have a Special Job.
I was 25 when my first Art Director stepped down from Vita.mn, and while I knew I was too young and inexperienced to get the job, there were still whispers that I should go for it. Only a few months later the position was open again and I applied for it, but still I was too inexperienced. 11 months later, the Art Director job was again vacant. This time I knew I was ready. But in the spring of that year, I was put on probation that stretched way into the summer (I almost lost my job right around the time I got married. So great), so, I didn’t get it. Nobody did. Vita.mn remained Art Director-less for the rest of its life.
I wanted that job more than anything. When it was clear it was never going to happen, I pursued a job with General Mills. That seemed like a pretty Special Job. It paid well. It was fun. I was the only person doing it. When Vita.mn folded and I moved to City Pages, I became restless. I had backtracked into a role with no creative outlet. I’d hoped one day in the newspaper industry I could be a Design Director. You know, someone in charge. Now I’m 27 and the jobs were becoming less special. So, instead of letting myself be defined by my job, I learned to accept it, and on Monday morning, I quit the newspaper business in order to pursue full time work at GM.
I look at many of my Millennial peers and they’ve all accomplished big stuff for their age, and made a name for themselves widespread. I was on the cusp of that in my mid-twenties, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but in my late twenties, I feel like I’m over the hill already. But I also feel relaxed about it. I’m not going to be the one blowing the doors off in my career. I’m quite content to steadily climb the mountain of my career and not do anything rash, and make money to support my household while I pursue my life outside of work.
So I guess I would tell my younger self, who decided one day to become a graphic designer, without having any idea how she would accomplish that, that it happened, and that you make way more than $25/hr, but you’re not the best, but it’s ok because you still get to do what you wanted.