(Editor’s Note: we are starting to curate these stories at myfirstyear.posterous.com but will also share them here as well. We currently have audio from Dan Goldgeier, Ann Handley and Rick Boyko — about their first year in the business. Our goal is to collect as many of these stories as possible and we invite those with 5+ years in the industry to share with us. It can be written, like this one, or as an audio interview — your choice. We look forward to hearing from you and enjoy these stories.)
I never knew I wanted to be a Creative Director.
Way back when, I was stuck working for a cell phone company doing customer service (isn’t that what most people do with a B.F.A in Communications?). You know when you have to call your cell phone carrier and complain about $500.00 worth of overage or you weren’t getting service?
Yeah I was that guy. I knew I needed a change. So I went back to school.
I did a lot of research, visiting Full Sail and the Art Institute of Chicago. But they were a bit too pricey for a guy who liked to draw as a kid and a teenager. So I decided to do a semester at the Center for New Media in Kalamazoo, Michigan and see how it went.
They offered an A.S. Graphic Design degree so I figured “why the hell not?”
We had a class that took us to different businesses in the field and had guest speakers come in and talk about what they did in the industry.
We had printers, fine artists, web designers — you name it.
One day we visited an interactive agency and I met my first Creative Director.
From then on that was my goal. I was going to be a creative director.
I graduated with honors and had, what I thought at the time, was a pretty good portfolio. Ha. If only I knew then what I know now.
I was lucky enough to land a good gig right out of school working with a start-up that made iPod speaker systems. As an audiophile of sorts, it was right up my alley. However, I was so naive I didn’t really understand what a startup actually was. I was the first designer they ever hired.
At first I got to work from home. They bought me a refurbished G5 and loaded it up with all the fixins. I worked in my PJ’s and made my own hours. I thought to myself “I could get used to this”.
Then it all changed.
The company rented an old warehouse in the middle of a small town and we were moving in. Well, it turns out this warehouse didn’t have heat.
Did I mention I live in Michigan? And it was January?
I had to wear long johns, gloves and a hat to work for about a week. So long PJ’s.
I learned so much in school and that first year as a graphic designer.
Here are the most important things I learned in no particular order:
I learned that it is all about the details. Everyone sees things differently and a mistake sticks out like a sore thumb.
I found my creative process and learned it is different for everyone. I stick with what works for me.
When I graduated my portfolio was 80% posters. I love posters, but I needed a lot of real world pieces. I spent a lot of time making myself a new portfolio.
Call your portfolio your book. It just sounds better.
I discovered that I needed to make connections. Join clubs, network and meet a lot of people. Put yourself out there. Most people get jobs through referrals not on job boards.
Things can change at the blink of an eye. One minute you got it, the next minute you are working 48 hours straight trying to meet an insane deadline.
It is all about who knows you and what they think about you. That last half is very important. Burning bridges is just a bad idea.
I found that not everyone in a classroom or office gets along. Staying professional at times can be tough but it’s necessary.
Have thick skin.
Keep learning. I was in school with people that had Photoshop class in high school and me being 25 not only made me feel old, it made me feel behind.
Find someone who has “it” and buy them coffee. Pick their brain. Get the knowledge.
One of the most important things I learned was that you need sales skills in this business. When you are pitching work to a client you need to sell it to them. They won’t be excited about the work if you aren’t excited about it when you are pitching them.
This profession is just like any other. Hard work and determination pays off.
I was determined to keep working on my book. I was determined to keep working on my communication skills and it worked.
I look back on that first year just out of school and it makes me cringe thinking how confident I was.
But looking back on it now I was as green as they come.