Announcement: I am now employed full time at Nemo Design! I feel incredibly lucky that they took the time to develop a special position that fits my personality and interests perfectly. As a Graphic Designer & PR / Marketing Developer, I will split my time at work between my two passions, design and marketing!
Discovering Advertising and Graphic Design
My path to employment at an ad agency (I use that term loosely since Nemo does so many things) has been been really long and full of ups and downs. The dream began back in 1998 when I found a copy of George Lois’ The Art of Advertising in my school library. I’d always been interested in art, but seeing his humorous and thought-provoking ad campaigns and iconic Esquire Magazine covers sparked my interest in advertising.
Once I finished high school, I toured a private college for fine art, but my work didn’t fit in with their ideals (and in 2000, I didn’t even know that graphic design was an option). At that point, I decided that I was going to move to New York, but my mom persuaded me to stay put in Portland by promising to help me with schooling if I majored in business. I agreed because I had somehow been convinced over the years that it wasn’t possible to earn a living right out of school as an artist. Looking back, I’m glad I made that decision now because any degree in business is a great foundation to build off of.
In 2001, I finally started to discover graphic design once I got my own computer. Since I loved art but disliked drawing and painting, it had an immediate appeal to me. At that point, I realized that my two interests in life were design and marketing, but I wasn’t sure how to combine them into a future career.
Fast forward to the spring of 2005. I had just finished an accounting final and immediately after, I hopped a plane to NYC for two month stay. I had switched my classes to an online format which allowed me to travel, but I lacked focus. I felt like the long hours that I had dedicated to accounting and economics were unfulfilling, yet learning about marketing and developing my Nubby Twiglet brand as a senior project was really fun. Additionally, I had just got offered my first freelance design job. I knew that graphic design was the missing link connecting everything I that wanted to to do. My boyfriend was a successful full-time designer and encouraged me to take some classes if I was serious about it.
One day, as I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend, she mentioned that it would be perfect for me to work at an ad agency because of my interest in both marketing and design. Right then, I decided that someday, that’s what I’d do in some capacity. I didn’t know anyone working at an ad agency and I still had a lot of schooling left. I had no idea how to make it happen, but I kept the dream filed away in the back of my mind.
Landing an Internship
I came home from New York in May 2005, finished up my business degree, got a job selling shoes and took a year off from school. In the fall of 2006, I enrolled at a local community college for a two year graphic design program (I didn’t feel that it was necessary to have two four year degrees). During my first year of classes, I worked really hard to make as many of my school projects portfolio-worthy as possible and did some big freelance jobs (Virgin Records, New Line Cinema) on the side. I also made an effort to show up to classes on time and to dress like I cared.
On the last day of class for the first year, I asked my teacher whether she thought I should sign up for the general practicum class for the following semester (clients come to the school and students follow their guidelines for real world experience) or if she thought I was ready to look for an internship outside of school. She asked me where I’d like to intern. I quickly replied with something to the effect of, “Nemo would be my dream internship. It’s my first choice.”
I’d known about Nemo for years; my brother and I had been to a few of their legendary parties and everyone always looked like they were having nonstop fun. They seemed to do the coolest work and never had any airs or pretensions, which was important to me. I wanted to be a part of that, but I didn’t have any direct connections. Luckily, she had a close contact at the company through an ex-student and within a day, she put me in contact. It happened that fast!
I spent most of last summer sending emails and leaving messages until I finally secured an interview two months later. I borrowed Lee’s portfolio book, did some prints of my best work and showed up early. The interview went well enough and I was started my internship on the first day of school in the fall of 2007.
For nine months, I showed up on my days off from school and enjoyed nearly every minute of the experience. As a design intern, I had to learn how to do a huge variety of tasks and I quickly realized how very different it is in the real world versus school. The deadlines are real and there are no do-overs. Every day, there was a new project to work on. The variety gave me hands-on experience in different departments and let me see what other people’s jobs were like.
Nemo was amazingly open-minded with letting me use my skillset- while I was assigned to the design department, I still got to contribute to marketing research and also write marketing-based articles for the company blog. Basically, they allowed me to find my niche and do the things I love most- design, marketing and research-based tasks. They were also very hands-on in their mentoring style and immediately inviting. I was invited to all the parties and company events and got to assist with small tasks on the big ad campaigns. They gave me my own desk and always made me feel welcome and I appreciated having that comfort in a workplace.
Disclaimer: I got very lucky with my situation; many first-time internships don’t necessarily lead to full-time employment.
It’s Up To You To Make it Happen
No matter what choices you make with regards to your life, everyone seems to have an opinion. It really doesn’t matter what they think, as long as it makes sense to you. When I finished my business degree, my mom wanted me to go out and get a “real job”. Instead, I took a lower paying retail job and started a second degree at community college in graphic design. A lot of people didn’t understand why I’d jump from business to design; they didn’t see the connection at all. I assured those who asked that I knew what I was doing at the time and luckily, it worked out in my favor.
It’s really not up to you to please other people. They don’t have to live with your choices for the rest of your life, you do. It’s a tough road, but after seven years of schooling, I can say that I’m finished and ready to live the rest of my life. And, many of the people that didn’t ‘get it’ are still working jobs they dislike…
My story proves that it doesn’t matter where you start out; it can be done. I had no direct links in the industry and decided to follow a route that seemed odd to some. Once I had a general idea of what I wanted, it was completely up to me to earn two college degrees in opposite subjects, attend school on my days off from work and put a portfolio together that was good enough to get my first internship. If what you want to do hasn’t been done before, it’s up to you to find a way to make it happen.