Senior Art Director, Digital Media
Jackie, 29, attended Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario for three years, and graduated in 1997. She is currently employed at a small firm specializing in small to mid-size Web- and CD-ROM-based projects for financial and technology companies. Her titles range from Information Architect to Senior Art Director to Creative Director.
Stephanie: What made you decide to work with digital media? How did you become an art director in digital media?
Jackie: Since I was young I have enjoyed drawing and creating, especially to communicate ideas. I often made spare cash designing logos or character mascots for small companies started by people I knew, or drawing caricatures. A design career was a natural evolution of this.
When I started college in 1994 there were very few programs available specifically to become a Web or digital designer. When I was at Sheridan College taking the graphic design program, my education focused on conceptual thinking and clearly communicating ideas and information, teaching me how to use elements like images, colours and types to achieve desired results. In our final year of school we were introduced to HTML and I was hooked. My first job out of school was as a print-based graphic designer, but I continued to learn and perfect my HTML and information organizing skills on my own time, and I kept a portfolio of my work online. My site was discovered by the HR department of a Web design company, and shortly thereafter they hired me.
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Jackie: I enjoy meeting with clients, listening to their business goals, and figuring out the best way to get them where they want to be. This involves learning not only about your client's business, but also about your client's customers - who they are, what information they need, and the best way to deliver that information to them. You have to find out what tone it should have, how the project will fit within the rest of the client's current corporate and promotional material, etc. Taking all these things into consideration and still managing to deliver a strong, targeted message is a really satisfying process. I enjoy it when people appreciate the thought that goes into a complex job, and when they like the look of the end result.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Jackie: There are a lot of constraints in the design business. Sometimes a certain approach would be perfect, but the client doesn't have the budget for it. Sometimes people come to you with preconceived notions of what you should do for them, so your role is merely production. There's also the ongoing question of personal taste: yours, your client's (and there are often numerous opinions within a company) and sometimes anyone in between. The result is that design choices are frequently made based on what is considered safe, rather than what may be the strongest design.
Timelines are usually tight in the business of Web and CD-ROM design, and since the tech crash, profit margins are narrow. This can result in long hours at a salary that leaves you feeling very under-appreciated at times.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a Web designer? As well, what do you look for when hiring Web designers to work for you?
Jackie: A Web designer should have:
- a good sense of colour, balance and typography
- interest and insight into the end user's mind: Why do they surf? How do they think and perceive information?
- an openness to and a quick grasp of new ideas and technology
- strong written and oral communication skills, particularly if you want to advance in your career
- the desire to work with other people towards a goal
Hiring is mostly based on the strength of your portfolio. Keep it updated, put only your strongest work into it, and be prepared to discuss your reasons for your design decisions with your interviewers.
If you have any extracurricular interests which lend themselves to design, take the initiative to integrate them into your portfolio – take your own photography, develop your own font, design your own logo or design a personal Web site if you haven't already. Make sure your portfolio includes examples of highly professional, corporate-looking work as well as pieces where you have showcased your more fun, creative side.
Once you're hired, learn as much as you can. You may not know how to write code or use every single piece of software, but you should know what it's capable of so you can design intelligently for it. Knowing a bit about the problems coders and Flash(TM) artists can encounter will help you do your job better in the end.
Any job these days will require ongoing self-education to keep you up to speed, but technology-related businesses move particularly quickly. Keep your eyes and ears open and constantly reassess where you are and what direction(s) you may want to go in. New opportunities pop up all the time in digital design.
Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a Web designer? What kind of education did you get?
Jackie: There are several routes into this career - many colleges offer traditional graphic design programs and/or digital media design programs. Some university graduates in fine arts take accelerated diplomas to enter the design field.
It's worth checking whether the school is accredited by the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (http://www.rgdontario.com) as this will be important to some firms. It's not mandatory to be registered to practice graphic design, but it never hurts to leave the doors open.
Whatever you do, choose a school that focuses more on developing your conceptual design process, visual language, typography, and analytical skills. Your mind is your real asset in this career. When I first started working I knew only the basics about the software I was using. Most of your knowledge will be picked up on the fly. Older designers are usually happy to share what they know.
I attended Sheridan College and was in the graphic design program, which was a three-year diploma program for traditional print-based design. (It has since joined forces with York University to become a four-year degree program, and has integrated digital design into its curriculum.)
Stephanie: What is your favourite colour?
Jackie: I generally prefer the hotter colours: orange and red. They're happier, stronger, more vibrant and energetic.
Colour is one of the most powerful tools of self-expression. Day-to-day life in Toronto is mostly blue, brown, grey and black, so it's interesting to watch the reactions to someone wearing, using, or driving something bright.
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