Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A foot in the door

A few months ago I met with a well-respected owner of a small design firm in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY, named Rich Kline. Rich is principle owner of Shannon Rose Design, which specializes in web and graphic design.

The meeting was set up by a mutual acquaintance and was a very informal sit-down; not an interview. Rich was simply going to give me general advice about how to begin a career in graphic design. While I knew the meeting wouldn't lead to a job, I was genuinely excited and nervous about meeting a man that had built a successful firm with little other than passion, a dream and some good-old ingenuity.

For the meeting, I would have to eat my pride. My portfolio was heavy on writing clips and light on design work. My concentration in graphic design didn't require I take a portfolio-building class, which -- I've come to learn -- is the most important class in the design curriculum, as it's the culmination of all your hard work. Needless to say, I'm glad it wasn't a formal interview.

So I arrived at the studio with an open mind and empty hands, hoping to take something away rather than lay something on the table. Let me just say, something about a design studio turns me on. Every time I've visited a studio I get the same familiar shiver of excitement. Maybe it's the creative energy in the air ... Whatever the case, Shannon Rose was no exception. The high ceilings, hardwood floors, natural light, bold advertising posters adorning the walls, the works.

It was very quiet. Rich was working at his computer. He greeted me, gave me a brief tour of the two floors of the studio then we sat a large wooden table and dialogue commenced.

I told him about my my passion to be a designer and how I was frustrated that a lack of a bachelor's degree in design had been holding me back. He reinforced much of what I already knew: that I needed a good portfolio and that the best way to do it was to essentially do what I'd been doing, which is pro-bono freelance design work and networking with other designers.

He also presented to me his theory of how, in today's approach to design, print advertising is only one component in a larger circle that encompasses a brand. He told me that a job starts with a solid plan on paper, and branches off into print and web from there; with an emphasis on web.

He used his current project with the boat manufacturer as an example, showing me draft plans, sketches, ect. We then walked upstairs and I got a look at the designers (a total of four) implementing the plan -- halfway through the web development of an ultra-sleek, super-cool flash Web site. As we peered over one of the developer's shoulder, a less tech-inclined Rich told him he wanted to see the boats "change color." The developer began effortlessly typing code and, Voila! Nifty trick ...

The other designers were working on different aspects of the site, all of them all-stars at what they do. One of the designers introduced himself and politely excused himself from the encounter because he had a concert to go to. I wondered if it was the same one I was going to that evening. Either way, I loved the casualness of it.

Upon leaving, I felt fortunate. I was given an intimate tour of working design studio and saw professionals at work -- something I was never given the chance to do at school. I had also extended my network to include a few designers, including the owner of a firm. I know it might be presumptuous for me too think I'll land a job like that one day, but as long as I know it exists, it's a level to attain.

One piece of advice Rich gave me that I wasn't expecting, was to create a blog that would showcase both my writing and design. He showed me a couple blogs he followed and seemed really excited about how a blog can function as a working portfolio.

Well, here it is, Rich. My first blog. Thanks for the great advice and a memorable experience.

Let the evolution begin...

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