Hi all! Once again, it’s been a couple of months, but I’m finally adjusting to my junior year. This blog is also currently undergoing some design renovation, but stay with me, folks. It’s going to be great. Better.
Speaking of design, I was thinking that I could dedicate part of this blog to my life as a student designer, aspiring to create visuals for publications, websites, whatever it may be. I could showcase my work, projects and talk about my adventures/frustrations throughout this, well, journey, if you will. Sorry that was cheesy. But whatever.
When I was just starting out, I was looking for reassurance. And inspiration. I wanted to see other students’ work, but more importantly, I wanted to know what what their process was and how long it took for them to get to where they are now. How did this senior designer, who once did not know how to make a text box in InDesign, grow into a visual journalist with an eye for impeccable detail?
I am not a senior designer, but I am getting into my major design courses here. Junior year means that the pace picks up, right? Well, it definitely has — and my informational graphics class is at the core of that work. But before this year began, I wasn’t so self-assured with choosing design as a double major. Here’s how things fell together.
I loved the computer as a kid. And when I say computer, I mean the Windows ’95 gray box that resided in my dad’s office. Since the days of Neopets and AIM, I spent too much down-time on the Internet (But don’t get me wrong, I had an actual life… I danced, tumbled, swam, played softball, but I digress). When my middle-school days hit and Xanga became the next-best thing, I created a blog and was quickly immersed into angsty, pre-adolescent online culture. I was immediately enthralled with picture icons, page layouts and HTML coding. By teaching myself the basics, I stuck with Xanga, even after the hype shifted over to MySpace in 2005 or 2006. I had a pretty damn successful icon site on Xanga, so I guess you could say that I was ‘Xanga famous.’ I had over 3,000 subscribers and the hits on my site were consistently past 10,000 a day. I felt awesome, and I really liked what I was doing. But when I started high school, I stopped using the site and grew out of that phase.
By freshman year, I had figured out that English was my favorite subject. I loved writing, and I was good at it. I wrote for the newspaper throughout high school and played around with photography and PhotoShop, so I liked media too. When I discovered how excited I would get when a new magazine would come in the mail, I put 2 and 2 together. It made sense, and I always knew that I wanted to study journalism from there. I wanted to be a big-time magazine editor someday.
But what I didn’t understand back then was that journalism and layout design were not necessarily tied together. I had flipped through my share of Seventeens and Teen Vogues and torn out photographs, designs and typography that I was drawn to, and I would save it for inspiration. I knew that the writing was involved too, but mostly, I liked looking at the bright pictures. I wanted to make the creative, design decisions someday, and I liked how visuals in a magazine seemed to fall together perfectly. I even started making magazine collages around 16 or 17. Here are a few I found!
So, I started college with this idea in the back of my mind: journalism wasn’t just writing, but it was also design. But soon enough, I got into my core journalism classes and extracurricular publications, and I got it: there are journalists, and there are visual journalists. Both writers and designers need to somewhat understand what kind of work goes into the other, but students rarely combine these interests because they focus on perfecting one of them. I ended up taking on both.
It happened at one of the first Thread Magazine meetings. I attended with the intention of grabbing a story to write, but my friend wanted to go to the design meeting. I didn’t, but I was too intimidated to go to the editorial meeting alone. I didn’t know anyone and I felt inadequate. So at the design meeting, the editor jumped right into business by showing us some past pages of the magazine. She talked about InDesign, white space and something called the style-guide. It all sounded like a bunch of jargon to me. But after that initial meeting, all I knew was that Thread looked professionally breathtaking, I had no idea what Pantone colors were and the design editor looked so sleep-deprived and stressed out that it should have scared me.
But it didn’t. I was fascinated. I wanted to jump into the world of design, and I wanted to dive in head first.
I did my research on the School of Visual Communication, the program that houses all the publication design, commercial photography and photojournalism hopefuls. As luck would have it, this school was one of the top programs in the country, and getting into the school was very competitive. There was an application and an interview process, which didn’t thrill me because I thought I was done applying for colleges and the like. But when it came down to it, I signed up for a spot to interview in February and I got into the program. I couldn’t believe it — I was going to be a double major!
I have seldom regretted picking up this additional major, because all of my endeavors in journalism revolve in a circle now. If I’m writing a piece, I have the advantage of thinking about the visual side of how it’s presented. Will the editor need infographics? A sidebar? An illustration? What kind of art should accompany this piece? On the other side of that spectrum, I can think about the content when I am designing. Am I communicating the story through this art? Is it selling the piece by pulling the reader in? How can I get the message across without words?
And now, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I’m actually proficient in Adobe InDesign, and I’ve already completed a design internship at a regional magazine. I have some great journalism clips if I decide to gain more writing experience, too. I’m not sure which path I’m going to choose yet, but that’s the beauty of it. With the increasingly difficult job market to emerge into, I have an edge: I can be either a writer or a designer. But either way, I am a communicator, and that is all I’ve ever wanted to do.