The year mark is coming up. And I am worried.

Not at all, or at least no flack from me! Some of the freelance gigs I picked up were not what you would thing, designing folded metal signage for Hertz rental cars, laying out a Hertz parking lot, designing a the facade of a low budget cement block office park building… but great experiences in the long run. Work is work, and if you do the best design possible given the situation, it is a win.

There are so many great things being thrown around in this thread it’s hard for me to find a point to interject, but, here goes.

Fuck where you think you should be professionally at your age or at this point in your life, it will only get in the way. Fuck being 2.5% or 3% less in pay coming out of school, or being at a disadvantage with time between school and a gig, it means nothing. What you should care about is the good work that you know that you’re capable of if given the chance to prove yourself, this is drive, and if you follow it the money will come, remember, you got into design because you love being creative, not money. If it’s money you seek, go into sales. If it’s further schooling in design you seek, go into sales, make bank, and go back to school, the sales experience will make you better at presenting your designs.

I personally believe that those that got a sweet gig right out of school are at a a disadvantage in the broader scope of life and may not appreciate what it is they have than those that fought to get it, let alone the basic appreciation and respect for those in those roles you encounter on a daily basis. I graduated in June 2001 and didn’t find a “real” design job until June 2003. In those 2 years I worked in retail customer service, professional customer service, and furniture repair service. While it sucked major ass I would not now trade that experience for a “professional” design position straight out of school. It taught me how to work with customers, solve social problems, become resourceful, observe product, but most importantly humility (believe it or not). At the same time I was thinking, reading Core, reflecting on my experiences, drinking beer, and trying my hand at other design related endeavors like game design. I also did what I could by furthering my design education by taking select classes for a semester on a design scholarship at CCS to sharpen up my skills, but more importantly to stay close to other folks with design aspirations. That place is like Hogwarts for design, kicked ass. All that and I finally got a gig at a small studio that folded 8 months later followed by freelance work that dried up. At this point I was looking to apply strategic design thinking to something, anything, and I was in talks with an Army recruiter about a potential MOS as an IED removal tech, but as luck would have it my last week of unemployment was my first week of employment in a design gig that, being a love/hate job has been pretty rewarding and allowed me great autonomy/teamwork and the chance to wear a weird range of design hats. Now, I didn’t choose the path that got me here, but I did choose my perspective on my experiences and how I could apply them to be a better designer.

But enough about me, your situation calls you to take whatever it is that you can to build upon credibility in pursuing a design position. If that means CAD work, or kitchen design at Home Depot, or low level graphic design I say seize it and don’t become complacent, strive for better. Assess the things about these roles that you can apply “upstream”. If a recruiter can help you get there, take advantage, but don’t rely on them to get you the job. I looked over your coroflot portfolio and you’ve got some good rendering skills, technical aptitude, and, something I personally dig, great iterative design progression understanding. So don’t beat yourself up, you’ve got better chops out of school than I had. You might simply be a victim of location. Washington DC might not be the best place to pursue your goals and you might consider biting the bullet and expand your search to anywhere the job is, I had to do the same, Detroit was a wasteland for me. For the time being I echo comments about doing your own work, taking on personal design projects, etc. But also do whatever you can to take advantage of your current employment situation to further skills or knowledge that can apply to design. You work in a bookstore, great, you get to work with customers all day long, but you also have close proxy to tons of information, soak up all the books you can that apply to your design aspirations, but keep an eye on the book sections that contain books that apply to design, try to interact with customers that spend time in these sections, you never know who you might encounter.

Cg does set the bar pretty high, but he makes a good point that showing what you’re doing after school shows your passion. If you have the freedom to do so I highly recommend expanding your search nationally, if not globally. Moving can be tough, but also very rewarding.

Great post Greenman. I was not familiar with your full story. Now that is a tale of determination.

Your closing thoughts remind me of a salesman I met at a modern furniture store in Portland. My wife and I were buying a couch, and of course we were deliberating the finer details of different models (finishes, forms, radii on the legs… getting two creative people to pick one couch can be difficult… but that is another story). After 45 minutes of making this guy go back and forth between 5 or 6 models, pull out ever swatch in the book and drape them over various parts of the couch, and just generally really making him work for the sale, he asked if I was a designer. You see, he had wanted to become a designer and didn’t know about it when he was younger but was doing some reading and saving up to go back to school. About 2 hours of chatting later I gave the dude my work number and told him to give me a call and we could grab lunch. While it didn’t lead to a job it did lead to him bringing his work by several times as he built his portfolio for school, keeping in touch while he was in school, and some follow up visits. Like Greenman said, you just never know who you are going to meet. Take advantage of being in the right place at the right time, be in as many places at as many times as you can.

So much great advice here. I would love to here CarlTiki’s thoughts. Just reading everyones stories has made me more inspired.

I Must say WOW! I have been very motivated by the comments. I realize now, Hell, I love working at the book store. I love soaking up the wealth around me.

BUT, so far I have begun the search up again, and I am proud to say that I have landed a Graphic Design Job interview in DC as well as talking to Apple about re-applying for a Cod modeling position they had offered in the past (I got turned down the first time, but they offered to look at a revised portfolio.)

I thank you guys very much. You have lit the fire under my butt AND I have the progress to show for it!

Fantastic to hear Carl! Keep pushing yourself man. Be persistent, it will turn around!

Keep fighting brother!

I had no idea what ID was until my late 20’s. I also skipped college to play in a rock band. I became a designer by sheer will, lots of self education, some formal CAD training and a ton of hard work. It can be done.

Keep in mind the design field is a broad one. If you like CAD (I love it myself) then I would highly recommend that you look for a CAD jockey position as well as designer positions. I gained a ton of very valuable experience working for a faucet manufacturer. They had a huge machine shop where all the parts were produced. I got to see the manufacturing process first hand, and I also got to interact with engineers and designers. (not to mention $35 an hour starting pay). While it doesn’t seem like a glorious position, it can teach you more than a retail gig in a bookstore ever will. You also have the advantage of recruiting firms that will stay busy trying to find a spot for you. NOTE: You might have to move to another city. I don’t believe D.C. has a large manufacturing or design consulting core. Think N.Y., Chicago or S.F. for starters.

My best piece of advice would be to design constantly. There was an article floating around recently that said it takes 14,000 hours worth of practice to become a virtuoso.

How many hours have you clocked so far? :wink:

Good luck!


Last week I was able to land a job after just over a year and a half of being let go at Ford Motor Company. And let me tell you it was not a fun journey. I’m glad to hear you landed something in DC, even though it might not be what you want it’s still a pay check and those connections might lead to something else down the road. As I can’t give you much advice now I hope that others will read this when they get scarred, confused, and unmotivated.

My first advice is to make sure your work is up to date, I can’t stress that enough. Also diversify yourself. Even if you are an ID guy go some graphic design work, or try some HMI/ UI interfaces. The ID world is changing and we need to adapt to it’s changing environment. Do a project on your own. Take a problem, create a customer and go to town. Sometimes you’ll find something along the way you might be interested in that you never noticed before.

Second network, network , and network. I know everyone says it but it’s true. Let everyone you know from previous jobs that you are looking and ask if they know of anyone looking for new talent to please let them know that you’re available. The oddest relationships sometimes ended up being the ones that pan out.

The third piece of advice is to stay positive. I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up and thought I was never going to get back in my field but I told myself that I was and that this was only a low in my design career.

You’ll look back on these moments in your career and wonder how you survived it but these challenging days that will only make you stronger and more motivated in the end.

I hope this helps.

Good Luck in DC and tell Obama what’s up…

Thank you so much fellas! Interview tomorrow morn, Ill keep you guys posted!

Good luck Carl!!! Let us know how it goes.


To CarlTiki

If CAD is your thing, then by all means communicate that trough your portfolio. Maybe make some 3D-models of existing (difficult to model) designs…don’t forget to credit :wink:. Your portfolio should be unique. A one of kind. So if anybody needs a decent CAD-modeller they’ll immediatly think of you. Also don’t put everything you made in the portfolio. Only the best pieces and those that make you stand out of the crowd.

Good luck with the interview :wink:



I live right next to DC and am going through the same thing. I graduated from George Mason with a BFA in Graphic Design in 2008 and have been working for a media studio in Chantilly since college. I stress all the time about design, and if it’s really for me, but I should feel lucky that I even have a job in the field. I’ve had several interviews around the area but also no luck.

At this point I’m keeping my head up and looking for other opportunities, while strengthening my portfolio with my current part-time job. Are you involved in design around the area? I’m always up for networking with more designers.

Best of luck.

Primo, I concur about networking, If you are ever in the city, of the Falls Church area, feel free to hit me up, we could look at each others work and critique. Do it!