Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BREAKING NEWS

**I HAVE FOUND MY SOUL MATE!**

And I could not be happier!

After a year-long search for the perfect place, I've found a job! No kidding! I knew from the very first interview that it was the place for me.

I am the newest graphic designer at Healthways in Nashville, TN! This place is so great! They have Workout Wednesdays and Fitness Fridays, all the employees are encouraged to go to yoga and aerobics classes given throughout the day, and they even have a cafe that grows some of the food it sells! So amazing! Not to mention it is in a beautiful area.

I told my boss at Ergon at the beginning of April that this would be my month. I could feel it in my veins that I was going to have a job by the end of this month. And I did it! I can barely think straight right now. This is the biggest day of my life! All of the hard work and rejection was worth it to get to this place. It's perfect! I can't say that enough!

I start May 14, and I can't wait!

Now, maybe all those grey hairs will give it a rest!

P.S. This post is obviously out of order, but I will continue to post about my previous experiences at interviews after my brain has had time to wrap itself around the fact that I HAVE A JOB!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fiery Lakes of Web Design: Part II

I stalled for months on developing the Asphalt site because I knew I had absolutely no idea where to start on it. At every traffic meeting we had I managed to mumble my way past it and find other work to do to keep me/every one else occupied. I figured as long as I could stay busy with other things I could continue to put it off and no one would ask me about it. This just means it was hanging over my head for months. And, honestly, I secretly hoped I'd get a job before I finished it so I wouldn't have to do it at all because I knew it would take me the rest of my life to finish.

But that didn't happen.

After my interview at the Cirlot agency, however, I was a little more pumped up about it. I realized that I'd never be able to fully get around web design/development since I'd gone into a career that basically surrounds the web. I needed to bite the bullet and just do it. Like Nike.

So one day I decided this would be the day. I installed the two-week-trial version of TextMate on my computer and began to open the program thinking, "Well this ain't so bad." But when I opened it, nothing happened. No magical blank document appeared with an outline of a basic website (not sure when that delusion set in), nothing that connected Safari to my site so that I could see what I was building, no folders of images automatically connected to my document like they were when we opened those files from our textbook cds in class. Nothing. Happened.

"Um.... Wing?"

Wing was my coworker who sat beside me before she moved to LA and was/still is, like, a web design/development queen - and she heard that phrase too many times to count throughout this process. I needed her help before I even got started. So much for doing this on my own.

She got me connected to everything I needed to be connected to and had to help me write the header, body and footer because I'd forgotten in all those months of stalling. Then I was off! It took me a few weeks to finish and quite a bit of help from every single person in the department, but I finished it. After a few set backs and some small design changes, I got it finished enough to hand off to Lee, our programmer. And I can't tell you how good it felt to hand it off to someone else!

The best part about this project (other than discovering that I still don't care for web design) was that I learned so much HTML and CSS that, when asked, I can force myself to put together a basic, decent-looking site. And I also learned how to save things and write their code so that they displayed correctly in Safari and Internet Explorer (GAG). People, please stop using Internet Explorer. It's a pain in the butt to write code for, and I didn't even get into the complicated stuff!




Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outside or Inside the Box? Pick One!

Back in January of this year, Shana asked me to help her with a marketing campaign for an outdoor shopping mall, Colony Crossing (an Ergon property). She had great ideas of ads and billboards we could design that would reflect the illustrative properties of the Colony Crossing website. Despite my being down about still not having a full-time job, I got excited about this. It sounded like a lot of fun and a good reason to stick around Ergon a little longer, so that I could add some stuff to my portfolio.

My first assignment was to design a half page ad for the Mississippi Business Journal. Its target audience would be business owners looking to lease a space for their business. I was given a tag line (Move To Our Neighborhood) and told to include the required text and logo that the Real Estate department gave us. Other than that I was almost free to design what I wanted! The two guys we were working with on this project said they wanted something "out-of-the-box" that would bring more people to the mall. "Out-of-the-box," "Different," and "Catch Attention" were phrases Shana told me they kept using over and over (I wasn't present for the initial meeting). Well I was definitely going to give them out-of-the-box. I was going to give them something other than the standard picture-of-the-mall-with-copy-below type of boring mess they'd been using since who knows when. I was going to give them something so great it would blow their minds. I was going to show them what they'd been missing.

The best of the 3 I presented


Well, blow their minds, I did. In fact, it went completely over their heads. We met one day in our conference room to discuss the ad/their budget/other campaign ideas. They took one look at the great designs I presented to them and said, "Well, that's interesting." Immediately I knew that I had wasted a good week of my life on this project.

After the disapproving looks at the ads, we discussed the pricing. A half page ad ended up cutting too far into their budget, so we decided on an eighth-page ad that would need a complete re-design. Since this was the first time I experienced these two discussing their budget, I got a little irritated at the fact that I'd just spent a week pouring my heart and soul into an ad they couldn't even use.

So they told me how they wanted the eighth page ad to look (we talked them out of putting an actual picture of the mall into an ad so small), and this is what it looked like:

Out-of-the-Box...

No joke.

You tell me which one was better; which one was "Out-of-the-box." But that is exactly what they asked for, believe me, because even on that one they had a thousand changes before we could send it off.

Then, about a week after we sent the black and white one off to be printed, they both came back with the Business Journal in hand and laid a half page ad down on Shana's desk and said, "We want that, it's so out-of-the-box." This is the ad:

Complete with illustrated drawing.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Cirlot Agency

One of the first big-girl job interviews I ever went on was at the Cirlot Agency in Jackson, MS. I've mentioned this place before: The owner/interviewer congratulated me on "breaking away from the pack" through my resume design.

After doing some research on the place, I got really intimidated. Why in the world would this awesome place hire lil ole me with my two years experience? (It was two years at the time)

Before I even pulled into the parking lot, I was sweating like a man. Please keep in mind that this interview took place in the middle of the summer. I'm talking 100+ degrees, folks. On top of that was that pesky intimidation, so I was screwed on the cool front either way.

I walk into the lobby of an immaculate building. The lady at the front desk tells me to have a seat and Liza would be with me shortly. I sit on the couch and start thumbing through a book on the table beside me. It's a book full of successful businesses and their owners in Mississippi. I see my boss Leslie Lampton in there, so I know this is legit. Then I see Liza Looser and her husband, owners of the Cirlot Agency. I wonder if it's too late for me to slip out the door unnoticed.

But no, I hear heels clacking down the hallway and I figure that's her. I was right. She's exactly what I thought she'd be. The epitome of a business woman. Off-white suit with matching off-white heels and pantyhose. She introduces herself and holds out her hand for me to shake before my brain has even had a chance to tell me to stand up.

Then she's off. Leading me to a conference room as I struggle to get my purse over my arm and my portfolio in my hand at the same time. What was I thinking? This place is big-time. I'm country come to town in this place!

By the time we get to the conference room, I'm shaking so bad I can barely put my portfolio on the table. Why is this thing so big?!

Anyway, I go through my pieces and explain to her my thought processes on each one just like Shana and I had rehearsed beforehand. As soon as I got done she said, "Tell me everything you know about web design."

Uh oh.

I'd barely finished the Asphalt site's design! I knew next to nothing!

I fumbled through my answer and gave her what, I'm sure, was the dumbest response she'd ever heard. But I finished talking and she told me she was looking to hire a few web designers in the next few years. She said I was the type of person she was looking for, but she wanted him or her to have a little more experience than I did. She was very professional and very nice at the same time. She could probably tell I was sweating through my clothes by now.

She told me she was not necessarily telling me to get more experience, but I needed more experience. She suggested I design a website for Poe. Okay, I could handle that advice. It was good stuff. It was what I needed to hear from a professional in the business.

So I did not get that job (obviously), but it was the beginning of many helpful (and some not-so-helpful) critiques I received from quite a few potential employers. I began to learn how to respond to them without sounding like a complete idiot. I'm so glad Liza was the first person to introduce me to the interview process because she knew exactly how to handle me. And believe me, I've worked for women before, I know how cut-throat and demanding they can be.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Fiery Lakes of Web Design: Part I

I believe it was somewhere in the middle of my second summer at Ergon that I was assigned the most dreaded project for a beginner graphic designer: a website redesign. One day Jim decides to have a meeting with Russell (our copywriter) and me. I immediately know nothing good can come out of an almost solo meeting. And I was right. Jim tells us that he wants me to redesign the Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions website and he wants Russell to make up the copy and content for it.

Okay, this could be good for me. I need to add some web design to my portfolio. How hard can it be?

I had no idea how hard it could be.

I started with the basics: I did some research on asphalt and emulsions. Let me just tell you that I now know way too much about asphalt and emulsions. I could probably get hired as a salesperson by Ergon and be a damn good one.

Okay, maybe not. But I sure know more than I ever thought I'd ever have to learn being a designer and all... But I'm getting off topic.

After I had half an understanding of asphalt. And emulsions. I started doing research on websites: Great websites. Creative websites. Terrible websites. Simple websites. Dynamic websites. Static Websites. And everything in between. (Trust me, there's more)

Then I did some thumbnails. Lots of them. Those were actually the most fun I had on this project. Those damn thumbnails would be the last enjoyable part of this project that I would see until it was all over.

Jim loved the thumbnails. Everyone does.

After thumbnail approval I got to work on the next-to-the-real deal. The Photoshop version of the three thumbnails I liked the best. I came up with three designs that I thought were decent. Jim saw them one day and said, "Those are very 'Web 2.0.'" Uh oh. He then proceeded to schedule a meeting for us all to discuss the mock-ups. Uh oh.

Hold up! I like these designs! No "uh oh"! They're awesome. I worked hard on them. They can't not like them!

Once again, I was wrong. I'm wrong a lot.

Everyone thought they were okay. Well, for those of you who don't know, "okay" is never okay in a designer's world. "Okay" means "It's a good start." Ugh. I'm becoming an alcoholic.

So I go back to the think tree. I do some more research. What the hell do they want? These were good designs!

This time I play with color. I use basically the same layout since they didn't seem to have too much of a problem with that. Those actually turned out worse than the first ones I presented. I wonder if my next job will pay for my AA meetings.

By now the other intern is actually feeling sorry for me and tries to help me out by telling me how she interpreted their critiques. And it actually makes sense to me.

Finally, something clicks, and I think I understand what they might want this site to be. A construction site! HELLO!! An asphalt site needs to look like a construction site! Geez.

Well, okay. I think I can do this now. I come up with three new Photoshop designs and the first look Shana gives them doesn't say, "You really hate web design, don't you?" Thank the Lord in Heaven!

We both picked the design that looked like a street sign and decide on the colors: Black, grey, and orange (of course). The design still needed a ton of work, but I finally understood what these web design freaks wanted! Everyone wants to hire a web designer, so maybe I could become a design freak too. Maybe...

Anyway, after a few weeks of blood, sweat and tears (literally), I got the design where everyone thought they wanted it. The next step was to build it. With code. From the ground up. And guess who was chosen to do that lovely project!

And that's another story!

em.j.


Two of the layouts I'm not too ashamed of to show.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Kim Kardashian of Bunnies

After two years of working at Ergon, all the school I could stand and a break up, I was ready to graduate and get on with my life and out of Vicksburg. I wanted a big-girl job with a big-girl apartment. By myself. I was tired of being controlled by the people around me and I was ready to do something for myself.

By the time March of my senior year rolled around, I had in mind that I would meet that goal by no later than May. May 2011. This would mean I'd basically have a job waiting for me when I graduated complete with a two bedroom apartment and would be living for/with no one but myself. An impossible standard for an art major with barely two years of experience who wanted to leave town/the state.

This standard led to the first of many mental break-downs. When I didn't meet that goal, I felt like a complete loser. Why had I worked so hard and spent so much money on a degree if it wouldn't even get me a freaking job?! I kept seeming to forget that I had a job. A great one that was continuing to teach me real-world stuff on a daily basis, which was more than $6,000 a semester had ever taught me. Go figure.

After about two months of feeling like a failure, I talked to Shana my life coach about what my problem was. First, she assured me that it could take a year or even a year and a half for someone to find a job right out of school. And that was when she graduated... I won't go into how long ago that was. Then, she told me to get my ass to work. Sure, my resume was great, but it needed work. My work needed work. Ugh, here we go again. I needed something in my portfolio that would make me stand out from the pack. So, I got a stiff drink and got to thinking. Again.

A couple of days later, Shana walks skips out of her office with a huge smile on her face. "Why don't you do a celebrity branding campaign for Poe?!" (Poe is my pet rabbit.) At first I was weary about how that would even begin to work, but as we talked more about it - she could be the Kim Kardashian of bunnies (Kim K is apparently more likeable than Paris - or at least she was before that divorce), rich, famous for being famous (minus sex tape) and all that good stuff. So I think about it (we do a lot of that) and come up with a bio for Poe that I can draw inspiration from. I give Poe a logo that Shana immediately approves. Since I'd never gotten Shana's immediate approval on anything before, that pumped me up. This could actually be something good!

So what now?

A magazine cover.

Okay. Well in order to design a magazine cover for Poe to be caught on the cover of, I needed a name and logo for that magazine. Geez. This seemed like a lot of thinking (my brain is going to think itself to death), but it actually came pretty quickly. Probably because I was still hyped up from getting Poe's logo perfect on the first try. The magazine would be called the "Nibbler." Duh!

The magazine design actually took two tries to get right. This was still better than normal. Maybe I was starting to the hang of this design thing... Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The first try looked like a tabloid magazine. I decided I wanted Poe to be classy, so I tried again and used mags like Vogue and Glamour as inspiration. The final product, after a couple of minor changes, turned out great. Poe was on her way to stardom, and I was on my way to doing/thinking/designing things for myself.


This was the first project I really felt proud of. I did a lot of it on my own with minimal direction from anyone else. And I know what you're thinking, "Um, how was that minimal direction?" Trust me. It was. I took Shana's advice and ran with it. I interpreted it on my own and she critiqued what I came up with, which were usually minor changes.

When we looked back on this project, we realized how far I'd actually come from where I was when I'd started at Ergon. And it has only gotten better since then. Mental break-down aside, I was glad I'd stayed at Ergon past my goal of May 2011. This project helped develop one of my answers to those questions at interviews about my strong points: ability to take direction well.




Monday, April 9, 2012

Birth of a Resume

Mississippi College taught me that if you keep going to school and keep passing those classes they make you go to, the time for you to graduate will eventually come around whether you like it or not. After about two years working at Ergon, I made it to my last semester of school. This semester involved a class called Portfolio II. It was an entire semester dedicated to driving design students insane. Oh yeah, and getting our portfolios together to be graded at the end of the semester. I should mention that they were to be graded by people who worked in the Jackson area as graphic designers. People who had never seen us or our work before. Ever.

Well, thanks to Ergon, my body of work was decent. I got Shana and my boss to look it over. They suggested small changes to a few of the pieces and we decided they would pass. However, I needed to come up with an identity that would define me and my work. Namely: my resume. It would be the first piece of artwork a future employer would see. It needed to be great. It needed to be different. It needed to catch an art director's attention. It needed to get me an interview. I needed a drink.

I had no idea where to start on this. So I literally started by doing a Google search on "creative resumes". Yes. Seriously. The best Google could come up with were some decent-looking Word documents, so I figured that'd be good enough. They still looked professional enough to be resumes, yet they had a little kick to them. Their formats made them just interesting enough to read.

Well, as you may have guessed, what I came up with based on that Google search was not good enough for Shana. I'm surprised she didn't just laugh me out of her office. It sucked. I had to go back to the drawing board. Actually Shana calls it the "think tree." Don't ask. 

After she ripped my first resume to pieces, I entered a minor state of depression. I thought this resume should be good enough, so I'm going to apply for some jobs with it anyway. I'll show her.

No luck.

So I do some more thinking. Then it hit me. I want to leave Mississippi, this job could be my ticket out of Mississippi! So why not design a ticket?! Hello! That idea had been slapping me in the face for two years, but it took all that thinking and brain power to actually see it. I needed another drink.

So I got my portfolio together, which included the new resume (that did not actually look like a resume at all) and brought it before the panel of judges that would decide whether or not I had just wasted five years of my life. 

They loved my work. They said I could even afford to be picky about where I applied for jobs because my work was so good. One guy did not care for my resume (figures) because he preferred more "traditional" ones. I told him that a resume was the first piece of art an employer sees when hiring a creative, so why not make it an actual piece of art?! He didn't get it.

I walked out of that room feeling great about myself. But that only lasted till we got our grades back. I got a C.

A C?! Are you kidding me? A C because my resume was not "professional."

Those jerks. Couldn't say it to my face?! 

Well, it didn't matter. I wasn't about to change it. And I was glad I didn't. The first interview I went to was at the Cirlot Agency. I was interviewed by the owner who told me that my resume was the reason I got that interview. I believe her exact words were, "Way to break away from the pack."

HA!! Those jerks! A C! My foot!

Don't tell me what I can't do!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Interview From Hell

When I was a Sophomore in college, way back in the spring of 2009, I had a literature crush on my literature teacher, Mrs. Lassiter. She was the most energetic teacher I'd ever had and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She made English fun for me. She engaged the students (the willing ones) in active discussions about our readings and pushed us to dig deeper into the meanings of the stories we read. And I'm a sucker for over-analyzation. (Don't think that's a word, but I don't care) I think my naturally suspicious nature makes me decent at English Literature because I'm always trying to decide what people's ulterior motives are. I don't trust easily, which is why I make such a great girlfriend.

Anyway, despite wanting to be just like Mrs. Lassiter, I couldn't bring myself to get an English degree because I have absolutely no patience for children and I didn't know of any profession I could go into with an English degree that did not involve teaching. So I stuck with Graphic Design.

One day, after class, I was talking to Mrs. Lassiter about something or other and she found out my major was graphic design. Well her husband just so happened to be the Communications manager at Ergon, Inc. in Flowood, MS, and he just so happened to be looking for his next summer intern! She gave me his number and told me she'd put in a good word for me and told me to give him a call in a couple days. Too good to be true.

I called him a couple days before April 1st. I remember this because he wanted to set up an interview on April Fool's Day, I couldn't make it that day, and he made a joke about the joke. Anyway, we set up the interview and I began to go into a panic. I spent the next couple days getting my (what I thought was) awesome work together into a portfolio to show at the interview. Everything was printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper from the printer we used at school. Oh, but I was so nervous. I really needed an internship before I graduated.

One thing I love about being an artist is that the people hiring me are also artists; therefore they are much more laid back and personable in interviews than, say, an accountant would be. Artist interviews are usually more like chats with strangers than anything else. So my chat with Jim (Mrs. Lassiter's husband) went great! He was super nice and told me I had the job and when I could start and how much it paid and all that good stuff. Then, he said he was going to bring in Shana to 'critique' my work. Oh Lord.

Here's where the interview goes bad. Shana walks into the conference room, sits down, opens my book, and doesn't say a word until she's thoroughly looked at every single page. I'm terrified. My work is terrible. She hates it. I'm going to cry.

Ok, my work was terrible. I had a stock photo as a book cover design that still had the big X and logo in the middle of the picture. I had my name in big bubble letters with pictures placed inside them. I had a page of actual thumbnails of an ad that had not even been finished.

I see that now.

Looking back on that day, and knowing Shana now, I realize how easy she was on me. She very gently picked out the worst things and suggested how I could make them better. If it were me in her place, I would've thrown that book in the trash and lit it on fire.

I thank God I got this internship. I've been here for 3 years and have great work to show for it. But now, it's time to move on, out, and away from Mississippi. I need to spread my wings and see what else the world (or America) has to offer me. It's time for the next chapter that will define the person I am supposed to be.

em.j.

My Pants Are Too Short

This blog is mostly going to be about my seemingly endless search for a full-time job as a graphic designer, which has been going on for about a year now and has turned into more of an adventure involving lots of travel, hotel rooms, idiots, and creeps than an actual 'search.' I hope to convey to you the roller coaster ride of emotions from rejection, elation, sadness, relief, even a major creeped-out feeling and everything in between. Some of these stories are just too good not to write about.

I'll begin with where it all started and end with (hopefully) a job. Then I'll find something else to blog about!

In order to keep from invading anyone's privacy or offending anyone, I will change the names and locations of (most of) the people I mention. And I may or may not tell you which is which.