10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years in Design

10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years in Design

In March 2013 I completed a condensed program from the Visual College of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC with a Graphic Design diploma. After some traveling I moved back home to Beamsville, ON, missing out on my graduation in June. On Monday, September 23, 2013 I drove my black, 2-door Toyota echo with an exhaust leak that I had just bought off my brother for $600, to my very first day at my very first design job.

A decade later and I’m still here. Despite the lack of resources and representation. Despite the stats. Despite the self-doubt of being able to make a profitable career as a creative. Despite the ever-trailing-off numbers of the longevity of women in design. Despite a global pandemic. Despite bringing a child into the world and the subsequent maternity leave. Despite mental health challenges.

I’m still here. 

I spent a part-time to full-time career chapter of 2+ years at Symetric. 

I spent a full-time to part-time career chapter of 6+ years at Insite Design. 

And now, a major career shift to only work-for-myself freelance (I've been freelancing since College) here at A Thousand Elsewherebalancing stay-at-home mom life with running a home-based sole proprietorship small business.

Over the years of freelance, studio, and pro bono design, I have culminated over a decade of experience working with start-ups, freelancers, businesses, organizations, churches, non-profits and individuals alike.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

10 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years in Design

  1. If you can believe it, design (specifically branding) has been my unintentional life interest since I was 13 years old. Branding was the topic of my Grade 8 research paper and speech. I don’t remember the details or what opinion I was arguing, but I know it was a commentary on household brand recognition. I can so clearly remember getting my mind blown at the time by brand examples like Kleenex being the household name of what I didn’t even know were called ‘facial tissues’ before doing research for my paper.
  2. Back in 2010 there were not a lot of points for the teen in high school who wanted to make some kind of career in art—my guidance counsellor quite literally didn’t know what to do with me. Being a designer is exponentially more common for a career now than it was a decade ago and I can thank the many creatives that came before me for that. 
  3. Taking a gap year after high school changed the trajectory of my entire life. I decided against going to post-secondary until I could land on something that actually interested me. With the time and space to explore what really set my heart on fire outside of classroom walls and peer (and guidance counsellor) pressure of pursuing the typical female roles, I applied and got accepted to the VCAD for the condensed Graphic Design diploma program (15 months straight). I did the math of the cost of living of 15 months of college living away from home versus 3 years of college living at home and it was basically the same, so I chose an adventure. 
  4. The intensity of the condensed course prepared me for the reality of being in the design industry more than I could have imagined at the time. Our class of 60+ students finished off with something like a 12 person graduating portfolio show. Perhaps I wouldn’t have made it in the real world of design had I taken a conventional approach to schooling.
  5. Being a women in design is more common now than it was even a decade ago, but women still make up such a small percentage of senior creatives in the field. I believe I am 1 of a small minority of women in design in Canada with this level of ongoing experience. 
  6. Creativity begets creativity. 
  7. My career in design has affected every facet of my being. From how I relate to my Creator, to how I relate to and raise up my child to how I start my day—it has all been touched by my creative pursuits. 
  8. I would not be where I am today had the men in the creative field ahead of me, not reached down to a young women, took hold of her hand and hoisted her up onto 'the ladder' with guidance and mentorship and mutual respect.
  9. High functioning anxiety and ADHD has somehow equally been my creative superpower and the worst for my creative pursuits.
  10. I am so proud of how far this industry has come, even in my short time within it, but there is so far to go for inclusivity, BIPOC representation, gender equality, and fair pay for creatives.

If any advice was to come out of my reflection on the past 10 years, it would be this: pursue what you were fascinated by as a kid, and it will likely stick.

New headshots to celebrate, by the talented J Kelsh Photos!