What Being a Communication Designer Means to Me

Well, lets start with the name of my specific degree designation, Bachelor in Fine Arts in “Communication Design”. What I actually left with was a pretty elementary portfolio, a basic understanding of the relevent programs needed to create designs for print and the pressure of finding a job before my student loan grace period ran out.

Now, years later, in hindsight, I wish I had learned much more. I wish the instructors had understood the importance of pushing students to go beyond merely metaphorical thinking, to tell us more than, “stare at a blank piece of paper and see the design in your mind”. I wish they had placed greater importance in the value of target markets, assimilating marketing information, thinking with a business mindset, getting inside the mind of consumers and businesses.

I think that if I could go back in time and restructure the program I went through, I would have added marketing classes, sociology, psychology, creative writing, economics, and other vital business courses.

No knock to where I went to school, but hindsight is 20/20 and once you’ve been there and figure it out, you can diagnose where vitals lack.

How I Arrived at This
I’ll begin with my own journey.

I came from a metaphoric “two-sided coin”, where my Mother’s side of the family was filled with creative, “Artsy” folks and my Father’s side was filled with business men in the construction industry (both commercial and residential). My dad wanted me to get a traditional business degree and follow the successful path of the Slaton family businesses, but I loved to draw and thanks to my uncles early introduction to horror films and his creativity (especially at Halloween), I decided to follow his direction instead.

1) When I was in daycare after elementary school (single mom), I loved drawing Battlestar Galactica robots and spaceships with a small group of my friends.

2) Throughout my younger years I loved to build models, planes, cars and even gun replica’s (typical boy).

3) Although my teachers in highschool told us not to draw on our hand-in folders, in class, I felt exempt because they just hadn’t seen really good artwork yet… and oddly enough I found I was right, because I never got in trouble.

4) In my Senior year of Highschool my uncle gave me a book, that I still have, about Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), George Lucas’s company that built all of the props, model ships and costumes for all of the Star Wars movies, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones. I was hooked and began my search for a college where I could learn how to become one of these artists.

5) After a year at a Community College and an exhaustive search and a firm understanding of my college budget, I started to feel like this dream had no legs. Almost a year later, another relative mentioned that I should be a Graphic Designer. Although, quite a divergense from my original passion, it allowed me to be creative and still earn a decent living after college. Reluctantly I decided to move forward.

6) I found a very extensive and proven program at The University of North Texas and began setting my sights on my current degree program. I really liked it because it required very little from me in Math and Science, which were the subjects I struggled with the most, and had a lot of concentration in English and Creative Writing which I excelled in.

7) I went through a fairly brand intensive program that required 30+ hours of homework a week (just for my major courses), including 100 logo revisions, every two days. The designers were heckled by the other fine arts students, who referred to us as, “Sell-outs”. Personally, I was just interested in being able to earn a living after college.

8 ) After graduating with a BFA in Communication Design, I went to work for a three-man shop, that had the volume of a 6-man shop and worked many, many late nights and wasn’t paid much. But this was expected of all of the newbies and at least my boss bought us dinner when we worked late. What I gained in return was the ability to do everything in print marketing communications, from initial conception to final delivery… a fair trade in my opinion.

9) A little over a year later I met my wife and we packed everything up and moved to California to, “live the dream”. She wanted to get into acting and I thought I would be able to continue my career in a unique market. I was right. I ended up doing tech work, really cool freelance and entertainment work that gained me experience working with big film and music studios, all while getting married and having our first child. And moved my career title from Junior Designer to Senior Designer.

10) As a new family, we decided to move to a more “family-centric” location and set our sights on North Carolina, which meant great things for our family, but the death of two promising careers. My wife in actuality and mine, because there wasn’t much to find in this small city, on life-support. The bonus is that it was growing like mad so I hoped that it would quickly become an industry contender.

11) I began work as a Creative Director for a company that looked like it had it’s act together, on the outside, but really was lacking in good leadership.  While at work one day, we read news articles online and quickly hovered around our little TV in the conference room, while we all watched in horror with the rest of the nation as we witnessed the twin towers come down.  Shortly there after, with the economic crash, the company went under… I didn’t learn a thing.




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