I recently got an email from a girl named Maryanne who wanted to ask me some questions for a school assignment. They’re pretty frequently asked questions, so just like Hank Green has been doing lately, I thought I’d post the interview on here publicly in case anyone else is interested in the answers.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a graphic designer? Were there other career options in your mind at that time?
I went to a small high school that was focused on the arts, so I was introduced to graphic design and Photoshop freshman year. This was back in 2003, so online communities were still in their infancy, but I got involved in some forums (which shall remain nameless so you can’t find the stuff I was making when I was 13) that were focused around graphic design and learning Photoshop, so I ended up making things in Photoshop every day after school for four years. By the time I was applying to colleges senior year, it was pretty clear that graphic design was what I wanted to do with my life, so I applied to art school and got into RISD where I got an great design education.
Has design come more-or-less naturally to you, or was there a breakthrough moment that you can remember?
I was absolutely awful for the first few years when I was just making silly things in Photoshop. But gradually I learned about typography and layout and hierarchy, and with practice making all kinds of different projects, I’ve only kept working hard and improving. I never really had a breakthrough moment - maybe it’s still coming up. I still look at things I made a year ago and wish I could do everything differently, and there are projects that I do today that I really struggle with. But in general I do like the things I make now a lot more of the time than I did when I was first starting out, so it really just takes persistence and practice.
How did you come to work for YouTube?
The summer between junior and senior year in college, I was doing an internship in New York City, and on one of my days off, I made the So You Want to Watch YouTube flowchart. It was just a random idea I had, but I put it on my blog and it kind of went viral around the internet. It caught the attention of some employees of YouTube, and they printed it and hung it in the office. I kept in touch with some of them, and worked with them on the designs for the 2010 Project for Awesome as well as the 2010 Halloween YouTube logo. In spring of 2011, I got an email asking if I had any plans for after graduation and if I’d be interested in interviewing for a job at YouTube. I was flown out to San Francisco for the interview over spring break and started working at YouTube as a visual designer a few months later in July 2011 (I then left that job in September 2012, the reasons for which I talked about in a video).
Because every commission is different, how did you choose the price of your very first one?
To be honest, I don’t remember what the first project was that I got paid for. I’m always nervous asking for money, but I especially was at the beginning. I remember when I quoted Hank Green a price for the VidCon 2010 poster he asked me to design, he made me keep increasing it before agreeing to it, because originally I just didn’t know the value of my own work. These days I have many repeat clients who all seem to be happy with the price range I work in, but figuring out money is easily one of the most stressful parts of my job.
What is the creation (craft/graphic/video) that you are the most proud of? Why?
This is a really tough one, but I’m really happy with how the Project for Awesome designs came out this year. It’s one of the biggest projects I do all year, since I’m in charge of all of the branding, which has to translate across several different mediums, and is seen and used by thousands of people. But then at the end of the day, we get to give half a million dollars to charity, so it’s definitely one of the most rewarding projects I work on every year.
Do you have any advice for newly graduated Graphic Design students in regards to finding and receiving commissions and exposure?
I was lucky in that I started designing for John and Hank Green in early 2008 when there were far less nerdfighters competing for their attention, and between doing lots of work for them and people who have found me through the YouTube community, I’ve never really had to look for commissions. In today’s internet landscape, personality wins above everything else. There are great designers everywhere, but what will convince someone to hire you above someone else is if if feel like they could be friends with you, and feel like they already know you before they even make contact. Start a blog, start a YouTube channel, be on Twitter constantly. It really is a lifestyle change to put yourself out there so much, but if you don’t, how will anyone know you exist? And if they don’t know you exist, they can’t hire you to do freelance work. Contribute to meaningful discussions, help promote other artists, and try to find a supportive community (hopefully one that doesn’t already have a freelance designer within it!) that you’re passionate about, whether it’s primarily online or location based. But if you can find just a couple good clients who keep coming back and will recommend you to their friends, you’ll be all set.
I hope this was interesting to you guys! Thanks for reading!