How I Became a Designer

I’ve been a professional designer for about a decade, and people often ask me how I got into it. The short story is: by accident! Kind of.

I Was a Teen Girl with a Blog

In the year 2000ish we got our first family computer – a clunky Windows machine in that weird cream colour they used to do. As quite a nerdy 12-year-old, I quickly started making little webpages using the build-in Notepad text editor. I always loved writing so these webpages tended to be blogs, which I would write in for a few days, upload to something like Angelfire or Geocities, then delete a few days later when I decided to “rebrand.”

This continued for quite a few years. In school I always jumped at the opportunity to take a “web design” class, which I usually ended up teaching as I had already racked up quite a few hours of independent study.

I joined blogging forums where we put our hearts and souls into creating pretty layouts (mostly using stolen images of celebrities). When I was 19, I joined a forum filled with ambitious young women who wanted to learn how to build websites properly. Here, I was introduced to concepts like accessibility, proper code, and not stealing imagery that didn’t belong to me.

Look, Mom, I Made It!

In October 2018, I relaunched my blog as Dreamling, and I really went above and beyond to make a layout that I loved. Someone else must have liked it too because it actually got featured on a major web design blog. From there, other blogs picked it up, and my subsequent designs for the same site. I was kind of sort of slightly famous. At least in my immediate design community.

It was following this that I thought maybe I could be a designer, and that it might be something I’d like to study.

New Media Production & Design

I decided I wanted to study in a program that only accepted under 100 students per year– New Media Production & Design at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in my home city of Calgary. It felt intense at the time, as I had to create a portfolio and attend an in-person essay writing activity. But soon enough I was accepted and began my 2-year journey soaking up everything about New Media I could.

The program wasn’t strictly design-focused, it was made up of a variety of disciplines from print and web design, to video and audio production. I even took classes in 3D modelling which I was tragically awful at. I do not understand the concept of physical objects. I have no idea what a screwdriver looks like (yes, that was a task for one of my tests).

Part of the program was mandated practicum hours. I managed to scoop up a four month internship at a local web agency over the summer, and I became the webmaster of the campus student newspaper’s website. This gave me a pretty good practical foundation, which lead to getting a job in a marketing agency fresh out of graduation.

The Rest is History!

Since then I’ve left Calgary, moved abroad, and worked a variety of different types of design jobs. My first job in the UK was as a front-end web developer and designer for an agency that specialised in e-commerce websites. I followed this up with a brief contract at a corporate insurance startup doing UX and UI work. Then I spent a few years working in-house for a Shopify plugin product. Most recently I moved back to agency life, working on a variety of web and mobile apps!

I love the versatility, and I love that I’ve been able to work in companies that allow me to use many of my diverse skills!

How Can You Become a Designer?

I can go into more detail about what benefited me and what I could have done without in my career growth in a later post, but my key advice if you want to become a designer is: start now.

I recommend playing around in a low-key, low-risk environment before you decide to invest in tools in education. You don’t need fancy software or a degree to sit down, read about design fundamentals, know your CRAP, and play around with some concepts. But you do need to make sure that you have the passion, drive and talent to enter an industry which can be competitive and hard work. It’s much more than colouring in some pretty pictures!

Let me know if you have any questions about how I got into design or how you can get into design! I’d love to have a chat!

Thank you for reading!

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