Ok, so, I’m just going to tell it like it is, the way it really happened.
I was 23 years old working at an ad agency, as a production artist. If you’ve ever worked at an ad agency you know that the environment can be less than friendly to lowly production artists. About a year into this position, our art director had a nervous breakdown and they called in a freelancer to take over for a while. I was fascinated by her. She seemed to know everything there is to know about graphic design.
One day I asked her how she began freelancing. She told me she had been working for a creative temp agency. Which, at the time, I didn’t even know existed.
The next day we were in a meeting with the owner and two account managers reviewing a fresh-off-the-press brochure. As the production artist it was my responsibility to make any changes and to run spell check. It was a nice piece, except to my horror, right there in the first paragraph there was a typo. I did not speak up because they had just printed 50K of these brochures. I would be fired. No way around it.
That Friday I put in my two weeks and called that temp agency. Thankfully, they took me on. Two weeks later I was working for awesome clients like McDonald’s, SciFi Magazine, Capital One, and a few posh legal and political firms in DC.
But in my mind, I had no business working with these amazing clients, because I had a secret – and a lie. I was a high school drop out with no college degree – let alone a degree that would qualify me for these types of positions. However, that’s not exactly what my resume said, and no one ever asked. Keep in mind this was the early 90s so it was harder to check these sorts of things than it is today. But regardless, I got through the job interviews and got hired. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe it was my awesome portfolio! I was a pretty good designer, even back then. Or maybe it was what I did instead of attending high school classes…
So what did I do instead of going to school? Well, while I was supposed to be in 10th grade science class, I was hanging out at a local print shop learning all about the printing process and the production side of design. This provided me with a hands-on learning experience that you simply cannot get from college. I did eventually get a GED and attended a small business college that had a nine-month desktop publishing program. My first job was as a sign designer at FastSigns.
From there I continued my path through the down-and-dirty trenches of the graphic design industry working a litany of production and design support positions, learning with experience, before eventually ending up at the ad agency. While my path to get there wasn’t a “normal” career path, the experience proved to be invaluable in preparing me for the next chapter.
Working for the clients from the temp agency was great but they didn’t always have work. So, I started picking up freelance projects to fill in the gaps. Soon I had enough of my own clients that I could stop working at the temp agency. Believe it or not, that ad agency was one of my first clients. To this day I don’t know if they ever found that typo.
Many years later I found myself in a position where I simply could not keep up with the work. That’s when I started hiring designers to help. Before I knew it, I was running a full-blown design studio. Today Eyedea has over 100 clients and four full-time designers.