By: Alexia Montana
Studying graphic design is a big money and time investment, and there really aren’t many people that do it. During the time of my internship, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with and be guided by our incredible creative director, Holly Aldriedge. Who better to give advice than an experienced graphic designer herself? I’ve had many questions come to mind since I began my academic graphic design path, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get answers from a different perspective than I’ve gotten before.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Holly: I grew up in Arlington, TX. There were so many options of what I wanted to be when I grew up, from a storm chaser to a nurse, I had no idea. I was actually really interested in the medical field and began my college career as a nursing major.
What sparked your interest to study design?
Holly: I have always loved good design but didn’t ever think of making it a career, partly because I had never been exposed to any graphic designers. I didn’t really understand how the industry worked either. I did know however that I love structure and rules mixed with creative freedom. After seeing a classmate working on a design project in a drawing class, I started looking into design programs. I was planning to go to UTA regardless of my major and I lucked out the UTA had a great Visual Communications program.
What design class was your favorite, and which did you find most valuable to prepare you for your professional career?
Holly: Every design class is equally valuable. You can’t really have one without the other. My favorite classes though were probably packaging design and visual identity systems. Pro Prep was the class that prepared me the most.
What advice do you have for a student that’s about to enter their academic path in graphic design?
Holly: Develop a thick skin. You have to be able to separate your work from yourself and you can’t take anything personally. That will allow you to evaluate your work honestly and hone your skills. Also, it’s vital to do at least one internship. I did two internships and it was something that helped with classes and prepare me for my career. Nothing compares to the hands-on experience you get from an internship.
What is something you didn’t get to do in college that you wished you did?
Holly: I wish I would have been able to go on a class trip with some friends to Japan. I was doing an internship at that time so I couldn’t go.
Tell me about your professional path after graduating college. What struggles did you have? What came easier than you anticipated?
Holly: It was really nerve racking wondering where I’d end up and when. I knew the competitive nature I was facing but I was definitely a hustler when it came to jump starting my career. I went to as many portfolio reviews as possible in order to get my name out there. I had two offers on the table shortly after graduating. One in Fort Worth and one in Dallas. After a lot of thought, I decided to start my career in the Fort and accepted a graphic designer position at Warren Douglas. I really lucked out with the creative team at WD. I was surrounded by a group of kind and patient mentors and overall awesome group of people to work with.
How do you stay inspired when you get creative block? Do you have any strategies you may be able to share?
Holly: Ha. When I’m stuck sometimes I turn to Designspiration or other design sites. Honestly, sometimes I design better work last minute and under pressure. Too many designers think they have to immerse themselves too much and try too hard to design in order to produce good work. Personally, I find that things come more naturally when you’re out in the world experiencing new things. There’s so much inspiration out there. Sometimes you need to let things come to you rather than trying to force an idea.
Have you ever worked with a difficult client? How did you handle that relationship?
Holly: Oh yes. When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, things can get complicated. I usually just let my Director of Account Services handle it for me. *Smiles at Julie.*
I’ve been told that sometimes it’s better to turn away a freelance project that isn’t necessarily a good match with you. Have you found this to be true? Are there any projects you’ve had to turn away? What were the reasons?
Holly: It depends on a lot of things. When you’re freelancing and you need to make money, I wouldn’t recommend turning away many things. But, if it’s a difficult client and the pay isn’t worth your time, then maybe consider turning down a project. You have to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of. Ask yourself if the time investment will benefit you and your portfolio. Sometimes there might be a client that comes to you but doesn’t have the budget for what you normally charge. If the client is super cool and you think the project would be fun to work on consider cutting them a deal and exploring your creative freedom.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for me?
Holly: Do another internship or two. Push yourself. Be open to receiving feedback. Continue to ask questions and learn. For everyone: when you begin a job or an internship, don’t act like you know what you’re doing because you really don’t know anything. Your classes are absolutely necessary and teach you so much, but there is still so much to learn once you’re out of school. Always be open to learning from others and evolving as a designer and you’ll do fine.
This conversation with Holly taught me many things and reinforced some ideas, both about her and the academic path I’m about to enter. Some things I already have started to understand, like the importance of separating my work from myself in order to critique it. And, some things I’m looking forward to experiencing, such as how all the classes I’ll take depend on one another. After this conversation, I think I will appreciate and be more aware of the value that these next semesters are going to bring to my career and my life. I’m extremely grateful to have been able to work with Holly and get her insight into the design world and I will definitely take her advice and words of wisdom along this path with me.