Clouds, Code & Crying Squirrels, A Journey of Self Education

eROI kicked off Design Week Portland Tuesday, giving me the opportunity to give a little talk about my journey as a designer, self educating my way from print designer to web designer.

Specifically, how I taught myself to code and changed the course of my career. We had a great turnout, good beer and awesome conversation about learning, design and the internet, three things I am very passionate about. Here is a recap of my talk for those who missed it…

My journey from print to web started in 2005.

I had just graduated from the Art Institute of Portland with a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design. This is pre-iPhone, so flash was all the rage. All the cool kids were making websites in Flash and if you didn’t have a Flash site, you probably wanted one. I wanted one. I had taken one web class at Ai, (they taught me table based layout, I kinda want my money back) and had opted out of the Flash class so it was up to me to teach myself Flash.

Cool Kids

During that summer I was still sneaking into the computer lab at Ai because I didn’t personally own a computer. The cool thing about being relegated to the Ai computer lab is that there were other students there from all the different majors that Ai offered, so I sat myself next to a friend that was an animator. I wanted to make an animation to get familiar with how Flash worked and what it was like to build something with it. When I had questions I would tap my friend on the shoulder and ask questions like “how do I make the flowers sad”. Oh yeah… one detail you should know is that during this period where I was teaching myself flash, I had been dumped. So, on the one hand this gave me the free time to spend in the computer lab learning Flash, on the other, I was also really sad. Sad in only the way a dumped twenty two year old female can be sad. A Taylor Swift sad love song kind of sad. I proceeded in making the animation below, Lonely Girl.[youtube][/youtube]

In 2006 I got my first job after graduation.

I worked for a small print company doing pre-press work, making plates, sending files to the service bureau for film output and some design. Not sexy work, but none the less, it got me working and I was gaining experience. I worked for a few years until 2008, 2009 and the economic downturn took a tough toll on the printing industry in general, and a particularly tough toll on my little print shop. We lost a big print customer and the shop was not going to make it. I found myself back in the job market, and one thing was clear, the competition was tough. Many Ai graduates that I knew were having a tough time finding work. I knew many designer barristas and designer car parkers.

I quickly realized that in order to gain an edge I was going to have to level up my skill set so I could apply for more than just print design jobs.

I needed to be able to apply for more multimedia and web jobs as well. I had always dabbled in the web, I had even built a few static HTML sites freelance and I had always had my own personal website so it wasn’t as though I had no web skills at all. More importantly, I did not fear code or working in the internet. I think sometimes traditional print designers can be intimidated by code or working in the realm of the web. I had been immersed in computer culture from a very young age. We had America Online when I was in high school, we even had a WebTV which was an internet machine that you hooked up to your tv. Armed with my limited web skills and general interest in the internet, I eventually did end up getting a new job at a small local business where I was the sole graphic designer. I was responsible for all things design, including all their printed collateral, trade show booth, and their website. I felt comfortable in my print bubble, but the website was a whole different story. I needed to learn to code, for real.

Print Is Dead

I was faced with this need to learn, but I wasn’t sure where or how to start. I certainly wasn’t going to go back to school with the mountain of student loan debt I had already racked up at Ai, so I did what I think many people do when they want to learn, I bought books. Tons of books, and I even read a few. Something was missing though. What I needed was practical knowledge that I could use the next day at my job, so that I didn’t break their site and get fired. I needed code skills quick and books where not cutting it. At the end of a whole day of working the last thing I wanted to do was come home and open a book about code. It was boring and uninspiring to say the least, I needed a different way to learn. That’s when I thought back to that first experience I had teaching myself Flash, and realized that I had to make it project based, and even more importantly, it had to be fun and creative.

I built a website about crazy people on trimet called cuckoo on the max*. The basic premise being you the passenger on the max could upload a photo of the crazy person sitting next to you or post a story about an encounter you might have had with that one guy with the full face tattoo. What’s funny is that I made this website before iOS even could upload images to the browser from your phone, so the website on inception didn’t work, but I still built it. *Please don’t think I am insensitive towards Portland’s crazy population, the website is very much in the vein of “keep Portland weird”. I love crazy people, I work in Old Town every day.  
I built my son a website from his birth through to today. I wanted to learn WordPress so this last design of his site utilizes WordPress so people can go on and leave him little notes.  

And of course, my own site, which I originally built in 2005 using Dreamweaver. Today, I coded it using Kirby, a static site generator. I also tried out Sass and Compass, and built it responsively.     The more websites I built the more people wanted to pay me to build them websites. The web projects kept getting larger and more complicated, and in 2011 I found myself excepting my first all web gig. Up until this point I had been walking a line between print and web, referring to myself as a “multimedia” designer. This really was a pivotal moment where I was going to be designing and coding for the web all day, every day.

Cuckoo on the MAX


The short answer is no. I didn’t miss print. If I never had to open InDesign again, I would be ok.  I really believe that working on the web lends itself naturally to the perpetual learner. That person that wants to continually challenge themselves and work towards craftsmanship. The internet is always changing and moving forward, there is always something new to learn or try. With a print piece, at the end of the process you have a printed whatever and it’s just done and over. With the web you can go back into a project as much as you want and refine, make better… correct typos. I feel like at my core I am a tinkerer and maybe a little perpetually dissatisfied with my own work, so I love that the web affords me the opportunity to continually work on projects and make them better.

I also love the fact that I can have an idea, build it and instantly put it on the internet and out into the world.

mobileIn 2012, I fell down the mobile rabbit hole and it solidified my love of the internet.

I’ve heard this era of the internet referred to as the “wild wild west”. Never has it been more exciting to be a web designer or developer than today. New devices are being released every day, we are on the brink of the internet of things and the web is going everywhere. People all over the world are experiencing the internet for the very first time, it’s global connectedness solely through their mobile device. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

This year I joined the eROI creative team.

I truly believe that one of the most important things you can do for your career is align yourself with like-minded colleagues, other designers and if you are lucky, even your full time job. Seek out those who share your same passion for learning. At eROI we have a set of core values as a company. Values that we all came up with and agreed represented us as one. The value I think resonates with this talk is the value of boundless curiosity. What I think that means in the context of learning and challenging yourself as a designer is that you have to keep curious, you have to give yourself the room to explore and learn in way that makes sense to you as a creative. When I originally talked about doing this design week talk with my Creative Director Gerry we talked about the Lonely Girl animation and how I used that to learn Flash. Gerry said that I should continue the story. In 2005 I was sad with Flash and now in 2013, I am happy with web technologies. With that I created a new animation, continuing the story I started in 2005.

Not So Lonely Girl

I want to thank everyone who made it to eROI to hear my talk.

Public Speaking is out of my comfort zone to say the least. This was my first time ever talking about anything in front of anyone, and like I mentioned before the turnout was great, our space was filled to capacity so I was pretty nervous. I am not alone in my fear of public speaking, the previous night after finishing my talk slides, I was chugging diet coke and googling public speaking anxiety tips. I read that public speaking ranks as the number one fear in America… ranking even higher than death at number two.  So most people would rather die than stand up in front of a group of people and speak. Yeah, that’s pretty much how I felt Tuesday night. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”. After giving my talk this quote resonates with me. Even though the idea of speaking in front of a large group of people terrified me, afterwords I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.



If you liked my thoughts on learning and design, you will love my thoughts on sandwiches, read my adventures in sandwich eating blog post.

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