My [Fill in the Blank] Career

The day I graduated from design school was so exhilarating. After putting all my blood, sweat, tears and numerous sleepless hours into my design portfolio, I couldn't wait until I found that perfect job that was calling my name. Little did I know what I was in for. Here's a short list of some things I learned along the way.

1. Push yourself

My first job at Cahan & Associates really defined my life as a designer. Even though it was primarily annual reports, we ended up executing fairly conceptual ideas and designs—my first annual that was chosen by the client was in the form of a comic book. Not the most original idea, but the fact that we sold it to a large corporation to send to its investors was a big deal. It even ended up on the front page of the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, kind of an unexpected arena for design. I loved my job—as much sleep as I'd lost, and brains cells burned from the constant coffee high, I found my calling. Just the idea that I could have a blast creating these amazing stories and ideas and put them to paper was so rewarding.

2. There's more to it than just design

Another aspect of creating concepts for our projects was tying them together with copywriting. Typically, you'd expect that once you work for a design firm, a writer is hired and covers all the bases for you. Yet we designed and conceptualized our own work, so half of the time having someone else do that job didn't sync well with our ideas. Our writing ended up being funnier and wittier than the writers' we worked with. As for the major content copy, we left that to them. So finding my voice through writing was and still is a very important factor in my design work.

3. Take a risk

I loved my job—as much sleep as I'd lost, and brains cells burned from the constant coffee high, I found my calling. Just the idea that I could have a blast creating these amazing stories and ideas and put them to paper was so rewarding.

So, there I was, a few years out of school, working at an amazing design firm with incredibly cool co-workers, and suddenly, I decided to leave. During my education, I always wanted to live and work in New York City. Every designer should work there once in his or her lifetime. The only thing that gave me butterflies was the job I accepted I wasn't 100 percent sure about. After doing all the design, print specs, mechanicals, some of the writing and presentations myself, I was thrown into a whole new world. Everything was done by committee. The company was much larger, with a mix of advertising and design.

Teamwork was key here—and yes, after doing my own thing right after school, it was a bit tough— but it became a little too team-oriented for me, when I had no say on a variety of design aspects (choosing the paper stock, for example. What clinched it was when a project manager started picking out Pantone colors! I could go on, but it wouldn't be pretty.

4. Who do you really want to work for?

I interviewed with a lot of my favorite design firms and got great feedback—the only draw back was that they weren't hiring. (Another thing to learn, folks: It's all about timing, but in the long run, it's about connections.) I found my second New York job, at Doyle Partners, through word of mouth, and it was one of the firms I initially tried to get into right after school. It was much smaller, more design oriented, with much more thought to typography and concepts. Plus, I learned a lot from Stephen Doyle about design detail and different ways to approach ideas.

5. Explore beyond design

I distinctly remember while at Art Center how rewarding it was using the Archetype Press facility—it was almost like a therapy session. Rummaging through the metal-type drawers with constant curiosity was such a simple task, it completely erased my mind of all the crazy school-work deadlines. Today, I have other outlets of creativity, such as silkscreening, fine art and playing guitar. It's kind of like making and having friends whose professions have nothing to do with design—it's a great way to take a break from the all-consuming design job and, believe me, after a while you're going to need it.

6. And yes, a few regrets

Throughout the years I've met such an amazing group of people and friends through this crazy job I love. I have had some opportunities to take on more of a role within the design community, such as teaching and being more involved with AIGA functions, but I've continually passed on them. After doing a lecture at the University of Florida, getting to know the students there and giving them advice on the road ahead, I was amazed at what I realized: that this world is not all about you—it's about what you give back. I learned a lot from that experience, and now I'm going to take advantage of that and give back more. After all, I need a few more brownie points in my lifetime.

About the Author: Craig Clark is a senior art director at Tolleson Design, in San Francisco. Clark brings an uncanny sense of humor, a wide-ranging knowledge of pop culture and an exquisite eye for detail to his design practice. He graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena.