From Cupcake Shop Owner to Designer—Mary Lin, Shillington New York Graduate

After a degree in nutrition, Mary Lin founded a cupcake shop which she owned for 4 years in Melbourne. Working in the industry, she realized something was still missing and she wanted a more fulfilling career related to her love for design. Upon discovering Shillington, she decided to study abroad and enrolled in our full-time course in New York. After returning to Melbourne, Mary freelanced, worked at a design studio and now is a designer at Colette Werden, a personal branding agency. As Mary got to develop her design style, she now leans towards designs that are “simple, clever and have a lot of heart” and she has a love for typography which is prominent in her work.

We caught up with Mary to talk about what she’s been up to since graduating from Shillington two years ago, the importance of passion projects, her experience working on a freelance project designing a tram for Merri Health community health center in Melbourne and her current work at a branding agency.

You have a background in nutrition and owned a cupcake shop for 4 years! At what point did you realize you wanted to change careers and did you always have an interest in design?

I realized that it was time to change careers when I wasn’t really happy anymore. It finally clicked that I wasn’t creatively fulfilled and decided that maybe I should do something about it. I’ve always loved design but I didn’t always know I did! I’d often make shopping choices purely based on the packaging, I had a big thing for logos, and I’d often get excited about typography and formatting my documents. Then one day it clicked that all these things I loved fall under the umbrella of design.

What was the best part of studying in New York? Any suggestions for applicants interested in studying abroad?

The city itself and meeting new people were definitely the best parts of studying in New York.

It was such an inspiring place to be in and it felt surreal to see such iconic places such as the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station every day while going to school. I also met so many amazing people in and out of school who made my whole experience so invaluable. I would definitely encourage anyone who’s interested in studying abroad to do it if they can.

My main tips are:

  • Be organized especially during the application process to ensure that it goes all smoothly.
  • Familiarize yourself with the city (e.g. how public transport works) before you dive into school so you’re all prepared.

Do you think the Shillington course armed you with the skills and confidence needed to launch your career as a designer?

Definitely. By the end of the course, not only did I know that I had a great foundation of design skills and a portfolio that I was proud of.

We also received so much feedback from the teachers and the opportunity to interview with a recruiting agency, which all helped me gain the confidence to start applying for jobs.

While studying at Shillington, did you have a favorite student project? Tell us about the brief and your process.

My favorite project was a film festival. I decided to choose my own topic and designed a film festival campaign dedicated to the amazing New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. His films are often really fun and playful while also being quite emotional with a lot of depth. To capture this in the campaign material, I decided to do fun hand lettering and illustrations balanced with a deep and dramatic photo treatment.

Taika Waititi Brochure

Taika Waititi Tickets

After Shillington, you started working as a designer at the Melbourne studio, Charcoal Creative. Were there any projects you really enjoyed working on while there?

I was really lucky to work on so many very interesting projects at Charcoal. My favorite was designing the new logo for the Melbourne Conservatoire of Ballet. I’ve danced since I was three so this project felt like my two big loves coming together.

Melbourne Conservatoire of Ballet

What advice can you share to help new graduates with preparing for an interview at a design studio?

Know your portfolio back to front, practice talking about your projects, cater your portfolio to where you’re applying and be authentically you!

I also attended a couple of The Design Kids Portfolio Review Nights where I got to present my portfolio to some amazing people in our industry. I received so much valuable feedback from these events so check out if any similar events are running in your city!

Freewheel projects

You’re now working at the personal branding agency, Colette Werden. Tell us about your role at the company and what your day looks like? Any interesting projects coming up?

My role is designer and my average day can vary from branding new projects and rolling them out, to designing and building websites, to assisting with photoshoots. One of my favorite things about my job is that there’s so much variety and I’m always learning new things. We work with clients who want to make a difference in the world so we’re always working on meaningful projects which I love. A really fun project for us at the moment is that we’re actually in the process of rebranding our agency which is super exciting!

i.Balter Design Collateral

Your favorite freelance project to date has been to design a tram for a client—that’s amazing! What was the brief and how did you go about this project from start to finish?

I was asked to design a tram for Merri Health community health center! Yarra Trams has a Community Partnerships Program where community organizations can win to advertise on a tram and Merri Health was one of the recipients. The brief was to design a tram to support safe and inclusive public spaces for anyone that identifies as LGBTIQA+; they wanted a rainbow tram that is fun and bright.

I came up with a few concepts, one of which was for the tram to be an abstract rainbow with a lot of flow and swirls to represent the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

Once this concept was confirmed, I started bringing the vision to life! A template of the tram was provided by Yarra Trams which was incredibly helpful.

Merri Health Tram

Throughout the design process, Merri Health also consistently liaised with Yarra Trams to make sure my designs were meeting all the requirements. Once the design was approved, I was invited to attend the official tram launch. It was pretty surreal to see my designs on a tram! This project was such an amazing experience and I’m so thankful for this opportunity.

You keep yourself quite busy going to talks, workshops and conferences where you go to meet some talented people in Melbourne. What are some of your favorite events and places for inspiration?

The Design Kids and General Assembly run such amazing events so I often check out their calendars to see what’s coming up. I love Creative Mornings which are free monthly breakfast lectures for the creative community and they run all over the world. I love going to galleries which also often have regular events and talks related to their exhibitions. One of my favorite conferences is Typism where we can nerd out about typography and lettering for three days in Sunny Gold Coast.

Puns typism event

You discovered your passion for lettering while studying at Shillington and now do lettering in your free time. Do you think side projects are important to keep the creative juices flowing?

I know that side projects and passion projects aren’t everybody’s cup of tea but for me, they’ve been so helpful not just to keep my creative juices flowing, but also for me to teach myself new skills and try things out.

Most importantly, I think passion projects are fun and it can be therapeutic to create things for myself.

36 Days days of type 2020

Mary lettering animated

Are there any creatives that you feel most inspired by for lettering work?

Oh my goodness, you should have set a word limit for this answer. There are SO many! Lauren Hom, I started lettering regularly by doing her #homwork challenges. Louise Fili, Martina Flor, Jessica Hische, Stefan Kunz, Matthieu Tarrin, The Letterettes, Morgan Harper Nichols, Lisa Quine and many more.

Shillington Teachers:

  • Alan Barba, who was the first showed me how to letter with a Crayola marker.
  • Nikita Prokhorov, whose ambigrams are so damn cool. I went to his workshop at Typism in 2019 and it was so great to learn from him again.
  • Cathy Sison, I went to her talk at General Assembly years ago (before she became a teacher at Shillington!) and fell in love with her style and her messages.

Being a foodie, what are your top go-to spots in Melbourne for the best food?

Some of my favorites include Hardware Societe, Greens Refectory, Alimentari, St. Ali, Kettle Black, Juicy Bao, Saba’s Ethiopian Restaurant, Lazerpig Pizza Parlour, Moroccan Soup Bar, Piccolina Gelataria, Gami, Fonda Mexican, Karlaylisi Restaurant, DOC and Hakata Gensuke Tonkotsu Ramen.

Huge thanks to Mary for sharing her story with us! Check out her website and keep up with her work via her Instagram.

Want to study graphic design at Shillington? Learn more about our 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time course in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Want to win some amazing prizes and stay in the loop with all things Shillington? Sign up to our newsletter to automatically go in the draw.