Sam Jacobs studied Industrial and Interaction design at Syracuse University and 5 years later decided to pursue our full-time course at Shillington New York. He has worked as an art director at Ogilvy and now landed his dream job at Time Inc. Being an avid reader and film buff, he strives to incorporate storytelling into design work.
Read on to learn about his new pro-bono rebranding project and his advice to Shillington students just beginning their journey.
How did you find the Shillington classroom environment?
It was like staring at a blank page. Each morning you could reinvent yourself and that was a terrifying and yet exhilarating experience. Without knowing what the day would hold, you had no choice but to dive in and see what happened. By the end of the day, with the help of the amazing teachers, you had produced something you never thought you could do before, and bit by bit, you discovered who you were and what you were meant to be. It was intense, but the reward was always worth it.
What was your favourite subject during the course? Why?
This is such a hard question to answer as every subject was unique and interesting. But if I had to choose one subject, I think it would be idea generation. The tools and techniques that we learned are so universal that no matter what problem you are trying to tackle, you never have to be afraid of not finding a solution.
Whether the problem is design-related or not, I am more confident in my abilities to think through the toughest of challenges and know that an answer exists, it just needs to be found.
How did you feel at the beginning versus the end of the course?
I was in a unique position in that I did have some design experience before taking the course. I knew that there were two paths that I could take, either walking in on day one assuming I knew most of the information already and therefore slacking off for the first couple of weeks, or coming in with a fresh and open mind, trying to absorb as much information as possible and learn from the talented group of teachers that we had. By choosing that second path, I not only realized how little I actually knew but also that whatever I thought I knew wasn’t necessarily correct. The nerves that I had, in the beginning, may have been different from what other students were feeling but by the end, I had a better understanding of design as a whole, and more about the type of designer I wanted to be.
We all came from different backgrounds and skill-sets and it is those different experiences that make us more well-rounded designers in the end; someone that people want to work with because of our differences just as much as our design chops.
What was your biggest challenge during the course? Why?
Portfolio week certainly is a huge hurdle to get over but I would have to say that by putting extra time and effort in earlier on in the course will help alleviate some of the anxieties of that week. However, putting the necessary time in earlier on was certainly a challenge when it required placing some of my personal life on hold for a bit but it made for a slightly easier portfolio week than that of some of my classmates. I think therein lies the biggest challenge of all; effort. When the days are so jam-packed from 8-5 every day, it is emotional and physically draining. To then go home on a night with little homework and have the discipline to get ahead is extremely challenging. That being said, this course is all about getting out of it what you put into it. And for three months, or nine months, if some things need to be reprioritized then so be it. You will thank yourself for grad night when you see your portfolio sitting next to those of your classmates and you can reflect back on all of the amazing work you were able to accomplish.
Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or students during the course?
First and foremost, your classmates become your family. Having completed the full-time course, I spent more time with my classmates then I did with my wife. You will go through some ups and downs, and there will be some that you just don’t see eye to eye with, but at the end of the day, you all share in this journey together and it is an experience that bonds you. Seeing all of the amazing things that my classmates are doing now is not only extremely gratifying but inspiring as well.
As for the teachers, you will not understand the true definition of a mentor until you meet them. Again, you may not gel with all of them, but I urge you to build strong connections with these teachers as each one is as talented as the next, and they will be your first contacts in the design world. I have gone back to speak at the college a few times and I look forward to seeing some of my old teachers and getting to catch up. If your fellow students become brothers and sisters, your teachers are the best parents you can ask for and they are just as proud of your actual family to see what you produce.
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about the Shillington course?
I would say that Shillington is a magical place but only if you are willing to put in the time and effort to see it through. There is no secret formula that by signing up you are guaranteed to come out with an amazing portfolio and it is hard work that takes discipline and a lot of late nights.
If you truly take this program seriously, you will come out of it with everything you need to land the job of your dreams.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?
Don’t try to be someone you are not. Yes, you are learning a completely new career, but we all have different things that we bring with us, and those things come out in the briefs you work on. It is what separates you from anyone else, and what allows you to create designs that actually mean something, designs that aren’t generic or cookie-cutter. I don’t think I really realized this about Shillington until having to answer this question but no matter what career you choose to pursue after Shillington, design related or not, you will have a better understanding of who you are and what you are passionate about. That is the type of lesson that you cannot put a price tag on, and one that you will keep with you for the rest of your life.
What do you love about being a designer?
What I love about being a designer is that I get to create something from nothing every single day. We are given the unique power to shape the way those around us perceive things.
Whether it is an idea in your own head or that of a client, we are the ones entrusted with visualizing those ideas and it is only through our creativity and our tools that they get to be shared with the world. Another thing about design that almost no other career has is the ability to work from anywhere. All we need is a good internet connection and a laptop. We can work from anywhere in the world or we can work from the coffee shop downstairs, but we get to do the thing we love without any obstacles in our way. No matter what happens on a particular day, we can power up Photoshop and escape to our world of design and no one can take that away from us.
Since 2015 you’ve worked at Ogilvy as an art director and a freelance designer for almost 4 years. You already have extensive design experience, how did the course further build your skill set?
The course did an excellent job of introducing me to areas of design that I had never experienced before. My prior design experience put me in a unique position coming into the program but I chose not to let it hinder my learning. Yes, I had some design experience but you only know what you only know, and I was only exposed to the few things that I had gotten to do previously. I was able to leave Shillington with a better understanding of the design world as a whole and a better grasp of the things that I was passionate about. By being exposed to all the different types of design, I was able to use my prior knowledge as building blocks to create the designer that I am today.
How was your experience during the job search? Tell us about how you got the job as a senior designer at Time Inc.
I won’t lie and say the job search was easy. Just like the course itself, the time and effort it took to land a job required discipline and persistence. After graduation and a much needed week away with my wife, I actually went back to my job at Ogilvy. They were incredibly kind to keep my position open while I took the course and so I owed it to them to come back and see if that’s what I wanted to be doing at the time. In the end, I took the course to grow as a designer and a person, so it was time to move on. I applied to countless jobs and went on dozens of interviews with nothing to show for it. However, I knew that I would be fine because of the confidence that I had gained from Shillington, and the portfolio I always knew I could make. And so I kept at it, applying all over the place and something miraculous happened. I heard back from a job at Time Inc. that I applied to on LinkedIn, having zero connections with the company. I was able to use my prior experience (even though it wasn’t the work I wanted to be doing) to my advantage and combined with my portfolio I landed an unbelievable job.
Without Shillington, I don’t think I would’ve considered applying to Time Inc. because it was too out of my league. Now, there is no company, no job, that I don’t feel confident applying to.
Tell us about your experience working as a senior designer at Time Inc. How is the work environment there?
Working at Time Inc. has been an absolute dream. In an increasingly digital-focused world, I get to design for where it all began, print. There is a team of 4 of us in charge of designing the Travel+Leisure and Departures magazines and each and every coworker is someone I look up to and respect. In the few months that I have worked here, I have learned from each of them and that is all I can really ask for—to continue to grow and learn as a designer, in a place like Time Inc. is beyond incredible.
Outside of design, what are your favorite things to do? You mentioned being obsessed with Disney’s Pixar. Any favourites that had great storytelling?
Great storytelling is something that I have always been attracted to, and without knowing it, something I have always tried to instill in all the work I have done.
I was lucky enough to be born at a time when Toy Story was essentially made for me; I was 7 at the time it came out, hence it is my favourite. But outside of that, Pixar has a way of telling stories that are so simple even a child can understand it, but so complex that adults are just as enthralled with them. It is the way they can distill an idea down to its most simple core, with no fluff, that I admire so much. It also comes as no surprise to anyone that outside of design I am an avid reader. For the same reasons that I view design as an escape, I view novels and film the same. Real life is hard, and yet there are opportunities to let imaginations run wild, to dream, and we as designers get to contribute to those dreams.
Are you working on any passion projects outside of work?
I am always thinking of new things that I want to do but unfortunately, I don’t do the best job of following up on those ideas. Maybe putting it down on paper here, this will give me the push to finally start doing some of those things. I have lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for as long as I have been in NYC and there are a few restaurants whose branding leaves something to be desired. I have started on one of my favourite Italian restaurants and will just send them what I come up with in terms of re-branding. I don’t expect them to do anything with it but I am doing it more for myself, to keep my branding work up. However, if they do want to use it, great! They will have gotten some free design work and another one of my creations will be out in the world.
Do you want to deepen your design skills like Sam? Then maybe a career in Graphic Design is what you’ve been looking for! Come to one of our Info Sessions to learn more about studying at Shillington. You can learn more about our Shillumni and what they’re doing by heading over to the Interview section.