Stephanie Halovanic works at one of the coolest design studios in the world, Sagmeister & Walsh. You might have heard of its co-founders, design legends Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh? They’re pretty dang famous. So how did Stephanie land the gig? With experience in advertising already but no design software skills (“I used InDesign to create my resume after college. That is it.”), Shillington’s three month design course helped her elevate her career as a Creative Producer and Writer.
Read on to find out how Stephanie studied design abroad and somehow found herself studying in a city she had never been to (Melbourne!), why “one day at Shillington is like a month of university,” and most importantly—get the inside scoop on life inside the studio at Sagmeister & Walsh. We love her descriptions of Stefan and Jessica’s work styles, how “everyone in [New York City] is a creator” and advice for graduates wanting to land a job somewhere as impressive as Sagmeister & Walsh.
Before Shillington, you worked in advertising in New York City, with aspirations of becoming an Art Director. Why did you want to study design?
During my time as an account manager and copywriter at R/GA NYC, I was exposed to traditional graphic design for the first time. It wasn’t until working at R/GA that I realized graphic design was the element of good visual creative work that I loved. Both inside and outside of branding. As a writer on the creative team at R/GA, I felt an increasing desire to be involved on the visual side of the work we were creating, not just writing. I decided I wanted to learn how to design myself.
Why did you choose Shillington?
One of my creative partners at R/GA was an incredibly fast designer, and he told me he’d studied at Shillington in NYC. I wanted to take time away from the industry and go back to school, but was not sure what type of secondary education made sense for the next chapter of my career.
Following many conversations with some incredible mentors, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to learn how to design and art direct, this was a hard skill I needed to take the time to learn. I talked to friends and coworkers who had studied at all sorts of creative schools and programs — ranging from 3 months to 3 years.
After doing my research, I realized the 3 month full time program at Shillington was a perfect fit for me. I had neither the time nor the financial resources to take on any more than that. I honestly felt so lucky that the program existed for these reasons.
Rather than going back to school for a few years or settling for a night class, I was able to immerse myself in the programs and the world of design for 3 straight months at a fraction of the cost of grad school.
Why did you decide to study at Shillington in Melbourne?
This is a great question for me. The most obvious question in my story is why I didn’t study at Shillington NYC.
By the time I learned about Shillington’s 3 month program, I had already planned to leave my job at R/GA and take 6 weeks backpacking Australia. The NYC program overlapped with my trip by one week, and Shillington told me I could not miss the first week. Initially, I thought this was ridiculous. What does anyone ever do the first week of school anyway? But after my first week of Shillington, I knew exactly what they meant. A day in Shillington time is like a month of university.
Determined to make Shillington work despite my hectic quarter life crisis travel plans, the folks at Shillington brainstormed with me over the phone about what I could do. They told me they had locations all around the world, and that Shillington was actually founded in Australia, where I would be. The person on the phone suggested I just do the program in Australia. I remember thinking this was an absolutely ridiculous idea at the time. After some thought and a leap of faith, I went for it.
I got so much more out of my time at Shillington than I could have ever imagined. I got to live in Melbourne, a city I fell for so hard that I almost didn’t leave.
I met incredible friends who I will know forever. And I grew more as a person than I ever have in my life. Melbourne was also such a great change of pace from NYC. The city is rich in art & music, and they have an incredible design community, which made studying design there super exciting. I’d never been to Melbourne before I arrived, so I had no idea what to expect. Entering a situation with no expectations is where the magic happens.
Did you have previous design software experience?
I used InDesign to create my resume after college. That is it.
Now you’re a Creative Producer at Sagmeister & Walsh. For those not familiar with the design world, can you please explain what a HUGE deal that is?
It’s a huge deal. Such a big deal that the night before my first day, my little sister, who is also a designer, dramatically said to me, “Stephanie, this is bigger than your wedding day.”
While that is hopefully a hyperbole, I think it explains the sort of 1 in a million feeling being offered a job at Sagmeister & Walsh felt like. Stefan Sagmeister & Jessica Walsh have had a huge impact on design for so many people, myself especially. Independently and together, they have shown the world how powerful and artistic graphic design can be, in both a commercial and personal way. They bend the rules and apply design across so many different mediums.
What was the interview process like?
Jessica had posted on Instagram that they were looking to hire someone for a role that combined production, strategy, design and copywriting in the branding space. The description was so unlike any other job I had seen and so perfectly described my colorful background in the creative industry — having worked nearly every job in an ad agency.
After submitting my resume, I answered around 20-30 questions that were sent, inquiring about everything from my past experience to my personal working style. Over the next month, I had two interviews with Jessica and was hired shortly after that.
What does being a Creative Producer mean?
Jessica and Stefan like to keep the studio very small, so there is a lot of opportunity to flex in different areas. I have a very fluid role at the Sagmeister & Walsh, which allows me to combine my unique background on both the creative & business side of the industry. As a creative producer & copywriter, my time is split between concepting, copywriting, managing projects and running the studio.
I also help run two of the studio’s self-initiated projects: Ladies, Wine & Design and Let’s Talk About Mental Health. These projects are probably the most fulfilling parts of my job. We’ve got big plans for both over the next year.
Can you tell us about the studio life and culture at Sagmeister & Walsh? What’s the team like?
As mentioned, the studio is very small, so we all know each other very well. Everyone in the studio is super great, down to earth and creative as hell. My coworkers are one of the very best parts of my job. They equally inspire me as much as they make me laugh. What more can you ask for?
Jessica and Stefan are both extremely inspiring to work with. Jessica has the best work ethic of anyone I have ever met. She has helped me grow as an efficient creative & learn how to make things happen. She is fearlessly creative. Stefan has an absolutely contagious zest for creativity and thinking outside of the box. He is incredibly inspiring when talking about work with both the studio and with clients. He helps everyone see graphic design as so much more than meets the eye.
As far as the work, there is a lot of creative freedom. During my time at Sagmeister & Walsh, I have been able to produce more creative work than anywhere else in my career.
So many amazing projects that I am so proud of will be launching soon!
What’s the best thing about being a creative in New York City? Any insider tips for us?
The best thing about being a creative in NYC is that you are inspired by everything. Everyone in this city is a creator. From the subway signage to incredible museums, there isn’t a moment that you can’t take away something that will make your work and your thinking better.
My tip: work hard, stay curious and don’t be afraid to share your ideas. If what you make is real, it’s right.
How did Shillington help you pivot your career?
Shillington taught me how to work hard and push myself creatively. The curriculum at Shillington is fast pace, and there is no room for slacking off.
You get what you put into it, and you have to put a lot into it to survive the 3 months. If you care, you’ll come out of there with a keen eye for design, a strong work ethic and super applicable tools for your creative process. I use things I learned at Shillington every single day.
Any advice for a designer wanting to land a job somewhere as impressive as Sagmeister & Walsh?
Be forward and make work you are proud of. Do not feel you must have a portfolio that looks a certain way or follows a certain design expectation. Make work you believe in, be curious about new things and apply for your dream job. At the end of the day, being hard working and curious are the best skills any creative can have.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you’re thinking about it, do it.
Would you like to work at a cool studio like Stephanie? Kickstart your creative career in 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane –> www.shillingtoneducation.com