The George sisters—Amanda and Anika—both studied part-time at #shillony. Amanda George graduated in 2012 and has developed a seriously impressive resume. An in-demand digital designer, she’s freelanced across industries, including full-time with R/GA and Kettle, where she worked in-house at Apple. Anika George only graduated last month, but she’s already hit the ground running as a junior designer at Nelson Cash in New York City.
Today we catch up with both sisters and learn about their creative journeys, what it’s like juggling part-time study with full-time work and why they love graphic design.
Anika—we heard you landed a job just a couple weeks after graduation. Tell us about that!
I’m now a junior designer at a firm in Dumbo called Nelson Cash! I honestly love it here so far—the environment here is super open and collaborative and I feel like it’s exactly what I went to Shillington for. It’s kind of my dream job.
Amanda—what advice did you give your sister at her recent graduation?
I told her to not stress out too much about the end result of getting a job, but instead enjoy the creative process of completing her book. School is one of the few times where you have full control of the projects (outside of self-initiated work). While it gets intense, preparing for that big day it’s important to know there’s a lot of opportunity to refine and enhance your book after the celebrations are over. Graduation day is just you leaving the safety and security of school to step out into your new life as a designer.
Amanda, you graduated from Shillington in 2012. Tell us where your creative journey has led you!
I’m currently a digital designer. I began to freelance right after I graduated in 2012. I worked in-house at Diane von Furstenberg, Media Arts Lab in Los Angeles and a small shop called The Gate in New York. I got my first full-time opportunity from R/GA New York where I worked on Nike, Acuvue, Samsung and Audible over the course of two years. I’m currently in Silicon Valley partnering with Kettle and working in-house at Apple, but I’m soon relocating to Portland going back to R/GA where I’ll be doing more product focused work on the Nike+ Running team.
Amanda—what have been one or two of your favourite recent projects?
Due to my non-disclosure agreements I can’t talk about my recent Apple work, but I did work on some interesting stuff with that client and learned a lot about process. Outside of the work I did there, I designed Nike’s website for their Black History Month collection. That was a fun project where I had an awesome copy partner and we had a great time brainstorming around content and layout for the page. It came out pretty well and I was happy with the work.
The other project I really enjoyed was the virtual try-on mobile app experience we created for Acuvue Define contact lens. While albeit not as sexy and the Nike work, I learned a lot about experience design from my collaborative partners and it’s what sparked my interest in product design and new technology.
That’s a really tough one given the fact that I’m only two years into my career, but I’d say the opportunity to work with brands like Nike and Apple. I’d only dreamed of such a thing while in school and to be able to say that I’ve worked on international projects for those companies is really amazing.
I feel lucky to have had the chance to do this and am humbled every day by the amazing people I get to partner with. Every day offers me the ability to learn something new.
What were you up to before Shillington?
Anika: I was at an ad agency in Midtown working as an Account Executive—kind of floundering between advertising and marketing jobs since I left college. I always knew I wanted to do something creative, and graphic design just ended up making sense as something that I should be doing for a living.
Amanda: Prior to Shillington, I was an Associate Media Director at an advertising/media planning agency called MEC. I managed media strategy and budgets for all soup brands under the Campbell’s Soup portfolio. I was pretty successful in my career, but didn’t feel like media planning was my true purpose. I always loved beautiful things. Gorgeous environments, clothing, photography, jewelry and of course, design. I actually took a few classes on interior decorating at FIT before I learned about Shillington. The ability to put together a graphic design portfolio over the course of 10 months was very appealing to me so I enrolled. I still love decorating and styling and I hope to have more opportunities to do that in the future.
Why did you decide to study graphic design?
Anika: The best thing about Shillington is the fact that it promises a marketable portfolio at the end of the course, and it delivers on that promise as long as you’re willing to put in the work. Courses I’d taken elsewhere did provide a great design education, but getting that portfolio is crucial to the job search post-graduation. If you’re serious about changing careers but feeling stuck in your current one, Shillington is an amazing resource for helping you making that sometimes-difficult transition.
You studied part-time. How did you find juggling full-time work and evening classes?
Anika: To be perfectly honest, I found it fairly difficult! Time management is so crucial to getting the most out of the course. Finding that seven hours outside of class to catch up on coursework was pretty challenging sometimes when all I wanted to do was sleep.
Amanda: It was hard! Like really hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat how difficult it was to manage them both. Especially with the type of managerial job I had where I not only handled close to $100MM of media budgets, but I also had a staff of five to mentor and train. I juggled both work and school for six months and then decided to leave my job so that I’d have to time to completely focus on my portfolio.
At the time it was the craziest thing I’d done, but looking back it was also the most brilliant.
Leaving my job gave me to ability to dedicate myself to the goal of becoming a designer. School became my full time job and the extra time I put in really showed in my work. I know it’s not possible for everyone to do this, but I do really stress the importance of not just showing up to class, but doing all of the homework and assignments offered by the school. It’s not what you do in class. It’s the inspiration you seek and the time you spend problem solving outside of it.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Anika: I’d always had an interest in design throughout my whole life, but only started taking it seriously as a possible career in the past few years. I was a huge nerd as a teenager (still am, honestly), so I spent a lot of time on the internet making web pages and icons for LiveJournal. I think the first graphic design program I got really good at was a hacked version of PaintShop Pro I downloaded from Napster.
For me, I love the storytelling aspect of design—I love thinking about and hearing about why a design was approached a certain way.
What do you love about being a graphic designer?
Amanda: I love the creative process. From the moment I get a brief and have a small panic attack wondering how the hell I’m going to solve the design problem, to the eureka moment I randomly have at 2p on a Sunday when it suddenly comes to me. I love the hard days when nothing seems to be working and I question my life decision on becoming a designer just as much as the days when my creative director gives me props for nailing a project. Why? Because it’s all part of the process. None of it can be isolated as one thing. It’s all part of the whole circle of this crazy thing that’s my career. I also love the making aspect of it. Design is deeply personal and no two designers will come up with the same solution because the work we do is developed using references that are unique to ourselves. I never had that type of personal input while being a media planner and I love that about being a designer.
Did you have any previous design experience? How did the course build your skill set?
Anika: I’d taken a few design courses in college, and there was also my previous self-taught experience. Shillington helped me refine my style by helping me understand the difference between okay design and amazing design. It also taught me a process for creative thinking—there is a method to the madness, and that is really helpful when you’re in a time crunch at a real-world job. I also came into the course seeing grids as superfluous, but left wondering what I ever did without them. That was a pretty big deal.
Anika: Sometimes I’d struggle with being confident in presenting my work—there’s always that nagging feeling that your work is inferior to that of your peers. Criticism can feel really scary sometimes! After all, your designs are a manifestation of your thoughts. I just learned to not take things so personally since a lot of design is subjective. Everyone’s coming at what you do from a completely different perspective, and I find that refreshing. Also, it sounds cheesy but believing in yourself and your work goes a long way in making other people feel good about it too.
What are your favourite creative resources?
Honestly, at the risk of being vague, I mentally catalogue inspiration from everything—from art to film to fashion to food. Inspiration can be found everywhere if you’re open to it.
Which other designers, artists, or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Amanda: I’m actually not following any artists or designers at the moment. It’s funny because I was all about following others initially (I even had a blog dedicated solely to design) and it’s what first pulled me into the field. As I grew my career I became to play the unfair game of comparison, constantly drawing a parallel to myself and others in the field while not giving enough dedication and attention to my own craft. I don’t do that very much anymore, but I do use Google’s Benchwarmer plug-in as my homepage to casually look at design inspiration when time allows. However, I’m a big fan of self-development and am finding a lot of inspiration in Jen Sincero’s book, You are a Badass. I have the audiobook listen to it almost daily as a reminder to keep living my best life. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s reading this interview.
Amanda: Go for it! Shillington offers incredible life-changing opportunities for those who have to discipline to do what it takes to be successful. Holly is a great director and the teachers are patient, kind, knowledgeable and will do everything in their power to set you up for a brilliant design career. You just have to give it your all.
Anika: Do your homework!! Our instructors would always suggest doing 7 hours minimum of work outside of the classroom, and although it seems like a lot, the time spent upfront on assignments is absolutely worth it when you’re racing to the finish line right before graduation. And listen to your instructors —everyone truly wants your work to reach its maximum potential so the advice you get is invaluable.
How do you think young designers can make an impression during a first internship or job?
Amanda: A positive impression can be achieved by staying hungry and passionate about the tasks given — even if they seem to be boring. Proving your worth is crucial as a new hire. No one is going to give you a big opportunity from the jump. It sounds really cliché, but staying humble and hungry really is the best advice I can give. Every task no matter how small is important and instrumental in building your knowledge and skill set.
Creating a banner ad for an unknown brand is just as important as designing a website that will be seen by millions of people.
Approaching every task with integrity and excitement will take you a long way in your career.
Amanda George Projects—Nike, Acuvue, Audible.
Anika George Projects—Belle & Whistle, FKA twigs.