How a Graphic Design Career Found Me

Belt buckle design by Cristina Olds - How I became a graphic designer - Pyragraph
Belt buckle design by Cristina Olds. Your designs can end up on anything!

I’m all about quality of life and keeping it simple. Finding a career that feeds my creativity and puts kibbles in the bowl for my baby dog has been a winding road, but ultimately satisfying.

I became a graphic designer before most people knew what “graphic design” was.

These days designers are everywhere, even common characters in movies and books. Halle Berry’s Catwoman was a graphic designer by day, and the best-selling 2012 novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore features a laid-off designer and typophile. But back when I was in college, I didn’t study graphic design because I didn’t know what it was.

As creatives, we need to think creatively about how to survive in the job market, and gain experience wherever we can.

As it turns out, my liberal arts degree has served me well in the field I stumbled into more than 20 years ago. Sure, I had few marketable skills upon graduation, but I’d mastered WordPerfect (like MS Word, but clunkier!), thanks to my freshman roommate who had a personal computer, rare for 1987. Hers came with WordPerfect, and we used it for composing all our liberal arts papers.

With my word processing skills, my first job after graduation was as a secretary, and in my free time on the job, I started designing flyers and poetry books for friends and colleagues.

I found I had an eye for design, typography and pleasing arrangements of words and images.

Wanting to meet people in my new town, I volunteered for a nonprofit, feminist monthly journal. The other volunteers taught me design basics and old-school cut-and-paste production with a waxer. We composited pages of the journal monthly for the printing press.

With these mad old-school skills, I scored a part-time, temporary gig at a university laying out the course catalog. At this adult education haven, I attended a long list of free-to-employees classes in Photoshop, Illustrator and PageMaker. (Another classic! InDesign replaced it in the early 2000s.)

As creatives, we need to think creatively about how to survive in the job market, and gain experience wherever we can: volunteering, taking classes, stretching our skill sets on the job.

The employment market’s always been kind to me, and monetarily and emotionally, my needs are met. I’ve been steadily employed since I became a graphic designer in 1992.

Much of it has been more meat-and-bones production work, like daily newspaper pages, medical forms and two-color brochures. I’ve worked on many fun and creative projects over the years, as the art director for my own business, but making simple donuts is just fine with me, too. My pup says the kibbles are delicious.

Photo courtesy of Cristina Olds.

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