career, education

How Punk Rock Has Made Me a Stronger Designer

I just filled out an application to become a part-time graphic design teacher at an alternative school. Naturally, the first question they ask is why do you want to be a teacher. In many ways, I had to stop myself from typing, "BECAUSE F*CK THE ESTABLISHMENT, THAT'S WHY!" And while I didn't think that starting off an application with a slew of curse words longer than a N.W.A. song was the best idea, the overall sentiment is perhaps still the same. 

I said I was interested in teaching because:

  • I'd like to offer exposure to atypical career trajectory
  • Want to encourage alternative education in the forms of what's available in public access, community, self-taught whatever, etc.
  • I'm more of an asker than a teller. I explained how I just read a book called, Humble Inquiry which says that the most dangerous thing in American culture is that we tend to do a ton more telling than asking. As a result, people are made to feel dumb for asking questions and keep quiet. Humility is not valued in this type of environment. I'd love to create a classroom focused more on asking questions rather than telling students what I know, what they did wrong, etc. I feel this is especially valuable in an artistic classroom where, isn't design subjective anyway?
  • Celebrate students' authenticity. Both personal and professional
  • Don't want students to make the same mistakes I did or am still making

I wish I could change that last bullet to a past-tense phrase but truth-be-told, I am still making many, many mistakes in my career. Most recently, I'm upset with forgetting who I am and what I believe in, especially in the workplace. When I think about what I value, I care about real art/design (art-art, performance art, film, music, etc.). I care about work/life balance. I try to be healthy and environmentally conscious. And people/culture. I care about connections and relationships with people. 

So where does punk rock come into play in all this? 

As a former dedicated member of the Misfits field club and attender of hundreds and hundreds of small DIY shows, I've learned so many more valuable lessons in teamwork, dedication, and community than I ever had in any corporate office. Let's not forget what punk rock teaches above all else: that you should be free to be whoever you want to be. Don't let society tell you what defines success and what it looks like. Refuse to be put in a box, especially in a box that someone else made for you. "Do It Yourself," a core value of punk rock, is the ultimate reminder to find your own way to do you. 

If I'm able to go into a classroom and teach students to DIY their design, their life, whatever and to offer them a safe space to explore/reclaim/question/confirm who they are, that would be an establishment that I would be proud to be a part of. An anti-anti establishment, of course.



Here's What I'm Doing to Stay Current as a Graphic Designer

I know what you're thinking: "Emily, how are you possibly staying current when you're working for a company that's mostly dealing with print?"

What a great question and a definitely something I'm aware of. In this day and age where the career paths of graphic designer, web designer, UX Designer, Front-End Developer, etc. are increasingly becoming more intertwined with one another, it's not enough to be a mere print designer. At the very least, it's essential that I have basic, working knowledge of these areas. Although the company that I work for currently does not offer continuing education courses or skill enrichment sessions, I've taken it upon myself to see what resources I can utilize both within the city that I live in and this wonderfully expansive thing called "the internet."


First, I've joined the Philadelphia chapter of the MeetUp group "Girl Develop It" who describe themselves as, "Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their every day lives."

My first course starts in May and is called, "UX101: Intro to User Experience (UX)" and I'm really excited to not only learn about the subject, but to network and get to know others in the scene. I'm so so grateful that this company exists and is providing such wonderful, affordable education. Honestly, I have looked into certificate programs as well as adult programming courses at local colleges, but cost was always a major concern. Thanks Girl Develop It!



Second, I'm utilizing Aquent's online "Gymnasium." Aquent says the following about its wonderful resource, "We created Aquent Gymnasium to bridge the skills gap. The skills gap is getting in the way. It prevents companies from engaging customers across devices and taking advantage of emerging technologies. It also prevents digital, creative, and communications professionals from producing great work, delivering results and advancing their careers. Aquent Gymnasium bridges the skills gap by taking what we've learned from our clients and developing free, online courses that teach digital designers and front-end developers today's most in demand skills."

I love what Aquent says about its "Gym" and I couldn't agree more. Even to call it a "gym" implies "working out" skills, "stretching" your brain, "pushing yourself" to improve. I found this amazing resource while researching AIGA's "Career Resources and Tools" section, which I am a member of. Right now, I'm just enrolled in the introductory classes, but I'm going to take as many classes as they offer.

So that's what I'm up to. I hope that anyone reading this post recognizes my desire to grow as a designer, even if that means finding a way to do so, independent of the office. I'm taking the initiative and happily looking forward to achieving my goal of becoming a more well-rounded graphic designer. Who is current, of course.