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From Banking to Design—Olivier Adam, Shillington New York Graduate

Olivier Adam was enjoying a super successful banking career, but “all [the] perks couldn’t fill the emptiness [he] felt from not knowing why [he] was getting up in the morning.” He always loved design and creativity, so he quit his job and decided to study at Shillington.

Read on to hear about Olivier’s big career switch, a recent professional project and advice for future design students.

You had a very different career before Shillington. Tell us about making the change from a steady banking career to the life of a designer.

I have been passionate about graphic design and visual arts since high school, but I never thought I could make a career out of that passion. Probably because ten or fifteen years ago in France there wasn’t enough information regarding the access to graphic design school and courses. I majored in Economics, and one thing leading to another I started working in banking. I worked in the bank industry in San Francisco, Paris, and New York for six years. As a matter of fact my last job in NYC was something that anyone who is looking to grow in that industry could wish for: steady salary and growing opportunities, paid vacation, insurance, bonuses and more.

But all these perks couldn’t fill the emptiness that I felt from not knowing why I was getting up in the morning, and not accomplishing something at the end of the day. I decided to become a graphic designer. I quit my job and went to Shillington.

Now I work as a freelance graphic designer with all the “risks” that it entails, and never been happier.

My worst day as a graphic designer will always be better than my best day as a bank employee.

But don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets; working in banking was definitely not creative but it helped me to deal with some of the challenges I face as a graphic designer now, and I was able to acquire some skills that many designers still need to develop in their daily work.

Why did you choose Shillington?

I was switching to a new career and an entirely new industry so I could not afford to take a two or three year degree. I needed an intense course that taught me the necessary skills to aspire for a graphic designer position upon graduating. After some research, an Info Session, reading amazing reviews, and looking at former students work online, I found Shillington in New York.

Now you work as a freelance designer. What’s your typical day like?

When I freelance in-house for companies or agencies my day is pretty much dictated by the needs of the team.

When I work on my own schedule, not every day is typical, which is why I love graphic design.

I work on two types of projects: of course I do work for clients, and I work on personal projects which are a way to add material to my portfolio, prospect new clients, and gain experience on new aspects of graphic design. The day usually starts with emails, organizing my day, then designing, whether it is for a client or a personal project. I usually produce in the morning, for some reason that’s when I feel inclined to create; but if I have an urgent request I can produce day and night. I take the afternoon to look at my marketing (website, social media, etc.), evaluating some of my work and how I could improve it, prospecting, finding inspirations, learning new skills or improving my set of skills. I try to keep the day as diverse as possible, otherwise I start procrastinating which can be very counter-productive.

Can you share the process behind a recent project?

In general the process remains the same. It starts by deeply understanding the brief (reading and rereading it), researching, and formulating a question through brainstorming. This stage is key, understanding who your client is, what their need is, and how to answer the problem is very important.

There is no point in creating an amazing logo or identity if you are not answering the right question.

The second stage aims to find an answer to the question. I go through different idea generation techniques in order to define one, two, or three strategies and visual concepts. This stage is truly the problem solving part; there is no wrong answer, I really use as many ideation techniques as possible, it is a way to look at the problem from different angles. The next stage is the creative part as it involves moodboarding, thumbnailing, and designing. The final stages are related to feedback from the client, refining the project, and finalizing the project.

I am currently working on a personal identity/packaging project that I would like to submit to a high end French wine-maker, a so-called Grand Cru. I have read that they are trying to enter the US market. My research shows that they strongly value their history, geography, tradition, and image with the public. The challenge is to match these values with the expectations of the American wine market and consumers. My strategy was based on the need to appeal to a new market without affecting the perception that the public might have of the product. In terms of visuals I decided to use new but elegant graphic elements such as colors and logo, and to go for a more modern label and identity.

Why do you love working as a designer?

Being a graphic designer means being versatile, multi-skilled, a problem-solver, curious, passionated, and creative. It is a constant learning process in an industry where you can collaborate with interesting people, with different background and stories.

You explore new domains that keep feeding your passion and curiosity. That’s how I discovered typesetting and typography in detail, and the wish to create editorial design work. You need to remain up-to-date to new trends, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have you own style and personality.

What advice would you give to a Shillington student on day one?

Adopt a learning mindset and be ready to absorb as much information as you can. Have a positive attitude and ask as many questions as you need to. Be ready to live, breath, eat and sleep graphic design. You are going to be surrounded by amazing teachers, and students, who share the same passion. Work hard and you will start seeing the results. And have fun!

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

I have the chance to live in New York City, a temple of visual arts. Of course there are the museums and the exhibits, but you have design everywhere. I like wandering around with my camera looking for a cool artwork, poster, or grafiti – you can find some of my discoveries on my Instagram page. I also still use the visual diary that I started at Shillington, I update it with anything I find out there and that can be used for inspiration. I go online too, there are good websites that showcase interesting projects and their process; I like looking at online work and try to understand what is their concept. I also enjoy creating without a purpose, meaning sketching, drawing, or doodling, who knows maybe that can lead to a future logo or an illustration.

Anything else you’d like to share?

One of my favorite quotes. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Confucius

Huge thanks to Olivier for sharing his story! Be sure to check out his website and follow him on Instagram.

Want to make a big career switch like Olivier? Study design 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York, London or Manchester.

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