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From Fashion Sales to Designer—Ariana Villegas, Shillington New York Graduate and Designer at Simplecast

Ariana Villegas studied business management and worked in fashion sales for 5 years before she decided to pursue her true calling in a more creative field. After contemplating taking a chance, she finally enrolled in the 3-month full-time graphic design course at Shillington. Since graduating in 2018, Ariana won a GDUSA Award and was a AGDA finalist! She now works as a designer for a podcast company called Simplecast.

Read on to get Ariana’s advice about transitioning careers, hear about a zine she’s currently working dealing with the effects of climate change geared towards millennials of the Philippines, her process behind 2 favorite portfolio pieces and her in-house designer role at Simplecast.

Prior to working as a designer, you worked in fashion sales. Tell us about your path to what you’re doing now.

My background was in a completely different field. I was working in wholesale sales for fashion brands creating business reports and working with vendors and buyers from the largest department stores in the US (Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and such) for 5 years. I decided to leave that career path because I’ve loved design all my life and wanted to pursue this true passion. I took a huge risk and left that comfortable path to go through this intensive graphic design program. Less than 2 months after that program, I got a job with a tech start-up as a designer both for product & branding which was surreal. I also received recognitions from GDUSA and AGDA for graphic design during that timeline. It was unbelievable how my life completely changed in less than 6 months all thanks to Shillington!

What advice can you offer to someone who wants to transition careers?

Go for it! I know it can be scary and unnerving to risk it all, especially if all you’ve known your whole life is this current career that you have. It took me years before I acknowledged that I wanted to do design and mustered up the courage to actually do something about it. My advice is if you’re constantly thinking about transitioning to this creative career and if you absolutely love design, just go for it! Prepare for the months to come, budget and all. Make a plan. Do everything you can to make it happen. If this is really what you want to do and you’re willing to work hard for it, I think it will work out. I never looked back.

Did you have any previous design experience? How did the course build your skillset?

My degree was in Business Management. After that, I did a quick fashion design summer program at Parsons when I first moved to New York but it wasn’t really that related to what I learned for graphic design. I do a lot of photography as a hobby which I think is the thing prior to Shillington that I recognize as a previous “design” experience. There are some things in photography like composition that are related to graphic design. The course built on this skillset further by training my eye to recognize good composition and good design.

What made you choose the full-time vs the part-time course?

I did the full-time course because I wanted the full immersion with the program and the teachers.

I wanted to get that similar grind when you’re actually working as a designer with an agency or in-house and that was how the full-time program kind of went. It was super fast-paced and an intense daily practice which I thought were perfect training for the real world. I also knew that this is what I wanted so I just went for it all the way.

What was your biggest challenge during the course?

Portfolio week was my biggest challenge during the course. It was the most exciting and the hardest part of the course. I learned so much about myself during portfolio week. I was surprised that I could function with 3-4 hours of sleep for 3 weeks.

Can you tell about your favourite student briefs?

I think the campaign identity and packaging were my top-tier favorites. I think I’m a conceptual designer first. I love ideas that are totally different, have depth and are impactful. The packaging brief specifically I had a lot of fun with. When I got my demographic and product—eggs for detectives, I just went wild and designed the packaging with a story in mind which led to creating an app.

For the campaign identity for Vice Media, I knew that this was something that would be the project that would mean the most to me. The brief was to create a campaign identity that answers the company’s problems of sexual harassment and a known old boy’s club culture. Vice was a dream company of mine to work for (still is) because of how they are disrupting media storytelling and creating raw content. These allegations were unfortunate. I had to do a lot of research to answer the brief truthfully.

I thought the best way was to have an event that featured powerful women who have broken the glass ceiling in the workplace like Simone Askew, the first female African-American Cadet at West Point. I used an old typeface and broke it as a type treatment to convey breaking the history of unjust acts against women. The concept was ‘Break the Ceiling. Break History’. I think it worked out. Now I hope Vice actually does it!

You were a finalist of the 2018 AGDA design awards for your Rouge Egg packaging project. Congratulations! Can you tell us about the brief?

The product and demographic that I got (which were randomly chosen) were eggs and detectives. This was a time when I had watched a few episodes of The Americans, Russian sleeper spies and all. I was inspired by that idea so I created this whole story that there was this rogue egg out there with classified intelligence and your mission is to find it. 

Do you think it’s important for designers to apply for design awards and competitions?

I think visibility in the real world is important for designers who are looking to meet fellow creatives and find work or projects. Awards and competitions are great platforms for that.

You’re currently working on a project focused on the Philippines and the effects of climate change back home. Can you share more details?

When I was still in school back home in the Philippines, I was involved in poverty alleviation projects and was in an environmental awareness program. Growing up in a third world country, it’s inevitable to be constantly surrounded with pressing realities. Now as a designer, I have a personal and tangible platform to express my ideas. I’m currently working on a zine that directly speaks to the Gen Z and the millennials of the Philippines, the future decision-makers of my home. I want to acknowledge the power that these generations have in making a difference.

Have you worked on any other projects recently?

I designed a poster for my friend who is launching her podcast about the power of arts for social change called Disruptivist. I created the podcast artwork she used for iTunes and Spotify.

The past year, you’ve been working on an awesome website and product app for Simplecast. What’s a typical day like working there?

Simplecast is a powerful podcast hosting web app and analytics platform. As an in-house designer, I create designs both for our product and branding/marketing. I closely work with our Head of Design, Ryan Essmaker. He also owns and co-founded The Great Discontent magazine. He has a bold and clean taste in design which initially attracted me coming to this job knowing where the brand identity was going. We also have a design consultant, Frank Chimero who has worked with big brands like Microsoft, developing brands for their digital ventures.

Usually for a bigger project, we would be working closely and collaboratively whipping out designs. It’s been exciting working with these pros! For Simplecast, we didn’t want to create a product and identity that looked like another SaaS product. We designed the product with clean aesthetics and strategic use of typography. The web app is currently being used by Facebook, Netflix, Kickstarter, Twitter, Nike, Harper’s Bazaar and more.

Do you have a favourite book cover design?

I’m a sucker for old vintage books. The new one I’m reading right now and also has a great cover is Truman Capotes’ Other Voices, Other Rooms. I think that typography is sexy.

What do you love about being a designer?

As a product designer, I love using design to solve problems. As a conceptual designer, I love telling stories through wild ideas.

What tips do you have for someone just starting out as a designer?

Take in as much inspiration—from the web to art shows, films, music, culture, travel and personal experiences.

Always keep your eyes and ears open. Being “in tune” with what was happening around me helped me come up with ideas that went into my portfolio.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

Elvis Presley & climate change.

You also love travel photography! Did you have any favourite travel destinations?

The recent one was my solo trip to Japan. I did a lot of street photography during that trip. The country has both a rich traditional culture and innovative/futuristic way of life.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us!

I listen to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ before I go in for a big interview or something important that makes me nervous. It’s an instant confidence booster. I box regularly which maybe explains the reference.

Big thanks to Ariana for sharing her Shillington story! Be sure to check out her website and follow her on Instagram.

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