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Meet Keiran McCann, Shillington New York Graduate and Designer at Victoria’s Secret

Keiran McCann’s passion for design evolved from her love of art, cinema, and culture. Since graduating from Shillington New York in 2015, she has been working as a multidisciplinary designer on projects ranging from branding and packaging to digital marketing and UI. In her current role at Victoria’s Secret PINK, she conceptualizes merchandising strategy into designs for marketing campaigns.

Read on to hear about the creatives who inspire her work, favourite client and self-initiated projects, and how having a background in marketing helped with her design career.

You studied Film and Media Arts. What inspired you to go back to school 3 years later and study at Shillington?

I loved my undergraduate experience studying film and media arts but while I was there, I took a few graphic design classes and found that they were my favorites in terms of the hands-on work. When I graduated from university, I found it really difficult to find consistent entry-level film/production work, so I ended up taking on a freelance position as a social media/email marketer with a boutique marketing studio. That gig ended up evolving into a full-time position and I began creating occasional visual assets such as emails, newsletters, banners etc. to aid in the social media marketing of the brands we were working with. Though it was a great learning experience and I was thankful for the consistent work, I really didn’t love what I was doing and once again discovered that the design aspect of my job was the only part about it that gave me any joy. However, my skills were rudimentary and I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a designer without proper credentials so I started to look into graduate design programs. The problem there was that the programs were very long, very expensive and you needed a portfolio to apply to them, which I did not have. A few Google searches later I discovered Shillington and it was like a lightbulb went on above my head. The program seemed perfect and a new course session was starting in only a few weeks. It felt like kismet! I made a few calls, scrounged up my savings and within a few days I was enrolled and attending my first class.

Since you had experience as both an illustrator and designer, how did the course further build your skillset?

The best thing the course gave me as an illustrator and a designer was the confidence to actually see myself as a professional in those fields. Despite my background, I had a lot of trouble viewing and pitching myself as a true designer and illustrator and thought of myself more as a reluctant marketer who dabbled in the creative.

The course taught me about up-to-date design trends, industry standard programs, deadlines, and practical technical skills.

It was an intense crash-course, but it was so necessary for me to learn more about who I was and where I wanted to take my career. Though I was sad to graduate and get back to the “real world” after only 3 months I also felt so ready and invigorated to get started.

Did your background in marketing and social media help you as a designer?

My marketing background definitely helped me as a designer. Since graduating from Shillington, I have almost exclusively worked in the realm of marketing design, which has been so interesting and has provided me with many different job opportunities. In particular, having a background in social media and email marketing helped so much once I shifted to the design only side of things. It gave me a better understanding of industry standards/lingo and taught me a lot about branding and how to engage your customer.

What was your favourite project from the course? Tell us your process and concept.

My favourite project from the course would definitely be Destination Branding, in which we had the opportunity to conceptualize the visual identity for a city of our choice for the purpose of encouraging tourism. I spent 4 years of undergrad in Philadelphia and found that it is an incredibly underrated city with so much to offer in terms of history, arts, culture, food, and sports. During the brainstorming process, I found myself sketching out all of the symbols/items I associate with Philadelphia. This process was so fun that I decided to channel that feeling of playfulness into the visual identity by integrating my love of illustration. The project started around this series of primary colour palette, flat vector drawings and branched out from there. This project was so fun, I could have spent the whole course working on the brand roll-out.

Tell us about your current web design role at Victoria’s Secret PINK. What is a typical day like?

I have been working at Victoria’s Secret PINK for a little over a year at this point and it’s so much fun. This is my first time working for a well-established, very large brand which means a lot of the headaches you get from working within start-ups or with independent clients are not a problem here. My coworkers are all very talented at what they do and I learn so much from them on a daily basis. I share the email design responsibilities with 2 other designers and on a daily to weekly basis we are typically editing/designing at least 10-20 emails, almost exclusively using Photoshop. Working for a retail brand means there are definitely slow seasons and busy seasons. Right now we are gearing up for Black Friday/Cyber Monday and our workload essentially doubled. It’s incredibly fast-paced and sometimes stressful but I love to be kept busy and I have really enjoyed being immersed in digital design at this time in my career.

Do you have any favourite design projects that you’ve worked on?

All of my favourite design projects were ones where I had a lot of creative control and are a mix of client commissions and personal endeavors.

  1. One of my first post-Shillington projects was to create technical book illustrations for Down Etc, a luxury bedding client. I got to travel for this project and consult a hospitality specialist at a hotel/resort on proper techniques for bed making and hospitality. I then hand drew over 50 vector illustrations of bedding-related items and practices. It was so much work, but I came out of it feeling like an Adobe Illustrator pro.
  2. Another favorite early project was designing a film poster for the Christmas-thriller Body, released by Oscilloscope Productions in 2015. This combined my 2 loves of film and design and was heavily influenced by Saul Bass. It was really cool to see my poster design hanging in theaters and being featured on iTunes.
  3. Every year I try to make at least one homemade gift for the holidays. I was inspired by the Shillington packaging design/branding project, so I decided to take my gift giving to the next level by branding and handcrafting 3 flavours of homemade cocktail bitters. This project was purely for fun so I allowed myself to be a little silly with it. The end result was Critter Bitters and it was such a success amongst friends and family, I am honestly not sure if I can outdo myself this year!

In your professional work, you’ve worked on projects ranging from branding and packaging to digital marketing and UI. Can you offer some advice to other designers who want to broaden their skillset within different branches of design instead of just one specialty?

The best advice I ever received was to be fearless about learning. One of the reasons why I love design as a career is because you don’t have to be limited to one specialty.

When I want to broaden my skillset I tend to have a “Do it yourself” mentality and will attempt personal projects outside of my day job that will ultimately teach me that new skill. For instance, right now I am designing a series of items specifically intended for Risograph printing, so I am teaching myself the ins and outs of that entire process while preparing the files. I am also a big advocate of investing in yourself, and one way I like to do that is by taking classes and workshops for the skills you can’t teach yourself.

You have a passion for cinema, art and culture. How have these interests informed your design and illustration work?

There is definitely an intersection between artistic mediums like cinema, art and culture. I am lucky to live in NYC and have so many galleries, museums, theaters at my disposal for quick inspiration. It’s fun to see how my various interests influence my creativity. For instance, Stanley Kubrick is a master of symmetry and composition. Every single item in his scenes is deliberate and serves a purpose, sometimes even subliminally. I think of him often when I am dealing with matters of visual perspective and balance. Ellsworth Kelly is an amazing visual artist I attempt to emulate when I am pursuing a minimalist design or using bold colour. I would even go so far as to say that food can be informative of my work. I recently had a life-changing omakase meal at a local sushi restaurant where everything from the place settings and meal plating was inspiring.

What creatives are inspiring you right now?

This question is so much harder than it seems at first glance! Film and art have been a huge part of my entire life and my inspirations are not necessarily limited to those 2 categories. In all honesty, I get a lot of inspiration from 80s slasher horror and trashy but colourful Gialli. But my top picks for filmmakers and artists would definitely be:

Filmmakers: Lynn Ramsay, James Gray, Dario Argento, David Lynch, Mike Leigh, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Anna Biller, John Carpenter, Joel Potrykus, Agnes Varda, John Waters

Artists & Illustrators: Daniel Clowes, Joan Cornellà, Kristen Liu-Wong, Lucy Knisley, Alice Neel, Lisa Congdon, Tara Booth, Tuesday Bassen, Faye Moorhouse, Stephen Powers/ESPO, Annie Atkins

Are you working on any side projects or taking on freelance work?

I am currently working on a few side projects after taking a long break this summer. Earlier this year I took on a little too much work in addition to my day job and I became very burnt out, so I decided to take a calculated step back for a few months to relax and recharge. That ended up being a great lesson in learning how to say “no”, which for some reason is something I have a problem saying and I definitely plan on pacing myself more in the future to avoid that burn-out. I am currently working on a fun logo for a non-profit called Playworks, a packaging project for an aromatherapy client I’ve worked with consistently called Adoratherapy, and I have begun to illustrate and design my own products/prints which I plan on attempting to sell as a way to raise money for non-profits and causes that I believe in.

Are you a part of the #Shillumni community? If so, what has your experience been like?

Yes, I am a part of the #Shillumni community and I think it’s a great network for job opportunities, feedback, guidance, and friends. The community is incredibly diverse and insightful. I have passed along job opportunities through the Facebook group and like to check in frequently to see other student’s portfolios and advice. It’s also a great way to learn about campus events like portfolio reviews and workshops. I have been to a couple of these events since graduating and always find them fun and informative.

Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers and students during the Shillington course?

Definitely! It is inevitable with the 3-month intensive course, when you spend so much time with a certain group of people working, learning, and commiserating, you can’t help but bond a little bit. We often spent time together outside of class and I definitely felt way more connected with my teachers than I ever did at a “traditional” learning establishment. The experience felt so much more like going to work in a really chill office. Even after graduating many of us have managed to stay in touch despite us being all over the world!

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us!

I have (slowly) been teaching myself how to read the tarot over the years. It has been very insightful, but mostly just fun! What I love about tarot is the traditional symbolism involved. It has definitely influenced by current work and has inspired me to one day design my own tarot deck.

Big thanks to Keiran for sharing her story! Check out her website and Instagram.

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