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Seven Years Since Shillington New York: Linda Gao, Designer at HBO

Linda Gao graduated from Shillington New York back in 2011, switching careers from project management and moving in a brand new direction. Now she works at HBO, focusing on the design and production for all the titles and images seen across MAXGO’s digital platforms.

Read on to hear about her decision to study again after university, the creative process behind a recent (super cool!) packaging freelance project and why she loves working as a designer in Los Angeles.

What were you up to before Shillington?

I was working in project management for various advertising and media agencies. As much as I liked the companies I worked for, I always felt like I was on the wrong side of the team, and gravitated towards the creative side.

Why did you decide to go back to school for design, after already getting a university degree?

I had been interested in art and design since I was a kid but never considered pursuing it as a higher education, nor did I understand what Graphic Design is really about. Only after graduating from college and working in the agency world-I realized it’s something that I want to pursue more seriously. 

Why did you choose Shillington? 

I chose Shillington because it offered the exact type of classes I was looking for. At the time I wanted to find a program that taught the ins and outs of design without having to commit to a 4 year degree. The 3 months full time course at Shillington seemed ideal. I was impressed by their student portfolios and after attending an Info Session, I knew it was the right choice for me. 

You’ve built an amazing creative career since graduating back in 2011. Tell us about shifting into design. What was your first interview for a design job like? What did it feel like when you landed that first design role?

Thanks! Oh boy that feels like such a long time ago. I do remember feeling extremely confident going into the interview and was very excited to present my work. I was so excited to start working professionally as a designer that I think my enthusiasm really came through. I had a couple short-term internships that helped me transition into the field, and when I landed my first full time design role at a small branding agency, I was nervous at first but definitely ready to dive in. 

What do you do at HBO? Give us a glimpse inside your typical day!

I work on the streaming services team at HBO, which includes HBO GO, HBO NOW and MAX GO (the streaming service for Cinemax). Most recently my focus has been on MAX GO. I am responsible for the design and production of all the titles and images seen across MAXGO’s digital platforms, as well as producing its weekly newsletters, along with various other projects.

Last year Cinemax went through a brand refresh, and our team helped to adapt the new look and feel across various MAXGO’s digital assets.

Can you share the process behind a recent creative project? 

A recent freelance project I had a lot of fun doing is a label and packaging design for an IPA beer called POW!. This was a seasonal beer released by Highland Brewing Company, which is located in Asheville, NC. The client wanted a comic book aesthetic to complement the intensity of a triple IPA. As with any project, I started with a lot of research on the comic book theme as well as the company to see how I can best marry the two. Then I put together few sketch options for the client along with some visual references. After the client selected a version, I brought it in the computer and digitized it. Then we had couple rounds back and forth to nail down the color and I’m really happy with how the final design came out! We started with the label first, then I adapted the design to the tray packaging. 

Why do you love working in LA? What’s the creative scene like? Any tips for people wanting to start their career there?

Los Angeles is inspiring in so many ways, there’s great typography everywhere and I especially love the art deco/mid century architecture that’s been preserved in certain neighborhoods.  I am also a huge plant nerd, so living in a city with access to so much nature has definitely been a bonus. I’ve been doing a lot botanical illustrations in my free time and all of the inspiration came from plants/flowers I stumbled upon while exploring the city. I think compared to NY, LA can be more difficult to meet fellow designers if you don’t already have a network established. But there are organizations such as AIGA and General Assembly that host fun events which provide networking opportunities.

But most importantly, as with starting a design career anywhere, I’d say you really have to work hard, be humble, and enjoy the process!

Who were your Shillington teachers and what were the biggest lessons they taught you?

I had Holly, Sumayya, Dailey and Matt as my teachers. They were all wonderful. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that often times when you’re stuck on a design or can’t seem to move forward, it’s best to take a step back and look at the big picture instead of changing minor things here and there. Sometimes you need to change something drastic—whether in scale, hierarchy or color—to really make an impact. 

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about studying at Shillington?

I’d say if you’re passionate about design and are willing to put in the work, definitely do it. I loved my class and my classmates (some of them are still my close design friends today) and I now can’t imagine doing anything else as a career.

Shillington really prepares you with all the skills you need to enter the workplace afterwards.

However it does take a lot of hard work and determination. It’s very fast paced and stressful at times and you have to love the process as much as the results. If you can do that then you’ll come out with an awesome portfolio. 

Huge thanks to Linda for sharing her story! Be sure to check out her website, browse her Etsy Shop and follow her on Instagram.

Want to change careers like Linda? Study graphic design 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane –>

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