What was your experience like as an emerging designer when you started out?
Kerri: I went to American University and I studied graphic design. You do these personal projects in class and you think like, “Oh I’m going to be an amazing designer,” and then you get out into the real world and you’re like, “Wow this is not what I was thinking this profession would be.”
You have deadlines, and you have structures, and you have specs that you have to follow, and you have a lot of rules that you weren’t set on following when you were living this young life as a student. Some of it is good, and some of it is not so good. But I think that experience is what propels you to grow.
My first job wasn’t necessarily the most amazing place. It was a hard year, but grew me as a person because it allowed me to see, “Okay. This is what I don’t want to do,” or “This is how I don’t want to act.”
And that pushed me to be a better person, and to express myself in a way that I feel comfortable without hesitating to say what I feel and mean and can do.
Dian: I think for me, I don’t know how many challenges I had in the beginning. I think I was still trying to figure out who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do.
One of my challenges was getting my parents to fully acknowledge what I did. In particular my dad. It wasn’t so much he was like, “No you shouldn’t do this,” or that my mom was like, “No you shouldn’t do this.” They just didn’t understand what I was doing. So it took some convincing for them to understand that.
My dad was not a big fan of me going to an art school, but I did go to a four-year school. I went to a historically black college (HBC), and I interned. My mom was an advocate of interning, so I interned when I was in college in media. When I got out of school, I immediately went into media. I worked at daily newspapers, and then I landed a job as art director at USA Today. And it was in between that time that my dad was brought up to speed to what I was doing. And so I felt like I always had the support of my parents and friends.
Where it got a little tricky–where imposter syndrome came in–was not so much when I was doing the internships. I felt like I had a lot of support. They knew I was the intern, they were willing to teach me… My imposter syndrome came when I got to USA Today, and I was experiencing how to conceptualize stories.
I had an amazing boss. He was really strong in those areas [of conceptualizing]. And I had colleagues who were super strong in those areas as well. I was so used to being an illustrator and photographer–to being an artist doing page design. I never honed my skills in marketing, ideation, magazine conceptualization. I never honed those skills. And over time, while I was at USA Today I constantly felt like “Oh my gosh, I can’t nail this… What is the problem?”
So it took me a while to really get comfortable, and my boss would say, “It’s going to take you time. You don’t learn this over night, you know? You have to put in the work. And oh by the way, our media business isn’t a 9-to-5 business. In the world of publishing, you have 12 and 15 hour days every day, and so if you want to be here, you just have to commit to that. And it’s going to require sacrificing some of your time, maybe some money…”
And I was willing to do that. Again, I had a strong boss, and throughout my career, I have to honestly say–and this is not to brag–but I have been very fortunate to have really strong bosses. People who are willing to spend the time to educate and mentor me.
And when you have had that experience, you kind of expect it as you continue to move and grow. And when you don’t see that… when you don’t encounter that, you either fall back and reach out to them, or you start looking for other people that can mentor you.