The story behind another successful year
I am a professional graphic designer and copywriter who graduated from The Art Institute in Miami, FL.
My reputation for attention to detail didn’t begin during my time at Ai, but preceded even my time at college. My high school years were spent in a purely creative zone with painting, and deep into journalism with yearbook class. I was always fascinated with storytelling, and little did I know that all of my experiences were to lead me to the world of graphic design.
My parents were extremely supportive of my decision to go to art school. It wasn’t my first choice. Actually, I was disappointed after graduating high school because my first, second, and third choices for colleges fell through. I saw myself going to FIU, which was literally like going to grade 13. Instead of having a brand new college experience, I saw the same old faces, felt the same way, and knew I was going to be stuck doing the same thing. After going to freshman orientation, even attending Panther Camp and meeting new people, I still knew it was going to be a big mistake for me. As soon as I told my mom about my realization, she helped me. Without me even knowing, she took my paintings that I created in high school and took them to every art school in close proximity. And that’s why the Art Institute was chosen. Or rather, they chose me.
Which isn’t to say that it was well deserved because of merit, for they accepted anyone with a willingness to learn. Passionate students are what made the art school experience what it was, so they quickly hurried my mother and I along with the enrollment process.
Regardless of how it came about, it changed the way I perceive professionalism. And The Art Institute gave me exactly what I wanted: to transform my passion into a tool for capitalism.
Images of the memorable moments
Making lifelong friends
My graduating class
Winner of Best Portfolio
A glimpse into the classroom on a professor's last day
Look long enough and you'll see two faces in this photo
Ai Winners of the Adobe Creative Jam
Some participants of the Adobe Creative Jam
DTCT Club at Ai
Participants of the DTCT Winter Photoshoot
Fashion design at Ai's DTCT Winter Photoshoot
Fashion Design at Ai's DTCT Winter Photoshoot
Photography class at Ai
Photography class at Ai
Photography class at Ai
Either getting to class insanely early or staying insanely late
Candid behind-the-scenes photo from another Creative Jam
She's going to love that this picture is here
A glimpse into some of my projects that didn't make it to Portfolio Review
The projects that made it to my Portfolio Review
My presentation table for Portfolio Review, photo taken by my proud dad
The memories, milestones, and little moments in between
New beginnings means not knowing what to expect, and having a flutter of excitement with each step. Although The Art Institute was located in Downtown Miami, which was only a car drive, train ride, and people-mover stop away from my house, it felt like a brand new step for me to move away from the cradle. I was excited to enter the university known for design, fashion, and the arts. Being considered an artist by every fellow student and teacher in every school up until that point, it only felt right for me to enroll into Miami International University of Art & Design.
What I didn’t prepare myself for, however, was that everyone in the school had felt the same as I had. Different, out-casted by the sheer fact that creativity dominated our lives. There is a well-known idea that artists by nature are sensitive. Sensitive to the world around them, to the beauty that exists in all things, and the creations that they have a hand in making. I didn’t realize that the school was going to gear us all for the real world. Art doesn’t need to make sense, but design does. Design needs a purpose. And being a graphic designer wasn’t about being an artist – it was about functionality and advertising. The biggest challenge for many artists, and for freshman me, was to separate your soul from your work.
I was delighted to bring my raw skills to the prestigious school, and how it could develop into a more refined professionalism. My goal was to transform my passion into a tool for capitalism, and the crushing weight of capitalism was the very thing that would later confuse what my passions really were. It wasn’t simply the act of painting, or drawing, as I later learned—it was the act of communicating with depth. Communication was the core of all advertising and design. What did this ad try to convey? And why? How? Questions that I never brought myself to ask about seemingly simple posters and commercials activated the part of my brain that loved to analyze. Suddenly creativity and critical thought were two sides of the same coin, bringing both sides of my brain into a harmony that wasn’t previously possible for me. Or so I thought.
As a freshman, I didn’t have a computer at home yet. But thankfully the school provided open labs to students that closed when the school did. Every night after classes I would go to the lab and complete my homework. Because I lived so far and needed to catch the train, by the time it was after 10PM I knew I needed to speed it up so I can reach the train before it shut down for the night. Thankfully I never missed it a single time. Other students didn’t realize this about me, so when I would come into class with all my work completed, they would stare at me in disbelief. How could you finish it all? It was a lot of work. I get tunnel vision with every project, this is just part of my personality. They didn’t know I didn’t have the same luxury as they did, to go home and eat a home-cooked meal before working, and if I was tired then I could just go to sleep and keep working the next day—no, not for me. I hustled very hard as a freshman, and dinner was my reward. Not the healthiest solution, but I was also running on pure creative adrenaline.
Life as a MIU student happened pretty quickly. Rather than a 4 year university, the entire degree can be completed in just 3 years. So instead of full calendar years, our course load was divided into quarters of a year. It was 11 weeks of nonstop creating, deadlines, critiques, and project management. For other universities like Florida International or University of Miami, your electives were art and the classes you needed to focus on the most was the core curriculum, like history or math. At AiMIU, professors would question why you are working on your online math portal when you should be focusing on drawing out your typography designs. The world was flipped upside down, and I absolutely loved it.
The shift in priorities was easy enough to handle, and making friends was easy. I gravitated to talented students, letting my brain enjoy their well-thought out creations. Getting lost in other peoples’ work was one of the biggest pros about being in design school. How did they think of that? It was like submerging into another person’s thoughts. Art is all about communicating feelings, and design combined the influence of a person’s psyche with an overall message or call to action. Growing up, I was often the quirky one. Now, the entire school was quirky. It was like finding home, a mass group of people with the same aspirations and priorities, with the same troubles and challenges.
One of those challenges was separating your own personal feelings from your work. The first time I saw one of the students run out of the classroom in tears, I chased after her to console her in the girls’ bathroom. She couldn’t handle the critique very well, but that only made her grow as an artist. Seeing her completely collapse at the professors’ very real and honest critique made me realize this fact faster—you are not your work. You are providing a service to non-creatives. It is not your job to create your own artistic baby. No, as a graphic designer, you are strengthening someone’s business. There are real consequences if you fail, real monetary consequences. It is better to learn faster that who you are as a person and as a creator does not rely on how others view your work. That is why there needs to be a goal to every piece of design—if you can communicate that goal effectively, then you are understanding the point of graphic design.
By the time sophomore quarter ended, I was already delirious. Constant projects and deadlines made my brain always hyper-activated when classes were in session. I had finally built myself a computer with the help of a friend, so now I was able to go home and work on my free time. It was a double edged sword, and at this point I realized what my other classmates were going on about. Having the option to not work, to rest instead, was a killer for creativity. I struggled to balance my life and work, and I secretly missed the days where I had to work on all my classes in one night otherwise I would miss the train and consequently missed the opportunity to work on a real computer. Nights became later, and turned into all-nighters. I remember that one time, I hadn’t slept for 3 days straight and when I drove to the train station, I started to hallucinate that there were people walking in the parking garage. There were no people. Falling asleep while on the train became the norm, and then I would miss my stop and have to go on the other train, just to arrive to school late. Tardiness became something I had to work hard at avoiding. I succeeded in that very rarely. One professor in particular gave me the most headaches for my tardiness, but I never complained as to why I was tardy—for me, there really was no excuse. I could only deal with the consequences, which one time meant failing a course and having to retake it. It was easy for me to own up to my mistakes, but not easy to handle the financial burden of it. We were all there for one thing—to become hirable. Despite the competitive nature of the work, I would defend my classmates whenever possible. If a student had great work but had difficulty explaining the purpose behind it, I would easily find the purpose and be able to explain it out for them. There was always a reason for everything in my eyes, and to one professor in particular I always had something to say. It was because of this that I later earned the nickname “The Lawyer.”
True to my nickname, I found a vice that helped me cope with the ensuing madness. There was a bar down the street from the university with $3 beer every Tuesday, and a group of students could always be found there every Tuesday. It became my new norm to find solace in the small hole in the wall. Truly, I found out what it really means to be a college student.
Senioritis is definitely a thing, but we couldn’t afford it. More than anything, we all wanted to graduate. No straight A’s? Fine, just make sure I graduate. The creativity was set aside, or rather lowered on the list of priorities. We were trying to just pass. The people who say that art school is easy has never gone to art school. Somehow, I made it on the Dean’s List during summer quarter of 2015. How? Don’t ask me—I was on autopilot. Project after project, critique after critique, buying materials just to have to buy them again because the critique was that it needed to be redone. The worst nightmare happened when I lost all of my files overnight. And then again, after redoing it all. Surprisingly though, doing the same work 3 times made it even better. I was more proud of the work, and in that experience it taught me that sometimes, the first things you make are sh*t. Concepts are meant to be thrown away, the strongest ones must be refined over and over and over until you are satisfied. And even then, look at it the next day because you might need to throw that one away and refine it again.
Apart from getting to know the design process up close and personal, the entire class formed a bond that stayed strong despite the fact that we would indeed be each other’s competition after graduation. And when I say “the entire class” I mean everyone who was scheduled to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design in the Spring of 2016. Our collective last class at MIU was in December of 2015, and over time you got to know pretty much everyone. Including the shy students. We all were in different age groups, but I had been one of the youngest. Some professors treated us like children, others treated us like we were already in the workforce. It was a strange balance, and by the time I was a senior, I held myself to a different standard than others. I no longer got lost in others’ work, I was so lost in my own. Each conceptual project needed to be so different than the others, and I long ago had learned to not put any of myself into my work, so it almost seemed sometimes that it was done by a different person. I wasn’t happy with all my design, and I don’t think many people were. But because of the deadlines, you couldn’t be a perfectionist, you just needed to get it done. Despite this, I did hold one project close to my heart, a storybook for children that I wrote and designed. I included it in my final portfolio, and to this day people ask me about it. I’m still writing it, even now. An idea that was in my head for so many years, and the pressure of being a student at the Art Institute is what finally gave me the time, resources, and experience to bring it to life. (And yes, I did recreate the first installment about a dozen times.)
The effects that can be done to photography in Photoshop is limitless, but a valuable lesson learned was that the camera itself is capable of so many effects all on its own. Without even touching a computer, we learned to play with exposure and lighting to create depth of field, change perception, create mood, and probably the most marketable skill—take portraits. One of the struggles of balancing schoolwork and personal time was trying to absorb all the information you learned in class but also coming to class fully rested to begin with. The only class that I regret dozing off in was photography class. Our professor Linda was so interactive and made us all enjoy the exploration of camera-use for graphic design. If only I had started drinking coffee at this point in my life. We would work in a real studio, with real industry-grade equipment, and there was no wrong way of taking a photo. Well, there definitely weren’t correct ways, like messing up the white balance of your photo, but as for what kind of pictures to take the creativity allowed to us was immense. This was one of the first and only classes where the lesson was taken outside of the classroom, and we would walk the streets of Downtown Miami looking for stories to capture. It was a fun and notable time as a student, and for me, it’s one that I cherish.
Using lighting to capture mood was something that you can feel as an onlooker, but not something I truly took notice of until we did it for ourselves. Even taking a portrait image, depending on whether you use a white or black background, can give a different feel for the viewer. This is why headshots for actors often have them wearing both a white and black shirt, to convey a different mood regardless if the expression on the face is the same. We also learned how to adjust the lighting for different skin tones to accentuate the beauty in all shades. Having fun was only a side-effect of the class once we got to snapping pictures. Learning the technicalities of how to use the camera is harder than it seems. Especially when you were pulling all-nighters. Anyone who doesn’t remember the valuable lessons from photography class is now stuck having to hire or outsource a photographer for your jobs, unless you were very good at making friends.
One of the first classes as a freshman for the graphic design degree was painting class. In high school, I had taken plenty of painting classes and built up a sizeable portfolio—I had even won the invitational award from the Philip & Patricia Frost Student Art Exhibition in 2011/12 for one of my art pieces. Ironically, it was this piece of art that made me start to consider graphic design, since the assignment was “Create a work of art to display graphic design.” To me, I had never even looked up what graphic design was. Did it mean make it colorful? Make it repetitive or with a pattern? The first critique on the art piece from my teacher Mr. Dawes was that graphic design used solid colors. I was used to creating lots of different shades then, and I didn’t want to start all over. So my solution was to outline each and every single different color shade on the art piece, which later made it award-winning. Realizing how well that turned out, it was what made me first realize that I wanted to be a graphic designer.
So being in painting class at a prestigious design school was even better, because now instead of having a concentration, or theme, we had particular assignments. These assignments were open-ended, which allowed our creativity to roam free. From graduating high school in 2012 to starting at The Art Institute just 4 months later, painting for personal edification was very familiar to me so I found the stress relief to be very handy. And finally, I was learning what graphic design really was. They eased us in to the tumultuous nature of the design industry, and thankful for that as well because many of us truly needed our hands to be held. Unlike other art and design schools, you didn’t need a portfolio to enroll in The Art Institute. You could be a non-artist, and learn the tools of the trade, and be a professional in 3 years. For those of us with a creative background, it only made some courses easier than others. There were still difficulties depending on who you were. Painting for me, though, was not the challenge. It was how to convey complicated ideas into something simple. Here, it didn’t matter how well the technique was—what mattered, and still matters to every professional designer, is how well it communicates to all of the viewers.
One of the professors was always talked about among the students, and not always in good ways. Without naming names, I had love/hate relationship for this particular teacher. Tough on you was always better for you, but people didn’t like that. It is harder when a professor knows your capabilities, but you aren’t showing it. That means that the job of the professor is to bring it out of you. Different people required different motivational tactics, and sometimes negatively charged motivation didn’t work. I learned from this professor that it most definitely worked on me. It angered me, and that was the very passion that forced me to stop being on auto-pilot. I was able to tell by the very last smile that this professor gave me during this class, that the outcome was wanted all along. The teacher is never your enemy, as much as it seemed so to everyone. You have to be pushed. You have to be better.
Packaging was definitely a new frontier for me. I worked in 2D spaces, whether it was on paper or on the computer. This brought your creations to 3D models. So not only do you need to have clear communication, exquisite branding, demonstrate the principles of design, and actually create the damn package—but you need to make sure it is measured correctly. I can’t recall how many sheets of paper I had to use in order to get the sizing just right. I would cut corners in the beginning, and I don’t mean literally. The simpler the package means I only need to focus on what counts, right? Design matters more than using just a box. But no, the very box itself is what communicates in package design. Cutting corners meant that you sacrificed an integral element to your design, thus ineffectively communicating your brand. Once I used a cigarette box to help me create a “different” type of package so that it could be seen that I was being “creative” but I was instantly called out on it. The professor knew what I was trying to do, and wouldn’t take excuses. It was the most hardcore relationship with a professor, if you lacked any piece of the deliverable, you would fail, or in the professor’s words, “You’re not getting paid.” An excellent motivation for someone who didn’t have much money to begin with. There were dozens of folded paper boxes all over my bedroom. I wish I was kidding. You were not able to see the floor or my bed with how many times I had to make sure what I was making was correct, because I could only print all of it once and still afford lunch. After doing some math and realizing I was spending even more money with what I was doing, I decided to save up and buy myself a printer. Now I could make as many mistakes as I wanted. Only once did I ever use the excuse of money to the professor, and the response had fueled my anger and passion. It is the limitation that should expand your creativity.
The final assignment was to create a mock company that had been in business for 50 years. There was to be a gala, and each table needed a centerpiece to celebrate the last 50 years. I was already delirious, down in my bank account, and angry with myself. I reasoned that if I could choose an industry that had been around for 50 years, then I could work with that. Coincidentally, I had a different class that went over history and design movements, and learned that the first ever video was accidentally created. They had wanted to see whether a horse’s feet all touched the ground at the same time while it ran, so they took image by image of the horse to see when all 4 feet were touching the ground. When they ran the images side by side in a reel very quickly, they realized that it made the pictures move, turning it into the first video. This inspired me. My mock company was to be a camera company.
I remembered growing up that we used to take the film out of tiny grey and black canisters to develop our pictures. The idea had come to me so quickly that I almost don’t want to take credit for it, it just came to me. I made a trip to the supermarket and got a large canister of potato stix, took out the food and turned it into a huge package that looked like a film canister. I was struggling with folding paper boxes for so long that the final assignment made me laugh because I didn’t fold a single box. I cut a thin line down the center of the potato stix tube, and put a scroll of paper on the inside rolled up by a toilet paper roll. Indeed, my financial limitations expanded my creativity. The paper scroll was pulled out by the thin slit I cut, and I twisted the top of the tube in order to scroll it back inside. Graphic design came in by branding the outer tube and what was printed on the inside, a physical timeline of the history of photography and the mock business’s history. It wasn’t a box, it was extremely cheap to make, and at the end of presenting my final project for Packaging class, the professor smiled at me.
Every single student needed a portfolio by the end. Every degree required at least two portfolio classes, and the first one was intended to get the students used to the expectations, while the second course was to refine the previous projects after the students had taken some classes to refine their training. It was only 11 weeks, as each course was in MIU, and each of those 11 weeks was dedicated to a different project. You, as the student, needed to either conceptualize or document at least 10 different projects to include in your portfolio. No two projects could look or feel the same. No two projects could use the color scheme red, for example. They all had their own theme, their own design palette, their own industry to cover. For a freshman, that sounds like madness. For a senior, that’s just included with what it means to be a professional graphic designer.
Truth be told, I hated more than a few of my projects for Portfolio I. It was poorly thought-out, and I was stressed. Not only was that a difficulty, but being pressed for ideas was another hurdle. The challenge only made the concepts stronger by Portfolio II, but by then my biggest enemy was tardiness. Many students faced this same challenge, but the portfolio classes had a different outcome than other classes. If you were even 1 minute late to class, you needed to redo the entire course. Since I was considered the lawyer of the graduating class, I was prepared to defend myself at every turn. This didn’t help in the slightest, as you could imagine. After being late to the first portfolio review, I was grouped with design students in the next quarter and pushed myself those last few minutes. For me, it was a lose/win situation. Yes, the class needed to be taken again. Yes, that is money lost. However, that did give me another 11 weeks to hone in and strengthen each of the concepts. Even the ones I hated.
Walking into Portfolio class a minute tardy was one of the biggest disappointments from my time at The Art Institute, and I had no one to blame but myself. Sometimes teachers would cut you some slack for a minute, but this was an expensive private college. One that justified your tardiness as failure to complete the course. There were plenty of students who trusted this system, but even more students who found time to criticize and complain over the way certain behaviors were handled. Equivalent punishment for the crime was thought to be the main perspective, but the way I saw it was that the professors were preparing you for the real world. There are plenty of jobs that will turn you away and fire you for a minute of tardiness. This was just a taste of all your hard work going to waste, and plenty of your money. The lessons learned at this university go beyond the principles of design and the 30% rule of copyright infringement. They modified your behavior, and changed the way you handle projects and your own personal professionalism. If you don’t take your own time seriously, why should your client?
As an adult alumni working for a national graphics company, this could have only prepared me for such a scale of professional work. Any slack given in school could only prepare you for slack. There is only so much slack a professor can give a student without harming them for their future. I went beyond educating myself for life, as I constantly retorted while in college, and prepared myself for this future. No, I didn’t see a future with COVID-19 in it necessarily, but I definitely saw a future where no BS was given or taken. The design industry is cut-throat and those who can profit from it are the ones with the toughest skin. Miami International University of Art & Design toughened your skin to endure the reality of the creative industry.
If it was tardiness for the graphic designers, it was the presentation for the fashion designers. (Rumor has it that if a femme fashion design student showed up to their final without wearing heels, they would be forced to wait outside or to go home.) Despite the “horror” stories that students shared with one another, the experience only made us better. We shed away the sensitivity that made us soulful artists, and the school shaped us into a tougher presenter for businesses at any scale, for any industry. It was exactly what we wanted, and exactly what we paid for, at the end of the day.
At the end of the final quarter, each student presents their final portfolio pieces on their very own table to be reviewed by peers and potential employers. To this day, I use certain pieces from my student portfolio in my professional portfolio, and it always impresses.
The pride that each student has in their work goes beyond words. Each project contained several weeks of hard work, sweat, dedication, and mostly tears. We were trained to analyze the target audience for each of our conceptual projects, to go in-depth on the competitive market for each brand, and dutifully explain why the work produced goes above and beyond to satisfy any company needs while remaining aesthetically pleasing and creatively branded.
The night before my portfolio review was spent down the street at one of my friend’s houses, making the final touches on certain projects. We stayed up so late, that I hadn’t slept at all. Not even a little bit. Everyone else dozed off for at least a couple hours, but I didn’t dare go to sleep on the off-chance that I would be late to my own portfolio review. I never made the same mistake twice, and this time it was the final countdown. To miss your own review, would have meant complete failure. And you needed to be an hour ahead of schedule to prepare your tables. I still have the same outfit that I wore to that portfolio review, and it has been my lucky outfit for job interviews.
The only person in my family to arrive was my dad, and he was blown away by my projects. Each student had their works displayed both on print and on electronic devices, whether they be on phones, laptops, or tablets. I had a slideshow displaying some commercials that I had made for certain pieces, shown in a reel type of fashion (although motion graphics and effects was a different degree altogether). This was the time meant to truly shine, the competition was finally on between the students. Now, it was no longer about who can help who, it was about who will get hired by who.
After the portfolio review was finished, we all went to our favorite bar at the time, and spent the entire night unwinding after the most stressful 3 years of our lives to date. The strangest part of the entire experience was actually foreshadowed to me by a previous student, an alumni who now owns his own design business in Miami Beach: For so long, your brain is on, on, on. And then, after the final portfolio review, it gets very quiet. It’s eerily quiet. And your brain starts to wonder, will it turn on again?
If you thought only the students in art school were quirky, then the teachers would have you blown away. Behind closed doors, professors were probably gossiping about us just as much as we gossiped about them. But some professors were able to hold the line of respect while also interacting with us on a level of artist-to-artist. Truly revealing your own artistic colors while making sure they know who’s boss.
Few teachers were able to juggle this so effortlessly as one that ended up leaving MIU the same year we graduated. From being able to out-weird a lot of us to straight up making some students cry with hardcore critiques, this professor was one of my favorites by far. Even the professor whom I had a love/hate relationship with was one of my favorites, for a very different reason.
But to truly see an artist grow up and still be very much creatively alive, gave hope for the rest of us. Yes, stay doing what you love. You will continue to love life. Life is not perfect and no one ever claimed it to be, but it would suck a lot worse if you’re doing something that you hate.
As a professor, I’m sure a big part of him actually loved writing “FEO” in big, bold, red letters across peoples’ completed portfolio works. Well, the point was that they needed more work so, technically, they weren’t completed… yet.
(For those of you that don’t know, the word “feo” translated means “ugly.” Yes, a professor did do that. And yes, people cried. The first lesson for an artist trying to be a graphic designer is that your work is no longer your baby. So if someone says it’s feo, it’s feo. Fix it.)
There were plenty of events and extra-curricular activities at the school, that I only actually pushed myself to attend once I became a senior. Being so close to the finish line meant that I needed to take advantage of everything offered there, otherwise I felt like I didn’t get the full experience. There was live music by one major, fashion shows by a different major, and sometimes there were events that allowed different majors to cooperate together.
One event called DTCT was sponsored by one of my best friends at the school, still a close colleague to this day. They photographed some pieces for the visual arts and fashion students. A classic combo of design meets art meets fashion. It was so fun and quirky to have been a part of it, and it made me wish to have attended more as a student.
The images alone reveal how different vibes can come together seamlessly to form a greater connection to the world of beauty, art, and design. We are all more than what we perceive on the outside, the creative souls that are within can reveal themselves using color, patterns, fabrics, and textures. Even the photography capturing such depth can also reveal depth on its own.
Student contests were prevalent for The Art Institute, especially when it comes to joining with the top industry standard for design programs, Adobe. An annual event, Adobe Creative Jam brought students together to work on their respective design fields on a common goal or theme. I participated in the theme, “It’s Getting Hot In Here” and leveraged my knowledge of climate change and skills for graphic design to convey a bigger story of humanity’s relationship with our planet. The audience, as well as selected jurors, chose winners based on effective communication of the theme and quality of design. We won People’s Choice Award for Graphic Design, and we were very proud to have won first place while representing The Art Institute.
Graduating after such a short, but quite emotionally long, journey with people I had come to know so intimately was bittersweet. Yes, we finally made it. And yes, this is the end. Unlike other schools, colleges, or universities, our graduation walk was 6 months after our final class. Because each graduating class was so small, we were grouped with the other quarters so that the entire stadium could be filled with students, parents, teachers, and faculty. There were some professors that I’m sure were glad to never have to see my face again.
But it was truly bittersweet because when all was said and done, it was time for us all to go our separate paths. Some designers showed their specific niches while in class, so their paths were clear and easy to follow. Other designers chose the teaching route, or stayed with the job they interned at while in school.
But many of us were simply leaving the area, either to go back home or on to the next step of the journey. Not to mention those of us who would never be heard from again, may he rest in peace.
Everyone who wore their cap and gowns deserved to be there, that was one thing that none of us could deny. Regardless of our personal opinions or personal struggles, we persevered and that is the main goal of a student. To learn, learn, and learn. Be better. Grow. Learn some more.
No one was surprised when I showed up late to graduation. I remember seeing the rest of my class walk and joining the final line, just to meet the faces of professors who knew my bad habits so well that they could only sigh and shake their head while clapping along with the rest of the audience. There was no grade given for this final walk, however, so I was free to be the last person if I had to be.
Better late, than never.
Talented students could be found everywhere at MIU. Off the top of my head, without naming names, there were skilled painters in visual arts, illustrators in graphic design, fashion designers, branding specialists, storytellers, character designers, advertising gurus, typography specialists, and designers that broke the rules in such a cool way that they made it look easy. These were my people. These were my friends.
Cliques could always be formed no matter what school you go to, but this school was different in particular because no matter what “clique” ended up forming, you would see the blend happen either during class, during lunch, or even after class when many of the students would go to their dorm building down the street from the school. Because we were in Downtown Miami, some students opted to live in a nearby apartment building rather than the dorm building, and most of the time you would see other students in that same building. It almost felt like that little corner of one of the most populated areas of Miami, FL had belonged to us. Our little family, scattered but always coming together.
There were young students straight out of high school, students that finished previous degrees but were striving to learn something new, students that were also parents, students that had parents who were also students, older students coming back for more, and everything in between. Talk about a melting pot of creativity, with people from all sorts of walks of life.
We all found a way to connect with one another, because we all were there for the same or similar reasons. Our passions aligned almost always. Even those who would seem like outcasts never truly were, because we were a school comprised of outcasts. There was a sense of belonging for everyone there. This past year, a student in my graduating class passed away. It affected me in a way that I can’t describe with words, in a way that I’m sure our mutual friends understand. It had such an impact that I found myself retracing the stories he would tell about his life to us, and those memories have likely stayed with us all.
The friends I made during my time at the Art Institute will never compare to the friends I’ve made throughout the rest of my life. Not only are we all artists, and therefore we all have similar or the same mindsets, but we went through a tough evolution from artists to designers. The hurdles we faced, we faced them together. The nights we spent crying, we cried together. The projects we needed another set of eyes on, we served as those eyes and that third-party perspective. These are all crucial elements that served to our collective growth as professional designers, and I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Delirium truly does bring people closer.
I think I can speak for everyone who has graduated from MIU when I say that the way I viewed the world changed because of my time as a student there. Everything from billboards, to bus stops, to commercials were now completely different to me. We look at the world with a closer lens now.
Different cultures view the same color in completely different ways. The spacing between letters does matter, and yes, the spacing between words matters too!!!
If you think you have OCD before becoming a graphic designer, get ready to have your head roll. Because there is plenty of bad design out there, and if you are immune to noticing it, then perhaps you are better off. It is a double edged sword, being a designer, because you notice every single thing out there and why it is bad. And yet, you are stuck having to explain why it’s bad to non-designers, but because they aren’t in design, they truly don’t understand just how bad it is. It’s bad.
The way you view the world changes.
You cannot ignore it anymore.
There is a depth to every decision a designer makes, and seeing non-designers and clients take a well-thought out design and destroy it with “Make this bolder” or “Move this over here and put less spacing here” is both infuriating and crippling.
The biggest challenge for designers now is to validate their own service. Many would argue, you pay for a plumber to work on your pipes but you don’t tell him how it’s done! Design is a service. If your designer is professionally trained to fulfill that service, then there needs to be a level of trust in that designer.
I am torn with how I feel about self-taught designers. Going through my memories of how much pain and hard work was put into honing in on this craft, there is no way—and I mean no way at all whatsoever—that a self-taught designer put themselves through the identity-crushing turmoil that is becoming a professional designer. Not only that, but learning how to create a real branding kit, or design brief, or the specificities of legal design, are all things that businesses look for when enlisting the aid of a graphic designer. Did you learn all of that through your online course that you found on Instagram?
But then again, even in design school we learned about artistic movements throughout history, and one of them stands out to me in particular. The avant-garde movement was by artists who refused to be part of the status quo. They truly focused in on doing exactly what the opposite of popularity was, for the time. How would they view me, someone who got into almost 100K debt in order to learn how to be a professional artist? Disgusted, I’m sure.
But still, we worked our butts off to be where we were at. Some more than others. And they truly deserve to be at the top.
Some fragments of the journey