My Story: From AOL to Illustrator
Is that a thing? A happy Monday? I think so! For me, Mondays are all about NEW + FRESH ideas, new starts, & new ways to become better than I was the week before.
With that being said, I wanted to share my story. I receive SO many Facebook and Instagram messages & emails from other aspiring designers who want to know my true story. And, with #theimperfectboss movement starting today, what better time to share my “less than perfect” story?
How did I become a designer? Did I go to school for design? Well, I’m going to give you the full story – nothing spared, promise.
When I was around twelve years old, my parents bought my brother & I our first computer. We had dial up AOL – the kind that made the loud screeching noise accompanied by it hanging up because mom picked up the phone. If you were born pre 1994, you understand.
My brother and I lived on that thing. We played in chat rooms (and he got in serious trouble often), we played games, and I liked to figure out the way it worked as far as the systems & technology side goes.
I never thought much about my love for design or computers as I went through high school (except for an exceptional teacher named Mrs. Quiet who told me all about being creative & using your right side of your brain vs your left and allowed me to truly create art that I loved) and then went off to college to be, what I had wanted at the time, a Marine Biologist. I met my husband the day of our orientation and we began dating halfway through the first year of college..I mean, cmon didn’t he know I had a plan? My mindset changes & I settled for a Marketing degree. Why do I say settle?
Because I had no true desire for it, I just knew it sounded lucrative. I landed a really amazing internship with Chic Galleria my junior year that lasted throughout the remainder of my college life & was able to interview celebrities, learn about PR & Marketing..I loved it. I also had a fashion blog at that time to help gain experience. I would spend my hours manipulating the code on my WordPress site, which was really just out of curiosity. I networked, I wrote blog posts, I loved it.
Four years and far too much in student loans, I graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing in hand and no job prospects. My husband landed a job with Piedmont Airlines & took off for a month the day we returned from our honeymoon. My husband left the airlines after a month due to personal reasons, took a job in New Orleans, and within a week we were true south Louisiana residents.
This led to us meeting a couple who would truly have such an impact on our lives – you’ll be thankful for those as you get older.
I struggled for months with what I wanted to do with my life but thankfully, there was no rush. Our bills were minimal & we were enjoying the honeymoon phase. We were young & dumb..and it was fun. Fast forward about 8 months later and I had finally nailed a job with a Louisiana based boutique with four locations that I had been dreaming of working at since I had laid my eyes on them. I would initially join their staff as an Assistant Manager and work my way up to Store Manager & then Marketing Manager and Assistant Buyer. I traveled with the owner (whom I loved dearly and looked up to so much), I managed a staff of 15-20 girls who became like my own daughters, and I was IN LOVE with my job…every bit of it. I managed their social media, styled photoshoots, designed marketing materials..I fell in love. Being allowed to move into a Marketing position forced me to teach myself Photoshop.
And you know..you never get anywhere without a little help so I have to give a shoutout to my sweet Alaina, who always answered any questions I had about Photoshop (Alaina: if you’re reading this, I am truly so grateful for you!)
Within a few years, I gave birth to our son, Grayson, and my perspective and life changed. I no longer felt the drive to get out of bed every morning and I no longer loved my job the way I had once loved it. Little did I know that would be Post Partum Depression speaking, but we learn right? A few months later, my husband took a new job that we thought would be EVERYTHING and we packed our bags to move off to Lafayette, Louisiana. Here I am..in this small apartment with nothing to do besides be a mom (which is totally amazing). For me, I needed “Kaitlin” back. I needed my drive to be creative so I decided to start my very own online boutique with Shopify.
One day, I started receiving emails from other business owners who had been watching me design my own business and wanted to know if I would do the same for them.
After working with a few, I knew this surely was what I had been missing all along. I didn’t want to own a boutique, my heart was not in that, but looking back I knew it was just that I had missed retail in general. I had missed that world and I was searching for what was to be mine. I shut my store down within a week & started LK Design Studio and have never looked back.
Little did I know my entire creative drive and love of design had been what I needed to do all along. I had spent YEARS designing outside of my own realm..for others, not realizing this could be an entire career in itself. Now we’re in Alabama & I’m looking to open a local design firm within the next year and hire a full staff.
I could say things are getting pretty serious (sorry, I had to!)
It’s funny how you don’t realize the path you’re on until you get to where you need to be. You stop and you look back and notice that every single moment, every hardship, every frustration was for a reason. Had I not taken every single job I’ve held, had we not moved to 6 different cities in 4 years, had I not had my son or struggled with PPD… I would not be where I am today. Had I never made those hour long commutes – where would I be?
So why do I tell you my entire story? To share possibility, to entice hope. To show you that you can learn things without the traditional pathway. To share with you how I’ve been in the works for this career since I was twelve years old.
Am I thankful I didn’t get a design degree? No way! I would’ve loved that had I even known it were possible. I was well into my senior year before I even learned about the program and it was too late for me. I attended a very small high school and no one ever told me this type of career was even a thing. However, I feel I’m able to design things a little more outside of the box at times because I’m self taught.
I’m thankful I did get a Marketing degree because it does come in handy for sure when assisting my clients with building their businesses. I’m thankful I spent my years in different areas of retail. Now I know exactly what your customers are looking for on your homepage and I can promise a retail background does make a difference. I’m thankful for my years spent blogging, because they taught me all about WordPress and how to market myself professionally.
So, my advice for those young ones who are wanting a degree in Web + Graphic Design (with or without the degree) is this:
1: Make sure that every job you take, no matter how small, is a job where you will be learning something that will assist you with your end goal. When you aren’t learning anymore, it’s time to move on. Never stop learning…ever.
2: Do not burn your bridges. Trust! Some of my former employers are now my clients and I am so thankful for our relationships.
3: Learn Photoshop, Illustrator, & Indesign. When you’re done with that, start learning the most popular platforms: WordPress & Squarespace. Take classes online to help with code if you need (but remember that it isn’t always necessary to understand it fully unless you’d like to offer that.)
4: Find something, anything online & try to recreate it in your design software of choice (just for learning, don’t steal!) Find out why you aren’t able to create it, solve the problem, learn from it, and then finish recreating the design. I remember the first time I started using Photoshop I told myself that I would learn how to add makeup to people in photos. After MUCH practice & failure, I learned it. Then, I moved on to another aspect. Going through the process of trial & error taught me many things a book never will.
5. Don’t evaluate your competition, befriend them. Becoming friends of so many others in my field has been a blessing. You’ll learn to lean on them in times of frustration and they’ll always be there to offer advice for the tough questions. You’d be crazy to hoard yourself into a corner & not befriend those who are in your field.
And honestly..enjoy it. Life is way too short to not do what you love. And, when it gets to be too much, I’m always here to vent to.
With love, Kait