I don’t know what to call myself. Typically, I just refer to myself as a “Creative Professional” and that term seems to be a good catch all, until people ask me what that means.

I started my career while I was in school at Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia. I did some freelance (emphasis on “free”) for some of international students I lived with at Ihouse Philly. I was simply a graphic designer, and would do the visuals for their reports, projects and presentations. Most, if not all, of the students and interns that lived in my suite on the good old 7th floor were from South Korea and were engineering students. At the beginning of the semester, we had a suite meeting with our house RA and we were all introduced to each other. The conversation was interesting.

“OK, lead off with your name, where you are from and what you are studying or where you are interning at.”

“Hi, I’m Chen, South Korea, and I am studying mechanical engineering.”

“Hello everyone, I am Sun, I am from Vietnam, and I am finishing up my electrical engineering degree at Upenn.”

“I am Takashi, I am from Tokyo, Japan and I am studying at Drexel University for Biomedical Engineering.”

Holy shit. I am surrounded by super smart dudes from across the planet.

“Uh Hi, I’m Tim. I’m from 200 hundred miles west of here in Central PA and I am studying to be a graphic designer and illustrator.”

Immediately, everyone perked up and was extremely interested. I didn’t see that coming at all. Over the course of 3 years, I met a lot of different people from all over the world, I was the “Big, Friendly American” that everyone came to for help with creating visuals for presentations. I learned about apoptotic cell degradation, stress points and differential load bearing structural design, and complex chemistry about nucleation on different substances. I was the graphic designer on all of these projects, and while I learned what not to do as a freelancer, I learned a great deal on how be carry myself as businessperson. The problem was that, at the time, my skills were limited to print and some Flash animation. I couldn’t build a website to save my life.

Upon graduation and leaving Philadelphia, I knew I was missing skills…a lot of skills. Web design was something I knew I needed to have if I was going to be viable. So I enrolled in community college back in Harrisburg and began taking night courses. I decided to take the web development track because the classes they offered I had no idea about. HTML was foreign to me. CSS was alien. What the hell is PHP and MySQL? 18 months later I was leaving community college with my degree stating I was web developer. I went from having no skill to working with responsive frameworks, building jQuery plugins, customized WordPress installations and database driven applications to aggregate big data. Community college was helpful, but my serious learning came from Lynda.com.

So now I am a graphic and web designer and web developer. I can do both print and web, and make the web stuff work and not just look good.

All the while I was in Philadelphia taking classes and then taking night classes and working during the day, I was getting a lot of work as a photographer. Before moving to Philadelphia. I was one of those guys who would come to your house and take photos of your newborn and try to sell you a photo package.

I hated that. But it taught me a lot of skills, and I became pretty adept with a camera. Soon, I was in demand for taking senior photos and eventually covering events and some magazine work. Some of my photos had been published in Harrisburg Magazine and posted a great deal online for band promotions. I started to go to photographer meet ups and found a niche doing product shots. So could I say I was a photographer as well?

A “Graphic/Web Designer, Web Developer and Photographer”.

Man, that is a mouthful.

The other I was discussing with my friend David Brener how in today’s current creative environment, there is a heavy push for designers to be developers, or being marketers with design skills or any combination of creative thinkers and doers. We are a bit older and for us, learning a bunch of new skills for us to be viable in the job market is tough. When you have things like family and mortgage, not mention having a semblance of a social life, finding the time to learn new skills is a premium.

But then what do we call ourselves? I feel that even our own industry can’t really nail down good titles or responsibilities, because it’s so open to interpretation.

I settled on “Creative Professional” because I just got tired of describing everything I can do as a job title.

So the point of this story? For young creative who are either just getting out of school or are new at a company or agency, don’t worry so much about what your title is, and just focus on doing good work. Take the opportunities you can to expand your skillset. Learn from your failures and successes and apply those kernels of truth to something new. It pays off in the long run.

Eventually, I could add illustrator and writer to the mix, but it’s just going to make my explanation of what “Creative Professional” is even longer.

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June 26, 2013

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