How I Learned to Love Print Design Again

My friend Jim Van Meer wrote a sincere, thoughtful piece on “How I Learned to Love the Web.” I am glad that I changed his mind about web design as he changed my mind about print design.

When I first started my career in design I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go. With a few Photoshop tricks under my sleeves, I applied for a paid graphic design internship at the Trump Marina casino in the summer of 1999. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. I got paid $12 an hour with free room in a cheap hotel and free food for all of Trump’s employee. I got to sit opposite from the only in-house graphic designer. I was given a Mac, but didn’t get to work on any project. My day was just sitting and staring at the screen until lunch and then again until time to go back to my hotel room.

Because I was just killing my time, the graphic designer handed a black-and-white copy of Photoshop tutorials he xeroxed from Computer Arts magazine. I tried the tutorials, but I could not produce the same result from the instruction. I was bored and frustrated. A week into my internship, I told the graphic designer that I don’t think I will be a graphic designer. I wanted to do web and interactive design instead. Ten minutes after our brief conversation, he told the creative director, who were supposed to be my mentor, that I had made a wise decision not to be a graphic designer. Though he was a very nice guy, I didn’t know if he was being snarky. From that day on, I focused my time and effort on Flash and web design. My internship was supposed to be three months, but I dropped it after just four weeks. I managed to “make up” a portfolio of what I had done in my internship to get school credits.

I graduated from college in 2001 and went on to pursue my career in web and interactive design. Eleven years later, faith took me back into print design. In the Fall of 2012, I was accepted to the Master’s program in graphic design at the George Mason University School of Art. The first class I took was Advanced Typography. In retrospect, it was the most challenging class in all my academic years, but it was also the most rewarding one. The professor was very harsh in his criticism. His teaching style was not at all helpful, but the interaction I had with my classmates, especially with Jim, was the rewarding part.

In each project, we had to produce at least eight to ten different designs for each class. For the first project, I was trying to catch up with the requirements rather than putting in thoughtful designs. After the first project, I knew that the professor’s method was not working for me. I continued to play by his rules, but I silently used my own method. I focused on my energy on one design, but I would not show it to him until the final. In the meantime, I kept churning out crappy works just to meet his requirements. I used Comic Sans, Copperplate, and any horrifying design elements I could put in. I got criticized heavily during critic sessions, but I had more free time outside of class.

When it was time to print and mount my final projects, I came to Jim to rescue me. He patiently explained to me the printing process, the different paper weights, the mounting tricks, and the places to get all the print design materials. In addition, his feedback turned out to be more thoughtful and helpful than the professor’s. For example, when I was stuck on the concept of redesigning the film ratings system, he provided me some ideas and opened up mind. From that time, I respected Jim as not only a talented graphic designer, but also a design thinker. Jim was also very honest in his approach. I remember asking him a technical question in Illustrator—how to do something automatically with type—he told me straight out that he would do it manually. His respond was, “I am not fighting with the software.” It was such a great tip from him. I had learned not to fight with my tool, whether InDesign or a JavaScript framework, but just go with it.

I am so glad that I had met Jim in the graphic design program at Mason. Through our collaborations in both school and real-world projects, we proved that the web and print can be co-existed to create a consistent brand and experience across various medium.