My real life design story

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I get asked often what my background is with design, where I went to school, and how I ended up to where I'm at today. So, I figured it was about time that I share that with you all! And let me warn you now, it's a long one.

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Design has something that I've been interested in from a very early age. I remember when I was about 8 years old I wanted to be an interior designer. I spent a lot of time shopping with my mom, picking out things for the house, and helping her re-decorate. Looking back on it, I can't believe my mom trusted my opinion so much, but she did. She gave me a lot of confidence and told me that I had an eye for things. 

When I was 12 years old I attended my very first photo shoot at Meredith Corporation. A family friend of ours was a freelancer there and had invited me along to job shadow her on a kids room shoot for one of their magazines. I thought it was quite possibly the coolest job in the world, and suddenly I knew I wanted to do exactly what she did. 

Myspace came along when I was a teenager which was probably my first introduction to graphic design. Up until this point, I was pretty sure I was going to be an interior designer for a magazine. I'd spend hours upon hours redesigning my Myspace profile and figuring out my top 8. I even taught myself a little bit of code to fully customize it and make it look the way I wanted it to. The visual appearance of my profile was SO important to me.

Fast forward to high school. I was a perfectionist when it came to school. I had to get good grades or I'd feel really disappointed in myself. I was told from a number of other kids that the high school art teacher was TOUGH, and really pushed his students. Hardly anyone ever got through his classes with an A. I knew I was interested in art + design, and more than likely wanted to go to college for it, but I was so afraid of taking a class that might ruin my GPA. 

It wasn't until junior year when I got the courage to enroll in one of his classes. The first one being photo art. It was tough, don't get me wrong, but I loved it. I loved the way he taught and was determined I'd take every art + design class possible before I graduated.

I spent my senior year of high school obsessed with my art classes. I often ate lunch in the art room and the other activities I was involved in suddenly became second string to art. I loved creating. It wasn't until my senior year when I fully realized that graphic design was the perfect career for me. While interior design was still a passion of mine, I wasn't sure there was much of a job market for it. I didn't want to design commercial offices - I wanted to design homes and I figured I'd have a home of my own someday that I could design. 

I loved how graphic design felt so natural to me. I loved being on computers (typical millennial) and I loved that it was art with a bit more structure + purpose. I often found myself frustrated with art because art can really be anything. It's all subjective and there aren't any rules. 

When I started looking at colleges I was convinced I'd attend a trendy art school in Chicago, or somewhere else in a bigger city. I didn't want to be the girl who ended up at a state school, because my 18 year old self just thought that wasn't very cool. I ended up visiting a few schools, and fell in love with Iowa State. They had a well known design program and it gave me the college experience while also not being in student loan debt forever.

So I set off to college at Iowa State. The first year at ISU, if you're not familiar with it, is called the Core. Each student who wanted to be a design or architecture major had to take the core classes and then apply for the major at the end of the year. My competitive self sort of liked this idea that not just anyone could major in graphic design and that you had to work for it. I was also super nervous because I had no idea what I was going to do if I didn't get in. My back up plan was accounting, and just ask my bookkeeper (my mom) how great I am with numbers - LOL.

After getting into graphic design, I was so thankful that I didn't have to waste anymore time building passageways out of cardboard or creating a tool out of paper (seriously they made us do that freshman year!). The classes for the next three years slowly built upon the fundamentals of graphic design. What started out as rearranging images + fonts turned into building full brand identities.

The summer of my sophomore year I was blessed with an awesome opportunity to have an internship in Los Angeles for Penske Media Corporation. If you're not familiar with the company, they have a number of entertainment entities within, such as the magazine Variety. I didn't love L.A., but I did love getting to meet Neil Patrick Harris. While working with TV shows was sort of cool, I didn't watch much TV at that point in my life so I didn't fully connect with it. 

My junior year of college I had an apprenticeship lined up with Meredith Corporation (the same place I job shadowed when I was 12!). I absolutely loved working there. The culture, the people, the work. I designed for smaller interior design based magazines. It was the perfect blend of meshing my passions for both interior design and graphic design.

The summer of my junior year I had originally wanted to find an internship in a bigger city like Chicago or New York. I was also hoping to get a bit more of the agency experience since up until this point I had primarily worked for publications. I knew I loved editorial design, but I wanted a taste of something else. 

I ended up taking an internship at a local design studio in Des Moines in effort to save money for the following semester where I'd study abroad in Rome. I'll be the first to admit I wasn't a fan of the agency life. I primarily designed advertisements and it didn't really fulfill me. That's not to say I was ruling out agencies in general, I just wasn't sure if that's what I wanted my focus to be on.

The fall semester of my senior year I lived in Italy. For the first time in my life I wasn't overly hard on myself about school. I was a bit more focused on consuming as much wine, pizza, and gelato as I possibly could in four months. I also spent every single weekend traveling and being inspired by new places. 

When I returned back home from Rome, I knew I needed a job for the last semester of senior year since I ran out of all the money I had in Europe. I ended up doing graphic design work for the local University gardens. I got to create identities for the different events that revolved around flowers - my favorite thing.

While I was working at the gardens, I also started to think about jobs. I wasn't totally sure where I'd end up after college. Part of me wanted to move away, but the other part of me wanted to stay put. My former boss at Meredith Corporation ended up recommending me to the design director for Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

I met with BH&G and to be totally honest, at first I wasn't sure if it was for a full-time job or just part-time work. I quickly realized that it was for a REAL job. Often times entry level design jobs just don't really exist in the magazine world, at least in Des Moines, Iowa. It was crazy that the place I dreamed of working when I was 12, ended up coming through full-circle.

I started working at BH&G before I graduated college which was a nice transition to the full-time 9-5 life. And at first, I loved working there. I liked the idea of getting to come home at night and not having to do homework or design something. I also really liked the idea of finally being able to afford life and make a salary.

Six months after working at BH&G I found myself a little bit bored. I wanted to start searching for freelance work because my creativity just wasn't really being fulfilled during the day. I did a few freelance projects for family/friends and by word of mouth. I sort of loved the idea of being my own boss someday, but I honestly had no idea how I could possibly ever get to that point.

So, while I was exploring other ways to be creative, I had met a friend at BH&G named Natalie. If you guys aren't familiar with her, she's one of my closest buds. She and I had a similiar feeling at work where we just sort of left at night feeling a bit unfulfilled. At the time, her wedding was coming up and I helped her design some programs and create a few pieces for the day of.

We worked well together and we both totally loved the boho chic, watercolor aesthetic. Natalie wasn't a designer, which was sort of nice in a way because designers have the same strengths and could easily butt heads. We decided after lots of hours of g-chatting each other at work, we'd start a company.

We had no idea what all this company would do. We thought mostly wedding invitations and just creating cute stuff, but also maybe a logo for a business here and there too. Our success grew pretty rapidly and I think a lot of it was because we each had about 10 friends getting married who were our built in clientele. After working with friends and friends of friends, we officially had a fully operating business that gave us some nice side cash.

It was a couple of years into the business where I started to realize as much as I loved designing wedding invitations, it wasn't ever going to be something that I could survive off of. In my head I thought we'd have an entire stationery line running through the stores of Target, but that just wasn't the case. We split profits 50/50, and after paying for printing and supplies, I didn't know how this dream of mine was ever going to become a reality. I was impatient.

I became more and more frustrated with my day job. I didn't love how everything I designed got changed, or had to be approved by 14 people. I knew that it wasn't the life that I had imagined for myself. So, I decided to create another company.

This was where things got a little weird. I didn't want to be over the top obvious that I was starting another business because I was sure that my day job would think I was nuts. But at the same time, I also wanted people to know I exist so that they'd hire me. Natalie and I had previously agreed that Flyover Design Co. would remain wedding + stationery related, which left me to create a business around my other passion - branding.

I was doing a few logos here and there for friends or a friend of a friend, but I wanted to create more of a legit business behind it. I'll be honest, it wasn't easy. At first, I didn't see the rapid success that I had saw with Flyover. I think a lot of it was because I was so used to working with consumers rather than businesses. My friends didn't own businesses and I had no idea how to tap into the small business industry.

Slowly but surely, my business grew. And then all of a sudden it kind of took off. I wasn't sleeping, I was spending every minute that I wasn't at work, working on my businesses. It got to a point where I had to turn away projects, or take the leap and leave my full-time job.

So I decided to quit my job at the end of November of last year. It was a big change for me, both personally and professionally, but I knew it was what I was called to do. At first, it honestly felt like a vacation mixed in with never getting ready and still always working. I didn't really know how much work I could handle at any given period of time, so I sort of just said yes to every project.

I was making really great money with Brighten Made, which you'd hope so because I was working ALL. THE. TIME. I started to find myself a bit frustrated splitting the time between Brighten Made and Flyover. While I still loved the stationery side of things, Flyover wasn't supporting me full-time and Brighten Made was. I had made the decision to leave Flyover and devote 100% of my time to Brighten Made.

I grew a lot over the past year of owning my own business full-time. My processes became quicker + more efficient, I started to sign on bigger clients, and now I can confidently say I'm pretty happy with where I'm at but there's still so much more I want to do. 

As I became burnt out over the past year from working constantly, I realized that I wanted to somehow create a passive income for myself. While I still haven't fully figured that out, I'm excited to focus on it in 2019.

So for as where my design story leads me, I'm not totally sure. Hopefully to a point where I can travel more, create the ideas I've been dreaming up this past year, and live a life worth living. <3

 

Briana Wengert