Reflecting on a career in design and branding – The real value of design

June 2, 2012

Last year, I presented as part of a University of Houston Graphics Alumni Partnership (UHGAP) Event in which five alumni panelists described their careers in five short minutes. I wish I could say that five minutes was enough time to reflect on a varied career, but I think I hit on the high points. The main point I wanted to make with the presentation was how my design education gave me a solid starting point and. And since the talk was directed to designers, I wanted them to think about the same for themselves. Yes, this is a “design as a launchpad” conversation.

I decided to revisit this presentation since a new crop of design graduates is entering the profession. The notes below are adapted straight from my notes, so they are a little rough, and more conversational than a polished post should be. I hope this posting, which is really my career path story, educates and inspires those recent graduate when considering their own options.


Great design education generally starts with understanding forms and symbols, color and shapes, and of course, mastering typography. At the University of Houston program, we learned so much more than that. We learned how to tackle problems from every angle, to think, to create “conceptual breakthroughs” by challenging conventions and pushing boundaries.

A few years into in my career I became very intrigued by digital design and development. I did try to learn what I could from the meager sites and books I could find, but this was 1997, when only one in ten Americans was online so trying to teach yourself web design and development was no easy task.

My design background, though, helped me to become a better developer because I was sensitive to audience needs, which in turn improved my understanding of usability. Web development is not just a technical challenge but one of finding the balance between technology, design and content. My design background taught me how to empathize with my audience, not use technology for the sake of technology and to truly focus on user-centric interactions.


Design is a form of persuasion. We are in the persuasion business. We are skilled communicators.

Designers really make the best marketers. When I progressed in my career and needed to make campaign recommendations, I already understood which communications worked well for different purposes. Design experience is on-the-job-training for marketing. As a designer, you already understand communication channels from the ground up, so after that it’s a matter of understanding how to integrate messages across channels and how to structure effective plans.


Design is also the perfect match for brand strategy. It helps you to understand how to succinctly communicate in ways that resonate. Design teaches you to be a better storyteller, which is essential to branding.

Design was also there when I needed to understand strategy. Design teaches you to think creatively and not limit your options – to explore all possibilities and ask “what if”?


Design helped me become a better business person. Design is training for how to apply critical thinking skills to solve big problems. I did go back to school in 2002 for a business degree and, sadly, was the only designer in my class. Designers are natural problem-solvers, so who to better to help solve the big issues facing us today? (Sidenote: Yes, I think we need more designers in business schools.)


So what do I think about design and where it’s brought me today? Design helps us to break the status quo. Design has power. When combined with other disciplines it makes you a force to be reckoned with. Yes, I would like to be a force to be reckoned with. 🙂


My education and career has taught me that the real power of design is what you can do with it. While you’re in school, you may not think that you can yet give back, but as you develop your skills, think about what you can change, not just in yourself but in the world around you.

DESIGN + ???

My design education made me the person I am today. I don’t know what the future holds or what I’ll do next with this design foundation, but the possibilities are endless. It’s an amazing time to be a designer. The world is open to us. My future is not written and neither is yours.

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