Workforce WindsorEssex is excited to welcome you to our Promising Sectors blog series. This series features people who are working in the promising sectors in Windsor-Essex. The blog updates will give you an insider perspective on what working in the sectors look like, as local professionals share their career journey, their insight and advice.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Workforce WindsorEssex.
This blog update is brought to you by Wes Swain, a graphic designer at Hook. His career falls under the Creative Industries sector. We can’t thank Wes enough for the time he has taken to share his incredible knowledge and experience with the Windsor-Essex community!
I would like to preface this blog post by saying that the point of writing this is to encourage others to seek opportunities in Windsor. While it can often feel like a gigantic small town Windsor is full of hidden opportunities.
This gets a little wordy so if you want to skip to the part where I talk about my work and industry skip to the bottom, it’s okay!
Although I was born in central Ontario I spent the majority of my childhood here in Canada’s deep south. I was raised, and perhaps most on point with this post, I was educated here. And even more so I chose to stay here. I chose to stay here because Windsor is a great city for a life to start or start over.
Though I am a diploma toting designer now, my education began at the University of Windsor studying History and Political Science. Frankly I only lasted a year. I had great professors but I had chosen the wrong field of study. Like many Windsorites I was faced with a career restart. I’m lucky it was early on. I took a year off to save up and decided to enroll at St.Clair College in the 3 year Advanced Graphic Design Program. I specify that it was “advanced” because I had an instructor who was quite particular about that. And he was right to be so. In Windsor I had managed to find a country leading program. Where other schools had two year courses in Graphic Design, St.Clair College offered the idea of an immersive three year education (hence the “advance” prefix. You’re welcome Mr.Watts.) Who would have thought that Windsor offered an industry leading program? I certainly didn’t as teenager. I think there are a lot of people who think like that; truly though, Windsor has world class opportunities if you look, and if you are willing to work. The graphic design program was a great foundation program, and though the contrast between perceived academia in university and college was quite apparent, the St.Clair graphic designer course quickly awoke a passion in me. Graphic design is in my blood. My father, before pursuing other career options, and been a graphic designer, and even my grandmother as well (back when the position was called “Commercial Artist”). I followed their footsteps almost by accident, but it was Windsor that let me do just that.
Aside from the personal aspects of family and friends being here in Windsor, this area is a great place to start a life. Low cost of living and a good mixture of up-and-coming industries mean I have a real chance at a job, and the money earned will go just that much farther.
So I’ve said all that but I guess the meat of it is, yes, I did get hired here! There are jobs in Windsor! St.Clair College offered me the opportunity to intern in the industry during my third year. Quite pompously I thought, “What could Windsor offer me?” I wanted to be at the top of the industry, working in a big agency, with big clients. And such my search for an internship began with a nasty dose of ego. It wasn’t long though before the Rose City (do we still call it that?) proved me wrong.
I showed up early for class a lot. I’m not saying you have to be there early every day, but it is a good chance now and then to talk to an educator one on one.
Working hard on my assignments and just the little extra effort of showing up early and talking loudly about my hopes for internship lead me straight into the kind of job I thought Windsor could never give me. My Web and Multimedia teacher (now Art Director – Hi Glenn!) overheard me talking about how I wanted to be in a studio that had a lot of client variety. He also overheard me saying I was sure Windsor wouldn’t have it. He told me I was wrong. He didn’t really back that up at the time, but he did give me his Hook contact information and said he liked my work. He offered to put in a good word for me and it was not long after that I was able to setup an internship interview. I started at Hook a while later and was immediately put to work on a social media project for Lowe’s Canada- a huge national brand. There it was; Windsor had given me exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I was so sure it couldn’t. I was in a real studio, withserious clients.
This is where the real benefits of Windsor are. Way back at the top of this post I mentioned that Windsor can sometimes feel like a massive small town. Where do you get started in life here? It’s a simple answer (on paper at least): you train here, and you work hard, and you use whatever contacts you can to make opportunities for yourself. Don’t have contacts? Don’t have parents with power connections? Neither did I! Or at least I thought I didn’t. Windsor is a union town, which means it’s built on the principal of person helping person. Maybe it sounds overly optimistic, but everyone you know is a potential lead to your next step in life. Most of them are willing to help as well.
Post internship I was hired at Hook, and I love it! I am working on a variety of projects and with the kind of large and small clients I thought I wouldn’t get to touch without years of experience. Because of Windsor being the kind of city it is, this job translated into a great standard of living quickly after starting out.
Here is a glimpse at some of my work and the bits of wisdom I’ve collected over my whopping 8 months in the industry.
Tips for starting in Graphic Design:
1) Work hard. And be passionate about what you are doing (Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming.)
2) Seriously though, if you aren’t passionate move on! A passion for what you are doing will underlie your success in every facet of your chosen career.
3) Diversify your portfolio. This is the best and most serious advice I can give. As an aspiring Graphic Designer the best way to shoot yourself in the foot is to show up to an interview with a portfolio that is all illustration, or all photography.
4) Diversify your portfolio. It may seem repetitive to double up on points in a list but seriously I can’t say this enough! Diversify your portfolio! If you want to be working in a studio you have to show that you can meet as many needs as possible. Show that you can do more than just one thing.
As my Creative Director would say: “You’re not an illustrator, you’re a designer.” This applies to so much in the studio environment. To be valuable you’ve got to be ready to do a good mix of things, and you’ve got to be willing to learn more on the job and on the fly. That leads me to my final tip.
5) Know that your degree or diploma isn’t the end of your education. It’s more of a tip for keeping a job than getting one I suppose, but you have to have a flexible mind. Graphic design is challenging work and an absolute blast but only if you’re ready to change with it. Client needs are always changing, and design trends are always changing too (and they are terribly fickle). You’ve got to change too. Your Windsor bred education is just the foundation!
Included in this post are samples of my work. All are projects I was either production or production/creative on. Also I should mention, as with every studio, no piece is done totally solo. The works I have included are all pieces I had a large hand in but are not entirely mine. Graphic Design is a team effort!
Thanks so much for reading this. And if you actually read the entire thing- go take an eye break, stretch your legs out!