Over the last four years of attending design school, and having three of those years encompass raising an infant-to-toddler, I noticed a severe lack of information and resources on one thing:
Parents who were also students trying to start out in the design industry.
To many it probably sounds like career suicide to even think about having a kid before making a name for yourself in your aspired field. I've wasted many hours wallowing over how I (likely incorrectly) assumed I was being passed over for jobs and internships simply because I had a child. Why should I be judged on something like that? Who were these heartless, anti-family people? Did they not see the GPA on my resume that I still managed to achieve despite the odds? So what if I couldn't necessarily spend 60 hours a week at work because our son had to be picked up from daycare by 6:30. Clearly I could perform and excel.
It even got to the point that I reached out to the people at the Three-Percent Conference to ask if discrimination against moms was a thing. Read the conversation below.
It didn't help that given the fact that I did do well in class, I was expecting to do well in the job application world. Silly me! My final semester got real REAL fast, and it was the first time in four years that I felt like time was flying by. Gone were the weeks that dragged on until I wanted to spoon out my eyeballs and melt my macbook (just kidding, MBP. I love you). Now I found myself scrounging for feedback, pulling out my hair, and getting to play single mommy for a few weeks while the hubs was out of town.
Cut to my data visualization class. We were embarking on our second project, a conceptual infographic meant to be a self portrait of our technology usage. For ten hours we recorded in as much detail as we could what we used technologically. My data ended up being a collection of toggling between design programs and browser tabs, but there was something about my data that stood out.
If there's one thing you need to know about my design thinking, it's that I absolutely have to do what no one else is doing.
I recorded not only what programs I was using, but what sounds were going on in the background, and what my mood was at the time. Having recorded this time on a weekend where I was playing "geographic single mom," there seemed to be interruptions every ten minutes for a snack, or for our son to show me something, or for either the dog or cat to jump on me or my desk (or both, or each other: cue chaos). I could only imagine how productive my days would be if I had a studio space all to myself with the only distractions being needing more caffeine or re-engaging with my Pandora playlist every four hours.
That's when I decided to embrace it.
People needed to know what it was like to step into the studio of a student-parent-designer. Almost everyone I'd read about started out in design, THEN had a kid. What about the other way around? Surely I wasn't the only one (well, aside from being the only one in my class). So I decided to focus on the more emotional-but-raw data to tell a story through a tryptic. Thus we arrive at my photographic progression of scenes showing my design progress.
Real design happens in a bit of a mess, from what I've found. It starts out with all the best intentions, and usually ends up as a pile of papers, a scattering of drawing utinsels, and piles of books or magazines for reference. There is a minimum of two beverage containers on the work surface by the end of the day, and at least one thing has been destroyed (whether spilled, spilled on, torn, or bent). It's not the most elegant of processes, but from the chaos comes greatness. By being unafraid of who we are, and embracing that little bit (or lotta bit) of insanity around us, we can find inspiration in the strangest of places and the oddest of times.
Most of all, no one should have to feel like they need to hide the fact that they are a parent. You may be starting out in a high-demand field, but you want to find an employer that isn't going to chew you up and spit you out like they do with many interns (don't get me started on unpaid internships). Apply, apply, apply, and ask those integral questions about work-life balance. If it doesn't work out, it wasn't meant to be. They should see you as an asset, anyway. Especially according to this article for the moms reading this post.
As much as I want it to, my design process does not look like those gridded photographs of company identity collateral. This is me at my most honest (with a bit of staging since my tripod couldn't get high enough over my actual desk), and hopefully you can view some of the imagery and internal monologue and have an empathetic laugh. This is for you lot, student-parent-designers, as well as parent-designers (you at-home freelancers are my heroes with the level of likely distractions you have) and everyone unafraid to show the world who they are and how they work. This is what #realdesign looks like.
Photos were taken at my in-home studio with a Nikon D3200 with little-to-no post-processing. Click to enlarge. Feel free to share this post via one of the links below, especially if you know someone who can relate!