Becky Sehenuk (School of Graphic Design, 2015) just completed the high-profile “CA Made” campaign for the Governor’s office, which was introduced this month. For this project Becky designed the brand which will be used to promote California made products nationwide.
Becky recently started working as a designer for Linkedin. On the side she continues her thesis work which helps faith-based nonprofits better understand and utilize graphic design. In this interview Becky tells us all about the CA Made project, and her experience completing her MFA entirely online, and how she believes that design can make a difference in the world.
Tell us about the CA Made project, how did you get involved? What was the process like?
My step-brother, who works in the Governor’s office for the state of California, told me about the new CA Made project and how excited his team was about it. An in-house designer was working on the logo, and the office was unsure of the direction, so he asked if I would review the design concepts and give some feedback. I offered up my feedback and I was quickly asked if I would take over the project—to start from scratch developing something the Governor’s office could be proud of and excited for. I happily took on the challenge.
I had a handful of conference calls where I learned as much about the project as possible and the team shared with me some of their hopes for the logo design. From there I initially developed over 85 sketches exploring different concepts. Overall, I did 5 rounds of sketches before moving to digital comps, which were refined, drilled down, tweaked, and manipulated through a process of collaboration, until the team settled on a final design.
You are an online-only alumna, why did you chose online? How was the experience for you?
I chose to do the program online so that I could keep my job and not have to relocate. It allowed me to be flexible with my hours and work around my existing schedule.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The online platform for the classes made interacting with the instructors and my classmates very easy. It was fast-paced and required a lot of reading and writing to keep up, but it was well worth it.
One advantage to doing the program online is it forced me to really master my written communication skills. I became very good at articulating my design process and communicating to others the reasoning behind my designs. I found this especially useful when working on the CA Made project as it enabled me to effectively tell them why I developed the concepts that I did. I have found this useful with all of my freelance clients, who mostly communicate with me via email.
In the online program, contrary to what some might believe, I developed great lasting relationships with other designers, who have similar lifestyles as I do. These are people who have helped shape my design process and who continue to support me in my design endeavors.Becky meeting her fellow 2015 online alums Hannah and Jim for the first time at graduation.
What was your biggest struggle in design school? What was the subject, class or project that you enjoyed the most?
My biggest struggle was the amount of work that was due within really tight deadlines. I worked a full-time job and had freelance clients on the side. I was only able to work on school in the evenings and on the weekends, which was tough. I learned to function on very little sleep. Some instructors were more challenging than others, but the harder they were the more I learned.
What I enjoyed working on most was my thesis. It was also the most challenging part of the program. A lot of sweat and tears went into my thesis, and I learned more about myself as a designer than in all the other time I had in the program. I was totally immersed in something that I am so proud of. I look back and think to myself, “Man, I can’t believe I accomplished all of that.” It’s something I’m still very excited and proud of. Also, my AAU portfolio focused on my thesis, and I used this in my interview with LinkedIn—they loved it.
You were working at a non-profit during school, now after graduation you are working at LinkedIn, how did this job change come about?
I participated in the Spring Show and began applying for jobs all over the country. I was very happy in my job at the nonprofit and had moved up the ranks, however, only 50% of my job was actually doing design work. I wanted a fresh start where there was greater room for growth and where I could better use my design skills.
The Spring Show provided great opportunity to meet new people, introduce myself to large companies, and be inspired by other designers. It was then I really started to picture myself in a new job, unconfined by the walls of a nonprofit.
I applied to over 65 jobs, had a handful of interviews. During that time I was interviewed by Lynda.com for one of their courses about working as a freelancer. Lynda.com is owned by LinkedIn. The film crew asked me a myriad of questions about what and why I design, and how being a freelancer differs from working at a company. That interview not only introduced me to LinkedIn, but it got me pumped again about why I do what I do.
After the course was released I decided to look and see if there were openings at LinkedIn, and there were three. So I applied for all of them. I landed the Graphic Designer job I have now and it’s very exciting.
You mentioned this job is quite different, in what way? How did design school prepare you for this change?
When I began working at the nonprofit, they didn’t really know how to use design to further their cause. The majority of the employees were very mission minded and solely focused on the cause’s efforts. They didn’t have brand guidelines or style guides. Design was underutilized and undervalued.
I helped change the way they used design, building out a creative team that consisted of graphic designers, web developers and social media content managers. A lot of what I developed there was developed and tested in my thesis work.
I was the head of the design department for the nonprofit, but at Linkedin I am one of many very talented designers. The collaborative approach that LinkedIn takes with everything they do is challenging and inspiring.
It is a whole different world working in an open space among people from all walks of life, different educational backgrounds, different artistic styles. At the nonprofit, there was no defined design direction, but at Linkedin everyone is fully immersed in design. Meetings consist of filtering through sketches and collaborating on how to be innovative.
AAU prepared me for this job in ways I am still discovering. On day two of my job here I had to present new design concepts and clearly explain my reasoning. I needed to articulate how my designs would solve a problem, not just why I thought they look good. That was a craft I did on a daily basis in school. AAU also taught me how to push the envelope and think outside the box, which is just what is expected at LinkedIn.
What’s your one piece of advice for students currently studying online?
It’s worth it. All the long hours, tough critiques, failed designs, repeats, and sleepless nights… it’s all worth it. Doing the program online requires time and investment in taking and giving critiques, and long hours trying to keep up and connect with instructors and classmates, but it’s worth every minute.
There is always something to learn in those tired moments!
Finally, what’s next for you?
My next step is to make an impact through my job at LinkedIn. I’m surrounded by so many creative people there. I know that together we can make great things that positively influence others. Beyond LinkedIn my ultimate goal is to start my own design firm. I love working with a variety of freelance clients and being involved in diverse projects.
As a side project, I am continuing to use my thesis project in the real world, offering design consulting for nonprofits and connecting them with design services.
You can visit Becky’s portfolio here: http://beckysehenuk.com