John Challis is a Product Designer for IBM Bluemix and founder of the fashion and art blog, Hastyville. He currently lives in Austin,TX. In this interview, we discuss getting started in the industry, working for IBM Design, and growing as a designer.
How did you get into design?
This actually goes way back to when I was kid. My parents encouraged me to pursue art. My mom entered me in some local competitions. I won a few at school and community fairs, and that gave me the confidence to keep exploring it. My high school had a graphic design class. It did not teach me any principles, but the class introduced me to the craft and a little of the business.
When I got into Brigham Young University (BYU), I was on the fence with either continuing with graphic design or explore my other interests. I was not only into design, but I also had some entrepreneurial spirit. One thought was to eventually get an MBA. They advised me to study other things besides business to give me a more unique perspective. So, I thought going to the design program at BYU would give me a unique perspective.
What did you do to get work experience?
I started working for BYU athletics during my second year. It was a campus job, but it also gave me good exposure with tight deadlines. My work would go out to the entire campus and alum. So, I had to step up my speed of delivery and quality.
A little bit later, I also took on an internship with a non-profit out of NYC to do some Web design. That helped teach me designing for the screen and responsive design.
As my portfolio grew, I got hungrier for different kinds of experience. I started looking for more work, and I got a job at a startup. They had me doing everything from Web, mobile, product photography, packaging, and even physical product design.
There were people in my class that followed the more traditional route of taking classes, doing one internship, getting into portfolio class… that never made any sense to me
Why did you feel you needed to take on so many different jobs and internships?
There were people in my class that followed the more traditional route of taking classes, doing one internship, getting into portfolio class, and then applying for a full time job. That did not make much sense to me. I was not sure what my focus should be at that time. Should I stay in either digital or print? I had no way of knowing unless I tried working in those environments.
How did you get to IBM Design?
I applied to IBM designing after hearing about it from a professor at school. To be honest, I did not take the idea of working for IBM seriously until they invited me to fly down. When I saw the studio and the potential work I would do, I got excited.
How do you keep growing as a designer?
I have been here for almost two years. Working for a large product company has its challenges, but there are a lot of opportunities to learn. IBM is supportive with helping us explore our creativity. Not long ago, I started a group called, “Design for Social Change.” It is a passion project that I could have done outside of the company. However, there are a lot of talented people here who want to give back. I found it easy to get help from my colleagues and the leadership.
How do you help new designers?
The hardest lesson is to learn to work as a team. When you start out, you are dealing with things like imposter syndrome. So, you are constantly trying to prove your worth and talent. I show new designers the importance of feedback. We all need it to improve our work and to grow as designers.
Read more interviews of designers.
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James Hyland on discovering his passion and new career in UX.