Interviewee Name: David Jacob Duke
Job Title: Freelance Graphic/Web Designer & Illustrator
Company URL: http://www.davidjacobduke.com
David Jacob Duke is from Windsor, Ontario and attended the Windsor Centre for the Creative Arts (WCCA) during his secondary schooling. The program had just begun and only accepted students who showed a propensity for artistic endeavours and offered an enriched course in Visual and Performance Arts. There David studied traditional painting, printmaking, illustration, sculpture, fashion illustration, musical theatre, drama and video.
At the early age of 17, David first showed his ambitious entrepreneurial nature when he opened his first business, a comic book store. While not yet old enough to own a store outright, it was in his father’s name yet with a Power of Attorney, which granted him full control. It was a short lived venture as David had decided to study Traditional Animation at Sheridan College. At that time the school was world renown and had the reputation of ‘producing the best animators in the field’. During the second year Duke left the program due to external issues which needed his attention.
In the year 2000, David was residing in Toronto, Ontario. He had purchased his first computer and found himself intrigued by the creation of webpages. He began learning HTML and Web Design through viewing source files online, and dissecting them in notepad. He began to experiment with hand coding and began learning these new languages or ‘code’. His intention at the time was to be able to showcase his artwork on the internet and be able to reach a worldwide audience. David’s ever-growing skill in web design got noticed fast and lead to his building sites for others, and eventually evolved to working with and for companies.
David’s capacity for web design grew and became more diverse in order to meet the ever-changing needs and specifications of the clientele. As David refined his skills he found that he was also beginning to be approached for work with print media. Over the next few years, David completed numerous projects for several companies while working freelance, and in some cases directly employed on contract. His passion for Illustration however, still continued and has resulted in many of David’s works being published as covers and interior artwork.
In 2009, Canada was in the midst of a full scale recession. Duke decided to return to school to formally study Graphic Design at St. Clair College. There he excelled, achieving a 4.0 Grade Point Average and receiving several scholarships and awards.
Recently graduated, Duke maintains a steady flow of freelance work in graphic, web design and illustration. He prides himself on his ability to be versatile and able to achieve any style necessary.
Tell us about an internship or volunteer experience you completed that was related to your field during or after college?
I have only had the one internship, and that was mandatory for completion of my Graphic Design degree. The internship was at HCA| Mindbox, an advertising agency. I was accepted there due to my experience. They wanted someone that would not have to be guided every step of the way. An internship is meant to place you in a real world experience in your chosen field. There you should learn if you have what it takes to excel and be successful within the industry. Due to my previous years of experience working in the industry, I did not learn the fundamentals I could have from an internship, but I did learn many important skills. I studied and observed the daily operations of the agency as a whole, and began to understand the operations in the context of a network. This gave me an unique opportunity to experience and comprehend what it takes for an advertising agency to succeed.
What advanced education, online training or development programs would you recommend for people interested in becoming a Graphic Designer?
I do not know what the courses are like all over the world, but I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in Graphic Design study as much multi-media as you can. Many Graphic Design programs, I feel do not focus enough on this based on what is required or asked of for an entry level position in Graphic Design. I believe that there is too much focus on print at this point. While I would not want to take away the print experience of learning to work in print, there needs to be more balanced training to reflect the needs of the industry.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently while in undergraduate studies?
I can only state that one possibility would have been to study Graphic Design earlier in life, but in doing so I may have ended on a completely different path by now.
What specifically motivated you to go this direction in your career?
Serendipitous events that fell in place like dominos led me down the road that I travel now. I started off as a traditional animator, which led to coding and designing websites to showcase my illustration work, which led to graphic design which is where I am at this point: designing, coding, illustrating, animating and eventually in a few years I want to start educating.
What type of activities, appointments and meetings do you have during a typical week?
Typically, I have a few meetings a month with clients. Usually this consists of an information session to lay out what is needed, or brainstorm possible solutions. Mostly though, with long term clients a phone call, or even just conversing through email is enough to sort through things and start working.
In addition to your full-time career, do you freelance, consult or have your own business?
If yes, please share any information you’d like readers to know. Currently right now I’ve moved into just freelancing. Most companies now only hire on contract, and I myself would rather work remotely and be able to pick and chose the work I want to do. Full time freelance is not for the feint of heart. You must be extremely well organized and diligent with your own work schedule. I actually love to work and feel a great sense of accomplishment by doing work, so my days are generally longer than most. When there is downtime, and either no work or not very much work, spend that time investing in yourself. Learn new things and skills, make personal projects that you can pick up wherever you leave off, and spend time networking and promoting.
Tell us about an unpleasant work experience that resulted in an invaluable career lesson?
Do not be afraid to fire a bad client. We have all had them, and if not then one will eventually cross your path. Bad clients take up a lot of time and energy that you could be using to move forward. They can be unethical, unprofessional, unwilling to pay on time (or at all), or just very unpleasant to work with. Fire them and move on.
What tips can you offer a recent graduate that is preparing to interview for an entry-level position within your industry?
When I have entered interviews for entry-level positions I have always found that it is best to treat the people or person that is interviewing you like old friends that you have not seen in years. Tell them what you have been up to relative to what it is they are hiring you for. Do not be afraid to laugh or show your true self, as not only are they will be looking to see if you have the skills they need, but also that you will be well suited to work with the company. After everyone is comfortable, make sure to ask questions to see if what they are doing and what they want you to do suits your expectations. An interview is not only about them, it is about if you want the job and it is right for you.
What piece of advice do you wish you followed earlier in your career?
Do it for yourself. A large chunk of my life was spent trying make sure that everyone else was okay before myself. It was a long hard lesson to learn in life.
If you were hiring someone for your position, what five skills would you require in all applicants?
- Taking initiative, I would not want anyone that needs to be babysat every step of the way.
- Laid back and easygoing. Being comfortable with yourself and able to separate your work from yourself.
- Versatile, the ability to not only shift gears among the many hats you need to wear but also the ability to emulate a variety of styles whenever called upon.
- Strong skills in graphic design software such as Adobe Creative Suite.
- A thirst to continue to expand and learn.
Who has inspired you as a mentor during your career and what was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
A mentor, you mean like Yoda? I have to say, I never have had a mentor. I’ve always been of the mind-set to just get out there and do it. Take charge of your own future and teach yourself.
If you had an opportunity to broadcast a special “thank you” to anyone via this interview, who would it be and what would you like us to say?
I like to express a big shout out to all the bad clients I have had over the years to prepare me for the stage I am at now.
What online resource do you read on a regular basis to get industry news and knowledge?
Truthfully, when I have the time I simply just log into LinkedIn and scan through articles that I have tailored to my interests. When a particular article strikes me I branch off by “googling” points of interest that lead me to further information on the subject.
What design books would you recommend for upcoming designers?
A book that I read recently while on a trip to Ottawa for the Van Gogh exhibit was “Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) by America’s Master Communicator George Lois”. The book is written with 120 in-your-face examples to uncover your creative potential.
What industry trend has recently peaked your personal interests and why?
One trend that I see is beginning to grab hold is the use of SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) for graphics. I’ve been very keen on starting to learn and implement this in my own work and can envision doing so more when designing graphics or illustrations in the future. With the evolution of responsive design, SVG is a valuable solution as a file can be used at any scale and resolution. SVG retains crisp clear graphics at any size.