Featured Paiver: Jackie Kao, Jr. Graphic Designer

Name: Jackie Kao

Age: 23

Role: Junior Designer

Company: Inspire

Connect: LinkedIn | Instagram

1. Tell us about your current job.

Inspire is a clean energy tech company that’s 100% mission driven. We’re aiming to avoid 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by simplifying consumer adoption of clean energy, specifically wind power, and smart home technologies. Inspire offers a subscription service for smart devices, clean energy technologies, and energy management, coupled with pro installation and on-bill financing. My role as the junior designer within our design studio is to support the greater mission by creating visual, marketing and brand focused solutions that deliver on world-class experiences. The title “graphic designer” actually goes beyond the traditional definition of someone who combines text, photos, graphics and colors to make the final deliverables look good. My position extends into brand design, which is the process of designing visual and verbal guidelines that reflect the company’s mission, values, personality and voice. Intentional visuals and copywriting elevate our storytelling and place personal and global impact at the forefront of our brand.

2. What was your career path to becoming a Graphic Designer?

I had no idea what design was until my junior year of college, two years ago. I was always an artistic kid growing up—art was pretty much the only thing I was good at. So I figured, “why not?” and continued to pursue that as a major. For the first two years, I’d bounce around from art to urban planning to business, and then back to art. I joined a co-ed business fraternity in pursuit of marketing… because that was the closest thing to creativity, right? I vividly remember the moment that inspired my career shift. I was interning at a marketing agency where a group of designers were jamming out with post-it notes and creating mockups in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. I saw how much fun they were having and totally wanted in. After two months of tutorials from YouTube, Lynda, and Skillshare, I created my own briefs for design projects and built out a portfolio on Behance. With that plus a lot of enthusiasm for learning, I landed my first graphic design internship that eventually led to more opportunities.

3. What kinds of skills/qualities do you need to be a Graphic Designer?

For starters, you’ll need the technical skills. Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, and Sketch should be your best friends for life. A deep understanding of best design practices for print and digital, as well as color, typography, layout flow and information hierarchy are the fundamental building blocks to graphic design.

Secondly, don’t forget you’re in the business of design. You’re not there as the fairy godmother to sprinkle pixie dust in the end and make everything look pretty and polished. You’re there to solve complex business problems. Everything you create (i.e. social ads, email newsletters, website elements, printed signage, flyers, brochures) should all be designed intentionally to move the company forward along its roadmap.

Now onto the soft skills they don’t teach you in school. Curiosity, authenticity, empathy, self-motivation, communication, passion. If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as as a graphic designer, I say to go all in and don’t expect it to be a nine to five job. Personally, I believe design is a mindset and a way of looking at the world. I’ve made a goal to learn something new every day and grow in my empathy for people with different perspectives and opinions.

4. Salary range of a Graphic Designer

The salary range for a junior designer, an entry-level position with 1-3 years of experience, is around $40K—$65K, with the average being $50K. It can definitely be higher at a tech startup.

5. Favorite career or life advice

“What do you have to be scared about? There’s nothing to lose.” An amazing mentor and friend of mine, Jessica, said these exact words to me after a panel event when I expressed my anxiety of cold emailing. It helped me land my current job. I spent half a year unemployed after college and would wake up every day to repeat the process of editing my resume, writing way too many cover letters, filling out job applications, and clicking submit. I thought back to Jess’s advice and decided to change up the process—because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, am I right? Strong third degree connections are a real thing. And employee referrals are too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to current employees at a company you’ve been eyeing, and inquire about their day-to-day, favorite projects, company culture, etc. To make this process less nerve-racking, think of it as an opportunity for you to interview them. You’re going to be dedicating a majority of your time working with them, so make it as fun as possible!