People & Places

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If you ask a third-grader what they want to be when they grow up, most of their answers might not surprise you. Movie star, singer, football player, professional video game player—they all sound wonderful. Seldom do you hear responses that are the careers most of us reading this actually have. And why not? Maybe it’s because students their age simply don’t know enough about all the types of careers people have. Or maybe they do and aren’t really excited about them. That’s when opportunities like career day are important. It’s a chance for youngsters to hear about jobs they know little about and a chance to get them motivated for the future.

This past school year, I made a trip to Braeburn Elementary for career day organized by iEducateUSA, an organization that helps elementary and middle school students to strengthen their math, science and artistic skills (STEAM), as well as inspire them with possible career choices. I was asked to speak to the students about what I did and why I chose it. Graphic design isn’t an easy topic to discuss with eight year olds. It’s hard enough to explain it to my own clients. How was I going to describe graphic design and convince the class that it’s cool and exciting as it really is? After a little brainstorming, I decided my solution would be to strip everything down to the basics. I just hoped I didn’t have to follow the ballerina or firefighter.

Design is about making something easy to use, or easy to understand.

In my best teacher voice, I explained how I use colors, letters and pictures to help people understand things. Together, we went through several exercises to help them understand why designers choose specific colors, shapes and letters over others. “What color makes you think of the beach?” I asked. Many students held up blue or yellow from their small color swatch books that I had made them the day before. Blue for the ocean and yellow for the sun they explained. This showed the class how there’s often more than one answer to a design question, and how color can help you feel things. We went on to discover how changing the shape and size of letters can make a word more important or a sentence more fun to read.

Twenty minutes in and I still had their attention. They were all looking at me bright-eyed and sporting big smiles. Great, I thought. I’m getting through. Either that or I had something stuck on my face. I finished up by answering their many questions and touched upon the skills and creativity that it takes to be a graphic designer. Fortunately for them, they were headed to art class next. I enjoyed art class in school and shared with them how important of an influence that was when deciding on a career.

After it was over, I considered it a successful career day. Sharing my passion was fun and I learned how to better communicate design even if it was to children. It surprised me how engaged and how excited they were to have me join their class for half an hour. Maybe they appreciated the routine change, but I hoped I was able to broaden their path for the future and shed light on a new possibility.

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Me speaking to third grade students at Braeburn Elementary for Career Day.