05 February 2013
INTERVIEW: Niko Adams, Parrish
NIKO ADAMS, Graphic Designer // Parrish
Niko is a graphic designer for Parrish (based in Portland), working on-site in NYC. She is a talented, driven designer, with experience in Helsinki, Finland studying design, honing her craft and fine art skills in Arizona, and now working in UX/UI in Times Square.
what was your first step as a graphic designer after finishing college?
Contacting everyone I knew (and many I didn’t) who were even loosely related to design. Hunt down alumni, friend’s parents and old classmates to see where they’re working, how they like it and more importantly, if they know of anywhere that’s hiring. I also sent emails to agencies asking if they needed an intern. (see next question for more on this)
what type of internship/s did you do? any recommendations for landing an internship?
I had two internships, one that was unpaid during school and a post-graduate, paid one. My unpaid internship was at Anthropolgie building window displays and such for about 12 hours a week for less than a semester. I was then hired on, which has helped me land lots graphic design jobs. It says “I’m versatile and can build things,” which is appealing in a career dominated by computers; so never be afraid to put “artsy” works in your portfolio, it could help you.
Post-college internship, Nomadic Agency. This is one of those fate driven situations, which is how everyone will get a job. I wrote them an email saying I liked their work and asked if they needed an intern. After hearing nothing for a month, I was contacted, interviewed and working there within a week. Their intern backed out last minute and I was in. I worked there for 40+ hours a week, paid. It started as a 3 month internship, but I stayed for over 6 months. I learned so much from them. I can’t say enough great things about them and how much they’ve helped me get to where I am. To get an internship, find places you like and politely beg them to let you work and learn from them. Nobody wants/can work for free, but if the internship is going to help you go where you want to, you might have to.
did you feel prepared coming out of school to work where you are now?
Hell fucking no.
are you satisfied with your BFA? any interest in going back to school for MFA?
Maybe, if I find my focus I would go to SVA or RISD to get a MFA. But currently, negatory.
what is the best advice you can offer a VC senior?
Stay strong and be brave.
how has your design style developed since school?
In school, I made art-based design work. Scanned in my drawing, old slides, cool things. Now, I’ve learned the art of high quality work in tight deadlines. I also work in a field I never thought I’d touch, so I’m constantly learning how to apply my style to it.
is it better to have a physical portfolio or a digital one?
Both are equally as important for different reasons. Make sure your website is badass and up to date, always. I bring a couple 8.5x11” portfolios to interviews, and working in the digital world, it kind of freaks people out. I also leave one behind, which is always followed by “are you sure?” The more reminders that you existed, the more likely they will get back to you.
do you ever do any free work, just to get your name out there?
Unless it’s for a really, really good friend, or my mom, no. If they are big enough to get your name out of the world of design, they are able to pay you. But I say use your best discretion on that. You will know what’s best for you.
what was more useful, school or on the job experience?
30% school, 70% job. School mostly taught me how to pull an all nighters and sit in the same place for days.
in your opinion, was all of the student loan debt worth it?
A million times, yes. Would you rather be a designer in New York or a hostess at your home town’s Applebees?
will specializing in a single area of design be helpful or hurtful as a graduate?
Double edged sword.
how stressful are interviews?
Personally, I love interviews. You sit, smile, talk about yourself—nothing too stressful. Think of it as a blind first date, you really want to impress this other person so that they call you back. Just be comfortable.
do you format your portfolio to cater to the place you are applying? how do you decide what to include and what to omit?
YES, duh. If I’m applying to a print position, I put in the best work that I have done in print. Do NOT include subpar work just because it’s relevant to the position. Every position you apply to should have a portfolio tailored to the job. I understand as students, you may not have a ton of options, but editing is a big part of building a solid portfolio. Don’t be shy about it, send your portfolio to your fellow designers and get their feedback on what to include and what not to.
what skills would you say are most important?
Honestly, social/interpersonal skills. The person you’re being interviewed by will probably have to see you daily, and they don’t want a miserable sack that can’t hold a conversation mopping around the office. Unfortunately, untalented charismatic designers get pretty far, but ultimately hit a ceiling, so don’t fret.
how was Helsinki’s approach to design different from the US?
They love designers. Their clients let designers do their job without micromanaging or taking their wives opinions as gospel. Finnish/ Scandinavian design is all about saying one thing simply. We (America) try to cram as much content into a logo as possible, which is generally unnecessary.
what is the path that brought you to you current place?
I made a promise to my best friend that I would move to where ever she got a job, and I don’t fuck around with pinky swears.
what are the best ways to get work? be seen? advertise yourself? what is the best way to promote yourself?
Make good work and be likable.
how did you start working where you are now? how did you land work in NYC?
The day after I moved to NYC, I had two interviews, one on the next day and two the day after that. I sent out my resumes, used my friend’s address when necessary, and got interviews set up. I also had a series of very fortunate events that allowed me to successfully freelance for four months.
was rejection a big obstacle for you when starting your post-college career?
Naturally, yes. As a designer straight out of school, I was fragile, insecure and scared shitless. You’ll have moments like this too, if not, fuck you. But rejection motivates me to spite the jerks that didn’t want me and get a better, more awesome job.
did you apply for jobs based on where you wanted to live, or based on the job itself?
Both. If you know where you want to live, go there. Something will come your way. You’ll make connections. Be in the know. Generally, it's easier and more likely to a job in the place you live. If you know exactly what you want to do, apply for jobs in places you don’t live, just know it will be significantly more difficult.
what is the best way to understand, precisely, what a client wants?
Talk to them about things they like and react to. Even if it has nothing to do with the project. Non-art based folks have a hard time expressing their aesthetic preferences, but they might have a favorite car or band that could help you crack the code.
what is the single most important/valuable thing you’ve learned in your experience?
FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT.
Maybe you said you know UX/UI and don’t but got the job anyway. You will now be watching 72 hours of tutorials and talking to anyone who’s made a wireframe.
what did you have to do to get recognized/seen by big companies?
This will sound awful, but I have just known people, by happenstance, that work for great companies, which I was fortunate enough to sneak into. (this applies mostly to NYC)
what was your first paying project/gig?
My friend’s band’s album. It sucked and was great.
what is the most important design tip you’ve learned since working in the graphics field?
Always stay up to date on trends, style and techniques in the design word.
how often are you forced out of your own style to please clients?
what is it like to design in NYC?
It’s probably the coolest thing ever.
what helps to keep you inspired?
The internet and MoMA, occationally fresh air is nice. Some days I’m not inspired, these are sad days. I usually wear black to mourn my loss of creativity during this time.
what is your process for choosing a typeface? any favorites?
I go through ALL, I mean all, of my typeface to see which is a good accent to what I’m making, and then settle on a sans serif. Most projects in the work place, you will be given a typeface to use. Mostly likely websafe, most likely Arial.
what is your design process?
Have an idea or just start drawing a bunch of stupid shit. Then refine the ones that don’t totally suck.
do you ever have time for personal projects?
Yeah. My free time is for personal projects.
what does a finished project mean to you?
A well deserved deep breath and a new project.
are there any traditional, off-computer tools you like to use for design?
There’s this really awesome medium no one really uses anymore, but should because it’s where most amazing ideas come from, it’s called a pen and paper. Carry it with you always.
what do you like about the medium you work in? have you always wanted to work in it?
I like that it’s quick and easily changeable. I wanted to be a real artist with paint and clay, however, I enjoy not living off my parents, and I also took incredibly well to the advertising world.
how much design work do you do in your spare time?
My spare time is design work because I fucking love it. If you would rather spend your weekends and evenings doing nothing, you’re in the wrong field.
what brainstorming techniques do you find most helpful?
ACID! I’m kidding, mushrooms.
But seriously, just thinking and making doodles kick starts ideas. You can’t just sit around and wait for an idea, sometimes you just have to start with material and see where it takes you.
two words to describe John?
Curmudgeon. I don’t need two adjectives.
(editor's note: I keep including these, strictly for your entertainment, students.)