Catherine Casalino
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?
Making ends meet in New York City! My first design job was an internship with Rodrigo Corral shortly after he had founded his own design studio. It was an amazing opportunity to learn design on-the-job, so I accepted it even though I knew I would have to get another job to pay the rent. I would sometimes leave Rodrigo’s studio at 6 pm and then waitress from 7 pm to 3 am. It was tough, but after a couple months as an intern, the studio was doing pretty well and Rodrigo was able to offer me a full-time spot as a junior designer. Looking back, I am so happy I took the internship and figured things out, but at the time it was pretty scary to accept an internship rather than keep hunting for a salaried job.
I also did not go to school for graphic design (I was an English Major and a History Minor), so at the beginning of my career I was pretty self conscious about it. I remember going to AIGA events and overhearing design students talk about design and feeling like they were talking a foreign language. But feeling like I needed to catch up with the kids that went to design school really turned out to be a positive for me. I was so nervous that I didn’t know enough that I just started absorbing everything I could get my hands on. I devoured every art and design book that we had in the studio and asked about a million questions. I remember a friend gushing to me about how he had met Milton Glaser. I had no idea who Milton Glaser was, but I didn’t let on, and when I got home the first thing I did was go online and read everything I could about him. I think having that hunger is important, not just at the beginning of your career, but for the duration of it. You can never know it all, but as long as you’re curious about it all, you will be fine.
What should a young designer do in order not to get hired by anybody?
Have no social skills. You may have an amazing portfolio, but if you don’t know how to interact with other people, you will have a hard time getting and keeping a job. When choosing between two candidates with equally impressive portfolios, I’m going to hire the one who I can see spending every day working with and who I know I can trust to act appropriately in all situations. If someone is awkward or rude in an interview, I would be worried that they would act like that with an important client or the head of the company. Just like you hone your design skills, you should be honing your social skills. Learn to take social cues from the people you want to work with. If you don’t know them, don’t start your email to them with, “Hey, man! What’s up?” Make sure that conversations aren’t one-sided. Ask people about themselves. Be on time. Introduce yourself. Smile. These are the big little things that make people want to work with you.
Are there any things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
That everyone was a beginner at some point, and when you’re starting out you’re not supposed to know everything.
That applying for jobs online is a waste of time. It’s the connections you make with people that will get your foot in the door.
That InDesign would overtake Quark!
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?
I am VERY organized. It’s borderline OCD! Ha. But the crazy organization allows me to juggle many projects at once effectively. When you’re freelancing, and have multiple clients, things can fall through the cracks if you’re not careful. I color code everything from file folders to calendar appointments. Every time I find an artist or photographer I like, I bookmark their page according to category — different folders for every conceivable type of photography, for example. So instead of wracking my brain for the name of a mapmaker I’ve worked with, I can just open the folder and there’s their website. I’m strict with myself about deadlines and try to tackle jobs incrementally so things don’t pile up. Instead of just writing “design book cover” on my To Do list, I separate the task into sections like “read manuscript,” “sketch,” “research,” etc.
Would you recommend some books that young designers might find useful?
The more books you have, the better! My husband is also an Art Director and between the two of us we have an extensive collection of books — everything from fashion design to literature to comic books to photography. I think it’s important to collect a broad range of books that might provide inspiration — not just “graphic design” books. You never know if your next design project will be inspired by an article in The New Yorker, or a picture book you loved as a kid. (This year I did a whole design project based on one of my favorite books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ). Pick up anything and everything that interests you. Visit bookstores often. Some of my favorites in New York are The MoMA bookstore, Housing Works bookstore, Clic, Dashwood, McNally Jackson, The New Museum bookstore, The ICP bookstore, Taschen, Rizzoli, and Kinokuniya.
As far as specific titles, I really love Paula Scher’s Make it Bigger. As a woman working in design, I find her career to be a huge inspiration. I also recommend Stop Stealing Sheep  to a lot of people. It’s a typography staple that won’t put you to sleep!
Catherine answered the questions on October 2, 2015.
The answers were published on October 5, 2015.