Elana Schlenker
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?
I moved to New York right out of college, with virtually no connections in the design industry or even the city itself. It was really tough at first — the places I wanted to work at seemed so far out of reach. To get by (and get my feet wet), I took all kinds of random design jobs (and even some random non-design jobs), but eventually landed full time work in editorial design. It was an amazing learning experience, but not my dream job by any means, so the next struggle was transitioning from this early position (and others) into the ones I really wanted. I found that personal projects and maintaining a part-time freelance practice satisfied the creative itch those early jobs weren’t scratching, and helped me build a portfolio full of the kind work I wanted to be making.
What should a young designer do in order not to get hired by anybody?
Have poor email etiquette, design your portfolio to the point of obscuring their work (I know this from personal experience), show up late, leave early.
Are there any things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
That all the time I put in would be worth it, and the people I met and worked for would lead to tons of exciting opportunities down the road. Most of my clients find me through word of mouth, and it’s really fun and sometimes kind of amazing to trace these projects back to their sources — a lot of them are a few degrees of separation away from things I did very early on in my career... friends of friends I met at parties, internships, all kinds of random stuff.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?
I’ve been trying to build more time into projects so that I can take small breaks throughout the design process. Putting something away for a couple days helps me look at it with fresher, more objective eyes when I return to it (which actually helps me get things done faster). I also love to make lists — crossing stuff off of them must release something nice in my brain, like whatever happens to people who are addicted to gambling, or drugs, or eating lots of candy.
Would you recommend some books that young designers might find useful?
Notes on Book Design  by Derek Birdsall, Graphic  magazine, Imprint  by Daniel Eatock, Multiple Signatures  by Michael Rock, Studio Culture  by Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy, Graphic Design: Now in Production, and anything from Occasional Papers or Hyphen Press are a few that come to mind. And I hope Gratuitous Type  is useful as well! I also think it’s important to read in general, it makes you a better writer and communicator, which will serve you well in the long run.
Elana answered the questions on December 16, 2014.
The answers were published on December 17, 2014.