Joseph Alessio
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your career?
The primary struggle for me as I build a career has been identity; the struggle for identity on a personal level also manifests itself in one’s work. I’ve struggled to be comfortable in my own skin and both accept and and overcome the failures and roadblocks along the way. However, as I’ve grown into a better understanding of myself, I have discovered that I have value to give, something to say, and can begin to distill this into concepts and applications.
Another difficulty has been waiting. I’m ambitious and wanted opportunities to show up right away, and then have had to deal with the frustration of not seeing results as soon as I would like to. However, if I’d had the opportunities I wanted too early, I would not have had enough experience in dealing with clients, nor the confidence to own the project and do it well. Because I’ve waited and developed, I’m now far better equipped to handle the level of work that I dreamed of getting years ago.
The third struggle is comparison. Comparison is easy to fall into, but it is crippling and only results in unhappiness, derivative work and lack of confidence. It’s a constant struggle, especially in the internet age where we can observe the career arcs of thousands of incredibly successful illustrators and designers in realtime, but everyone has a different and unique story. Your story is your own, and their story is their own; don’t allow someone else’s to keep you from creating and owning your story.
What should a young designer do in order not to get hired by anybody?
Don’t keep aggressively learning and developing your skillset and point of view. Expect to be taken seriously without a good work ethic. Don’t be personal and friendly, and always apologize for yourself and your work. Ignore attention to detail, don’t be receptive to feedback, treat design projects as fine art. Perpetuate clichés and utilize trends without a context or a concept. Show work you’re not proud of in your portfolio, or make work that you aren’t proud of because you cut corners.
Also, to get hired for work you don’t want: don’t say no when clients make unreasonable demands. Take on every inquiry even when there are red flags. Don’t ask enough questions about a project before beginning it. Don’t define the scope before taking on a project to prevent it ballooning into a messy and time-intensive mistake.
Are there any things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I wish I had done less study and more exploration, devoted more time and energy to developing my conceptual sense rather than only technical aspects. That simply working hard, while necessary, is less important than taking care of and developing oneself as an individual. Look less at work that others are producing and learn what you yourself want to create. Be less buttoned-up, more real and vulnerable. Don’t expect things to happen right away, and realize that only so much is within your control and stressing yourself to death won’t make anything happen. Don’t compare, and focus on forging your own path.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?
I always start with pencil on paper. I don’t get anywhere on a project starting digitally. Write down the goals or criteria for a sketch in a bulleted list preferably on the sheet of paper beside the small sketches. Spend some time thinking about something else and away from the computer before sitting down to conceptualize; this could be playing guitar, taking a short walk, or making coffee — I like to make coffee before putting heavy work in on a project. It probably doesn’t measurably affect efficiency but it keeps me more alert and is one of those simple luxuries of life that make everyday things enjoyable.
Would you recommend some books that young designers might find useful?
Most of the books that I have found particularly good are specifically type and lettering books. Anything by Doyald Young is incredible — I own Dangerous Curves, and it is an amazing reference. The GAG Pricing & Ethical Guidelines Handbook  is also very helpful for anyone working within illustration, design or custom lettering. Otherwise, dig into some poetry, some classics! Read Homer’s Iliad; read some Hemingway, Joyce, Tolstoy — anyone with an impressive command of language heightens your appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of words and written communication, and also give an interesting angle on aesthetic and style from a historical and regional perspective and in a non-visual medium.
Joseph answered the questions on May 23, 2015.
The answers were published on May 25, 2015.