Interview with Allison Thoohey from Cult

Hello Internet, today I got a special treat for you! I interviewed Allison Thoohey, the senior designer at Cult, to get her experience as a design student and some advice for students now. For those who are not aware with Cult, they are an ad firm in Calgary, Canada. They have strong philosophies in marketing and branding, which results in producing some great work. Some of there clients include The United Way, BMW, SportChek, and Michael’s.
I chose to interview Allison because she is where I see myself in a few more years, working in an ad firm, creating some awesome work, working with big clients, and doing what I love to do, being creative. This interview process was very eye-opening and a humble experience. I feel a little more prepared for when I go into the workforce.
Without any further ado, here is my interview with Allison


What made you pick graphic design as a career?

I was always artistic growing up – I loved playing with shapes and colour, and I was always painting. When I was a teenager I ended up doing international modelling, and found inspiration in what the photographers and art directors were doing behind the camera. I was never comfortable in front of the camera and decided I was going to art direct magazines and ads when I grew up.
How was your design school experience overall?

I loved school. The Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary Alberta provided a great foundation for the fundamentals of design. It’s a 4 year program – the first 2 years were basically all fine art courses, drawing, and design fundamentals. All of our projects were done by hand – we were not even allowed to use the computer for design until our last semester in 3rd year. On the flip of this, our school is known for producing some world-class illustrators, which the curriculum was really catered for at the time I went there. The teachers really emphasized the importance of being a double threat designer/illustrator and how those 2 skills would get you the furthest. But, I never wanted to be an illustrator and I am not a very good illustrator. All the drawing and figure study classes, (while I’m happy I got to do them), never really helped my career directly. I am basically a full-time web-designer / art-director now and would of preferred developing other skills, like digital.

What are somethings you wish you knew before starting your career as a designer?

I wish a knew not to sweat the small stuff. There really is no such thing as the “perfect job” and any opportunity you get will have its positives and negatives and provide something valuable to you.

I wish I was prepared or more realistic, in what the day-to-day of a design career would actually look like. I chose this career because I wanted to be super social, constantly moving and collaborating with other people, but in reality I log a lot of hours at my desk alone – especially being the only designer at a small shop now! You need to constantly be seeking inspiration around you and in others, it doesn’t just come easy like it did in school!

What kind of skills do you think a Jr.Designer needs for today’s design industry?
 I think a Jr. Designer needs to have a knowledge of the basic principles of design. So many people think they can be designers just because they know the software, but if you know the basic fundamentals of design – you will go further because your career won’t be limited to the software you know.
They need to show that they can think conceptually – beyond a pretty layout. This means they need to ALWAYS be thinking “multi-channel”. How does a brand or advertising problem translate across in-store, print, mobile and desktop? How does the customer interact with the brand across all these channels? How will the customer become an advertising vehicle for the brand? What will make the customer “buy-in” to the brand vs. just buying a product?

 What kind of advice would you give to a graphic design student right now?

1. Be open and work extremely hard at any opportunity that presents itself. You never now where a lead or a job will take you and you.
2. The first few years of your career you will most likely have to pump out A LOT of production work, and it won’t always be your vision. It can be disheartening but you will need to be patient and put in your time. You will feel like you have the best ideas that are not being heard, but “a cheetah has to earn its spots!” (my first boss/mentor told me that a few years ago). Be very aggressive and make sure your ideas are heard, but be patient when they are not used!
3. Be a sponge, and soak up everything you can from everyone around you. The best ideas can come from your project manager or your copywriter!
4. NO ONE is going to hold your hand in this industry and you need to take full responsibility of growing your career to where you want to go. Whether your freelancing or in an agency, you always need to be hustling and demanding more of yourself and more from the people around you. The industry is fickle and there is an abundance of talent, so you have to work very hard to stay relevant or to find new business.
5. KNOW DIGITAL. Know digital trends, be aware of best practices, and familiarize yourself with a basic knowledge of digital design for mobile and web. This is becoming less of an asset and more of a mandatory when agencies are looking to hire talent.
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