Alissa Del Toro is a graduate of the Viridian Cohort. Prior to joining DESIGNATION she worked as a technology consultant for Accenture.
Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I work for a digital marketing and design studio called Gravitate in Portland as an Interactive Designer. We specialize in digital marketing campaigns and website redesigns. I mainly work on the latter doing large-scale design projects from strategy to development for various clients in all sorts of industries—entertainment, financial, e-commerce.
Gravitate is a smaller boutique agency with around 30 people and a creative team of six. I’m one of three designers, and we each take lead on specific clients as projects come through from the sales department. I wear jeans and Keds to work everyday. We have a skate ramp in our office and play video games during lulls at work.
What did you do professionally before you started at DESIGNATION?
I was a Technology Consultant for Accenture. I did functional analysis on software integrations for the federal government and implemented enhancements to their systems. I lived in DC at the time and only lived on the east coast until DESIGNATION. You can definitely say that my life has taken a complete 180º from where I started.
How did you hear about DESIGNATION? And why did you decide to attend?
Switchup led me there. I did extensive research and decided this was the program for me. More specifically, I liked DESIGNATION because it was in-person; I need to feel engaged in order to learn things. And the biggest draw was working with real-life clients. That hands-on work was invaluable in helping me create my portfolio and truly understand what I was getting myself into.
Also, Chicago was an awesome place to be, and 1871 was such a creative and amazing space to work in. Having that design buzz around me really helped in pushing me further in my work.
What made your DESIGNATION experience unique?
The people, of course. I was at DESIGNATION very close to the holidays, so going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas wasn’t really an option. Instead, we put our own Thanksgiving celebration together and brought everyone together. From that to all the other craziness that happened, I wouldn’t have wanted my time at DESIGNATION to be any other way. It’s pushed me to be a much better designer. Plus, I made lifelong friends who are in the industry too; it’s nice to chat with them and recollect on how we got to where we are.
What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
The client work. The art of learning to explain my designs was crucial in getting backing for my work from my coworkers, creative director, and clients. I could have an amazing design, but if I couldn’t speak to it, it didn’t get picked. Learning to discuss why I did the things I did and what made me pick X, Y, and Z visuals was super-impactful during our client meetings, and landed me my current job. I went through all my case studies during my interview process and spoke to each one extensively. I don’t think I would have been able to do so—or at least felt comfortable and confident in my explanations—if I hadn’t gone through the Client Phase and practiced with clients.
How did DESIGNATION help prepare you for your job?
It allowed me to really push my designs and also learn how to design visually well. It truly was an accelerator. DESIGNATION helped prepare me to feel confident that I could not only switch into design but be a good designer and add value to my company and team. It was exactly what I needed for my transition, and I’m so glad I took the leap to do it.
Being a newbie in the business is rough; you’re one of many, so trying to land a job is going to be tedious. Keep designing and be confident in the work you do, and the job will come.
What’s your favorite thing about being a professional designer now?
I get to do some pretty awesome stuff day-to-day and call it work. I’m in Sketch or Adobe on the regular, I get to chat about moodboards with fellow designers, and Gravitate keeps a great work-life balance.
What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
Don’t give up and practice all the time! Being a newbie in the business is rough; you’re one of many, so trying to land a job is going to be tedious. Keep designing and be confident in the work you do, and the job will come.
As much as it is important that you have the skills, finding a culture fit is just as important. I had to make a tough decision to move across the country for Gravitate but I knew it was the right fit for me and that I’d gel with the team. You want to feel comfortable with your new team because you’re going to fuck up. But, as long as you’re with the right company, they’ll nurture and help you grow!