Dan Tristan is a graduate of the Nectarine Cohort. Prior to joining DESIGNATION, Dan worked as an account executive at Cramer-Krasselt.
Tell us briefly about your company.
FCB is a global ad agency headquartered in Chicago. They’re quickly building out a digital team, which includes about 10 UX-focused people. Some of FCB’s more high profile clients include Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep, Michelob Ultra, Jack Daniels, and Clorox.
It’s a pretty collaborative environment and I typically run around between 3-4 floors of the building to work with various team members (FCB has five floors in the John Hancock Center). We take advantage of the company’s size by recruiting employees for guerrilla testing.
What did you do professionally before you started at DESIGNATION?
The program wasn’t a huge change for me because I came from a creative background. I had toyed with graphic design on the side since middle school and worked as a freelance designer for a Boston startup for a few years. I moved to Chicago in 2014 after graduating college with business degree, and I worked as an account executive at an ad agency called Cramer-Krasselt. I was sort of already immersed in the creative world and working closely with designers and strategists to execute digital campaigns.
How did you hear about DESIGNATION? And why did you decide to attend?
I wasn’t happy working in account management because it wasn’t creative enough for me. I wanted to be a designer, but I was also interested in research and strategy. Lo and behold, UX matched my criteria and skill set. I found DESIGNATION and joined quickly. The live client experience and its integration within 1871 were the primary reasons I chose it over other options.
What made your DESIGNATION experience unique?
My experience would not have been the same without my cohort. Everyone was extremely dedicated to the program, which made it so much easier to learn and grow together. It got pretty rough when I saw the clock hit midnight several nights in a row, but it was actually enjoyable when I was surrounded by friends. There’s always an opportunity to learn from each other both in the program and after graduation. I still keep in touch with people from my cohort on a daily basis.
What was your favorite part of the DESIGNATION experience?
I loved being able to completely immerse myself in the program. There was never a shortage of work or things to learn and I’d never experienced that before. There’s definitely a direct correlation between what you put into the program and what you get out of it. With traditional schooling, you can study for a test for weeks and still do poorly. With DESIGNATION, you can see yourself and your work growing and improving with each week.
What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
The chance to work with real clients was invaluable, and their validation helped me realize I knew what I was doing. I’d had a bit of prior experience working with clients, but it takes a different skill set to present and defend your own designs. DESIGNATION creative directors let you handle your client meetings however you see fit; they’re there if you need them, but they’ll also take a step back if you feel like you’ve got it.
How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?
To be honest, I made sure my portfolio was ready before the rest of my cohort. There’s not a ton of time to network in person during the program, so it’s important to leverage DESIGNATION’s resources and reach out to companies/recruiters via LinkedIn and email. Set up as many informational interviews as possible—just buy people coffee or talk on the phone for 15 minutes—to get your foot in the door. I got both my jobs by starting out with informational interviews, even when there weren’t any open positions. When a job came open, I already had my foot in the door.
“The chance to work with real clients was invaluable, and their validation helped me realize I knew what I was doing.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a professional designer now?
It sounds corny, but it’s so cool to be able to see my designs on a real company’s website. I can’t believe I can go to Allstate’s site for an insurance quote and click through my designs to buy a real policy. So much went into that work—we interviewed dozens of users to understand how they think about insurance and deductibles—but the result is so simple and intuitive. Insurance can get pretty personal since it’s protecting someone’s home and family and that really comes out in user interviews. It’s also really rewarding to watch usability tests and see people successfully complete tasks with your designs.