Alumni in Print—Where Are They Now?

The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation is publishing profiles featuring some of their more than 6000 former scholarship recipients. This series gives you an up close and personal insight into the thoughts and motivations of the former students who are a part of our industry today. As our current employees reach retirement and leave, replacing them becomes an increasingly important factor for many companies. Here is one story…

A Profile

Josh Jensen graduated from Northern Illinois University, with a BFA in Visual Communications in 2005.

How did you first get interested in the graphic arts, or decide to focus on graphic communications in school?

I took a Commercial Art class the second semester of my sophomore year of high school. We did work ranging from creating a comic book cover to designing our own logo and letterhead. That was the first design piece I ever did. Shortly before the end of the school year, I walked into my guidance counselor and changed the entire schedule for my junior year to focus on graphics classes. I was lucky enough to go to a high school that had a full graphics lab including dark room, two offset presses and a graphics computer lab. I haven’t done anything else ever since. My desire to be a designer never changed from that time to today.

Did you take any courses in high school that were related to graphic communications, or that prepared you for your planned career?

Yes, I took at least two graphics classes each semester during my junior and senior years of high school. I have always loved art, and drawing team logos in particular, but that commercial art class got me started down the path.

How do you think going through your education process prepared you for the workforce?

NIU was pretty cut-throat in that it’s a tough program. At the end of your sophomore year there is a portfolio review and between 40 and 60% of the class would get cut. After that it was the best of the best, so I was always working hard to do my best work. I wouldn’t accept anything below an A on a project from myself, so I pushed myself pretty hard. The professors were very meticulous and pushed you conceptually and from a quality of craft perspective. So I always had to be at my best and be on my toes to share the strategy behind why I did what I did for any given project. All of that translated into the workforce pretty seamlessly, but I still wasn’t ready for the sheer pace that exists in the real world. It was like college, but around 50 times faster. That took some getting used to.

In the Workforce Today

What company are you working for now and what types of products and services do they provide to their customers?

I work for State Farm Insurance in their in-house creative department. I primarily focus on digital design and user experience design and strategy for our apps and our flagship site as well as digital needs for internal communications. Our department provides the full array of deliverables from video and digital, to print and environmental designs for the entire company and our customers.

What job did you first have with the company when you started, what position do you have now, and/or what else have you done since joining the company?

My first job after college was at Rule29 Creative as a designer. After three years, I left for State Farm as a web designer where I focused on user interface design and front-end web development. I served as an Art Director for one year and have spent the past five years as a Creative Director for State Farm, with a focus on our brand and digital platforms.

What do you think employers are looking for in today’s workforce and the current industry environment?

I think they are looking for designers who aren’t narrow-minded or full of themselves. We are looking for thinkers who can create concepts aligned to strategy and business needs. It’s not just about making things pretty. There is a lot of that out there. What sets great designers apart are those who listen and understand an audiences’ needs to make the needed connections with the audience to get your content across. If your audience get the message, then it is art not design.

Is there anything that you have found to be particularly different from what you initially expected, now that you’ve progressed through your work career for a period of time?

I came out thinking I knew a lot. I realized very quickly that there are some very smart people out here. College didn’t prepare me for the speed of the work and the amount of research and smarts that goes into good work.

Have you changed your plans or ideas about what area or type of job you might like to have since you first considered the graphic communications field and began studying for a career in it?

I did. I came out with a focus on brand identity and print design. Around 2008, I was focused almost full-time on user interface and user experience design which is my greatest passion. I see all aspects of my background kind of weaving together since branding is such a huge aspect of experience design.

What do you see yourself doing a few years from now?

I see myself taking even more of a leadership role with the teams I work on. I do that a lot already, but I am working on being even more integrated into directing and developing younger designers. I have also had the chance to speak at the HOW Conference and hope to continue speaking to others in the field about how we can advance our field and better the world around us as designers and creatives.

Was being a recipient of a PGSF scholarship important, or did it have an impact on your future or ability to succeed in the industry?

More than anything, it was important because it pushed me to do my best in school. I was very grateful for the scholarship and the financial help it gave me during college and I didn’t want to waste it. So, it helped my mindset to be pro-active about my work and make the most of my education. That same mindset has carried over into my career to keep pushing myself to get better at my craft and always be learning.

Anything else that you would like to add?

Thank you for the chance to answer your questions and be a part of this. I truly appreciate it.