How did I Become an Art Director and Graphic Communication Designer?

Art Director and Graphic Communication Designer

Tina Touli is a creative director, graphic communication designer, maker, speaker, and educator. She currently runs her own London-based multidisciplinary studio and teaches at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She works in various design fields, including print and digital design, with different clients, such as Adobe, Dell, HP, Ciroc Vodka, Fiorucci, Tate, Converse, Kappa, and Movement Festival. She had the honor to be selected by Print Magazine as one of the 15 best young designers in the world, aged under 30 (2017). Her work has been featured in Communication Arts magazine, Computer Arts magazine, Digital Arts magazine, and Creative Review blog, among others, and design publications such as “Design{h}ers” by Viction:ary. She has been invited to present her work at various events and conferences worldwide, such as at the Adobe MAX, the FITC Amsterdam, and the Bump Festival.

What made me become an Art Director and Graphic Communication Designer?

I always loved communicating and expressing myself through any form of art. Since I was little, I was keen on dancing, drawing, playing music, and others. A friend of my parents had a piano, and whenever we were visiting, I was always trying to play some melody. After I implored my parents for a while, they signed me up for piano lessons. That lead me to study in a Music secondary and high school. It was not only about music but also art, acting classes, drawing classes, etc. Soon, I realized I enjoyed playing the piano and the violin just for me and for expressing myself. However, it was not really my dream to become a musician. I was more thinking of becoming a mathematician, a physicist, or an architect, till a friend told me about design, a field that would allow me to combine everything that I was passionate about — audio, motion, visuals, etc. I got into the BA Graphic Design course at TEI of Athens, and really soon, I fall in love with design and creativity.

When I was about to finish my master’s degree, I start applying for jobs. On my first interview, I remember I went like a tourist. I did not bring with me my portfolio, neither my CV, not to mention that I did not prepare myself at all. I managed to handle the interview really well and get a job offer, but that is definitely something that I would not suggest following as an interview technique. At that point, I did not underestimate that role since I did not feel it was ideal for me. But looking at it now, it might not have been the “dreamy” job, but it allowed me to do the first steps into my professional carrier, skipping any internships, etc. Never underestimate any chances you might be given. Spent some time to prepare yourself for your interview by learning as much as you can about the company you are applying for, and of course, do bring your CV and portfolio with you.

After a while, I applied for a position at one of my “dreamy” studios. I got invited for an interview, and I was so excited and stressed at the same time. Even if I prepared myself and I could, I failed to get the position, and I felt very disappointed. But I did not give up. I worked on my portfolio, and after around a year, I applied again for a freelance position at the same studio. And yes, I did manage to get it this time! I was so so happy! I was booked for a whole month to work on my “dreamy” studio. It was like a dream coming true! But the “dream” only lasted for a couple of days, till I realized I was not happily working there. I did not feel that I could fit in the team, I did not enjoy the projects I was working on, and I counted the days to finish the contraction. Remember, your “dreamy” studio might not be as “dreamy” as you think it is! Don’t get too disappointed if things don’t work out the way you were planning them too. It is hard to see your “failure” as a good thing, but sometimes it can be. Always try your best and let things lead you the way.

What defines me the most is persistence. I like to continuously challenge myself by experimenting and setting up goals, never giving upon them. But when it comes to jobs, I did not manage to last for more than a few months on any of them. On my first job, I quit after just 10 months. On my second one, after around 7 months. On my last job, I handed in my notice just a couple of days after the end of my probation period. And don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed working on all those studios, I had some awesome colleagues (that I still enjoy a lot hanging out with!), and I loved the projects I worked on. It was just me, that routine that was killing me and my creativity. Stagnation is always my greatest fear. What motivates me and keeps me going is the excitement of something new. Something that comes unexpectedly motivates me a lot. I did not have a clear plan on what to do. Next, I just knew that I wanted to get out of this “9-5 prison”.

The only thing I had was a project of around £2500 budget that seemed dreamy for me at that point. I could manage to survive for 2 whole months paying my rent and bills in London, cycling for commuting (who wants to get to the packed London tube anyways?), eating pasta and frozen pizza every day, and drinking soda on my night out. That was promising enough for me! It might sound miserable, but I was the happiest I have ever been until then. I spent every hour of my day doing something that I love, something that I would do if money didn’t matter (which did not seem to with this budget!).

But there were all these thoughts in the back of my mind. What if I fail? What if I left that lovely job to end up unemployed? It was scary knowing that no one would pay my rent, and there was no family in London to help me if things went wrong. I guess that was the challenge! Be persistent in pursuing your dreams and always try to make every project the best project you have ever worked on. There is no way to fail. There will always be a plan B. You will see, sooner or later, things will work out.

Just a month or two after I started, I already had a well-known design magazine approaching me for an interview! But there was just a small issue… They asked me for a picture of my studio. I was barely surviving, and of course, I did not have a studio space! I only had a little desk in the corner of my bedroom that I used for working. But remember, there is always a way to make things work. Start with what you have, and you will figure it out on the way! So, I moved the TV, some furniture, and some objects from the living room, placed my laptop on the dining table, photoshopped a frame with my artwork on the wall to create a nice office setting, and there you go, I suddenly had an amazing studio!

Now, just a couple of years later, I am 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, in my own dreamy “prison,” having a studio space, traveling by tube but still eating my favorite pizza. The most important thing is to enjoy, appreciate and get satisfaction from every little thing that you do! The best work came when you had fun creating it!


TINA TOULI

Creative Director

Graphic Communication Designer

Educator

tinatouli.com

@tinatouli

Also read “Don’t be surprised if you have to send 100 emails everyday to only get 2 replies” – Daphnie Loong, Creative Director at Tofu Design

How did I Become an Art Director and Graphic Communication Designer?

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