Hackernoon logoThat Time I Realized I Was a Designer by@daveconrey

That Time I Realized I Was a Designer

Entrepreneur Magazine featured numerous new business opportunities that had me dreaming of a better life. Entrepreneur: "I never felt like I fit in with normal work environments, so I tried to find ways that would provide me income that allowed for my own set of rules" Entrepreneur says the two best days in your business are the day you begin, and day you quit. The story is not about me being an entrepreneur, but this was my entrepreneurial spirit talking to me, says Entrepreneur.
Dave Conrey Hacker Noon profile picture

@daveconreyDave Conrey


Stock image from who knows where.

In my young “professional” life, I spent a lot of time chasing pipe dreams and bad decisions. I never felt like I fit in with normal work environments, so I tried to find ways that would provide me income that allowed for my own set of rules. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my entrepreneurial spirit talking to me. However, this story is not about me being an entrepreneur.

When I wasn’t working at some dead end job, waiting to quit or get fired, I would spend my time perusing copies of Entrepreneur Magazine, because it spoke to my enterprising nature, and was filled with countless new business opportunities that had me dreaming of a better life. It gave me visions of doing what I wanted to do with my life, instead of what some boss-man ordered me to do.

One of those business opportunities was a fledgling niche that was starting to gain popularity — windshield repair. Now that may sound like complete drudgery from the outside, and you’d be right, but to a starry-eyed kid hunting for money trees, it sounded like a great opportunity to learn a skill, be my own boss, and harvest some greenbacks. It also helped that the buy-in to the program and equipment was fairly cheap compared to other business opportunities.

After thinking it over for a few weeks, I finally pulled the trigger on purchasing the equipment and my very own license to print money. At least that’s what I thought I was getting.

When the shipment got delivered, I couldn’t be happier. A lot of entrepreneurs say that the two best days in your business are the day you begin, and the day you quit. I didn’t know this adage yet, so I was coveting all this shiny new equipment, as if I’d stumbled on King Solomon’s mine. Now I just needed to learn how to use it.

The paperwork instructed that I call the company right away to have my orientation over the phone, and to schedule my in-person training. I got myself orientated, and I was scheduled to attend a training seminar in my area in a few weeks. In the interim, I bided my time by trying to do things that felt business-y to me. I came up with a clever business name: Busted Windshield Repair. Then I took that information and filed a DBA with the county. I took that information to my local bank, and started a business checking account, handing over $500 cash money to the manager.

The accounts manager ordered me some of those large, business check, the ones that come in a perforated sheet of three apiece. I remember the day they came in the mail; I smiled ear to ear because this meant I was officially in business for myself. The fact that I couldn’t do any actual work in my business yet was minor detail that I would rectify soon enough.

I drove direct from the bank, to the local copy center to buy myself some shiny new business cards. If a checking account didn’t already make me feel like a businessman, having business cards certainly would do the trick.

I walked up to the counter, head held high, and asked the clerk about the business card services. She pointed me to a large folder on the counter that gave all paper and style options they had available. The choices were not as fancy as I had imagined, and I was a bit disappointed, but I resigned myself to the idea that these would only be my first set of cards, and I could improve upon this once I made my first million.

The clerk told me that if I didn’t like those style options, I could sit down with their desktop publishing professional and he could design me something. The clerk flipped the page on the folder to show me some of the design samples they had done in the past, and I was redeemed. These new designs were more inline with what I was thinking — custom, creative options with real personality.

I asked what was the cost of desktop publishing, and she told me they charged by the hour, but the average cost was around $200 to $400 dollars for business cards, plus the cost of printing. I nearly fell backward from the news. Sure, I could afford the design fee, but I wouldn’t have much money left for other expenses, which I knew were inevitable. There was just no way I could risk that much money on a business card.

Hanging my head, I told the clerk I’d think about it, and made my retreat to the parking lot defeated. I knew I was going to end up with one of those lame business card designs, and that thought took the rest of the wind out of my sales. To make myself feel better, I decided to go to the local computer store and look at the latest video game software, because why not. I didn’t have money for custom business card design, but I had enough to buy Castle Wolfenstein, with plenty of money left over. I could drown my sorrows in pixelated gunfire.

As I walked through the store, I noticed they had a section for graphics and desktop publishing software. Intrigued, I decided to investigate further. I didn’t know much about these programs, but I had heard the name CorelDraw before, which was one of the software packages on the shelf. It enticed me with all the vibrant colors on the box, and teased me with the countless, free graphics that came with the program.

I looked at the price tag, and it was $120. That was a lot of money for software, I thought, and I could almost feel the buyer’s remorse even before I made the purchase. I had recently upgraded to Windows95, which was the juggernaut of software back then, and even it was less than $100. Buying CorelDraw better be the best damn software purchase on the planet for that price.

I rationalized to myself that $120 was still a lot less than $400 for custom design services, and I was sure I could work this software well enough to come up with an image suitable enough for a business card. That was all the self-assurance I needed, so I snatched the box under my arm and headed for the check-out counter. If buying my way into the windshield repair business was the best investment I’d ever made, this software was the second best, or so I thought.

I went home and immediately loaded up the software, which took a long time because of all the diskettes required for installation. An hour later, I had one of the most powerful graphics programs around loaded up on my PC, and I was ready to make windshield repair business history.

Over the next several hours, I noodled around with a business card design until I felt satisfied. The concept was simple — the world BUSTED typed out in a bold, narrow font, probably Impact. Then I drew a star pattern of lines that radiated out from the design, resembling chipped glass spidering out to the edges of the letters. I wish I still had that design today, but I didn’t know what archiving content for posterity meant back then. The design was probably terrible in comparison to what I can manage today, but I still believe my concept was solid, and worthy of note.

When I finished, I took the design back to the copy center to have it reproduced onto a business card. The clerk asked me who did the design. I smiled brilliantly as I told her I did it. She gave me a look somewhere between surprise and approval, which made me beam with pride even more. I ordered the design in black on a light gray paper stock with a slight speckled look to it. It looked more like stone than glass, but it would do the job.

A week later, after getting off work from my day job, there was a message on the answering machine. The clerk called to tell me my cards were done, and they looked really good. Without hesitation, I turned around and headed back out the door to go get my order. I bubbled over with excitement as I drove to the shop, and when I entered the door to the copy center, I walked in like a champion of the arena.

The clerk was at the front desk with what looked like her manager. She smiled as she saw me. “The cards look great. I think you’re going to love them.” She reached under the counter and pulled out a small, rectangular box.

The manager looked at her, and then down at the box, which had one of the cards attached to the top. “That’s a nice card.” he said, “Did our guy do that?”

“Nope, I made it,” I said proudly.

“That’s nice work. Are you a graphic designer?”

I shook my head and told him I wasn’t. I didn’t even know what a graphic designer was. I just had some software that I barely knew how to use. I shrugged,”I got lucky, I guess.”

“That’s better than just lucky. That’s really good for a first attempt. You know, we could use another desktop publisher here. Maybe you’d be interested in applying for the job. It pays $7 an hour”

At the time, that was decent money for a retail job. I paused at the idea for a moment, but returned, “Thanks, but I’m starting my own business. That’s what these cards are for.” I paid my bill, thanked them both, and walked out with my treasure. The world was a beautiful place that day.

A week later, I attended the training seminar in a neighboring town, and although I had a hard time with the process of fixing the practice windshields, I still felt accomplished that I was learning a new trade. When the group broke for lunch, I shared my business card with some of the other trainees. They thought the cards looked great. I didn’t tell them I made them, but relished in the approval, silently to myself. That would be the last celebration, though.

A few months later, BUSTED was busted. I was out of my seed money, and had no clients. I may have had a lot of ambition, but I knew very little about marketing and promotion. I had read Guerrilla Marketing by J. Conrad Levinson, which I thought would make me an easy winner, but the business of selling windshield repair to people was not as easy as I had hoped. People didn’t understand the value when the cost of glass was so cheap in comparison. I just wasn’t very good at selling, and honestly, I didn’t really want to be good at it. It turns out, I didn’t really want to be repairing windshields.

I put the equipment in the back of the closet, and shut down my flash-in-the-pan business. I filled my spare time with video games, mostly, but I would occasionally mess around with CorelDraw when bored. I enjoyed that program a lot, messing around with stock graphics, and designing mock logos.

At one point during my time with BUSTED, a friend from my day job said he liked my business card and asked if I’d be willing to help him make a logo for his band. We played around with it some, and finally gave him a design he felt was worthy. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t my type of music, and I didn’t have enough time to make it really good, in my opinion. It was still fun though, and he loved the design.

I thought about what the manager of the copy center had said to me about a job as a desktop publisher. I called him up and tried to remind him of who I was. I told him about the business card design, and it came back to him. I reminded him of the job offer, but he told me they had long filled the position. He asked what happened to my business, and I told him that I think I was meant to do something else. He agreed, and wished me luck.

Before getting off the call, the manager then told me that if I really wanted to pursue design, I should look into doing some certificate training for desktop publishing. that would give me a better chance finding a job in that field, if I wanted. I thanked him for that nugget of wisdome, and went off to do a little research. I found a few local classes, but I couldn’t afford any of them now that my money was all gone. My day job kept me fed, and a roof over my head, but not much more than that. That was about to change soon too.

I had gotten fired from the menial day job, mostly because I just did not give a shit about it anymore, but also because I got busted flirting with a girl who the owner liked for himself. He told me it was sexual harassment, and that he couldn’t have it in his business, unless it was him doing the harassment, I suppose.

I couldn’t find new work right away, so I had to move back in with my family. When I did find work again, instead of moving out, I stayed home and went back to school for art. I had finally figured out that I enjoyed creative work, and that it was time for me to pursue it more.

Starting at the community college level first, I eventually moved over to a trade school for graphic design. That was the beginning of my new life as a creative professional, and I’ve never regretted that decision for even a minute.

I’ve worked as a production design, advertising specialist, magazine art director, and a freelance designer. Even though I’m not doing design work as a profession now, opting for a fine art and writing career instead; I believe my time as a designer made me a better human. It helped me understand the intricacies of creativity, from the broad spectrum idea generation, right down to the refinement of tweaking pixels. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if not for my design experience, and if I had any regrets, it would only be that I wished I had found graphic design earlier in life.

Long story short, buying CorelDraw was indeed the best investment I ever made.


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