By Katlin Cilliers | Staff Writer

Ask a Professor is a regular feature in which The Kapiʻo News will highlight the real-life careers and jobs that stem from areas of study at Kapiʻolani Community College.

From the Delaware College of Art and Design to studying in Italy to a job in corporate America, professor Emily Moody has had several experiences in the field of design, which she says “involves problem-solving and creativity.” It took her some convincing her parents to allow her to pursue a non-traditional career and degree and instead invest in getting a solid portfolio. Today, Moody teaches six graphic design classes at KCC.

What kind of experience did you have after college?

After I graduated, I ended up working in a small agency in Atlanta. It was a great experience, because in Atlanta it’s inevitable you’re going to do work for Coca-Cola. So, getting Coca-Cola under my belt as one of my first clients made getting jobs later, getting freelance clients. Once they see Coca-Cola in there they’re convinced. Even though it’s not the work I am most proud of, it’s the work that people seem the most impressed by.

What’s the agency name?

It was called C-Ink. Now it’s called Tailfin Marketing, and it was great, it was a little boutique agency. When I started I was the only designer they’d hired. I was working under a creative director and then the owner. I got in at the right time because we started hiring other designers, so I very quickly became a senior designer. That job was a really great experience for me, because it made me do everything, from like art direction … to do some photography. I’d need to communicate and direct other designers, I would need to communicate with clients, with printers, with … managing time, so very quickly one of my first jobs just exposed me to a lot of aspects of design.

When you say “design” I’m thinking “graphic design.” Is that correct?

It is, but what you just kinda hinted at is that we’re on the computer and using applications in order to produce work. But most of the work has to do with thinking, strategy and concept development, and [it] is more of a way of thinking and problem solving. The computer is one of the tools we use to put the final product together, that solves the problem. But it’s funny when I say I’m a graphic designer, people are like “Oh, T-shirts!” or like “computer stuff.”

Besides working for the boutique design agency, what else have you done?

I’m originally from Delaware, which is right outside, it’s a state right outside of Philadelphia. … So, I moved from Atlanta back to Delaware to be closer to family, and I ended up working in a temp agency. It was horrible. I was being farmed out to … junk mail companies. So I would go to these fluorescent-lit office buildings and work. It was very procedural. I would go pick up a folder from an area, sit down, make edits, document those edits, take the folder, put it back in the pile, take another folder … it just, that was not what design … was to me. It was a really dark period in my design life.

What did you do then?

Because I was a temp, I had an agent, which is kind of weird, but I had an agent and I had a chat with him. “What are you doing? Why are you sending me these jobs when I can actually design! Get me a decent job, please.” So, I got a call from Barclays, which is a British bank. … I interviewed with Barclays, and I took a job in corporate America. With a credit card company, of all things.

How was the experience working for corporate America?

So I wasn’t excited about it, and this is where I learned about negotiating a salary. Because they made me an offer, and I thought, “That’s not enough for me to justify going to a credit card company every day.” And so, I kind of hesitated about it and said, “May I think about it over the weekend?” They called me back in 10 minutes and they upped the offer by about $15,000, offered me a sign-on bonus, like I was some sort of quarterback. This was really shocking to me that corporate America had such deep pockets.

What about the design aspect of the job?

So, my time there was really nice, I had complete creative freedom, I had a lot of money to spend on projects, so I did some amazing creative work. But I signed a non-disclosure agreement. So I can never show that work. I don’t have it documented; it’s all just in my memory.

Can you tell me about the basics of your job?

I believe that design is helping a client communicate their business messaging. … So, the day to day for a designer can be incredibly different. There are days where you are conceptually thinking and sketching, there are days where you are stuck to a computer, [points to peers working on computer] – you know, they’re coding over there, and so people who do programming are oftentimes coding. I avoid it like the plague. But I really admire those who do. So, it might be that you are at a printer, doing a press check, and talking to different vendors, making sure orders are coming in on time. So it can be a lot of managing of people, so your communication skills need to be on point. … So the design is constant, but the positions can really change and dictate what the roles of a designer are, but I usually think of it as expressing a message for a client to an intended audience in whatever means necessary.

What is your favorite area in design?


What is that?

Studying the use of letter forms in design. That’s what actually got my position here, is that I love typography. The way some people collect stamps or shoes or whatever, I collect typefaces. I’m kind of a savant in that. I can go to a restaurant and I’m like, “Ah, they used Gill Sans, or uh, Neutraface.” So I really love typography. … I love being able to carry on that knowledge and those traditions that have been around for hundreds of years and pass them along to students and making sure that this is kept alive, and it’s respected in the way it should be.

What do salaries look like for a designer?

Here? I’m pretty frustrated with the pay scale of designers in Hawaiʻi. It’s not … from what I found, some of my students are not able to live here on the salaries that they’re being offered, but that’s not unique to their industry. … So, here in Hawai‘i, I’ve heard of students making as little as $30,000 a year, I have one student that graduated and was making $65 an hour as a first freelance gig, so it can be done. So, every once in a while I hear of something where I’m like, “Yes! OK. $46,000. That’s a good place to start.” But I’m frustrated at some of the lower salaries. 

What’s the worst part of your job?

Marketing myself. It’s so strange; I don’t have a website. The cobbler’s children has no shoes, have you heard of that expression? The designer has no website. So, marketing myself, that’s tough. I can figure out how to convey messaging for everyone else, but for myself, to be self-reflective and to actually put that in action is tough.

How do you get freelance clients?

All word of mouth. Like I said, this [teaching] is my full-time position, so the clients that I take outside I either want, because I think it would be creatively fulfilling or because they’re potentially lucrative. But it’s easy now. When I was thriving on only my freelance work, I’d [accept] anything.

What kind of attributes, or traits, are needed for graphic designer to succeed?

I think desirable traits would be curiosity, a strong work ethic. High expectations of themselves.

What do you mean by high expectations of themselves?

… When you produce work, but if it’s not to the standards … then you would take the initiative to redo it, because it matters to you. … If you cut a board and it’s poorly done, then you need to cut it again in order to make sure that you’re mastering what you need to at this level so that we can move to the next one. So, a strong work ethic is really important in everything that you do, and taking pride at what you do, whatever it is. Because not all of design is glamorous. Some of it is hard work, where you’re cutting and it’s repetitive, but you need to take enough care with those aspects of this design as you do with the bigger, more showy, fun aspects.

Can you give me more examples of what you see as non-glamorous vs glamorous design work?

I made my students cut those [points to typeface letters] out of foam core. It’s really hard. If they can cut a lower case “e” out of foam core, then they can make a piece of packaging as complex as they want. Those kind of hand skills, if you can succeed in that. [Shows more examples] But because she can make that [letter cutting], this [package sample] is a breeze. Those kind of things, they can take a meticulous, [long] time and they can’t be overlooked.

In order to be a designer, what skills do you need to begin with?

I believe that this can be taught. I don’t think you have to have any kind of inherent talent. We can start with nothing. I have seen students come in here and … I myself, I cannot draw. I am not an artist. My illustrator skills are really poor. You don’t need to be able to draw, you don’t need any of these things. I have oftentimes collaborated with photographers and illustrators and I have worked in tandem with people. So working with people? Decent human interaction skills is, I think, all you need.

[To read previous Ask a Professor features, click here.]