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Meet Visual Designer: James Chin

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Chin.

James, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was the guy in high school that would switch people’s heads around on prom pictures. Always Photoshopping, I created some cool things for projects back then on my family’s Packard Bell Pentium 2 PC, including movie posters and drawing my own comic books. But, my career aspirations followed a more traditional path–that of a future therapist. I majored in Psychology from UC Riverside, got a Masters from CSU Long Beach, and aimed at becoming a counselor for the state of California’s Dept of Rehabilitation. After a little over a year in that field, I realized this may not be the path to take for the rest of my life. I joined the private sector, in the market research industry, as a project manager, helping brands communicate with consumers. The first thing I noticed at my new desk job was just how ugly PowerPoint can be, and here we were, giving these reports and presenting to high-end clients like Microsoft and eBay. I made it a point to visualize ideas better and in a more aesthetically pleasing manner–communicating points more effectively. Over time, I became known in my office for it. Eventually, I was hired as the sole designer at another firm whose employees consisted of many ex-coworkers of mine to design not only presentations and reports, but also other cool things, like photo books, infographics, and websites. Fast forward a few years, I started my freelance business and was also hired on as the Head of Design of yet another market research company, this time leading my own team of designers and mentoring them on the rigor of combining research and design, on top of breaking the frontier of visual communication in marketing. Today, I continue to work full-time on my freelance business, producing designs and reports for start-up technology companies, market research firms, ad agencies, and corporations (e.g., Taco Bell).

Has it been a smooth road?
Definitely has not been a smooth road. The biggest challenge has been solidifying a design presence in the market research world. The industry is a multi-billion dollar one, but one filled with number-oriented, researchers thinking that A+B should always equal C, and the audience looking for the C’s has a wide range of expectations. Some only want to see C, while others want to know what A and B are. The challenge for me has been persuading not just the audience the importance of visual communication, but the ones showing what A, B, C, D, E, and so on are and how it helps them in the long run. Being an in-house designer and service provider, and not someone that faces or talks to clients on a day to day basis puts me on the cut list if things start to go south for a company. I’m a “nice-to-have” and not a necessity at these points, even if I or the end-clients see it otherwise. In that sense, every project I work on has to be spot on and my customer servicing the best it can be. It is a driver for doing the best work at all times, but it is also very anxiety-provoking.

Have you ever wanted to stop doing what you do and just start over?
There have been moments where quitting felt like the best option. The toughest moments are the instability of workflow. The industry I cater to is not only very cyclical but competitive. Like mentioned before, when an end client is having it rough, the trickle down usually finds me and I’m the first one off the project’s budget. When the entire industry is having it rough, my days become very quiet, and it can be very scary. It’s these moments that always cause me to begin thinking of plans B, C, and D just in case, and forces me to clamp down on expenditures and think of alternate ways to keep myself afloat without digging much into my savings. The way I’ve fought through is to keep my schedule as close as possible as if I have a full day of booked work ahead. I wake up at the same time, eat lunch at the same, return back to my desk as soon as possible, etc. What am I doing at my desk? Trying to acquire new skills or improving the ones I have. I’ll create a project for myself or improve upon a previous one that was for a client. For instance, if I completed an infographic for a client that has already been delivered, I may experiment with trying to turn it into a motion graphic, or I’ll take a static PowerPoint presentation I created and turn it into one with sophisticated animations. If anything, these are things I can add to my portfolio.

What would you tell someone who is just starting out?
1) Be prepared for unpredictable periods of downtime (but don’t get used to it!), save up enough money to last you for sometimes several months (and remember to keep taxes in mind!) 2) Always keep learning and getting better–exercise that creative mind constantly; 3) Be prepared for constructive criticism, communicate with your clients always and if you believe in your way, kindly tell them why. They will love you for it.

What are you most excited about these days?
I’m excited about the possibility of teaming up with someone. I’d love to join forces with someone that does freelance work for another area in my industry, like a project manager or a statistics analyst, and seeing what we could create from that. Also, a few years ago I was so swamped with work that the next step was to hire some help. I didn’t go for it because I was offered the head of the design gig and obviously staved off my own freelance work at the time. Now that I’m back at freelancing full time again, I look forward to getting to that same breaking point–where I need to hire help. It’s at this point I could consider my business an actual company, and grow from there.

Contact Info:

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