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Interview with Recent DCA Graduate Monica Catalan

Congrats to recent Design Communication Arts Grad Monica Catalan! Read about Monica’s DCA journey below. All work samples are hers.

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

I was working as a Diplomat for the Mexican Consulate and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity of being in LA. I was looking to complement my career in marketing by learning graphic design and UCLA Extension was a great option for me since they offer great opportunities to international students.

What were your favorite courses and why?

Color Methodologies was a very fun learning experience and I discovered how much I love illustration and it stirred my interest in playing with different materials. I found it fascinating how we humans are heavily related to color psychology.

Drawing for Communication (Kate: no longer offered) was a very joyful and thoughtful class. I enjoyed learning the role that drawing plays in the art and design process. I liked how the teacher highlighted the benefits of freehand and how this kind of communication requires a special amount of empathy towards the addressee of the message.

Design History and Context was very interesting to me, learning the value of the history of design and the metamorphosis of the field throughout the years around the world. I enjoyed finding inspiration from the past and rediscovering ways to apply it pushing it in a fresh, modern direction.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

UCLA Extension helped me to discover my passion for illustration. I also love myths and legends so I see myself illustrating my own books for adults and children.

Congrats again, Monica! You can view Monica’s inspiring portfolio here.

Interview with recent DCA graduate Trinidad Suazo

“How design can improve people’s perceptions of life and experiences is what makes me feel passionate.” –Trinidad Suazo

Congrats to Trinidad Suazo for completing the DCA program! She tells us more about her experience here:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

Design plays a key role in my life! It inspires me and makes me happy. I started my journey through design in Chile, where I am originally from. I got my bachelor’s degree in integral design from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and after that, I decided to look for my first experience in the professional field. I worked for 4+ years in a company dedicated to the design of educational material for children. In parallel, I also worked as a freelance designer. That mix of experiences was fantastic and helped me realize how much I like the experience of designing. I feel very passionate when I am doing it. Furthermore, what I really like and was challenging at the same time is the fact that the design field requires you to be on the cutting edge. That is why I am always looking for new courses and experiences that could boost my skills and knowledge.

Study abroad was always one of my dreams. That is why I decided to look into innovative design programs. In this sense, the DCA program at UCLA Extension fit perfectly. My motivation for this program was immediate. The DCA program was a perfect complement to my skills and purposes for my future plan. Certainly, it was the best choice.

What were your favorite courses and why?

This is always a tricky one, hahaha. But, if I need to choose only a couple of them, I would say my favorite courses were Media Experimentation with Michelle Constantine, Design II: Collateral Communication with Henry Mateo, Design IV: Capstone with John Beach, and Motion Graphics I with David Dodds. These instructors made me get the best out of myself, and they help me to look at graphic design from new perspectives. Exactly what I was looking for!

Media Experimentation was one of the first and most exciting classes of the program. I had the opportunity to explore different experimentations (collage, transfers, etc.), which was very special since I was able to boost and show my illustration abilities.

Design II was sensational and really fun. I enjoyed creating a speaker and a set of cooking tools. It helped me to remember how interesting it is to create new products from the basics to the whole concepts behind them.

Motion Graphics I, wow! It definitely opened my mind to a new field of design. I wanted to learn how to animate concepts and create stories, but I never thought that I was going to love it so much.

Finally, Design IV: Capstone was my last class and definitely one of the best ways to finish the certificate. It was a very complete class with exciting challenges, especially with respect to the creative skills required. I enjoyed every single part of the course, but mainly the importance of working in teams and the steps required to complete a whole project.

You’ve lived in several different countries and are now based in Switzerland. What’s it like pursuing your career in different international settings?

It has been very challenging and exciting, but without the absence of difficulties. But that’s what makes it even more exciting. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to study and work abroad. In my opinion, these are experiences from where you grow up professionally but most important personally. In the case of the DCA program, being involved in courses with classmates from all over the world, with many different backgrounds and cultures was an enriching experience.

Today, living in Switzerland is like starting once again, but with much more experiences already learned. I am very motivated by the challenges that come ahead. I have to admit that I have been lucky (which is always welcomed), especially in these pandemic times. When I finished the DCA program I received a job offer from Chile to work remotely as a designer, which has allowed me to apply all my design skills. I am very happy doing that. In parallel, I am learning French, which is the local language, and therefore preparing myself for the upcoming personal and professional challenges here.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I see myself doing my own design and illustration projects. I dream of creating my first designed and illustrated book. Additionally, I picture myself working in a company with a design team in a position of leadership, having the opportunity to create meaningful designs, and guiding other designers as well. For me, design is key in people’s lives. How design can improve people’s perceptions of life and experiences is what makes me feel passionate. I hope to be able to transfer that energy and passion through my designs.

Congrats again, Trinidad!

Interview with recent DCA graduate Lina Beijerstam

Congrats to Lina Beijerstam for completing the DCA program! She tells us more about her experience below:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

My background is in marketing, and I’ve been working in marketing for most of my life. I moved here from Sweden and enrolled in the Digital Marketing certificate. But after getting in touch with people who were students in the DCA program, I knew I always wanted to be on the more creative side and switched careers. Best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

What were your favorite courses and why?

Tough question, but I must say Typography. John Beach who taught the course was amazing. I never would have thought that I would end up becoming a typography nerd.

What’s a project (student or professional) that you’re particularly proud of?

I like my poster designs; they reflect the deepness in me. And my jewelry designs. However, I love making graphics, so the children’s books project I’m also proud of. That’s one of the next projects I have going on, making a fun children’s book with all the presidents of the United States.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I want to start my jewelry business and do more children’s books. I see myself doing that and some freelance work.

Thank you, Lina!

Interview with DCA graduate Laura Ángel

Congrats to Laura Ángel for completing the DCA program!

We previously featured Laura for her packaging project that was published on the influential blog Packaging of the World. She tells us more about her time in the DCA program:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

After a bachelor’s degree in Audiovisual Communication and two years working as a web designer and QA, I realized I wasn’t really happy. I discovered that design was the only aspect of my job that I really enjoyed, so I decided to steer my professional career in a different direction without knowing exactly where it was going to take me. After a lot of research, I found the DCA program and I remember thinking that there wasn’t a single class that I wouldn’t enjoy, so I made the decision to move to LA and pursue my passion for graphic design.

What were your favorite courses and why?

Typography and Design II: Collateral Communication were my favorite courses, although I really enjoyed the program as a whole. I found that the Typography course really helped me understand and appreciate how letterforms work with each other and with other elements of design and taught me how to think creatively to achieve many iterations on the same subject, which is something that as designers we should excel at.

In Design II: Collateral Communication, I was able to put into practice all of the different aspects of design that I had learned, like typography, color theory, layout, hierarchy, etc. and the importance of the relationships between them in a single piece.

What’s a project (student or professional) that you’re particularly proud of?

530 Craft Beer was a project that I created in Design II: Collateral Communication. It reflects the very first stages of my creative style and vision as a junior designer, and it gave me the confidence and motivation to continue creating and sharing my work with others, which in the beginning is a really hard thing to do.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I’m currently focused on gathering as much experience and knowledge as I can from other great designers. I think that having in-house experience is incredibly important to understand all of the details that go into producing great design, but long term I would love to create an independent studio where others can also learn, grow and share their creative vision.

Thank you, Laura!

From the DCA program to a Thriving Freelance Career: Interview with DCA graduate Gabrielle Merite

“I am still discovering the bliss, pain and coffee addiction that come with being your own boss!” – Gabrielle Merite 

Designer Gabrielle Merite, who completed the DCA program two years ago, is becoming quite well known for her work in info-design. This is an article/infographic designed, written and produced by Gabrielle. And you can see her Behance here and her website here.

She was kind enough to take the time to catch up with us:

You completed the DCA program in 2019. Where has your career taken you since then?

When leaving the DCA program, I started working as a brand designer: first for a cosmetic company, where I had done my internship, then for a technology startup in the restaurant industry. Parallel to these in-house positions, I developed my focus on information design, working with clients as a freelancer. Last June, I quit my full-time job and started this exciting (but terrifying) adventure that is being a full-time independent designer.

What’s a project that you’re especially proud of?

That is a tough question. I am a harsh critic when it comes to my own work. I’d say that my main pride is becoming a (somewhat) competent designer in the very specific field of data visualization and information design. Coming from a non-design background – I was a scientific journalist before the DCA – it was definitely an ambitious project. This field is very niche. There are no traditional career paths to follow to get there. I am grateful that I was given so many opportunities to develop my design skills and portfolio, despite my atypical profile, while working with people making a positive impact on the world. If I had to pick my most favorite project… I probably would have a hard time choosing between my data illustrations series for WePresent because of how much fun it was to use mixed media, my latest piece in the MIT Technology Review for having the freedom to explore scrollytelling, or my ongoing work with the United Nations (all the above and more).

What’s one positive thing that you’ve learned about the design industry? What’s one thing that’s been more challenging than you expected?

One positive thing: once you find it, among this huge field that is design, your niche community will change your life! In the past two years, I have had the chance to connect and become close friends with talented designers and other creatives. Our exchanges on design, freelance, creativity… and their support have been invaluable. They have truly helped me be a better designer and a better person. I wish this type of support would be accessible to any new designer, including those from underrepresented backgrounds in order to build more inclusive communities. This relates to what has been particularly challenging : finding a place where I can design for people, not for profit. Us designers cannot afford to ignore our role in detrimental systems and processes any longer. Our work is embedded into business models, organizational structures and policies. This is a constraint. It can also be an opportunity to push, from the inside, a change towards a more sustainable future.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I am not sure yet, I am still discovering the bliss, pain and coffee addiction that come with being your own boss! There are so many options from there. Whether it is to keep growing my solo practice, building an agency with collaborators or, who knows, going back to a 9-5?
Hopefully, then, I will still be creating designs (with data!) that fill my soul and tentatively help build a more compassionate world.

Congrats Gabrielle!

Interview with DCA and UX graduate Keita Aoyama

Keita Aoyama

Congratulations to recent graduate Keita Aoyama! He tells us a bit about his experience in both the DCA and UX programs:

Tell us how you got interested in design and user experience and what brought you to our programs.

Prior to coming to The States to study at UCLA Extension, I was a software engineer in Tokyo. I enjoyed writing codes and building products with other people and learned a lot from that experience. The desire to work more closely with the actual users really fueled my interest in design. While working on projects I realized what I really wanted to do was to talk to people and see how products I work on actually improve their lives. At that point I had already heard about UX and product design, and I knew I wanted to pursue my career in that field. I started doing some research to find a program where I can learn both visual design and UX design to help with transitioning my career, and that is how I came across UCLA Extension.

What were your favorite courses and why?

I really enjoyed all the classes I have taken here. Learning with other classmates who are in similar life stages as me was encouraging, and their creativity and passion helped me become a better designer. But if I had to choose, Typography with John Beach and User Experience III: Applied with Adam Fischbach kept me on the edge of my seat.

In Typography class, instructor Beach created a safe environment where students got to experiment with different typographic compositions and styles. This helped me develop an ability to distinguish what works and what does not, as well as establish my own way of approaching design from a typographic perspective. User Experience III: Applied incorporated a full term team project. Throughout the course, instructor Fischbach encouraged us to think about how to approach problems on our own instead of following directions. This sort of strategy cultivated the ability to sense the real-life environment and come up with best solutions in a given situation. Working with other people always comes with pros and cons, and thanks to this experience I was able to learn much more than I would have if I were to work on the project by myself.

If the phone rang right now and somebody offered you your dream design job, who are they, where do they work, and what’s the job?

I would like to work in an environment where I would be able to make an impact on a global scale and work collaboratively with people from different backgrounds and cultures. I believe that great products come from multi-disciplinary teams that consist of different kinds of people with a shared goal and passion. Designing products in that kind of environment has always been my goal since the beginning.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I would like to lead my own design team and make people’s lives better through the power of design. There are a lot of problems as to how we use technology, and I think we designers have contributed to it. With that in mind, I would like to be a designer who can match business objectives and user needs in a sustainable and ethical way. I hope I can design products that make people’s lives better while achieving business goals. Additionally, I would like to contribute to the design community. I learned a lot from designers out there sharing their knowledge and skills and would like to give back to the community by sharing my own experience.

Congratulations, Keita!

Interview with DCA graduate Maureen Keeney

Congratulations to recent graduate Maureen Keeney! She tells us a bit about her experience in the DCA program:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

Ever since I could remember, I always loved looking at interesting design. Mostly, I was drawn in by the illustrations, if any. But there were these other elements all working in harmony that made it capture my attention. At the point that I decided to join the DCA program, I had already completed some college for illustration and I was pretty good at choosing typography, but there were other things I didn’t quite understand. I chose the UCLA Extension certificate program because it seemed like a promising opportunity to gain more knowledge in the realm of design without having to make the commitment of an undergrad degree.

What were your favorite courses and why?

My favorite courses in the program were the Design Software Intensive Boot Camp with Hakon Engvig, Design IV: Capstone with John Beach, and Portfolio with Michelle Constantine. These instructors made the classes memorable because they gave us the freedom to experiment while also sticking to the curriculum. The software boot camp was one of the first classes I took in the program so I could brush up on the programs used for design. In Design IV: Capstone, I learned how to properly rebrand and pitch. Then, everything came together in Portfolio, where I worked on my own brand and decided which direction I wanted to go in, career-wise.

If the phone rang right now with your dream job, who’s calling and what’s the job?

My dream job would probably be designing and illustrating movie posters, book covers, or children’s books. I would be satisfied at any job where I could use both of these skills to my advantage. A New Yorker cover would probably be the ultimate dream.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

In five years, I hope to be freelancing full time and making enough money to support myself with my art. The end goal has always been to work for myself and be in place where I can pick and choose which projects work best for me. I’m hoping that, by this point, I will have designed and illustrated at least one children’s book.

Congrats, Maureen!

Interview with DCA graduate Elizabeth Gilmour

Congratulations to recent graduate Elizabeth Gilmour! She tells us a bit about her experience in the DCA program:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.

I came to design indirectly. I have a background in art, languages, teaching, and marketing. My love of the written word was the connecting thread. I decided on taking the DCA program to improve my visual communication skills in my marketing career.

I like to think of the visual shapes of words as graphic elements in and of themselves. In early childhood, I lived in a place where the main language was foreign to me, and before I could understand what was written on store signs and parking lots, I was drawn to the outlines of the words and the emotion they seemed to convey. As soon as I became literate, I became a type nerd, inventing alphabets and secret codes, collecting rubber stamps, scrutinizing international postage stamps, and creating homemade posters and booklets on the history of printing. One of my memorable childhood experiences was visiting a linotype printing press and casting my name in a line of metal type.

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the visually represented word. For me, a book is the perfect design object because it combines functionality and beauty; it is also a tactile, visual, and a personal object that links one’s past, present, and future.


What were your favorite courses and why?

All my UNEX courses were amazing. I particularly enjoyed Typography, InDesign, and Design History and Context. Typography is foundational, as type is the anchor on which effective design communication lies.

InDesign is a compact yet complete course to improve layout and typography skills. I learned efficient work flows in design software and even tried my hand at book-binding techniques!

Design History and Context helped me further develop professional presentation techniques and helped expand my Eurocentric perception of design into one that is more inclusive and historically aware.

In addition to the DCA certificate, you’ve also pursued certificates in marketing and business at UCLAx. Please tell us about the rationale behind your pursuing the different fields of study, and what you hope to accomplish?

At the beginning of my UCLA Extension certificate in Business Leadership, I had no idea this path would lead me to marketing and design! I took the Business certificate initially to help transition from a teacher mindset to one of a businessperson in my new life in the US.

I took a social media marketing course as an elective in the Business certificate, and soon after opted to pursue the Marketing Certificate with Concentration in Social Media and Web Analytics. The energy of collaborating with teams in these courses was infectious: marketing in the digital era was an exciting channel for verbal/visual communication and creativity. After completing the Marketing certificate, I began my OPT (Optional Practical Training for international students on F1 visa status) as a marketing communications coordinator for a non-profit. I soon realized that I loved the graphic design side of my new job but needed to improve my skills to create original and professional-looking materials. That’s where UCLA Extension’s certificate in Design Communication Arts came in. The very name of the certificate echoed my belief that good design is as much a form of communication as it is an art.

Extension helped me find my true calling as a marketer and designer.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I’ve lived in Canada and Germany, and travelled extensively. I think a lot of us who have lived internationally and have been engaged in many different fields find it hard to see how all our experiences tie together at first. UCLA Extension gives students the practical skills and personal connections to help them distill their diverging experiences into something compelling and unique.

I see myself channeling the skills and practices I’ve learned into visual communications that help people and organizations improve their stewardship of the natural world. We are facing a grave climate crisis; we need to learn effective communication techniques to bring conservation awareness to individuals and corporations. Language can empower, give hope and enable positive transformation. Language amplified through beautiful design can spark positive action and change.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Interview with DCA graduate Gözde Onaran

Congratulations to recent graduate Gözde Onaran! She tells us a bit about her experience in the program:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA program.
I was a writer and editor for a film magazine in Turkey and I had just finished a PhD in Cultural Studies. Which means that I had been mostly reading and writing for several years, and I just had enough. Because I am actually a very visual person, and have always been deeply interested in arts and design. So I decided to reconnect with my visual side and skills (I am also a painter). I did some research on how I could improve and focus these skills. I considered doing an MFA but felt that I didn’t want to go through another full academic program. The DCA program at UCLAx was exactly what I needed in terms of flexibility and quality.

What were your favorite courses and why?
I enjoyed almost every course. I learned as much from the course material as I did from many of the instructors as people, and also from being in a creative environment with many inspiring classmates. But there is one course that I really wish I had taken: Grace Magnus’ Typography course. Still regret having missed that.

If the phone rang right now and somebody offered you your dream design job, who are they, where do they work, and what’s the job?
There are three (not in this specific order): One would be someone from an independent movie studio (neon rated, A24, etc.) asking me to do posters for their films. The other would be someone from an NGO working on women’s or minority rights and they want me to do their brand identity. Another one would be someone from a publishing house asking me to design book covers/dust jackets.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?
I wish to use my skills in meaningful ways – by contributing to the well-being of humans, animals, nature… Or by creating inspiring visuals that may brighten the moment for those who see it. Actually, the ideal for me would be to be able to do both.

Congratulations, Gözde!

Interview with DCA and UX graduate Yuiko Majima

Yuiko Majima

Congratulations to recent graduate Yuiko Majima, who has completed both the DCA and UX programs to best leverage her interests and strengths to position herself in the workplace.

She tells us a bit more about her experience in the programs:

Tell us how you got interested in design and what brought you to the DCA and UX programs.

I think that great design can maximize an experience. It can help make things extremely useful and improve how we go about our day. It can create delightful moments or long-lasting positive impact that completely changes our behaviors. Having lived in Japan and the US, I’ve also been intrigued by how lifestyle and culture can affect the design and how design assimilates to users’ needs and behaviors. The impact that design can make on our lives and businesses’ success interested me in a career in design.

I discovered design in my past role creating strategic partnerships to help corporations go through digital transformation. I experienced how design thinking can help facilitate product innovation which interested me in a career path in UX or Product Design. My goal was to transition careers which brought me to the DCA and UX program. I had little design experience that I wanted to learn from the fundamentals to build a foundation and also learn about the concepts and processes of UX Design.

What were your favorite courses and why?

I enjoyed many of the classes, but my favorites were ones where we designed together with our classmates. The students in the DCA program were very international from places like Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Hong Kong, so collaborating with them was fun. Design II: Collateral Communication was a class where we practiced product design by creating branding and prototypes. Each week we got into groups to brainstorm and critique each other’s work which was a great way to learn and I made many designer friends!

The UX classes taught me methods and processes which I use today working as a designer. User Experience IV: Capstone was a class where we worked on case studies every week. We researched, designed, and presenting to the class. It helped me apply the concepts we had learned into a more practical setting that helped me define my UX process which I use in my current work.

If the phone rang right now and somebody offered you your dream design job, who are they, where do they work, and what’s the job?

I would be thrilled to be considered for any opportunity! I am interested in roles globally where I can make an impact as a Product Designer. One of my motivations is seeing our work materialize and seeing how it affects people. Creating a positive impact with the work we do makes my job fulfilling so I’d like to continue working in places where we can drive impact. I also enjoy collaborative environments since I think great ideas come from a sum of many brains that I appreciate company cultures where teammates of different disciplines can work together throughout the entire process.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I hope I can be leading teams and mentoring designers. I think it’s important as a designer to understand the user’s need but also add business value. I hope I can become a design lead that drives the product strategy as well. I think the learning never stops but it would be great to pass on any of my knowledge to others through mentorship.

Congratulations, Yuiko!

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