Advertising Designer Profile

Read how a professional advertising designer got her start.

Sue Aho

Creative Director, PCC Natural Markets
Over 16 years in the field

How did you become an advertising designer?

In high school and college I took all art classes. I loved art, but I didn’t want to be a fine artist. It’s too hard to make a living. I graduated from college with a degree in marketing and advertising. At first I worked in an agency in Texas, but they lost their main client, and I got laid off. I moved back to Seattle and started working in different advertising agencies.

I mostly focused on account and client work, and I decided I’d rather be on the creative end. So I went back to school at Seattle Central Community College to learn graphic design skills. I started by doing production work and worked my way up to graphic designer, and now I’m the creative director.

What do you most enjoy about advertising design?

I like the variation—we design everything from the produce price signs to bathroom signs, neon signs, even the awnings over the grocery carts outside. One thing I enjoy is the 16-page monthly newspaper; it’s one of my main projects. I have a fondness for type design and letter formation, and how they come together in page layout to communicate the information as clearly and beautifully as possible.

What is most challenging about being creative director?

Managing all the meetings and organizing the sheer volume of work we have coming through. There’s a huge volume of work and messages and communication. Some people create well under deadlines. Some have to wait for the deadline until they can pump out the work, but after a while that gets old. I like to pace myself through projects—I’ve had enough adrenaline rushes.

What’s a typical day like for you?

People throughout the company send down work orders, and these have different priorities. We have daily things coming from all seven stores. We handle emergencies. There are emails to answer, meetings to arrange and go to. In addition to that, there are ongoing projects—regular newsletters, brochures and print advertising. It’s hard to find time to do the really creative work, so we have a “closed door” hour, twice a day, so we can concentrate.

As art director, I’m also responsible for what my co-workers put out. I work with them to have a consistent style and look for all the material that we put out. Because we’re a grocery store, our department keeps a standard 8:30 to 5:30 schedule. Occasionally I’ve worked on weekends or worked very late, but the management has tried to reduce that. PCC is a great place to work; the company values the quality of your home life, and the benefits and workplace environment support that.

What’s the most common misconception about the job?

There’s a lot of hard work involved; it’s not just drawing a pretty picture. You have to redo things many times, as each project goes through several approval stages. There’s a marketing director, and then there’s a CEO, and sometimes a design is rejected for reasons that are hard to understand. You have to work within those constraints and have the stamina to keep working through a design even if it reflects the judgments of other people more than your own.

What skills are most important for advertising designers?

You absolutely need to know the basic programs such as Photoshop, a page-layout program such as Adobe InDesign, PageMaker, Quark or Illustrator, and web layout. The other thing is to really get the skills you need, you have to work hard, be diligent and start at the bottom. You have to work your way up, especially in graphic design. People want to play around with art, without realizing that it’s super hard work and not as glamorous as you think. It’s a competitive field. The kids coming out of community colleges are ready to hit the ground and do anything they have to do to make it. That kind of work attitude is the most important thing.

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