Chapter 5
Everything I made before design school

Let’s say design is about communication. In design school, you learn a lot about visual communication. But there are other kinds, too — aural, experiential, written, performative, and so on. I now realize that the years I wasted before design school — years spent fumbling through potential careers that didn’t pan out — were actually years spent finessing my communication skills in other mediums. Once I had built that foundation, I was ready to hone in on visual communication, and that meant going to design school. In this chapter, I’ll share the projects from my formative years that set me up to study and practice design later in life.

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Elementary and High School

You have no idea what your life will become when you’re young. Or at least, that’s how it felt for me. I was a bit of a sad kid, and part of that sadness came from a feeling of unfulfillment in everything I did — I couldn’t commit to any particular interest or career path. That wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. I at least knew I loved music, movies, and video games, so I did my best to make music, movies, and video games. Much, much later, I realized that those amateur hobbies actually set the stage for the skills I would rely on as a designer.


It’s tough writing music when you hate the sound of your voice. That didn’t stop me. My earliest creative experiences were as a songwriter, starting off with nonsensical songs that tried way too hard to be funny, leading into overly dramatic ones that tried way too hard to be serious and meaningful. The pivotal moments that stuck with me from this phase of my life were learning how to improvise on and compose for piano, and learning the basics of audio recording and production.


I distinctly remember declaring that I wanted to become a filmmaker. I don’t know what compelled me, but maybe I was inspired by the onslaught of Flash animations and YouTube sketches at the time. For a few years, I tried to watch a classic movie everyday to see what I could learn. That passion drove me to create my own absolutely terrible YouTube videos, culminating in a stop motion animation that earned me a nomination (not a win) at a Tribeca award for young filmmakers. Looking back, I think losing that award really stung, and might’ve been the reason why I stopped making movies.

Video Games

My real passion — which continues to be my secret real passion — was for video games. I absolutely loved video games, particularly Nintendo and Flash games, but I never considered game development as a possible career path. Even so, I discovered that I could make my own using a sort of “coding” language called Scratch that MIT developed to teach kids code. So, with my extremely limited capabilities for thinking about computer science logic and algorithms, I became some lesser definition of a game developer.


I went to Wesleyan University in 2015 thinking I would study film. I took one film course and quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. At the same time, I took a theater course taught by Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, and I fell in love with theater. Studying theater led to a slew of new opportunities: theatrical production, sound design, and — perhaps most importantly — poster design. I was also terrified of the career prospects working in theater, so I studied computer science too, which I nearly failed and absolutely despised. All considered, the combination of both majors was a surprisingly effective pairing of theories and skill sets.

Theater Posters

College was the first place I encountered a seemingly endless demand for graphic designers. I had picked up some basic skills in high school by making games and album covers. It was enough experience that people in college frequently asked me to make posters for them. But I didn’t know what made a good poster at the time, so I thought “good” design was complicated design, and I essentially tried to do as much as possible with every single project.

Sound Design

Really, my heart was in audio. My background in writing and producing music led to a couple of live audio gigs on student productions, which quickly led to my entire shtick as a theater major. Serving on the board of our student theater company, I was essentially the campus’ resident sound designer — a title I had to grow into, since I was certainly not the most experienced composer or engineer in school. But I stuck with it, even going as far as to make a thesis in theatrical sound design.

Creative Coding

I was also a computer science major. But of the courses I took in college, really only one or two actually helped me become a coder. The rest were far too advanced for my interests — things like automata theory, lambda calculus, and discrete mathematics that had me flabbergasted. It wasn’t until my last year in school that I realized I could use code in creative ways, and by that point I was fully committed to theater anyway.


The funny thing is that I desperately wanted to become a playwright. Except, I could never get into a playwriting course for one reason or another. In lieu of that, I pursued administrative theater internships during the summers thinking that would bring me closer to my dream. What really happened, though, is that these small non-profits just wanted me for my design experience. Once that was abundantly clear, I did my best to make the most of these opportunities. I took on far more responsibilities than I was paid for so that I could teach myself new skills and develop a portfolio.

Early Career

I wanted to be a playwright, but I never had the chance to study or practice playwriting. So I ended up a sound designer, but all my internships were in graphic design, even if they were technically in the theater industry. Those realities led to a summer gig at Williamstown Theatre Festival as a lead graphic designer — a job I was woefully underprepared for, but ultimately kickstarted my career as a professional graphic designer. After that summer — and after failing to score any in-house jobs as a programmer or designer — I went full-time into freelance, finding clients through connections from prior internships or simply by word-of-mouth.

Williamstown Theatre Festival

My first summer at Williamstown was brutal. I worked for three months straight, leading a team of two other designers basically the same ages as me, taking only three days off the entire summer (weekends were workdays!). It was not unlike hazing. What I got out of it, though, was the ability to produce high-quality work under extreme conditions, and my first major freelance client. I would go on to work with Williamstown for several years, producing designs for their following galas and seasons.


One of my coworkers at Williamstown ended up at a contemporary, experimental NYC-based synagogue named Lab/Shul. They had a freelance graphic designer drop out at the last minute, so she thought of me to replace them. That first job led to a multi-year relationship with the company, which included designing the identities for their flagship High Holy Days celebrations.

Central Synagogue

From one synagogue to another I suppose! Central Synagogue saw my work for Lab/Shul and reached out to me for their first-ever virtual High Holy Days (a COVID byproduct). That led to a year full of collaborations spanning across publications, mailings, and microsites.

Branding and Motion Design

At this point, my specialities had become branding, motion, and small-scale websites that I primarily built using site building platforms. I worked with a variety of other clients with the odd job here and there, whether I was creating a visual identity, an animated logo, or a landing page.


In truth, I never felt like I was succeeding even in my modest success. Instead, I was constantly stressed, unable to predict how long a project would take. I didn’t have any formal education in design, and I found myself struggling to understand what led to a “good” design and how I could reliably make successful design decisions. I found myself neglecting my hobbies, but I still managed to compose a song every now and then. At some point, I just decided to release this unfinished music all at once.