My Design Journey – How I Slipped, Tripped, and Fell into Exactly Where I Wanted to Be


When I was first approached at the prospect of telling my story, I became conflicted. Mostly, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hear it. Then, I realized as designers we all have unique stories that brought us to this field, each as different as the next. Everyone has different ways of getting to the same places. Afterall, it is the journey that defines who they are!

Ten years ago, I distinctly remembered staring at a college application confused about why I needed to choose my major and my destiny then and there. I wondered if I was the only student who had no clue where I belonged in the world and where I wanted to go. I was someone who loved and excelled at school; I loved the challenge of math, the perplexity of politics, the beauty of music, the joy of art, and the comradery of sports. I had a wide array of interests and really wasn’t sure which path to follow. I stared blankly at the page then blindly and unapologetically chose North Carolina State’s College of Engineering.

At first, though I excelled in my classes, I had a hard time shaking the feeling that something was still missing. In an attempt to satisfy my need for more, I branched out and took a variety of electives that complimented my broad interests. During my sophomore year, I serendipitously found myself enrolled in an Introduction to Graphic Design class taught by Meredith Davis. The class was structured around design theory and the history of design, and while it was tough, it was a welcome change to the rigorous math-heavy courses that had filled my plate up to this point. As an extra credit assignment, I attended a talk by Chip Kidd at Meredith College. He spoke on the challenges he faced designing book covers and how he ended up tackling them with well-designed solutions. Hearing his take on design, as a problem solving endeavor left me intrigued and rooted within me a deep interest in the graphic design field. I continued taking Engineering classes; however it had become apparent that I lacked passion for the subject.

First Friday FDA Meetup

Photo credit, Ava Barlow. (12/07/12) First Friday FDA Meetup for student designers to showcase their work to the local community.

After three and half years of trying desperately to succeed in engineering, then trying to change my path, I found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted. It was at this point in my journey when, I decided I needed a break from school.  During my break, I devoted myself to my part-time job at a local country club, a place where I excelled and had received several promotions.  However, I still felt as if I had failed myself; this was not what I was meant to do, and I knew it. In an effort to regain control of my future, I decided to head back to school.

After discussing my options with friends, family, and colleagues, the memory of Meredith Davis’s graphic design class, and Chip Kidd’s design talk remained imprinted on my psyche. Within two weeks, I left my position at the country club and found myself in the office of my local community college. As the counselor asked me which program I would be applying for, the same anxious feeling of being unsure of my destiny came flooding back. I paused, then burst out to the woman, “Graphic Design”.

The design instructors at Wake Technical Community College sealed my decision. They are passionate about seeing their students discover and thrive in their suited paths. The next two years flew by. I made lifelong friends with like-minded people who came to design from all ends of the spectrum of fields. I remain in contact with my instructors, whom I am proud to call my mentors.

AIGA Raleigh Student Portfolio Review 2013

AIGA Raleigh Student Portfolio Review 2013. From left to right: Shannon Brunson, Jennifer Covington and Mayshanna Briscoe.

My last year, I was asked to get involved with the growing student design group, Future Designer’s Association at school. I obtained a leadership role among other strong design students and discovered a burning passion for inspiring others. This dynamic group led me to meet many amazing, now local emerging, designers. Additionally, graduating students were encouraged to participate in AIGA Raleigh’s Student Portfolio Review (Read the guest post I wrote recapping the event here). I couldn’t wait to reap the benefits of critique while mingling with mentors and designers in the community. In preparation, then Student and Emerging Design directors, Kristin Fowler and Rich Griffis came to speak to us on the benefits of participation. Kristin’s energy was contagious! In that instant, it became clear that AIGA Raleigh offered the support and sense of community I had been looking to find. I participated in the review that spring, and left with invaluable information, resources, and contacts. That summer, I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science of Advertising and Graphic Design, as well as my Web and Graphic Certificate and Web Designers Certificate.

Since graduation,  I have been juggling freelancing for several different organizations, as well as nannying for a local Raleigh family. As an added bonus, because AIGA Raleigh’s annual Student Portfolio Review was so impactful to me, how could I not turn around and volunteer for the event this year?! Volunteering for the event this past spring left me wanting to become even more involved in the AIGA Raleigh community. This summer, Kristin contacted me to gauge my interest in an open spot on the community board. I jumped at the chance! Now writing and sharing content on a weekly basis for the Student and Emerging Designers of our chapter, my love for design grows, my passion for inspiring others thrives, and I have found  a family of sorts that is just as crazy as I am!

2014-10-13-12It was a long journey for me to get here, but without the bumps along the way I wouldn’t be the designer I am today. I fully accept that my journey is only beginning, that failure and disappointment will be necessary to grow, and the only thing that is left to do is to sit back and enjoy the ride.

What makes your design journey unique? Let us know in the comments!

Jennifer Covington is an Emerging Freelance Designer living and working in Raleigh, NC. She has a passion for sharing her creative spark within the community. 

When she is not in front of the computer, you can find her hanging out with kids she nanny’s because secretly she has more fun than they do! She enjoys getting lost on the weekends at local events and festivals in between taking time to travel with family and friends. Feel free to check out her work here.

By Jen Covington
Published October 13, 2014