"Whether you are in industrial design or graphic design or painting, if you want to be good, you have to put in the hours."
Libertyville native Michael Zhang has worn many hats during his burgeoning career as an artist. Early work as a sign artist and a fine art education in high school led Michael to the U of I, where he majored in graphic design. During his time at the U of I, Michael also worked as an art director for the weekly independent magazine the Buzz and as a political cartoonist for the Daily Illini. "Graphic design was appealing to me because it is art, but there is something really mathematical about it," Michael says. "It is practical but expressive."
Michael cites his involvement with a course focused on Ninth Letter, in which students collaborate to produce that arts and literary journal, as one of his best preparatory opportunities for life as a professional designer. "That class is a live work experience where you have an art director, co-designers, and photographers working with prewritten copy to please a client," Michael explains. "It was frustrating because there was a lot of extra work that we did that didn't end up in the final issue, but I think it prepared us for the real world. You don't always have the creative freedom as a professional that you do as a student."
During his senior portfolio review in Chicago, Michael connected with U of I alumnus Gabe Usabel. After an interview two weeks later, Michael was hired as a graphic designer at Ogilvy and Mather, an international advertising, marketing, and public relations agency.
Michael emphasizes that networking is just as important to professional success as technical skills. "Meet people whose work you admire—reach out to them," he encourages. "It doesn't have to be with the intention of finding a job. Ask to get coffee, or show them your work and ask for feedback. Do anything to break the ice."