An Interview with Janna Hagan

Last week, we had the pleasure of hearing the tale of our very own Jared Erondu in “You’re Young. I’m 18. So what?“, which chronicled his path to success at a very young age. If you haven’t already, you might have to read that post. Like, now. For the good of mankind. Go on, I’ll wait.

Back? Great.

Jared isn’t alone in his experiences – There are thousands of other young designers who have already made a real mark on the industry. Today, I’m chatting to Janna Hagan Interview

Hey Janna, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.

Hi Conor! Thanks for interviewing me for The Industry – love what you’re doing here. My name is Janna Hagan, I’m 21-years-old and originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I am currently attending school near Toronto for Marketing. Since I’m currently in school, I’m not doing any web related work at the moment, but this past summer I freelanced from home and I loved it. I’m also working hard on my personal project, A Student’s Guide to Web Design.

So, how did you get into the design industry? Were you always creative as a child, or was that something that you arrived at later on?

I stumbled upon design in Middle School when my dad bought me Microsoft Frontpage. I started dabbling in code and really enjoyed it. I never looked at any other programs when applying for college – I just knew it was what I wanted to do, so I decided I wanted to work hard and be good at it.

Play Indie in America - Janna Hagan Interview

You’re 21, and have been in the industry for about 4 years – What has been your biggest achievement in those 4 years? And for balance, what do you consider your biggest failure to date?

I’d have to say my biggest achievement so far was being able to land jobs with some wonderful clients while I’m still in school. I think a combination of my hard work in promoting myself and my work has paid off so far and will make it easier for me to secure a job after I graduate.

My biggest failure to date isn’t necessarily a specific event, or a specific project. I’d have to say that during my design program, I became scared of getting feedback – it was an uncomfortable situation for me and I was scared to ask for direction and help. So when I first started out freelancing, I made some crucial mistakes about dealing with clients – mainly not having a solid contract and getting screwed over a couple times.

Last year, .net named you Young Designer of the Year. How beneficial have you found this accolade? What are your opinions on awards like these given out in the industry?

Winning the award for Young Designer of the Year was very humbling and honouring. The fact that I was picked out of many other talented designers means that I must be doing something right! Although this award was great, it didn’t necessarily get me any more work. The recognition is great – but it’s not needed for me to do my job well.

I think awards like this are great, but it’s not really necessary in an industry like design. I read a great quote a little while ago: “Being a famous designer is like being a famous dentist.” Kind of puts things in perspective.

Student's Guide to Web Design - Janna Hagan Interview

As well as being a fantastic designer, you’re also a fantastic writer – You run a personal blog and write lots of guest posts on other blogs, not to mention your awesome project, A Student’s Guide to Web Design. How important is it, in your opinion, to contribute back to the community that fostered you?

I think it’s important to help other out when you can. Helping others is something that I’m passionate about, which drove me to started the Student Guide blog. Overall, many designers are willing to help out others and crate dialogue about what’s happening in the industry, but there are some “so-called” industry experts that tend to be bitter and condescending. Be nice to others, work hard and you’ll find that communities such as Twitter will be very beneficial to you.

And talking of A Student’s Guide to Web Design, you studied, in fact, still are studying, at Durham College. In an industry that changes at such a fast pace, how relevant do you feel a formal education in design is?

A formal education in a fast-paced industry such as web design isn’t relevant. Although I found a lot of shortcomings in my design education, I personally felt it was very beneficial.

College is a great way to learn the basics and fundamentals from an actual teacher. Even if it’s not up-to-date, it gives you a starting point to build upon later in your career. It’s a guarantee that college won’t teach you everything you need to know in design, so it’s a matter of how much you want to invest in yourself and the amount of information you want to retain from your experience inside and outside the classroom that will determine how successful you will be after you graduate. Be active on Twitter, read design blogs, ask questions, help others and get involved with what’s going on in the industry to get a better idea of what employers are expecting of you after you graduate.

Another aspect of college that many people forget about is the social aspect. College forces you to get out of your comfort zone, is a great way to facilitate teamwork, as well as learning how to work individually, and assists you in discovering a lot about the type of work you like (design and/or development) and how you like to work. It’s a great way to build communication skills, both written and verbal – which are crucial to having success as a designer. Many young designers forget about this and that it can be applied in a real-world work environment.

Basketball - Janna Hagan Interview

If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?

The fact that I’m still young, I feel that the mistakes I’ve made are almost “acceptable,” in a way that making mistakes is a great way to learn and get experience. I still have so much more to learn and the industry can definitely be overwhelming at times with how much technologies and techniques there are to master in web design.

Where do you see yourself, in, say, 5 or 10 years? Do you still hope to be writing and designing as a freelancer, or do you want to have moved on to something bigger (or perhaps smaller)?

This is a hard question because there are so many opportunities as a designer my age. An important thing for me within the next 5 years would be to get valuable experience at an agency. Ultimately, my goal would be to work from home as a freelancer but that’s something that will be further down the road. I would also love to be able to travel for a job or attend a conference (I’ve never been yet!).

Businessly Pro - Janna Hagan Interview

And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?

Don’t get overwhelmed. Test and tweak your creative process and discover a workflow that works best for you. Just because it’s “industry standard,” doesn’t mean it will work for you. Work hard and be nice to others.

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