The state of Maine holds few educational options for budding graphic designers, but that hasn’t stopped Portland’s creative community from blossoming.
Portland is home to numerous design agencies, including iBec Creative at 408 Fore St., The Via Agency at 619 Congress St. and Burgess Advertising and Marketing at 1290 Congress St. Each agency offers a variety of design services for print, web, film or television. Although working in Maine offers picturesque views and an escape from the fast pace of city life, working as a Maine designer comes with its challenges.
“Mainers and Yankees have a predisposition to think about how to do things for themselves faster and cheaper. It’s like me, I think I can do things myself. I don’t need to hire a contractor,” said Sean Wilkinson, founder of Portland-based design firm Might & Main. “In a small community like Portland that doesn’t have a lot of corporations it’s hard to communicate the value of working with good design.”
Wilkinson describes Might & Main’s design aesthetic as “clean and modern with an emphasis on typography.” Located at 28 Maple St. , the firm offers branding services in the form of website design and development, logo creation, custom Facebook design and more. Might & Main has worked with local businesses like Coffee By Design and Maine Mead Works, in addition to national clients like the Slovak-American Foundation.
Wilkinson is also the current President of the Maine chapter of AIGA, the Professional Association of Design. AIGA is a membership-based resource that offers access to networking events around the country and a nation wide job listings board. An annual student membership costs $75 when registered online, compared to the $315 yearly membership for professionals.
This past June, USM senior Kathleen Daniels attended ABSTRACT: The Future of Design in Media Conference, a Maine AIGA event held at the university’s Abromson Center. The conference attracted students and professionals from all over Maine.
“The conference grabbed my attention when I learned there were going to be some powerful industry people there talking about what’s going on [in the design industry] and what trends to watch for,” said Daniels, a double major in Studio Art and Art and Entrepreneurial Studies.
“The sole purpose of these events is to get together and talk about design,” said Wilkinson, a MECA graduate. “Everything we do is to give back to the design community and help build it up.”
While MECA students have the option to major in graphic design and Southern Maine Community College has a graphic design concentration through their communications and new media program, USM does not offer a graphic design program. The university does, however, offer several digital art courses. Art majors can choose digital art as a concentration, but an undergraduate degree program isn’t available at this time.
Katie Wilber, a freelance graphic designer and USM alum, recalled her experience as a studio art student.
“In so many of my classes I watched students become frustrated, because none of them really knew Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator. The teachers are throwing out artistic concepts and problems and expect the students to solve them with tools they have no idea how to use,” said Wilber, a 2009 graduate who majored in studio art with a concentration in digital art.
For those interested in pursuing a career in graphic design, Wilkinson recommends contacting other designers.
“Most places around town will take a look at student portfolios. Call around to different agencies; that’s what I did. The more you can work in the real world, especially with another designer, the better off you’ll be,” Wilkinson said.
Internships, participation at AIGA Maine events, and networking within the design community all lend themselves to a successful career as a designer. Passion and a natural desire for learning serve as a foundation for technical skills.
“You can totally make whatever school work for you the way you want it to work,” Wilkinson said. “The resources are out there; it’s just a matter of taking the time to find them.”