Ellen (Elle) Oser
Brand Designer, Paperless Post
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga
BA in Art, minor in Art History (2015)
What led you to study graphic design as an undergrad at UM and as a graduate student at the Portfolio Center School in your hometown of Atlanta?
Ever since I can remember, I was on the computer—designing houses in The Sims [a bestselling life simulation video game] or making PowerPoints for my friends. And if I wasn’t on the computer, I was drawing. I spent summers at art camps at Savannah College of Art and Design and computer science camps at Emory. During the summer of my fourth grade, I was the only girl in a three-week web design camp and though no one ate lunch with me or really socialized with me, it was okay because I learned how to use Flash and designed my first website: a fansite for Napoleon Dynamite. I distinctly remember making his hand wave and his hair blow in the “wind.”
When I was in high school, my parents introduced me to the idea that I could be a designer. “You mean I can create art and designs for a living?! Sign me up!” And I haven’t looked back since.
That’s when I started to really focus on my future. I thought long and hard about going to an art school for college, but after those summers at SCAD, I ultimately decided that I wanted to go to a liberal arts school. And as everyone at the University of Mississippi will say, once I visited, I fell in love.
Before starting my junior year, I received a design internship position at Mock the Agency, a marketing agency in Atlanta. After a few months, my internship was over and it was time for me to head back to school. As I entered my senior year, I was thinking about my future, and decided that after graduation, I wanted to continue learning my education in design to understand all the different avenues I could take. I started looking at schools in New York (where I ultimately wanted to end up) but after reading and researching, I decided to pursue my education at Portfolio Center in Atlanta and I’m so glad I did!
What is the value of studying art?
My undergraduate degree in art with an emphasis in graphic design not only gave me the tools and knowledge for the software I use today, but also allowed me to take classes other than design, such as color theory, drawing, and art history—which still continue to influence my process everyday.
However, of all the design classes, letterpress was the most valuable. It is, in my opinion, the best way to learn typography. To physically kern, lead, and layout type made it 100x easier to understand the tools when it came to designing and focusing on typography within the software. Our trip to a letterpress studio in Arkansas, Shooting Star Press, changed my view of what being a designer is all about: communication and readability! These were some precious key learning points in my undergraduate degree that I would carry with me not only as I entered into my graduate program at Portfolio Center, but for the rest of my career.
Describe your job as digital designer.
When I first moved to New York, I started as a design intern at Carbone Smolan Agency, a branding agency that creates logos and design systems. As much as I loved branding, I decided I wanted to work as a digital designer instead. My first full-time position was at Studio Rodrigo, a small design studio in New York City with a focus on creating digital products and services. I learned how to design apps and websites for companies like Helix, Xfinity, TurboVote, and Object Limited. After two years of growth and learning from the most incredible team, I decided that I was ready to move away from agency life and into the in-house world. Since graduating from Portfolio Center, I always dreamed of working in the fashion or cosmetic industry, so it was not a surprise when I left Studio Rodrigo and headed to Madewell, a clothing company headquartered in NYC. I was part of the digital design team at Madewell, designing the website, emails, and strategizing on ways to improve the brand. I absolutely loved working in-house and within a great brand system with talented coworkers and mentors. Overall, I’m very lucky that I get to work in a field that I’ve always been passionate about! I am now the Brand Designer at Paperless Post.
It’s been an incredible journey and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Now, if only I could find that Napoleon Dynamite website!
Advice for current students?
Take advantage of the time you have in college to create work for YOU—this is your portfolio after all. If your teacher tells you a direction, don’t stray too far from what you believe. Try it out, but if you can argue why another direction is better— then stand up for your decision! Be proud of what you make and try not to compare yourself to other students because, “You can be the juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be people who hate peaches”—Dita Von Teese.
And lastly, one of the biggest things I learned in school is to just show up. Even if you don’t have everything ready or nothing at all, it is SO much better to just show up.