Informational Interview: Sam Reyes

On April 9th I interviewed senior designer Sam Reyes, who works at Saúl E. Méndez in Guatemala. When I began looking for people to interview, I had posted in the school’s student/alumni Facebook group to see if anyone was willing to talk with me. Sam was one of the people who had responded to that post. I was very interested when he mentioned that he was in Guatemala, so I sent him a message a couple weeks ago to see if he was still willing to do an interview with me. It took us a while to find a date, as I emailed him right before Easter and he was not in the office. Once we settled on a date, other issues came up. First, Guatemala and Minnesota are in different timezones (one hour difference). Second, Sam was going to call my cell phone right before our Skype time to make sure we both had the same time until I realized that I did not have an international feature on my phone plan. When we actually did the interview, Skype did not cooperate very well; our call was dropped numerous times and the quality was low. In spite of the difficulties we were still able to talk, resorting in the end to Skype chat. I did use a recording app to record the audio from our Skype conversation for my records.

Sam, like other designers with whom I have talked, was very helpful and willing to answer any questions that I had. I am finding more and more that designers are very willing to talk with students and answer any questions. I appreciated Sam’s willingness to figure out timezones, work around Skype issues, and talk with me.


Sam is from Guatemala and came up to the United States to study. Originally he planned on studying architectural drafting, but he ended up talking with professors at Northwestern College and chose to try graphic design. He has enjoyed it ever since. After finishing school in 2010, Sam returned to Guatemala. He spent about a year doing freelance work for U.S. clients, then was hired by a printing company. He didn’t spend very long at the printing house because he wanted to design, not just print other designers work, and moved on to do more freelance work. He was then hired by a marketing firm as a junior designer and worked there for seven months. After that he was hired by Saúl E. Méndez as a senior designer, which is where he is now.

Junior/senior designer differences

Senior designers deal with much of the core of the project. Sam, at his current job, works with the creative director and marketing manager to schedule projects for the year. Then Sam makes the initial proposal for the idea, working with the creative designer and marketing manager to solidify the design. After the idea is solidified, it is handed to the junior designers to implement in whatever way is needed. Out of the two positions, Sam prefers to work as a senior designer. His current position is more conceptual and inspiration-based than a junior designer. Although junior designers have to implement creativity to apply a design, senior designers use more original creativity.

Differences between school and the real world

Biggest surprise out of school was the pace. In school, there was much more time to develop a project. In work, there are multiple projects going on at a time, each with deadlines that come up at different times. The design process does not include as much feedback at each step as school, and many times feedback comes from yourself, not from a team. Not every place is the same, however, and some allow for more collaboration. Pay attention; ask questions about the relationship between designers and printers. Figure out as a designer how to work with printers and how to get a job printed. It really is a relationship between designer and printer; making contacts with them is good. Having an employer is different from working on something in class. In class, you are your own boss; when you have a client, you need to balance your design with what the client wants and need to figure out how to guide the client to a good design.

Getting experience

With freelance work, you can pick and choose what you want to do, but to get experience, it is better to do an internship. This puts you under someone’s authority and you learn how the design world works. You get a better sense of how firms function by doing an internship, even if the jobs you do are the lowest ones. Internship and job experience helps you become more professional if you end up doing freelance work. The more you see of the design world, the more knowledge you gain prior to beginning a freelance career.

If summer internships aren’t possible, just work on making stuff for yourself. Analyze what you like, how it is designed and marketed, and think about why they did what they did. Compare different things too, and analyze them. Write about it and meditate on different ways to do things. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. Do more than what you are doing in school. Get the creative juices flowing. Don’t analyze Pinterest, because it all ends up being the same after a while, analyze good work.

Getting out of the box

Personal work is often more of what you like and often ends up looking repetitive. In the real world, different clients want different work; no one wants their piece to be the same as someone else’s. A good way to practice expanding creativity is to take something that has already been done, and reinvent it, but make it better. Make it different. In the workplace, you are seeking to make something fresh but stay within given boundaries.

Evaluate your own work, and determine why everything seems repetitious. What is it that draws you to that? Figure that out and reinvent it. Make it opposite what you have done. It needs to be just about the polar opposite, not just slightly altered, otherwise it will remain repetitious.

Personal style

In reality, your style will have to be flexible. You need to pull away from your style to complete a job. Your portfolio and website can display your style, but graphic designers need to be able to let go of their style to be able to create different pieces for different clients. Otherwise, every client ends up with something that looks the same. Designers need to be somewhat selfless. Wanting to use your style all the time limits you in what you can do. It limits your growth and your job possibilities. Going outside of your style broadens your skills.

Design firms want to see adaptability. They want designers to be able to do different kinds of work for different clients and want to see versatility  both in style and in the kind of projects that you have in your portfolio. A strong way to show your own style is to present a variety of work within your portfolio, and have your portfolio designed in your personal style. This shows both your style and your versatility.

To figure out your style, you need to be conscious of why you do what you do (speaking of personal work). Ask yourself questions, evaluate yourself to understand how you think. It is really a lot about pouring yourself back into yourself. Much of what we do is subconscious and we don’t know how to describe it until we analyze it, and then we can talk about it. Once you know more of what your style is, you can better put your style aside and create different things for different clients.

Difference in working with U.S. and Guatemalan designers

Working for clients in both countries is similar in some ways and different in others. All clients need some convincing about a particular design, as well as an explanation about the design choices. People in the U.S. are used to a higher quality of design because the country invests more into marketing and design. Design in Guatemala is very basic, and many people don’t always know how to recognize good design.