I was sitting at my desk doodling nonsense, as I always did when I was asked a question that quite literally set me off on a new path in my life.
I worked at the campus activities center for a few hours a week to earn a little extra money. I sold tickets to students for upcoming events at my school. There was plenty of downtime which I would usually spend doodling in my notebook or finishing homework.
One day the campus activities director said something like “Hey Dan, I always see you doodling in your notebook — do you think you can design a t-shirt for the basketball game next Friday?” She told me the design was for a rivalry game against a local team and they were going to print 300 copies. The person that usually designed them was unavailable and it was either I did it or there would be no shirts.
I’d never designed a t-shirt before, or anything really, but I said “sure.” Worst case, they wouldn’t like my design and I’d go back to doodling at my desk.
Within an hour I came up with this design. I used the first letters of the two schools, Kings and Wilkes, and showed our school stomping the other.
The student activities director was thrilled with the design and the athletic director liked the sketch. They told me to go ahead and turn it into a digital design.
I didn’t have time to learn Adobe Illustrator — but I knew the basics of Photoshop. After a few days and a dozen YouTube tutorials, I came up with this as the final t-shirt design.
For my first ever t-shirt design, I was very pleased with the result. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever created. The student activities center was also pleased with the design and they printed 300 copies of the shirt.
It was a humbling experience for me to see students all over campus wearing a t-shirt that I created.
I loved the process of being creative and making something completely from scratch.
It was this experience that lead me to become obsessed with graphic design. I would spend hours sketching and illustrating random designs on my computer, for fun. I found different online design communities like Behance, Dribbble, and YouTube to inspire and help me learn about design.
I would spend hours designing logos for 99designs contests. My designs were amateur and in most cases, downright awful. At the time I didn’t think that though.
Here’s a logo I submitted to a 99designs contest. Yep, I actually thought this was good enough to win the $1,000 contest prize.
I never won a 99designs contest, I never even got close. I was banned from submitting designs because my submissions “didn’t meet the community’s quality standards.”
I started designing for Snapchat for free
I didn’t throw in the towel as an aspiring designer.
After a few months of practicing design, I became fascinated with Snapchat geofilters. Snapchat lets anyone submit a design, or what’s called a geofilter, for any town, city, community or school. These are graphics that users unlock when they enter new locations and can overlay them on pictures.
The first filter I submitted got accepted and it was kind of a big deal. This is the geofilter I created for my town, Carlisle.
If this geofilter wasn’t accepted, I probably would have forgotten about Snapchat geofilters and moved on to something else. Back then (early 2015), the geofilters took a month or two to be reviewed. By the time I heard my filter was activated, I had basically forgotten about it.
People all over my town were using my geofilter as an overlay on their snaps. I felt the same feeling of delight that I experienced when seeing students around campus wearing a shirt that I designed.
I wasn’t paid for the t-shirt design and I wasn’t paid for the geofilter. I was seeking recognition for my work. Seeing people use and enjoy something that I created was better than money.
Money wasn’t bad either though….
From the reaction that I received, I decided to scratch my entrepreneurial itch and set off on a venture to design geofilters like this one for locations all around the world.
To keep this short and sweet, I won’t bore you with all the details. I’ve already written two in-depth articles about starting, growing and selling my company.
Getting a job at Snapchat & designing for celebrities
After selling my Snapchat design agency I was kind of in a funk.
I was unsure what to do next. I had spent the last two years focused primarily on Snapchat geofilters and had a great track record in that respect.
I had one highly specialized skill so I decided to take it where it would be needed the most, Snapchat.
Snapchat had a position open for a Celebrity Caricature Designer — so I applied.
A week or so later, I get an email from Snap saying that they would like to hire me to create a geofilter for 4 American golf celebrities. If things go well, they’ll put me on a contract.
I was ecstatic!
The brief was to create a design for Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, and Smylie Kaufman’s spring break vacation — #SB2K17.
Every year these golfers have a tradition of going to the Bahamas and playing golf. I was tasked with creating a geofilter for this occasion.
I was confident that I could create exactly what they were looking for and add my own style to the mix.
After days and several hours designing and revising — the filter was completed.
I was happy with what I created and the team I worked with at Snapchat loved it. The filter was pushed to go live for the golfer’s vacation.
It was a hit!
Golf magazines and other media were talking about the vacation and featuring my design. My artwork was featured in Golf Digest, Golf, and Yahoo sports, just to name a few.
For me, this was a surreal experience. I had never worked with big-name celebrities before so this was momentous for me.
Seeing people use and enjoy my artwork was one thing — but having achieved athletes use it was game-changing.
Getting hired by Snap
After things went well on this project, Snapchat wanted to keep working with me. They gave me a contract and a new job title, celebrity caricature designer.
I continued designing for Snapchat’s celebrities and went on to work with people like Dwyane Wade, Gary Vaynerchuck, Kate Hudson, Sasha Obama and tons more.
Here are a few caricatures I’ve created for people you may recognize. Check me out on Instagram to see more of my work.
I’m nowhere close to being a successful entrepreneur, designer or any other passion of mine.
But I’m closer than I was.
I’m writing this quick story to illustrate that it doesn’t matter where or how you start, if you keep moving forward and improving, serendipity is sure to come knocking eventually.
This story is published in Noteworthy, where 10,000+ readers come every day to learn about the people & ideas shaping the products we love.