Pursuing An Obsession with Graphic Design

by Angella Knaack | May 8, 2018
Joe Dooling
Lodi, NJ
Graphic Design Advanced Certificate

Small business manager Joe Dooling was drawn to graphic design when be began developing marketing communications for the hardware store he runs. Obsessed by graphic design, he  enrolled in an Advanced Certificate program. He is enjoying the challenge of tackling different client project scenarios and building his studies around two jobs and a constantly changing schedule.  

Q: Describe the journey that led you to study graphic design.

Creativity and I have always been good friends. I loved to draw when I was growing up. As a young kid, I would scotch tape my own Sunday morning cartoon strips over the real ones in my family’s Sunday newspaper. I used to take a dozen pages of printer paper and make my own magazines filled with my own versions of advertisements and articles. I would sketch out the layout with pencil, draw over any images with different color markers, use my mother’s typewriter for any text, and then staple everything together.

My sister and I began running a small hardware store in 2000 and one of my responsibilities was handling all of the signs and advertising for the store. Back then I mostly just used Microsoft Word and Microsoft Paint for ads. In 2009, I finally bought Photoshop Elements and began making much better signs, business cards, and diagrams that show customers how to use our products, such as how to correctly wire different light fixtures.

I still run the store today with my sister, so I continue to make signs and brochures for customers–but the quality is significantly better since I began learning at Sessions!

Joe Dooling3 work

Q: You’re working towards an Advanced Certificate in Graphic Design. What have you gained during your time at Sessions?

The big three software programs for Graphic Design are Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Out of the big three, I only had experience with Photoshop before my time with Sessions so I was very happy to explore and learn Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

All of the techniques I used in Photoshop before were self-taught, which can form a lot of bad habits. The instructors at Sessions have helped me train my eye better to filter those bad habits out of my system. There are also plenty of techniques that I was not familiar with before which allows me to do certain tasks much faster compared to how I used to do them, plus the constant practice required in the courses has greatly improved my design skills.

The knowledge I have gained in a fairly short amount of time has made me obsessed with the basic principles of design. I cannot even look at a logo or a commercial anymore without analyzing the typography, color, and design choices which will only help me professionally later. Perhaps the thing I am most grateful for is how these courses have also helped me learn what type of designer I want to be. Before Sessions, I just wanted to be a Graphic Designer but I really had no idea which field would suit me best. Just my first course using Adobe Illustrator alone has shown me that I naturally gravitate to the marketing and advertising aspects of graphic design so that will help me narrow down my future career goals.

Q: What are the benefits of studying online?

The freedom and flexibility to adjust classes to my own life schedule is by far the biggest benefit. I currently have two jobs that switch schedules frequently plus a daily three-hour commute so I would struggle a lot to study these courses if I was not able to constantly switch around the time I spend on them.

Joe Dooling2 work

Depending on what is going on with both jobs, sometimes working early in the morning for a few hours before leaving for work is best and sometimes working late at night after everything else in my day is finished is the best for me. Sometimes I have no time at all in a day if both jobs are busy but then the next day I can spend the entire day catching up if I’m off that day. My schedule changes a lot so I think this would be impossible if I could only study at certain times on certain days. I also find the Canvas LMS format easy to understand and use and I like how the instructors present assignments similar to how a client may present a design brief.

Q: How do you get inspiration for your projects?

The first step for any project for me is spending a lot of time on research. I particularly like projects with things I am not familiar with to help increase my range as a designer and I think challenging yourself like that will make you a better designer. I always write out a list on my sketch pad first with key words that I think of when I think of the project I am working on. I use that list to Google search and Google image search designs so that I get an idea of what has already been done so that I do not accidentally copy anyone else’s idea. I also look through which concepts appear to be overused or too obvious and I explore which concepts seem to be successful or unsuccessful. Then I explore the target audience for that project and that process alone usually starts to spark some ideas to start sketching with on paper.

Even if I feel less inspired at this point, I keep sketching ideas anyway and then categorize them in three categories: Yes, Maybe, and Absolutely Not. This portion of the process usually does not take a long time and once I feel happy about an idea, I will make a bigger sketch and use that as a guide to start in my design software. Although that is my general process for each project, I keep myself inspired in general by making sure I spend time each day on reading blogs by other designers, watching YouTube video lessons on Adobe Illustrator, doing tutorials, analyzing typefaces, and joining groups on Facebook where designers from all over the world come together to help teach each other learn. Even a bad logo design can teach you something and teach you what not to do so I am always eager to learn more so that I can stand out in my future career as a designer.

Q: What do you like to do outside of Sessions?

I love to play drums and I have played drums for thirty years now so music has always been a huge passion of mine. I was lucky enough to be in a band that regularly toured Europe for five years so playing drums in nineteen different countries and being immersed in a different culture each day are some of my all-time favorite life experiences. I love to travel and see new places. I also enjoy cooking, going out to music concerts, and reading books about psychology or body language.

Q: What are your goals after graduation?

I love to design logos and I also love the marketing and advertising aspect of graphic design, so I plan on pursuing a career focusing on that once I graduate. I am open to doing freelance work but I actually prefer to be part of a team as opposed to running everything by myself. I have run my own hardware business for many years and even though there are many benefits to being your own boss, there are a lot of headaches that come along with that too, so I would really prefer to focus on letting someone else handle some of those headaches while I can focus on just doing my job well.

I feel like I can learn a lot more in this environment as well by working with different designers with different backgrounds so I plan on reaching out to several Creative Staffing Agencies that may be able to get me an entry level position as a professional graphic designer. Perhaps a smaller company would be best for me where I would have a bigger variety of responsibilities so I can learn more and build up my experience quicker.

To learn more about Graphic Design programs at Sessions College visit and chat with an Admissions Advisor.

From 2018-2020, Angella was a Student Advisor at Sessions College. She has a Master’s Degree in Educational Policy from ASU, and likes to use her knowledge of graphic design to make invitations, holiday cards, t-shirts, and more.