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Ask yourself: Are you learning and are you having fun?

Headshot of Paul Noonan

Paul Noonan (Experience Design, 2023)

I’ve been an art director and graphic designer for the better part of fifteen years, and much of that has been freelance. As a freelancer, I ended up in a routine of doing nearly the same tasks year after year. They paid well and allowed me to have the freedom I wanted as a freelancer, but a couple years ago, I realized two very important things: I didn’t feel like I was growing as a designer and I wasn’t having fun.

I became a graphic designer as a hobby when I was in middle school, learning and using an early version of Photoshop to make decorations for my classmates’ lockers that I’d trade for snacks. I stuck with it as I grew up, and with the addition of getting involved in technical theater, continued learning new tools through high school and college like web design, 3D art and animation, vector illustration, print layout, prepress, motion graphics, projection mapping, lighting design, live sound design, and more. I thrived in the experimentation, artistry, and craft allowed in design for the music industry and for live performance. And then I got stuck and stopped learning at that pace.

After having those realizations a couple years ago, I hired a career coach, and, with their help, I was able to dive back into how it felt when I was learning and doing with such variety. They revealed to me that the role of “Creative Technologist” exists, and it’s probably what I’ve been at heart my entire career. Although it seems few people are certain what a Creative Technologist actually does, the descriptions I did find about emerging media, art and science, and being a catalyst between creative and development spoke to me on a deep level. I just needed to decide if I wanted to shift my career on my own or go back to school, and that decision was easy to make.

My partner whole-heartedly encouraged me to return to school, and the industry peers I spoke with did as well. A single school appeared consistently in those conversations: “Just go to the Brandcenter.” The Experience Design (XD) program read like a wishlist of everything I wanted out of an education, and conversations with both Andrew LeVasseur (XD Chair) and current students cemented it.

Now that I’m here, it’s exactly as I’d heard and hoped. I’ve been able to reach back to those early years, revive my dormant interests, and put them to work. I’ve added new interests and skills at a thrilling pace. I’ve been able to step into the role of mentor and coach to my peers and friends. I’m firmly on a path to shape the next phase of my career.

And I’m having an absolute blast.