Graphic designer earns Multimedia & Web Design degree
After earning a B.S. in Applied Design from the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Michelle Lees, 45, of Lakeville, Minn., had the foundation she needed to be a graphic designer. Art and design ran in her family. Her father is an accomplished art director who had worked at such prestigious Minneapolis ad agencies as Campbell Mithun and Kaufman-Spicer. Michelle eventually interned at her father’s own marketing company, taking advantage of his knowledge and experience .
“My father’s artwork has always been an inspiration to me,” said Michelle, a native of Mankato and a 1985 graduate of Bloomington Kennedy High School. “I’ve always loved art and knew I wanted to work in the graphics field.”
Michelle went to work as a graphic designer for six years, but life intervened and channeled her passion and creativity in a new direction. She met and married Jay Lees, a mortgage banker, and together they raised four daughters, Taylor, 17, Ashley, 15, Avery, 12, and Grace, 10. Twelve years sailed by as she gave herself to the full-time job of stay-at-home parent. When she decided to resume her professional career, Michelle took one look around and recognized that things had radically evolved in the world of a graphic designer.
“I felt like a dinosaur,” she said. “Quite frankly, technology had passed me by.”
She interviewed for a position at Thisweek Newspapers and was both surprised and pleased when she was hired the next day. “The job was half design and half sales,” she said. “I had my own cubicle, but I was much more interested in what the designers were doing. They worked together in a large open space with monkeys hanging from the ceiling. That was where I wanted to be.”
At Thisweek, Michelle discovered she had a strong interest in Web design. She went to the local library and checked out books on HTML and CSS, but soon realized she could make a lot more progress in a classroom setting. She explored the idea of attending a proprietary college, but was turned off by the high-pressure sales pitch. Dakota County Technical College soon emerged as the frontrunner.
“DCTC was the perfect fit,” she said. “The college was nearby, affordable and I had heard good things about the Visual Communications department. I also liked that the computer labs were filled with new iMac computers.”
With her goal to become proficient at Web design and hone her skills working with applications in the Adobe Creative Suite, Michelle excelled at her coursework. At the 2012 DCTC VCOM Portfolio Show, her presentation won the award for Best Multimedia & Web Portfolio. That same year, she earned an A.A.S. degree in Multimedia & Web Design. She found that her degrees from the U of M and DCTC were remarkably complementary.
“My courses at the U focused on design theory,” she said. “The DCTC curriculum emphasizes in-depth, hands-on work based on the those theories. Knowing both is vitally important to a designer.”
Michelle has her own website, Divine Inspiration Design. The creative services she offers her clients include Web and graphic design work. Below are some examples of her projects. You can see more of Michelle’s work, including Flash, Dreamweaver and 3D multimedia projects, by visiting her portfolio at Divine Inspiration.
After graduating from DCTC, Michelle quickly landed a job as a graphic and Web designer at J. Murphy & Associates, a woman-owned professional consulting firm based in Minneapolis that offers full-spectrum development, event management, communications and design services—specifically for the nonprofit sector. She works as a member of the print and online production team, translating the marketing and communications objectives of JMA and its clients into creative strategies. She helps coordinate the appropriate use of client brand and identity while working with outside suppliers who produce materials that support JMA client initiatives.
Michelle’s main duties include the following:
- She coordinates and manages the generation and updating of visual assets for print and online collateral
- She creates design concepts to support JMA’s communications and marketing objectives (annual reports, services collateral, marketing campaigns, fundraising events—aka friendraising events—and more)
- She maintains brand guidelines, training and supporting design contributors throughout JMA, with the goal to ensure consistency and adherence to JMA guidelines
“As a devout Catholic, I really wanted to take my degree from DCTC and do something meaningful,” Michelle said. “I asked God to help me find a job where I can make a difference. Working at J. Murphy & Associates helping nonprofits fulfill their missions is an answer to my prayers.”
- What brought you to DCTC?
After deciding that I wanted to become a Web designer and also return to my career as a graphic designer, I knew I needed a program that was convenient to my home, affordable, and could update my Adobe Creative Suite software skills while providing me with a new skill set in multimedia and Web design. I checked out several colleges and options and decided that Dakota County Technical College had just the right program for me.
- What skill set or knack makes you good at your job?
I am a very creative person by nature. I love the challenge of creating something from a blank page. I am passionate about typography, color and design, and I feel like I have an innate sense of knowing how elements should come together within a design. Creativity just feels like my purpose—and I am loving what I do professionally! It is really a blessing to wake up in the morning and look forward to the job that you do. I am so happy to be able to say that each day.
- What’s the hardest part of your job?
Dealing with deadlines and juggling multiple projects simultaneously are the hardest part of my job, which can definitely be stressful at times! Also, one of the things I love about being a designer is also one of the most difficult things—that initial blank page staring back at you and the need to determine what direction to go with a project, whether it’s digital or print design. You always have options to consider with regard to budget, target audience and time constraints.
- What is your favorite pastime or hobby?
I love to work in my flower garden in the summer months, but my favorite place to be is northern Minnesota. My husband and I have a lake cabin where we love to spend weekends with our children. It is a great place to relax and restore your mind and soul by connecting with nature and getting back to the simple things in life. I love the way our cabin allows us to disconnect from the rest of the world. I like to turn off the cell phone, television and computer and just enjoy the sounds of the lake.
- What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
My greatest accomplishments are my four lovely daughters. They are my light and joy. It has been good for them to see their mom go back to school to earn a second degree at this point in life and to watch me work hard for something that I really wanted to achieve. I think it has set a good example for them and it’s something that they’ll remember when they are mothers someday.
- What is the one thing you have not done that you would really like to do?
I am very interested in traveling more. With a family of six that has not been something we’ve done a lot of. I have always wanted to go on a religious pilgrimage to a place called Medjugorje—it’s a little village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s definitely my dream to travel there someday. I would also like to continue to grow in my career and talents as a designer and take that as far as I can.
- Where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere?
Again, that would have to be Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia.
- What is your favorite season of the year?
My favorite season is probably fall because of all the beautiful colors, but spring is also my favorite because after the long winter months, the warm weather and spring blooms make me so happy!
- If you could learn to do anything, what would you learn to do?
I have always wanted to be a talented illustrator or painter. My father has a lot of natural artistic ability, which I did not inherit, and I’ve always wished I was really good at drawing.
- If you had to change your first name, what name would you pick?
I actually like my name so I don’t have a second choice.
- If you could be any kind of animal for a day or even a year, what kind of animal would you be?
I think it would be cool to be a bird and be able to fly up in the sky.
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
My faith in God is the best gift that I’ve ever been given—and my four daughters and my wonderful husband.