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Berlin and the Art of Figuring it Out
I left Australia on February 1st 2017 to be with him. We had lived apart for two years and one of us had to make the move. The move meant leaving Sydney; a city I had spent two years getting to know for Berlin where he lived. I didn’t know German but I knew I wanted to make something of my time there. I left my creative writing course I was two years through and ultimately the identity I had formed for myself. I started searching for similar degrees in Berlin but had no luck.

My housemate in Sydney had Photoshop on her computer, there were nights spent stoned in her room where I would watch her make magic. She was a cyborg, her power - transforming images to appear as she wanted. I knew it was challenging but she made it look easy. I loved that unlike the stories I wrote, her work could be appreciated in the immediate. My search terms for university courses broadened from creative writing to graphic design.

The moment that I decided within myself that I wanted to pursue something new came precisely, one day, reading the course description of a university class. The name of the class was only 2 letters long and changed my direction for the next 5 years of my life. The letters were UX and I was sold by the first line of the course description. Something about the mystery of what this field was enticed me. It was design, it was people, it was technology and it was cool.

Berlin in February is the most unforgiving month of the year. But he was at the airport waiting for me. We took the train back to the apartment where he lived. The apartment had no electric heating system and we kept warm by filling the old coal heaters and waiting five hours for them to warm up. Despite the weather, I felt more supported on the other side of the world than I had in Sydney.

I started my Communication Design degree in Berlin on a bleak day in March. I had subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud in anticipation and spent hours fretting over not knowing the difference between lasso and magic wand tool in Photoshop. But when I started my first class, that didn’t seem to matter. Most classes encouraged using your hands primarily with abstract exercises like; ‘choose a typeface that expresses distraction,’ or ‘use analogue tools to collage the feeling of Deep/Flat.’ The lessons were focused on crafting concepts and I realised design tools are a mechanism to bring your designs to life, not the pinnacle of design itself. The question of what design is does not begin or end with owning the Creative Cloud.

I fumbled through my assignments in that first semester, feeling the lack of the foundation classes. I’d missed a whole year by using the credits from my Australian university because I would be able to graduate faster. I hated everything I made and was in awe of everybody else's' work. I felt inferior and that I’d come much too late to the game. I figured the way to get better was to work harder and began looking for internships, mostly to learn, but also to prove that I could. I spent hours scouring job sites, writing cover letters and rearranging my resume. Rejections came thick and fast and weighed me down, my email became my most visited site and I slid down to refresh addictively. 

I’d rushed into this search, as I had rushed graduating from university. I got an email eventually from a startup that wanted me to come in for an interview. That sweet feeling of validation was hard to deny. I liked the designer I worked with and was so keen to get my start that I didn’t question if this was what I was truly happy doing. I spent a year there, working a few days a week on presentations, contracts, brochures and my favourite - the UX of the website. The workplace was different from design school. Things needed to be designed so we designed them. If they looked ok, they would be implemented. It was different from school where teachers and students would pick apart each piece of work always questioning why.

I still live in Berlin, with him. I graduated from my degree six months ago. I’m grappling with other interests and careers. I still question if pursuing something else would suit me more. I still question my choices. These days, I work for a successful startup as a Product Design Trainee. It’s close to the UX job that began this whole journey. Of course, there are the days that make me feel like I’ve got it all wrong and I should be doing something else after all. 
 
It feels good to know I made bold choices and chased my interests. I know I haven’t gotten it completely right yet, but I’m certainly not finished searching.
Jahlia Solomon is a graphic designer from Australia, currently living in Berlin.
Art used in this issue: “Kvinna i halmhatt” by Lotte Laserstein
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