As a Madewell graphic designer and blogger, Alexandra Yeske is as put together as you’d expect – not only with her outfits, but with her thoughtful responses and the ways she conducts herself. Alexandra became interested in arts and design from a young age, and she went to Syracuse University to further her design education. Post-college, Alexandra worked at Madewell in various capacities, and worked her way up in the company by taking advantage of the opportunities that came her way and accepting new challenges. You know those Madewell emails you receive in your inbox? Yeah, that’s designed by Alexandra. Pretty cool, right?
Alexandra also runs the blog Dreams + Jeans, where she discusses fashion, design, interiors, and other things that inspire her. She emphasizes reaching out to those you are inspired by and learning from them. Whether she’s designing, blogging, or exploring New York City, Alexandra is busy pursuing her dreams and working hard. By following the best piece advice she’s ever received – work hard and be nice to people – Alexandra is going to go far.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Alexandra Yeske: To me, seizing your youth is about taking advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to you. When you don’t have serious responsibilities like a house or a family, you can focus on what you want to do. I encourage young people to go after every opportunity given to them and reach out and network with people that you admire.
CJ: You received your BFA in Communications Design from Syracuse University. How did you determine what to study and what sparked your love of design?
AY: From a very young age I was interested in arts and design. I learned early on that fine art was not my forte, and it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I became interested in interior design. During high school, I did an architecture summer program at Carnegie Mellon thinking that maybe I would go into architecture. When that didn’t seem to fit, I remember going on the College Board website and looking up different careers and the majors you should study if you were interested in them. That’s when I came across graphic design. When I read about what graphic designers did, I recalled my scrapbooking interest from growing up and the fact that I obsessively knew all of the fonts on my computer. I never realized that could be a profession and from that moment it just sort of clicked.
I had applied to Syracuse University and when I went to visit, I sat in on a Communications Design class and fell in love with it immediately. I knew it was where I needed to go and that graphic design was what I wanted to study – I never wavered with that. The program at Syracuse is very different than most design schools. All of the projects are self-initiated. You take a problem or something that interests you and you solve it visually. In that, you’re able to tailor the major to you and you’re able to do projects that you are truly interested in and passionate about.
It’s a very rigorous program, but also incredibly rewarding. Our class time was to present your work and review/critique it, so all of the work is done on your own time and you really had to manage yourself. These reviews often went on for over five hours, but they were crucial to shaping not only our projects, but our presentation skills and ability to provide feedback. The professors valued our opinions and there were great discussions going on. Sometimes the reviews were incredibly difficult to get through, but in the end it made me a much stronger designer. And I think we all came out with really diverse portfolios, which was great during interviews because you really connected with your projects and it showed when we spoke about them.
One of my projects was an alcohol-infused sorbet and I distinctly remember my interview with Jenna Lyons for my job at Madewell. It was the first project she saw in my portfolio and I had just told her that my projects represented my interests and passions. She said, “Alcohol and ice cream? These are your interests?” Nervously, I replied “Well, sort of…” and trailed off and she immediately smiled and said “Mine too.”
CJ: You are a Graphic Designer at Madewell. What does your role entail?
AY: When I first started at Madewell, I worked on the web team. I was designing features for our site and all of our emails. After about a year, our team took on all of the print marketing and store graphics responsibilities. I was interested in a new challenge, and I was able to transition onto the print team. Now, I do most of the design for our stores (window decals, signage, postcards, etc.), and I also still design all of the emails that go out to customers. It’s cool that I get to do both print and digital and have my eyes on a little bit of everything. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on both channels.
When you work in-house for a brand, there’s an inherent style guide to follow so that everything feels and looks like Madewell. Within that we’re definitely encouraged to explore and look for new typefaces and design ideas. We’re always looking for new ways to visually tell the Madewell story and identity to our customers.
CJ: You’ve worked at Madewell in many different capacities over the years as a Freelance Web Designer, Junior Web Designer and now Graphic Designer. What advice do you have for advancing in your career within a company?
AY: As I mentioned earlier, I believe that it’s important to take any opportunity that’s given to you and to be excited about it. I’m very passionate about Madewell, and when I came to the position, I was very excited to work on anything. My bosses know how much I love the brand, so even though I may not necessarily be working on certain projects, they still respect any ideas I may have to do something good for the brand.
I think it’s really important to have open communication with your bosses so they know what you’re interested in and can help you plan your path. I’ve been in my current role for about two and a half years now, but I’m constantly gaining more responsibilities and feeling like I am being challenged.
CJ: You are also a blogger and run the site Dreams + Jeans. What’s your favorite part about being a blogger? The hardest part?
AY: My favorite part about being a blogger is all of the people I’ve gotten to meet through it. I started my blog the summer before my senior year in college as a creative outlet, but also with the intention of it maybe helping me get a job. I saw this awesome online community that I wanted to be a part of, so I just went for it. It really opened my eyes to many new career paths that I had no idea even existed and helped me get to where I am today. I’ve met some fantastic friends through blogging – people that I would never have met otherwise. The first time you meet, it’s a bit like blind dating, but you know that you already have something in common and like similar things. That’s been the best part. You’re sitting at home doing it by yourself and it’s great to get comments, but it’s really rewarding when you meet real people and make real connections out of it.
The hardest part for me is to keep going with it! I balance a lot between my job, freelance work, my boyfriend and friends, and living in New York where there’s so much to do. It’s hard to juggle it all. There’s always something I want to write or post about, and it’s challenging to find the time to do it. Even though I had a rigorous school schedule in college, it was easy for me to blog because it was an outlet. Now I’m at a point where it’s not as high of a priority as it once was. It’s like having another job essentially, but I’ve learned over the years not to force it. If I’m not feeling it, then I give myself a break.
CJ: On average, how long does it take you to produce a blog post? What goes into the creation of a blog post?
AY: It depends. Some posts are harder than others. If I’m doing, for example, an Interior Envy post, it can be a lot faster than other types of posts. Once I’ve found the home I want to feature, it’s about a 15-20 minute process of putting it together and writing the content. My more complex posts, like outfits or my Currently Coveting posts, take a lot more time for creation. I am taking photos, editing photos, finding items, putting them into the layout, and writing the content.
CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being a designer?
AY: Within working and blogging (and really, life in general), building your network is so important. Maintain good relationships and don’t burn bridges with people. I feel like that sounds so simple, but it can be so hard. It’s crucial to learn that early on. I’ve also found that it’s really important to keep your head down and focus on yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up in looking at what others are doing and get down on yourself, but you’ve got to keep pushing through and just do you. I’ve also found that I’m so much happier to do work when I’m passionate about it.
CJ: What is the best part about being a designer? The most challenging part?
AY: I like that I’m solving problems visually. I’m a problem solver by nature. Even though I’m not necessarily solving huge problems, I’m finding better ways to communicate to the customer or to promote our brand. I also have to say that as a perfectionist, being a designer lets me have control over a lot of stuff.
I also really love that design translates across mediums. My style and aesthetic has changed so much since moving to New York and it’s exciting to see it come out in other ways than just my design work. I’m currently really into what my apartment looks like and honing in on my personal style. For instance, I used to wear a lot more color, and now I wear mostly neutrals. I’ve started to really learn what I like and what I’m most comfortable in. It takes time to figure it all out, but I’ve enjoyed seeing my evolution on my blog.
CJ: What does a day in your life look like?
AY: During the week, I get up around 8 o’clock. I would love to be a morning person who gets up earlier, enjoys a cup of coffee, maybe read some blogs, but I am just not the best morning person. Luckily, I live close enough to walk to work, so I’m able to sleep in a bit later. I like to get coffee on my way to work (if I’m not running late) and then I try to be in around 9am. I typically work until 6 or 6:30pm, depending on how much needs to get done. My days are never predictable. Some days I’ll be designing emails all day, other days I’ll be at a store visit or in meetings. Occasionally, I get to art direct a photo shoot for emails, so as you can see, there isn’t really a true schedule! I like that though, it keeps it interesting! After work, I try to meet up with friends a couple nights a week.
On weekends I like to have one or two major plans, but for the most part I keep them open. There are always new stores and restaurants opening that I want to check out. New York puts a lot of pressure on you to stay busy on the weekends – there’s always something to see and do. You feel a bit guilty when you stay home watching TV or sleeping all day, but sometimes you need that! I also really love taking day trips out of the city – there are so many great places within a few hours drive.
CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be a graphic designer do to set themselves up for success?
AY: I recommend trying graphic design out in whatever capacity that means for you. Once I decided that I wanted to learn more about design in high school, I took as many art classes as I could and did a summer program at Carnegie Mellon. If you can get an internship or if family members need something designed, go for it and figure out if you are truly interested in a career in graphic design.
I also can’t stress networking enough. These days with the Internet and social media, it’s so easy to look people up and reach out to them. I wanted to work in fashion but didn’t really know how to get started, so I reached out to a lot of people and asked them how they got their start and what advice they’d have for me as someone in the early part of their career. Everyone always says they’re terrified to email people randomly, but don’t be. You’re emailing someone because you like their work and you’re paying them a compliment. And when you’re a student, people are much more willing to talk to you – they usually remember when they were in that same position. A helpful hint: never ever push your resume onto anyone or ask for a job. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.
CJ: What book had the greatest impact on you and why?
AY: During college I read both: If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone and The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. Kelly’s perspective on the fashion industry is fascinating and I love her no-bullshit approach to everything. The Cheese Monkeys is about a graphic designer going through school and the experiences you go through. I remember connecting with it so much because I was going through similar things at the time.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
AY: My biggest piece of advice would be to persevere and to just keep going. That applies to any age. Put your head down and do your work and don’t worry about other people. You do you and keep going.
Images: Angi Welsch; Lauren Jessen