We had the good fortune of connecting with Dayna Safferstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dayna, what role has risk played in your life or career?
The greatest advancements in my career have happened when I’ve made myself uncomfortable, either unintentionally (by getting fired) or intentionally (by taking a risk). When I got fired from a design job I’d worked at for 3 years, I quickly started interviewing at a small design company that would’ve been a step down in my career. I could almost definitely have gotten that job, but I chose instead to remain unemployed and take a UX bootcamp. This transformed my career and that wouldn’t have happened if I had acted out of fear and taken the first job offered to me simply to avoid being uncomfortable.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m fundamentally an illustrator who gravitates toward pattern, color, and the depiction of food. In college I lived in a co-op and my housemate got briefly kind of famous for trying to start a dumpster diving kitchen. During his 15 mins of fame a publisher came to our co-op for dinner and we decided to pitch him a book, which ended up being A Curious Harvest, my first published book. After graduation I lived in NYC for a year, working odd jobs and illustrating a few more cookbooks. I realized that illustrating books made me desperately lonely at the same time that I realized that success in art school does not equate to instant success as an artist in the real world – it’s all about how you market yourself. I took a job as an art teacher at a boarding school in Estes Park, CO, because I missed the feeling of living in an intentional community, but I quickly realized that I’m a terrible teacher but a very good maker. I needed to be actually making art, and the way to do that professionally was to get trained in digital art. I went back to school in the cheapest way possible by enrolling as a freshman at a community college in a digital design program, and on the side I was designing fratty t-shirts for a company called Fresh Prints that my sister used to work at. It was the ultimate fake-it-til-you-make it situation. I had no idea how to use Adobe Illustrator and I had to teach myself with every t-shirt. I was only in school for 1 semester before I landed a job as a custom textile designer at Knotty Tie Co., where I worked for 3 years. During that time I discovered UX design when I got to participate in a weeklong design workshop to design a tool to allow customers to design and checkout their ties independently. I got fired from that job in 2019 for taking a ski day on a Wednesday, and was incredibly anxious for about 1 weekend until I enrolled in a UX course at General Assembly, an action that allowed me to triple my previous salary within 4 months of graduation and get the most exciting gigs of my career in the process. After graduation from my 3 month General Assembly course, I was networking for UX jobs and in the process started getting illustration and branding gigs. I designed a brewery and illustrated a mental health app among a lot of other cool things, before taking my first full time job as a UX designer. That was about 2 years ago at this point. I’m still working in UX design and illustration by day, freelancing in branding and illustration by night.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I used to say There… was my favorite place, but it closed during COVID. It was a play themed restaurant – the bartenders would spontaneously break out in lightsaber duels or drum circles, and the food and cocktails were absolutely delicious and ever-changing. Since the Denver location closed during COVID, their only location is in Telluride. I make an annual pilgrimage down to Telluride to eat at There… Now my favorite spot is a bar called Room for Milly. Great cocktails and amazing art. It’s the kind of place where you don’t bring a first date because you don’t know if the person will be worthy. You have to go with someone who you know will be able to appreciate the art. Where else would I bring a visitor to Denver? Probably Meow Wolf or the Botanical Gardens, or both.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to the Google Sprint book! This book changed the trajectory of my career by turning me on to the UX process!