We had the good fortune of connecting with Noel Dolan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Noel, how do you define success?
When I was early in my career, I thought success was making a lot of money and winning a lot of awards. I’m not going to lie—I love to win awards. It helps me feel validated as a good designer. However, it is no longer my top priority for defining success. To me, success is creating something that I am proud of for a business I believe in. Right now my full time position is as an in-house designer for a community college. It’s not the high-paying, glamorous agency life, but higher education is something I really believe in. I love working in a community college, because so many of our students have serious grit from overcoming adversity, and it’s extremely fulfilling to see their success. I feel proud that I have a role in that by creating materials to promote the college and its programs. My freelance business is very part time, so I can carefully choose clients and projects that are meaningful. Whether it’s a small business trying to start up in my community or a non-profit, I have the ability create something that will help their goals achieve fruition. At the end of the day, with those types of clients, it’s not about the money. It’s about being really proud of something I made to the best of my ability to help them succeed. I also started teaching one class in the multimedia graphic design department at Pikes Peak Community College. As cliche as it sounds, it was so rewarding. Being a first time teacher when a pandemic hit was definitely overwhelming, but my students and I pulled through. Watching them improve every week brought such joy and pride. Most of them were graduating that semester, and to see them enter the job market with such improved skills was the true definition of success for me.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I’ve had to work really hard to get where I’m at professionally. Not that others don’t—I think a career in the competitive world of design takes an enormous amount of work and grit to succeed. In high school, my art teacher told me I’d never have a career in art. Basically I had no talent. So I pursued a bachelors degree at Colorado State University in English instead. When I graduated, the only job I could get was as a designer at a promotional company. I’d dabbled in graphic design since I was 6 when my dad got the first-ever edition of Photoshop on floppy disks! I realized during my tenure there that I loved design, and I was going to go for it. I enrolled in an associate degree program at the Art Institute of Colorado. Shortly after I started school, I got a part-time job at my previous employer doing in-house production work. I worked 5 days a week, and I commuted to Denver 4 days a week after my shift ended. It was really brutal—I’d have night classes and didn’t get home until 11:00 at night and had to be at work by 7:00am the next day. But, I kept at it. I worked so hard. My part-time position turned into a full time one after I graduated. I worked my way up from a production assistant to a designer to an art director. It was around that time that I reached out to the designers in my community to get involved and try to find another job that was more creatively fulfilling. After starting at PPCC, everything started to happen—I’ve won nearly 30 local, regional, and national awards for my work. I was named Designer of the Year for Colorado Springs by the American Advertising Federation. The ultimate apex though was landing Sakura of America as a client. After using Micron and Gellyroll pens my entire career, they hired ME to design a line of packaging for them. I was dumbfounded at landing that job. To see my work on the shelves of craft and art stores is mind-blowing. That was the big moment. It’s been a 17-year-long career, and it was worth every ounce of effort, every minute of imposter syndrome, every mile I drove to Denver. I’d tell anyone starting in design that it’s going to take an enormous amount of work, grit, and persistence. However, don’t let yourself be discouraged by petty comments. If I’d listened to my art teacher, I wouldn’t have had a career I love now. Work hard, continue to keep learning your craft, and, to quote The Handmaid’s Tale, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Colorado Springs has exploded with a great restaurant, art, and cultural scene over the last 10 years. As someone who goes against the Colorado norm of being outdoorsy, I’m ecstatic that my city has so much more to offer now. First up, I’d take my friend downtown to have an insanely good burger at local hotspot Bingo Burger for lunch. Then we’d head over to some of the great boutiques like Ladyfingers Letterpress for fabulously creative cards and gifts, Eclectic Co for unique clothes, Rocky Mountain Soap Factory for lotion and bath bombs, and finally a sweet bite of chocolate at Cacao Chemistry. The next day, we’d do a tour of the public art scattered throughout downtown, which is an immensely successful program created by the COS Downtown Partnership. New works of art are brought in each year and placed throughout downtown to create a fun walking tour. This would be followed by a visit to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which is a beautiful Art Deco-style building with a great collection. The Olympic Museum just opened this Fall, and is definitely a must-see for anyone visiting. After our visit, we’d head over to Streetcar 520 for fries and curry sauce during happy hour followed by s’mores at the outdoor fire pit at Cork & Cask. I’d take my friend on a drive through Garden of the Gods, one of the country’s most beautiful parks and take a walk to explore the stunning, historic mansions through the Old North End of downtown as well as the Colorado College campus. Finally, we’d take an afternoon to browse the shops in Old Colorado City, an eclectic historic district on the west side of the Springs. It’s full of great shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Our final meal before she goes home? Island tacos at Piglatin Cocina, which was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First of all, I’d like to thank the Academy and my agent. Just kidding. There truly are a lot of people in my life that I owe my success to. I definitely have to thank my parents for always encouraging me in whatever I pursued and being supportive. They never once tried to talk me out of a career in art and design, and I appreciate that so much. As an in-house designer, I was fairly isolated from the creative community in Colorado Springs. I finally took the, what I thought would be very scary, initiative to reach out to some agencies in town to see if there was a way to get involved. Chris and Jenny Schell from Design Rangers and Troy and Sara DeRose from Fixer Creative took me under their wing. They invited me to join the board of the AIGA Colorado satellite chapter in Colorado Springs, and that’s when doors really began to open for the next steps in my career. Through my involvement with them and AIGA, I was able to finally find my dream job at Pikes Peak Community College. I will always be grateful to them for their help, and they are very dear friends of mine now. And, finally I’d like to thank my current boss Warren Epstein. I was supremely unhappy at my previous job and desperate to find a good fit that challenged me creatively and had a positive working environment. Although I didn’t have the strongest portfolio initially, Warren hired me and gave me a chance to flourish at Pikes Peak Community College. I have a wonderful, supportive team that is encouraging and collaborative. Thanks to getting that chance at PPCC, I’ve won numerous awards, including the American Advertising Federation Colorado Springs Designer of the Year. That wouldn’t have happened without Warren and my team’s support. It really does take a village, and I’m so lucky to have found mine.
Other: Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/noel_creates/ Dribbble: https://dribbble.com/noelcreates
Sakura.jpg is credited to Sakura of America