“When you’re creating for the sake of creating, you’re building the creative skills you need to be successful in future roles, as well as discovering the mediums you love most.”
Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While it might look like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a heck of a lot of hard work involved in getting there.
So what lessons have been learned and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?
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Welcome to How I Got Herewhere we talk to people who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.
This week we speak to Rylie Cooke, a multidisciplinary creative and the Junior Art Director at Melbourne-based creative agency, Tiny Disco. Working across graphic design, branding, PR and marketing, Rylie’s job is to help bring dynamic creative campaigns to life.
After four years of design school in New York, 10 internships, multiple job opportunities and many breakdowns on her fire escape, Rylie’s gained some valuable insight, both personally and professionally. Here’s what she’s learned along the way.
What do you do and what’s your official job title?
I’m the Junior Art Director at Tiny Disco. As a content production agency, we work on bringing to life campaigns for brands like Sephora, Dan Murphy’s and Ultra Violette. Art direction basically means we envision a campaign from idea to execution – so everything from the moodboard, color palette, and graphic design elements to the propping, styling and storyboards of films. The art director is also responsible for directing on shoot day to make sure our vision comes to life.
Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.
I was fortunate enough to have grown up overseas (in Europe) as the child of ex-pat parents. When we returned to Brisbane and I completed high school, I always thought I’d end up going to University in Brisbane. Fast forward to the end of high school and a dear friend sent me a list of the top design schools in the world. I was told I HAD to apply for all of them. After perusing the list half-seriously, I landed on Parsons in New York. It had always been one of my favorite cities growing up.
It took months to complete my application and go through all of the student visa processes, but after being accepted into Parsons on a partial scholarship I decided to make the move to the Big Apple! I spent four years living in the city and attending design school. Fortunately, I always kind of knew that I wanted to have my own design agency or be some kind of interdisciplinary creative. I found a degree called Integrated Design that let me explore all avenues of the industry.
My first internship in New York was for a magazine called Whitewall. I had applied to about 10 internship postings and only heard back from the one. After my nine months there, I was going to London to stay with family for the summer and decided to do an unpaid internship. I started messaging brands on Instagram that I wanted to work for until I heard back from Rixo.
From there, I ended up interning for them as a graphic design and social media intern. After that, I was able to apply to internships and job opportunities with a much higher success rate. I 10 in total (including a completed summer in Berlin) by the end of my four years at college.
My last role in New York was as a PR communication and digital specialist, where I worked for brands like Aesop and Peter Do. After four years, I decided to return home to Brisbane before moving to Melbourne at the start of 2022. I found Tiny Disco on Instagram and got in touch immediately because I loved their creative. Fast forward through multiple interviews and a creative brief and I’d landed the gig.
What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?
I think one of the biggest challenges was the ‘grind culture’ in New York. It’s definitely the most amazing and (at times) glamorous city, but I think people don’t often see the work that goes into maintaining your career, wellness, finances and social life. I was working two jobs alongside five full-time uni classes and still trying to socialise every weekend.
It was definitely a go-go-go period of my life and I was sick at least once a semester. It was also hard to be so far away from family. I didn’t have a close network in New York, so the friends and colleagues I made ended up being huge supporters for me.
With that being said, I think it’s nice to look back on all of the times I cried on my fire escape or in the subway and think ‘I would do it all again, in the exact same way’. As much as it’s important to take care of your mind and your health when you’re young and living in New York, you want to absorb as much as you can – both from work and life experiences.
What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?
I was into all aspects of design: from graphic design and branding to marketing, PR and social media/content creation. Discovering art direction has been a big blessing for me. I think it’s one of those jobs you maybe don’t hear much about in school or uni, but it’s an incredible role for someone who wants to be creative every day and work across different ways of thinking.
One of my favorite parts of my college design projects was the process of ideating, conceptualising and moodboarding. I think it’s always been my strong suit, so it was interesting to me that I landed a role with that at its core. I think people should lean into what they love and search for a role that fits; rather than searching for the job title first.
What’s the best part about your role?
Four things: the clients, the work, the team and the culture. It’s great that Tiny Disco’s clients are brands I really love, believe in and shop from. It makes working on campaigns that much more exciting and rewarding. The work challenges me every day and I find myself loving all of the different ways in which I get to be creative.
The team is absolutely incredible and I’m both intimidated and inspired by their work. Finally, the office culture and work-life balance are awesome (something I haven’t experienced in a while). As much as I believe in working hard, it’s nice to have coffee with your team and feel like everyone wants you to do your best (and live your best life)! Also, the Tiny Disco office is the cutest office ever. If you haven’t seen it you have to follow @tinydisco!
What would surprise people about your role?
People might be surprised at how collaborative it is and how fast-paced it can be. It definitely surprised me how many creatives will be across different projects. At the same time, I’ve found that collaboration opens up new perspectives – often the best ideas come from something small, like a reference image. It can also be quite fast-paced, depending on when we get briefed on projects. Often the creative process happens quite quickly, which can be hectic but equally rewarding.
What skills have served you well in your industry?
Being a bit of a dreamer and a planner. Not sure if that counts as a skill but I’m a compulsive organiser and a compulsive planner. Being able to plan ahead for where I wanted to be [in my career] helped me map out what I had to do to get there. Planning out where I wanted to work (and the types of internships would be beneficial) is the reason I graduated with what I feel was a lot of experience packed into four years.
Being an interdisciplinary designer is another big thing I’m incredibly grateful for. I may not be a graphic designer or a marketing coordinator, but I have an even understanding of both and can use my base knowledge across these fields and apply them to art direction.
I think skills like Photoshop can always be taught, but understanding design from an art perspective and having a creative eye is also something I credit to my four years at art school. It’s something that I think has both served me well and is harder to teach.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?
1. Gain as much experience as you can – whether it’s applying for internships, messaging brands you love or asking mentors for advice.
2. Never stop creating for fun. Your creative style and approach will be strengthened by exploration that’s not for university or a job. When you’re creating for the sake of creating, you’re building the creative skills you need to be successful in future roles, as well as discovering the mediums you love most.
3. Know your worth and be confident in it. If you know you’d be great in a role, don’t stop until you have it. Whether that means doing an unpaid internship or emailing the company even if they don’t have any job positions available, it’s important to sell yourself and your creative ability.
What about a practical tip?
Talk the talk and walk the walk. When you’ve built that bank of internships and experiences, own it. Walk into your dream job interview with confidence (as scary as it is) and express what you can bring to the role. Whether it’s how you walk into the room, what you wear to an interview or how you present your portfolio or resume, remember that you’ll stand out for your unique creative eye.
If you’re not sure where to go for internship experience, I recommend searching your uni portals. Often they’ll have job boards and work experience postings. Or (even better) make a list of places you’d love to work and start emailing/calling/messaging on Instagram. There’s never any harm in letting a brand know you love their work.
Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.
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