Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Christina Peng

By Academy Xi

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Christina’s decision to upskill in graphic design has helped her create dazzling marketing collateral and shine in her role as a communications specialist at Swinburne University.

Throughout her career, Christina took on as many graphic design tasks as possible, and even created digital art in her downtime. Find out how the Graphic Design: Elevate course has helped Christina develop the expert eye she needed to take her designs to the next level.

Can you tell us about your career and why you decided to upskill in Graphic Design?

I graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Media Communications and have worked in marketing ever since. Marketing was always something that I wanted to pursue, specifically copywriting, and I’ve been working as a marketing copywriter for a few years now.

I’ve had quite a few opportunities throughout my career to try my hand at graphic design, from creating adverts using Photoshop to assembling flyers with InDesign, and I’ve always really enjoyed getting that little bit of exposure.

At the moment, I’m in the communications department at Swinburne University and writing the comms and outreach for students, which also allows me to get involved in a fair bit of the graphic design work.

What appeals to me about graphic design is that it’s a logical and emotional process. It’s all about solving problems and being expressive at the same time. The end product is commercially useful, but also has artistic value, which is really pleasing.

During the lockdown I spent lots of time putting together designs with Procreate, really just for the sheer fun of it. I reached a stage whereby I realised the skills I was developing could come in handy in my role, but I wasn’t getting any feedback or critique, which meant I didn’t know whether or not my work was improving. In the end, there’s only so much you can learn by watching YouTube tutorials!

I needed experienced eyes on my designs, and wanted to bring some theory to my creative process, which is why I decided to take a course in graphic design.

Other courses can be quite demanding - you need to get to a certain place at a certain time, which gets a bit stressful. With Academy Xi, all that falls to the wayside, and the course offerings are really simply shaped around teaching and learning.

Christina Peng

Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi?

I did research right across the board and looked into courses with loads of different providers. I knew I didn’t want to commit a year of full-time study to a diploma. I needed something that wouldn’t take over my life for too long, and Academy Xi offered the most condensed option on the market.

Academy Xi has a really good reputation, especially for UX, so I was well aware of your brand. I looked at the course structure and content and decided it was a good fit for what I wanted to be able to do as a graphic designer. Plus, it helped that the course is very reasonably priced, especially given it’s completely interactive.

Kerry was my main point of contact in your sales team and she sent me examples of previous students’ work. I was really excited by the prospect of learning to design at that level and decided to get onboard. Academy Xi has regular intakes, so I was able to start just a couple of weeks later.

One of Christina’s digital artworks.

Did the course live up to your expectations?

It really did. I was made to feel completely welcome from the start. It was a relatively small, tight-knit cohort and everyone was really supportive. All my coursemates were passionate about graphic design, cared about their work deeply and were more than happy to share their ideas. We learned a huge amount from each other.

We completed practical assignments every week and worked through a whole heap of briefs, using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. It felt like we were constantly picking up new skills, or working with new tools and platforms. I really appreciated that we were always encouraged to put our twist on things and develop our own style.

We submitted a total of three major assessments, one at the end of each four week block and had the choice of either producing personal projects, or responding to briefs that our mentor, Paul, had worked on in the past. I chose to work on personal projects, but also used Paul’s briefs to practise.

By the end of the course, I was more than comfortable interpreting a brief, making decisions based on design theory and confidently pitching my concepts.

How did you find working with Paul?

Paul did his absolute best to give everyone the guidance they needed and create a team environment. Online learning poses its own challenges, but Academy Xi has put everything into place to make the course a really engaging experience.

As well as the live session, the cohort stayed connected with the course Slack channel and Paul encouraged us all to give each other feedback on our submissions. It was really useful to have visibility of everyone’s work in real-time, which helped us set the benchmark and draw inspiration from one another. Ultimately, it was Paul who made the course as fulfilling as it was.

Paul’s already achieved so much in the industry, he walks the walk and talks the talk. It was reassuring to know that all of Paul’s feedback was backed-up by proven expertise. At the same time, he had an eye for the individual needs of all the students.

What was the most important skill that you developed during the course?

Without a doubt, it’s having the ability to apply design principles to my work, rather than just creating designs based on a feeling of what does or doesn’t look good.

My design process is no longer guided by personal biases, which means I’ve replaced subjectivity with objectivity. I have the knowledge needed to step back, examine my own work and make objective decisions.

When I’m looking at websites and contemplating how they’ve been constructed, I can actually pinpoint which principle they’ve applied to each section, or even when they haven’t applied a principle properly and the design is lacking something.

As well as the intrinsic benefit of enhancing my own work, the course has given me the ability to think critically about design work in general.

In my spare time I’m now designing greeting cards and selling them on Etsy. I'm also starting to create digital art using the skills I developed throughout the course. Having Paul as a mentor really opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a gift, and that our gifts can be nurtured and put to really good uses.

Christina Peng

What has the course enabled you to do in your role?

I’ve made myself known as the person who is ready and willing to take on more design tasks. These days, about 20% of my role is dedicated to graphic design and I’ve become a lot faster at completing the work. The course has left me able to make quick, confident decisions.

I’ve got a longstanding background in UX writing. Initially, I wasn’t sure how UX writing and graphic design would fit together, but actually they’re completely intertwined. When you read an asset, you don’t just read it as a slab of text. The visual elements that surround the writing and the visual qualities of the text itself are all instrumental in shaping the reader’s experience.

Now, when I’m producing marketing material or email communications, I’m far more conscious of how to visually structure the asset for maximum impact and the reader’s comfort. Blending an understanding of writing and graphic design has really improved the standard of the content I produce.

Beyond my work, I’ve also been able to coach my colleagues. I give them 101 training in InDesign, showing them that it’s not this big, scary thing! It’s really satisfying to pass along my skills. Setting up my coworkers with the right tools not only makes their jobs easier, but also protects the quality of the collateral we deliver as a team.

In my spare time I’m now designing greeting cards and selling them on Etsy. I’m also starting to create digital art using the skills I developed throughout the course. Having Paul as a mentor really opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a gift, and that our gifts can be nurtured and put to really good uses.

Would you recommend Academy Xi?

I would, absolutely. For me, Academy Xi’s main point of difference is that you understand how busy the everyday person is. It’s possible to complete Academy Xi courses while living a very full and busy life.

I’m 33, working full-time, have a mortgage to pay and a whole load of other commitments. Not only was I able to complete the course, but it was flexible enough for me to work it around my schedule and really get the most out of the whole experience.

Other courses can be quite demanding – you need to get to a certain place at a certain time, which gets a bit stressful. With Academy Xi, all that falls to the wayside, and the course offerings are really simply shaped around teaching and learning.

What advice would you give to someone interested in the course?

For anyone interested in the Graphic Design: Elevate course specifically, I’d say it offers a good mix of self-directed and interactive training. Plus, everything you’ll need to do to complete the course is very clearly laid out at the beginning. There are no nasty surprises!

It might sound a little cliched, but the course experience ends up being what you make of it. If you enrol, make sure you fully commit to the process, give the training everything you’ve got and always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to improve.

You might start the course thinking that you don’t have enough experience, or that the work you produce might not be up to standard, but always remember that a graphic designer can have 10 years experience and still be constantly learning. The field’s that dynamic. I asked Paul how often he has to Google something related to graphic design, and he told me “every day”.

In the end, the beauty of graphic design is that it’s always evolving and improving, which means people working in the field have endless opportunities to evolve and improve themselves. If that’s what you want out of a career and you’re drawn to the possibilities of graphic design, don’t underestimate yourself, just go for it.

For more graphic design inspiration, check out Christina’s amazing brand book project.

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