My First Day At VSA

I wake up before my alarm even has a chance to make that sound that fuels me with the desire to kill things. I’m not surprised that I beat the alarm, this usually happens when I’m really excited. I made a mental agenda of how my morning was going to happen the night before. So far I’m right on schedule, but this is only the beginning. Breakfast is next on my list. I don’t normally eat before 9 am, but it’s a special day so I’m chowing at the stroke of 6. A fried egg over-hard between two pieces of toast; the breakfast of this champion.

I need to make a playlist for my ride to Valhalla. That’s what the ‘V’ in VSA stands for if you didn’t already know. I want my playlist to be a well rounded variety of ear candy since I haven’t yet decided what mood I’m trying to go for. I’m feeling a strange combination of excitement and terror. The perfect recipe for success. I want to be confident enough to get the job done right, but not too much that I come off as an asshole. No one likes an asshole. I start the music syncing sequence to my iPhone. I know that it can take a while so I’m doing it early. Everything is still going to plan.

I hop in the shower. Correction: I carefully stepped into it because hopping into any shower is dangerous and should only be attempted by professionals. I don’t need any accidents on such an important day. I turn the hot dial to seven o’ clock and the cold to ten fifty-five-ish (give or take a minute or two) creating the perfect bathing temperature. I need it hot enough to wake me up, but not too hot that it fogs up the bathroom mirror. I have a schedule to keep and a foggy mirror is a time waster when your are trying to look pretty. I wash with a bar soap that is supposed to smell like grape seed oil and lemon grass. WTF! I think is smells like crap but I use it anyway because it’s all I got. I carefully step out of the shower remembering my own disclaimer and smelling like a chick. Hopefully my deodorant will mask my dainty fragrance. Note the reader: I smelled like a woman all day.

I buttoned the last button on my new collared shirt. Actually everything that I’m wearing is new. It looks like I fell into the GAP… Tool. I check on the progress of my music. My phone finishes syncing, right when I pick it up, as if it where meant to be. I put it in my pocket, grab my head phones and kiss my wife and daughter good-bye. Daddy is going to come back a new man.

I head out with good tunes in my ears. I’m still undecided about the setting of my mood so I go with a little Radio Head, In Rainbows, Disc 1. It’s a good combination of up and down syncopation and right now it feels like the soundtrack to my life. I’m taking the train – Red line. It’s been a while since I’ve been on any form of public transportation. I’ve never been fond of it. Too many weirdos. Thankfully I’m riding during business hours so there is nothing but straight laced, man purse carrying, pant suit wearing, working professionals. I suddenly feel like I’m being sucked into the mundane routine of every other drone just doing what they are told. Thankfully “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” starts playing and it snaps me back to reality and then takes me back off again to a better place. I transfer to the Brown line in a lucid musical trance. I barely remember doing. It wasn’t long before the doors open at Chicago and Franklin and I begin the 3 1/2 block walk to the gates of what felt like an the most exclusive club in my industry. It still doesn’t feel real.

VSA is located at 600 West Chicago Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. They’ve only occupied their new space on the second floor for a year and they are already starting to out grow it. I arrive at the front door 45 minutes too early, which is actually a good thing because I just realized that I’m sweating bullets and I can use a cool down. I have a seat in the lobby of a café next door. I switch up the music to something a little more mellow. I take some deep breaths to the soft acoustics and warm rounded vocals of Kings of Convenience, the Declaration of Dependance album. By the end of the third song my body temperature starts to regulate. I switch up the music once again to somthing that will get me pumped up before I head upstairs. The name of it is a secret. I’m afraid if you knew you’d judge me.

VSA’s crew of 150 employees are a masterful group of finely tuned professionals, hand picked and well versed. I still question whether or not I’m supposed to be here. I make my way upstairs after getting clearance from the security guard. I feel special telling him it’s my first day at VSA, but he remains straight faced and unphased. My buzz is killed by 20%. I walk through the glass double doors and I am immediately engulfed by the power of the atmosphere. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I saw everyone walking around wearing a t-shirt that read “I’m kind of a big deal!”, Because they were. I’m soon met by a familiar face. One of my interviewers from my previous visit gives me the penny tour and then shows me to my desk. The agency is in a massive warehouse; the volume of at least 1 1/2 football fields, easy. There are no cubicles and no walls out side of the offices belonging to the higher ups. Just open space where you can pick your creative ideas right out of the air. My desk is side by side with the Senior Designer who I will be working with closely. It’s nice to not to be crammed in a corner where you are made to feel as temporary as possible. My guide says a bunch of stuff that I’ve heard on the first day of just about every job I’ve ever had. She hands me packet of paper and fills me in on what I will be working on first and then walks a way.

I’m barely sitting down before I’m met by a fast talking I.T. guy who shoots me through VSA’s office networking 101 in the most esoteric computer jargon I’ve heard in a long time. Good thing I speak the language, other wise I would have been twelve different kinds of lost. Within minutes I’m wired into the system with usernames, passwords, email addresses and server access. This is really happening. I was then given another packet, this one on file naming structure and folder hierarchy. I get a quick walk through of the print facilities and then we part ways. I’m starting to notice a theme. Everyone who hands me a packet of paper leaves me shortly after. Hmmm… I should write this down.

I hop back on my computer. Correction: I sit down at my desk and access the contents of my computer. Hopping on computers gets you fired. I get cracking on the busy work that they gave to fill the time, trying not to be distracted by the fact the at I’m actually at F***ing VSA! My first official task is to take a bunch of chart data for a “special client” and transfer it to a pre-existing InDesign Document. All in all there a couple thousand data entries that were expected to be entered manually, but I found a trick. What was suppose to take me the majority of the day only took me about an hour. I won’t reveal my secret, but lets just say that I started off the first day with a good impression.

The Senior Desgner was out on a business trip and wouldn’t be back till in the afternoon. Since the busy work didn’t really keep me busy (which apparently was completely unexpected), no one knew what to have me do. I decided to get myself more acquainted with the file naming system since it was the most confusing thing that I’ve come across so far. After about thirty minutes of examination I understood no more than when I started. I didn’t want to bother anyone with questions since they all seemed very hard at work so I decided to take a bathroom break where I had the pleasure of experiencing the Dyson AirBlade hand dryer. The Dyson Chicago branch is actually located right down the hall from VSA. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing this grand piece of technology I recommend finding the nearest one right now and become acquainted. I have a feeling I will be taking frequent bathroom breaks just to wash my hands. Perhaps I’ll claim to have OCD. I digress.

I filled the remaining hours decoding the file naming system and thumbing through all the available fonts in Universal Type Client. It was about 3:30 pm when the senior designer strolled in, luggage in hand. She delivered kind salutation then pulled a superman (changed clothes quickly) in the bathroom. When she came back she gave me my official brief on the current project. It was a website redesign for a very well known client. There are a lot of components involved, with a site map of over 200 pages, and it was my job — drum roll please — to make a 328 px X 140 px reoccurring label. Ta-da! And that’s what I worked on for the rest of the day. I bet you thought it was actually going to be interesting.

I left VSA that day with a bounce in my step. It was the best first day that I have ever had. Their employees live up to high end agency standards, but underneath it all they are just a bunch of design and computer nerds like me, which is comforting. I could have been told that it was my job to change the blades on the all the Exacto knives and it still would have been the best day. To the contrary, I’m working on the biggest project of my life. I finished that small (but very important) label, and have moved on to full page layouts. When it’s finished and the website is being viewed by millions I will be able to say that I was apart of it, and that’s a really good feeling. I’m proud to be part of a team at VSA Partners.

This is the first real article post that I’ve written since the relaunch my new site. I would really love your feed back (besides the fact that it’s probably littered with typos). Positive and constructive comments are very welcome.

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  • All in all; i’d say it was a very good day indeed. Filled with things you would expect from a first and things you do not. Trepidation, wonderment, perplexity and a few other “tion’s”, “‘ments”, and “ty’s” tucked in for good measure. As in all writings there is a moral to the story however and yours is clear; be who you are, do what comes natural to you – within the boundaries of societal decency and law – and others will see that which you love.

    I’ve often said that the greatest thing to me about being a designer is the communicative aspect. Being physically near other designers, feeding off of their collective energies, thoughts, abilities – and toys – of others of like mind and spirit. Every time I walk into the dojo I still am amazed at the power of the place; terrified of my Sensei; and overjoyed that I am a part of it all.

    Congratulations to you for finding your joys where you may, conquering the demons of boredom and expectation by thinking and exacting, and knowing that being a cog in a perfectly rare and fine-tuned machine is an experience unto itself that truly is difficult to describe.


  • Dana Pachl says:

    I’m thrilled for you. That sounds awesome – congrats! No one is more deserving 🙂 Keep us all updated on how things go.

  • Kristin Horst says:

    WOW! Congrats, Christian!!!

    Your storytelling skills are keen – keep it up! I was laughing and relating through this whole entry. I will be checking for updates!

    I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it – everything looks great! You are playing with the big kids now. Have fun!

  • Carl Mullis sunny ole Fla. 6/14/2010. says:

    Christian…I thoroughly enjoyed your disarming, pure and honest relating of such an important/relished day in your professional life! I was struck with your writing. Might say you should consider writing as a side career. I agree
    with much of Jason’s comments…stay yourself in your new working experience and KNOW this will be am experience you can excell in!! Cuz Carl

  • Peggy Toman says:

    As I was there on your first day when you got home I can attest to the cloud you were walking on. I know you are going to do a fantastic job. Peggy

  • Kristin-

    Thank you so much. You are far too kind. You really know how to make a brown man blush. Too bad my copy editing skills aren’t up to par. I wish I could afford to pay someone to do it for me. I will definitely be keeping whoever follows this blog in the loop.

    By the way. I’m requesting design submissions from anyone who creates something with the beta version of my new display typeface, Penguin.ttf. The font is free to all newsletter subscribers. You should have received a download link in your email inbox. I would like to create a gallery post of very one who participates with links to their online work. I figure it’s a good way to get some exposure for you and for my new font. Submissions are due June 25th. I really really hope you submit something. No pressure though.

  • Carl-

    Awesome to hear from you. I’m flattered at your interest in my work. I would love do some writing for a side job. Perhaps then I could afford a copy editor, since I’m horrible at it.

    Jason is wise beyond his years, and I definitely take heed to his advise. I’m glad you like the post. Hopefully future post will live up to it. I’d be honored if you stopped by again.

  • Mig Reyes says:


    Congratulations on landing a spot at VSA. The team there is great, and from visiting the space and getting to build a few relationships with people that work there, you’re in great hands. Looking forward to see how you grow!


  • Mig Reyes-

    Thanks a ton. So far it has been fantastic experience. Lots of great energy, and amazing talent. When did you come through VSA?

    I’m honored to have someone from Threadless Commenting on my blog. You guys produce stunning work. I’m diggin’ your website by the way. When do you expect it to have it fully functioning? I’d love to see more of your work.

    Thanks for the comment Mig. Please stop by again.

  • Greg Bodfish says:

    Hey Christian,

    Sounds awesome man! Glad to hear your first day went so well. I see others have already told you this but, you really do deserve it. Enjoy it man and keep telling stories because these are fun to read!

    I see you’ve met Mig, too. Mig is an awesome guy and designer (he’s a fellow STA-er). It’s a small world.

    BTW, I dig the Penguin font and will be using it soon. I can just feel it. So, I’ll send ya some samples when I do.

    Take care and best wishes dude-bro.

  • Victoria Platek says:

    Hey Christian,

    I bet you don’t remember me, but I had the pleasure of sitting near you in one of our graphic design classes at IADT. I remember you first showing pictures of your brand new baby girl and now look at you, all grown up and doing adult-ish stuff, how exciting.

    I’m really happy for you and secretly always have been jealous of your great work, but hey, its always nice to have someones work to look up to. Where would Kobe be without Jordan….that kinda way…except…not as intense. Enjoyed your writing and good luck at VSA.

    Congrats again,

  • Mig Reyes says:

    Hey Christian! Just saw your follow up note, thanks. Have you met my friend Katherine Walker, yet? She recently started, and is often associated with the word “awesome.” As for my site, it’s up now! Keep up the good work on your end, sir!

  • Amy says:


    I am so excited for you! You’ve been working so hard and I know you’ll do great at VSA. My favorite part of your day was hearing about the file naming system! Strange, I know, but it was comforting to hear that there are places that actually have this in place since I’ve been trying to create one at my job. I’ve taken on the role of coming up with some sort of order from the nearly 17 file boxes full of files that are named with whatever title is chosen for them that day. So, in short, whoever gave you the packet with the file naming system guidelines… give them a hug for me! Let me know when you want some more free food too. There’s always more! Later.


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