What do you do professionally?
I would call myself a multimedia designer — it encompasses the various ways I create best. I am primarily a front-end web developer and graphic designer and take photos, edit videos that I shoot, and create print material.
Where are you from?
I’m currently based in the BX and have lived in NYC most of my life. My family is from the Philippines; I moved to NYC when I was 5. Grew up on 19th Street on the East Side, in Gramercy Park, and growing up in Manhattan actually informs my design work regarding style and direction. Hip hop, sneaker culture (even though I’m not a sneakerhead), skateboard culture — all were part of my coming of age. I used to hang out with the skater at the cube at Astor Place. Street style has always been embedded in the clothes I wear and the music I listen to, imbuing my personal aesthetic with a gritty minimalism.
What is your origin story—how did you come to do what you do?
I worked as a make-up artist for five years, starting while I was in college. I was doing Comic-Con, concierge Halloween programs and thought I would do special effects make-up for movies — but things took a different turn.
I found my way into design by helping several fashion start-ups with their e-commerce. I began updating websites, editing the lookbook photos, and realized that I loved the design part and working with images. When I started moving towards doing more design, I was creating catalogs and look books in PowerPoint. It was the time before I knew Photoshop, haha.
I began taking free classes at the New York Public Library for photoshop and front-end coding. Incredibly, the library offers all these fabulous resources. Through these library classes, I connected with a free coding boot camp in Long Island City called Coalition for Queens at that time, but it is now called Pursuit.
Can you tell me a bit more about Pursuit?
What happened after those classes?
To be honest, I didn’t think I was developed enough to apply for a web dev job; the job descriptions felt very intimidating. I wasn’t very good at solving the functional part yet but felt more in command of CSS and HTML. Animation and web design felt like a better fit, so I segued into that end of the tech and design space and began building my portfolio.”
Are you more in the world of tech or design?
I am a graphic designer but also do front-end development and web design. I code the styling for websites using HTML and CSS.
At this point, I actually see these coding languages as more an extension of design than coding proper. I think designers today need to know CSS and HTML to successfully design in digital-first spaces.
What’s the difference between web dev and web design?
I consider CSS and HTML as really an extension of design, not even front-end development at this point, but it’s not back-end structure. To use a house as an example, HTML and CSS are the bricks or facade, but not the plumbing or electrical, which I see as back-end.
What has it been like to navigate the world of tech and design as a woman — and as a woman of color in particular?
To be fair, I haven’t interviewed for a fully tech-based job. It can be intimidating. But the engineer teams I have to deliver my front-end development work to are often comprised of almost all men. White-dominated. Male-dominated. And that can create distance and space for feeling like I have to step higher to reach the same playing field.
What kind of companies do you work with?
I am currently working for two real estate companies, a financial event company, and an online publication, the Ladders. I do a lot of digital and print for billboards and sides of buildings, create marketing collateral like promotional flyers, and do a lot of web-based work, primarily in WordPress and Squarespace.
What’s a day in your life like?
I’m a morning person. I like to start working early. I often tackle emails first because I typically see various clients on-site later in the day. Part of my job is capturing photos for real estate listings. I take the photos, shoot videos, edit the images, and use them as marketing collateral. I’m usually running around Queens, going to all these commercial listings.
How long have you been a part of Creative Circle?
I just started working with Creative Circle in 2020 but have been part of the vibrant Creative Circle community for the last couple of years. I’ve gotten some of my most exciting work through them.
What are your biggest challenges doing what you do?
Clients often know what they don’t want, but not necessarily what they do. So, there’s a fair amount of testing out the waters to get a sense of what might make sense. I ask them to show me inspiration. I find myself playing design psychologist. I’ve learned how to really listen to better understand client needs and pain points. Listening is a profound skill, and intuiting moods is key. I have to read the room, which can be one of the biggest challenges, particularly as we are not meeting in person. Things get lost in emails and calls.
Also, prioritizing my work can sometimes be a challenge. I went full-time freelance just before COVID in February 2020. Learning how to manage my projects and deadlines is something I’m getting more adept at, but it requires careful attention as I add more clients.
How long do your gigs tend to last?
Most of my work is client-based and recurring, though I have a few one-off jobs that are more gig-oriented, like social media marketing projects.
What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started?
I wanted to be in design all those years I was working in e-commerce but wasn’t sure how to get “started.” I would tell the younger me that it’s okay to not have a perfect plan or a resume with the ideal experience. Sometimes you have to find a connection and make your own work. You have to start somewhere. I am primarily self-taught, don’t overlook the grand treasure trove that is YouTube. I learned how to do everything I do through YouTube.
Who (or what) inspires your work?
I take my inspiration from moving through the city, which is how I discovered Colossal Media, an NYC-based company comprised of old-school graffiti artists who have evolved into an artistic consortium who really inspire me. They create incredible murals in Bushwick. I love seeing the social impact that their murals can have, the way they give tone and vibrant texture to a block when the world is veering so much towards digital.
In what ways do you see your work evolving over the next year? Any projects that you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
The next big thing for me is going to be 3D design — I’m excited to dig in and expand my dimensions.
About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.