An Interview with Pon Angara, Graphic Designer and Entrepreneur

by Nancy Solomon
An Interview with Pon Angara, Graphic Designer and Entrepreneur

Follow Your Passion

When Philippine Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., was assassinated in 1983, Pon Angara's parents decided it was time to leave their ancestral home and moved their family of five to Illinois and away from violent opposition of the autocratic rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Pon was 19, and when he arrived in Illinois, he enrolled in the undergraduate engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, expecting to follow in his father's engineering footsteps. However, as graduation neared, he realized he had another career goal.

The classes he had taken in industrial design as part of his course work had reawakened his passion for art. In fact, as a child, he had spent many happy hours drawing in the courtyard of his home while his friends and siblings played outside.

So, he made a deal with his parents - he would graduate with a degree in industrial engineering, but then he would go back to school to study industrial design and graphic design. Today, Mr. Angara operates his own successful branding and graphic design company, Barkada Creative, and his family couldn't be prouder.

Pon Angara & His Career

Tell us about your career. How did you discover your talent?

I've always enjoyed creating art pieces that were visually compelling and packed with meaning. In fact, my formal training in fine arts started during my elementary years. My college degrees are in industrial engineering, industrial design and graphic design. My background in art and science became strong assets in my design work.

How has your career unfolded?

I started as a full-time graphic designer in the in-house art department of a global manufacturer of health products. After four years, I was promoted to senior designer and, as such, served as more of a consultant to my customers. After four and a half years, I was hired as senior designer in an agency. I became a partner in the firm, spearheading business development. It was a great opportunity to learn about marketing and sales - and it inspired me to start my own company.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

I really like meeting new people, turning a prospect into a client, and getting clients excited about the creative process.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

I hold a few professors in very high regard. They taught me valuable lessons. One in particular always said, "Never lose sight of the big picture."

What has been your personal key to success?

Honesty, perseverance, trusting my instincts and seeking highly talented professionals to partner with.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

To build a strong community of entrepreneurs who attribute their successes to having a cohesive brand-driven strategy.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about your profession to be successful?

Absolutely…mind, body, heart and soul.

What was the worst professional experience you've ever had?

The worst is when a client crosses the line and takes advantage of my courtesy.

Education Information & Insights

Tell us about your education.

I have a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering, a bachelor of fine arts in industrial design, and a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design - all from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

If someone has the talent already, should they go to school (or get professional training)?

The more well-rounded your education is, the better. Design is not just about art. It's about being able to solve a problem. In the real world, problems have multiple sides. Having a background in several disciplines enables you to understand the problem better.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?

They should consider what other classes are available to them that are not art-based. Also, find out how good the computer graphics courses are.

Would you change anything about your education if you could?

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to study abroad.

The Actual Work

What exactly do you do?

I meet with clients to find out about their objectives. Then, I develop design concepts, get client approvals and produce the work. On the business end, I develop new customers and manage cash flow and finances.

Describe a typical day of work for you.

There's always too much e-mail to deal with every day. I spend a lot of time coordinating work with vendors. I follow up with clients on the status of their projects. I execute the designs, follow up on leads, pay bills and send invoices.

What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? What's your favorite gadget?

My Mac PowerBook G4 (Mac).

What organizations do you belong to?

I belong to the Association Forum of Chicagoland, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, a few entrepreneurial groups, and my neighborhood business association.

What are some common myths about your profession?

People think what we do is so simple and easy to do with just a push of a button. Some people think that artists have no understanding about running a business. The essence, purpose and value of a logo are still widely misunderstood. And, heaven knows, you MUST fill up that white space.

How do you use computers? Are there specialty software programs for your profession?

The ABCs of graphic design are Adobe Photoshop to manipulate images, Adobe Illustrator for layout and illustration, and Adobe InDesign for layout and illustration (or QuarkXpress).

Job Information & Advice

What is the average salary for your field?

With 10 years of experience, people can earn $33,000 to $43,000 a year.

What are the best ways to get a job?

Apply for an internship while in school. Freelance for a temp agency for exposure to various companies. Join a listserv where people can make referrals.

Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?

At some level. But the stronger factor is your portfolio - samples of your work.

How available are internships?

Most schools with placement services have internships. Several ad agencies use interns.

What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students?

Graphic artist, Web design and animation.

Does working for a prestigious organization make a difference?

It makes a huge difference if you're able to work on major accounts with Fortune 500 companies.

Industry Trends

How is the job market now in the profession? How do you think it will be in five years?

Graphic design is a hot profession now because of the demand for web sites and all the bells and whistles that go with them. The field is technology-driven. Experience with various graphics and web software will always be critical in the job market.

How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?

It is the main driving force that determines trends in communication and marketing and being able to measure results.

What topics are emerging as hot issues in the field?

How to keep a company's brand fresh and exciting on the web. Creating an online community around your brand.

Closing Remarks

Any closing thoughts about graphic design field success?

It helps to keep an open mind and, at times, to leave behind one's ego.

Editor's Note: To find out more about Pon Angara and his work, visit Barkada Creative.

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