YOUNG FIRE: Tala Safié


Being the daughter of a journalist, it was a pretty safe bet that Tala Safié would be influenced by the editorial world. Originally interested in becoming a journalist herself, the Beirut native changed her tune and found her calling in the visual arts. After earning her BFA, Tala ventured overseas to New York City to pursue a masters in design at The School of Visual Arts. She now holds the titles of lead designer at AIGA Eye on Design and freelance art director at The New York Times. As an accomplished designer who creates compelling, forward-thinking, limit-pushing work, Tala sits down with us to share her thoughts on portfolio building, the classic "cold-email," and how to properly stalk your interviewer.

BY: Katie Belloff

Tala Safié
Lead Designer, AIGA Eye on Design
Freelance Art Director, The New York Times
American University of Beirut, 2013
School of Visual Arts, 2018 | @talasafie

Publication for the Mansion Film Club, Beirut

Publication for the Mansion Film Club, Beirut

SPD-U: When did you first decide that you were going to be a designer/work in design? Were you always interested in working in magazines/print?
Tala Safié:
I’ve always wanted to be a journalist, actually. My mom is a journalist and so are all of her close friends, so I’ve always wanted to be part of that world. I’m better with visuals than I am with words, so editorial design seemed like a good fit for me. 

SPD-U: What project in your student portfolio do you think gave you the biggest advantage when looking for internships/jobs and why?
I think it was my BFA thesis project. I created a film club for Mansion, a collective art space situated in an early twentieth-century villa in Beirut, formerly abandoned during the Lebanese civil war. I made bilingual (Arabic + English) publications, posters, and videos, and organized a few screenings with the help of the director of the space. This project landed me my first job with Studio Safar, mainly because it touched different design platforms, which was appealing to a multidisciplinary studio. The bilingual aspect was also a big advantage. 

SPD-U: If you could go back in time and give your past self advice before your first professional interview for a design position what would it be?
Be a good listener, ask questions, and don’t do all of the talking. Also, stalk your interviewer(s) beforehand. Read things they’ve written, watch talks they’ve had. But also don’t creep them out with all the information you learn, be cool about it.

SPD-U: Where was your first internship and what was the most important/memorable thing you learned there?
My first internship was at De Designpolitie in Amsterdam. I learned that employers tend to forget that interns exist so you need to remind them by asking them questions and taking initiatives even if they don’t clearly assign specific tasks to you.

SPD-U: You publish a lot of your personal work on your website in a separate section.  What would you say the advantages of that are?
My website is a bit of a mess and my work is certainly not divided in a very smart way at the moment. I have two main sections and both are a mix of professional and self-initiated work: ideally they would be neatly organized under one category.

I guess it’s useful to include personal projects if they reflect relevant skills and interests that don’t come across in your professional portfolio. My self-initiated projects are usually collaborative, they’re really an excuse for me to work with people I like and admire, especially writers.

SPD-U: Any tips for students/young professionals dealing with imposter syndrome?
Remember that most people have no idea what they’re doing, especially creatives.

SPD-U: How many cold emails/resumes did you send out before you heard back about your first job offer? How effective do you feel that strategy is?
Many. When I first moved here I really didn’t know anyone, so it was really hard for me to get a job, especially with my non-resident-alien status. I also come from a culture where you’re not really used to shameless self-promotion, which I quickly learned was a big thing in the design community in the States. What was effective for me was to reach out directly to people I really wanted to work for with candid, straightforward, and personalized emails.

I eventually met Perrin Drumm, the founder of AIGA Eye on Design who trusted me and gave me a shot. She opened so many doors for me in New York, I really owe her everything.

AIGA Eye on Design

AIGA Eye on Design

SPD-U: You're currently the Lead Designer of AIGA Eye on Design and a freelance Art Director of The New York Times' features sections. What do you feel the biggest learning curve was after starting these positions and how did you overcome it? Is there anything you feel like you're still working on conquering?
Both jobs are very different and come with their own sets of challenges. The first is very hands-on while the second involves a lot more actors and decision makers. But in both I had to learn how to diplomatically communicate with editors, juggle very tight deadlines and manage my time better. I also had to painfully and slowly learn to accept and embrace Slack as an integral tool in my daily life.

SPD-U: Going back to your job as a freelance Art Director, what are the biggest challenges in being freelance over full-time? Any advice for young professionals thinking of embarking out into the freelance world?
The uncertainty of freelance is always a little scary. Figuring out taxes and health insurance plans in the US on your own is definitely not easy.

My advice is to get some in-house experience first. Working full-time in a design studio for three years helped me embark into freelance: it taught me how to pitch to clients, talk about money, communicate with printers and handle production. 

What also really helps is to find a steady / recurring client to depend on in slow seasons.

AIGA Eye on Design

AIGA Eye on Design

SPD-U: Who are some of your design idols (and can we have their Instagram tags? ;) )
Zeina Maasri, Reza Abedini, Hatem Imam and Jana Traboulsi taught me everything I know!!! 

Also, and in no particular order: Mohieddin El Labbad, Tibor Kalman, April Grieman (there’s a really good interview with her on Eye on Design here), OK-RM, M/M Paris, and Mona Chalabi. I also love Tracy Ma’s brain.

SPD-U: What's your favorite magazine (outside of the ones you currently work for) and why?
Bidoun is a perfect publication. Aside from it being insightful, funny and irreverent, the printed magazine (RIP) was one of my biggest inspirations as a design student. I often go back to their accessible online archives to dig into past issues.

I currently enjoy reading Real Review, Countersignals, Talk, The Smudge, and wish I could make/design a Beirut edition of Civilization but that would qualify as plagiarism.

SPD-U: Last but not least: what's your guilty pleasure song?
The entire Sugababes discography.

AIGA Eye on Design

AIGA Eye on Design

AIGA Eye on Design

AIGA Eye on Design


YOUNG FIRE: Leslie Xia


This New York native first got interested in graphic design during sophomore year at Maryland Institute College of Art while still a sculpture major there. Leslie's internship at Esquire provided valuable insights into the magazine landscape and how to fit into it. Leslie has the design chops to create beautiful magazine pages in print and the motion skills to make type and image live and breath on the web. This young designer's conceptual way of thinking is deep and even turns to political topics on occasion. Please enjoy Leslie's perspective on design, maintaining an effective web presence, and navigating one's career. 

BY: Katie Belloff

Leslie Xia
Men’s Health
Associate Art Director
Maryland Institute College of Art, 2015 | @thelesliexia


SPD-U: When did you first decide that you were going to be a designer/work in design? Were you always interested in working in magazines?
Leslie Xia:
At a young age I gravitated towards magazines and comic books. I used to hang out at my dad’s grocery store in Flushing, which was next to a newsstand. Every week I would peruse the newsstand and haul back copies of J-14, M, and Tiger Beat to my room and devour them. At the time I cared more about the content than the design, but when I got older I started reading other magazines like GQ, Wired and New York.

I’ve always been interested in art, but when I went to art school, I was undecided about what I wanted to do. I loved conceptual art, I loved sculptural forms, I loved animation. One summer, before my sophomore year of college (I was a sculpture major), I decided to take a small intro to graphic design class and something clicked!

SPD-U: How pivotal of a role have internships played in your career, and do you have any tips for students looking to land one?
My internships were vital because they allowed me to believe that design was something I could pursue. Not knowing your potential and what is possible can limit what you think you can do. While at my internships, I saw how magazines ran. I saw the role I could play and was able to experience first hand the excitement of it all. They also offered me amazing connections to folks who became important mentors.

However, internships are NOT the end all-be all. There aren’t enough to go around (the number of magazine internships are dwindling), and often are primarily available to students enrolled in private art schools. In our current digital age, institutions don’t need to be the gatekeepers. You have Instagram, Twitter, Dribbble, Squarespace, to showcase your work. It’s become easier to make connections, find folks interested in the same forms of content, and learn to create your own projects. If you follow the right people, send out the right messages, and create good, imaginative, personally meaningful work, you’ll be in a good place.

But, my advice to those looking for internships: 1. Apply to all of them. 2. If you know where you want to work, make sure they offer design internships, and then cold call them. 3. Never stop at the online application portal. Your application will drown in an inbox of 100 other entries. 4. Find out exactly who in the art department you would be working for as an intern. DON’T email anyone and everyone who works at the company and don’t email other people in other departments (design or otherwise) at the same company. When I was at VICE I received emails from gazillions of randos about jobs for other channels or departments at VICE that had nothing to do with me. Be precise and once you’re 100% sure it’s the person you’re looking for, send a golden email, with a glistening cover letter.


SPD-U: How do you approach a cover letter? Do you feel they're still necessary, or does an email suffice?
I think the email IS the cover letter. Getting an email that is solely “Hi, here is my resume and cover letter, thank you for your consideration.” feels like a copy and pasted booty call. If you’re trying to win an employer over, take that extra step. Why waste an opportunity to let your personality shine? Use your cover letter as a way to show why you deserve to work, learn and grow with this organization.

SPD-U: Having worked at Esquire as a student, what sort of mindset should you approach your internship with?
Take advantage of everything they can offer. When I was at Esquire, my Art Director, Stravinski Pierre, gave me this piece of advice: “Don’t fuck it up.” Harsh, but he meant it as: don’t have an opportunity sit in your lap and lose out on everything it can be.  Ask as many questions as you can.

Also use these moments to find mentors and build connections. My supervisor, Christa Guerra, was a pivotal mentor for me. Besides being a badass, she was a female designer of color, and seeing her navigate her role at Esquire inspired and influenced me greatly. After graduation, I would go to Christa and Strav for advice and guidance, which was really important to me.

Last but not least, be respectful of your peers and colleagues, The industry (especially the design industry) is small as hell. If you come to SPD happy hours, you’ll see familiar faces. The more people you meet, the sooner you’ll realize that this is a family, and we all have to look out for each other. DON’T burn bridges, be your best self, project good energy and cultivate the relationships you build.

SPD-U: What would be your "Do's and Don'ts" for a designer transitioning into the workforce or revamping their portfolio site?
*looks at my half finished portfolio site* lmao.

Even if your site is a work in progress, you still need a portfolio presence. Host a simple site that has a basic, beautiful, quick templated layout where you can showcase images of maybe 5 of your best projects. Slap your email on it, add a message about new work coming soon, list the experience you’ve had, done. You can work on making a more elaborate, beautifully laid out site while still having work up that potential employers can see.

Don’t be misleading. Be honest, document your work well, and showcase only the best of the best. Make sure, your work is front and center. Don’t code an elaborate website where someone has to snake their way through a maze. Great web design is cool, but not when an Art Director is only spending 5 seconds looking at each person’s site (host that experimental site as a separate link within your portfolio!!).

Be transparent. Define what your role was in the projects you post. Do not pass off school assignments as client or professional work! It is SO easy for employers to tell.

Lastly, make sure your email and resume are easy to find, and updated!


SPD-U: Having done a lot of work for, what would you say are some of the key differences in designing for Digital editorial over Print? Were there things you didn't expect to be easier/harder?
Soo many things!! I love working in each, and they both have their own unique rewards and challenges. They’re both fast paced, but for completely different reasons.

Working in news design, we were delivering content every single day, and I was conceptualizing graphics every hour for posts. I learned a lot about the ethics of journalism, image making and my role in delivering  messages. I was animating profiles, creating infographics and branding our podcasts, all while art directing and designing our web feature packages, social media graphics and daily stories.

I’m currently at Men’s Health magazine, which is a monthly. It’s still quick moving because we’re constantly designing, art directing and churning out pages. However, I’m given more opportunity to spend more intentional time with each page. My only job is to make the pages I’m assigned the best they can be.

Both mediums continue to teach me a lot, and are so versatile and dynamic.

My favorite things about web are it’s fluidity and forgiveness. You can update things you messed up. The hardest thing is that nothing truly goes away. People on Twitter are the WORST!!!

For print, the best thing for me is that pages can have more design depth and texture. You have the viewers attention for longer, because they made the active decision to purchase that magazine. The hardest, which I guess this goes for both, is lack of diversity within the industry!! So many popular illustrators and designers in high positions are white dudes!! I’m trying to commission more women/queer folks of color for illustration so please hit me up! Y’all, hire people of color!!!!

SPD-U: What are some things you wish you could go back and tell yourself about working not just in publications, but as a designer in general?
Stay versatile in the skills you possess! I think I was better off because I was interested in so many things. I equipped myself with the in’s and outs of print design but also had a heavy interest in motion graphics and web design. I think it’s really important to know the field and keep your tool belt ready, because editorial design is SO versatile. It thrives online, it dreams in 3D and VR, it breathes new life through video and motion design. The definition of what a publication and editorial content can be and do is constantly changing. You have to learn with it.

SPD-U: Who are some of your design idols (and can we have their Instagram tags? ;) )
LX: Omg too many. I started an instagram specifically for my design work and I use it to follow all of my fave designers and illustrators. You can go to my instagram following list to see everyone I love and all the new people I add to stay updated.

SPD-U: Do you have a guilty pleasure magazine?
LX: Ummmm I don’t really. I mostly subscribe to magazines with beautiful, informative, well thought out design and content. AND I barely have time to read those, so I don’t really have room for “guilty pleasure” mags.

SPD-U: Last but not least: favorite pizza toppings (and yes, pineapple and pickles count).
I’m about to sound so boughie but my favorite pizza right now is from Fornino’s (conveniently located across from VICE HQ) Funghi Misti pizza. It’s topped with 4 kinds of mushrooms and a shit ton of juicy azz truffle oil. But otherwise, if I were held against my will and forced to order a papa johns, it would be pineapple and mushroom with a shit-ton of garlic dipping sauce.

Look out for our next interview with Tala Safié. As the lead designer of AIGA Eye on Design, Tala is making a name for herself in the editorial community with smart, energetic work. Other clients of Tala’s include The New York Times and publishers in her hometown of Beirut.


YOUNG FIRE: Claudia Rubín


We recently interviewed New York Times Magazine designer Claudia Rubín. Her work combines smart, punchy design with brilliant conceptual thinking. As a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s Communication Design program Claudia has a fresh perspective on what it takes for a talented young designer to survive and thrive at a top magazine. Join us as Claudia muses on her love for editorial design, transitioning to NYC and being patient with yourself in the process. 

BY: Katie Belloff

Claudia Rubín
The New York Times Magazine
Syracuse University, 2017 | @clauisru

SPD-U: What attracted you to print rather than UI/UX or motion design? Do you have any advice for young designers who are being pushed into the digital world but would rather work in print?
Claudia Rubín:
I was always torn between branding and editorial. I think a big factor of why I ended up in print is the pace of it. I really enjoy working on new stories each week, which keeps me on my toes and keeps the job interesting. I can't look at my work for too long or I'll start nitpicking it. I also really enjoy having something tangible once I'm done. Printing my own magazines at school and flipping through them was the best thing ever.

Working in print is great design practice because there are limitations. There are no bells and whistles, so creating something that catches people’s attention can be a challenge, but rewarding when done successfully. Don’t get me wrong, UI/UX is also great, challenging, and the possibilities are endless so it's really fun. But PRINT IS FUN TOO! If you love it, go for it. Go for both.

SPD-U: What made you want to be a graphic designer? Did you always want to work at a magazine?
: Art, design and photography were really present in my life growing up. Both of my parents work in advertising and my dad is an artist as well. I only knew about art direction in advertising so that's what I went to school for. I was introduced to magazines my sophomore year in college and fell in love with them. I always thought of design as a tool to sell. Using it to tell stories seemed more appealing to me.

SPD-U: How pivotal of a role have internships played in your career, and do you have any tips for students looking to land one?
Internships are a good opportunity to find out what you like, but also what you don't before you go into the real world. I interned in advertising and branding before going into print. The advertising internship taught me how to think conceptually and the branding one taught me a lot about design sensibility. I'm happy I did both.  Also, make sure to choose one that pays (!!!). Yeah, you're an intern and there to learn, but your time is still valuable. Trust me, you'll be annoyed you don't get paid once you start working at the place.

Landing an internship is so hard and stressful. It's obviously important to have a good portfolio, but I learned it's also crucial to know how to talk about your work when you go into interviews. Employers want to know your way of thinking and your process. Work that’s just “pretty” is hard to talk about. It’s easier to describe your work when there’s an idea behind it and when you’re passionate about it.

SPD-U: How do you approach a cover letter? Do you feel they're still necessary, or does an email suffice?
I've actually never sent or written a cover letter. I feel weird writing them. Emails, for me at least, feel much more personal and unofficial. Emails become conversations, whereas cover letters are an added layer. It varies per person and company though. I know some people who prefer to write them, and some companies that prefer to receive them. So, whatever you're most comfortable with, do. 

SPD-U: In your experience, does having a Print, iPad/PDF and Website portfolio make sense for young designers in this current job climate? Would you recommend one over another, and why?
My school had us make a print portfolio or "book". I actually started applying to jobs before I got my book in the mail so all I had was my website and a PDF portfolio. I think both are very important. A PDF should be a quick read of your work. Making a website is fun and you can add more stuff to it — it's also the most accessible to employers, which is important.

SPD-U: What's your best advice for a designer making the transition from college to the workforce?
For most people a new job comes with a new city, having to find a new apartment, and learning to be completely independent for the first time. Be patient with yourself and understand it's a transitional phase. I know I sound like a fortune cookie but it's true.

SPD-U: What's one thing you wish you had known when you first started at The New York Times Magazine?
I wish I had been less hard on myself and had more confidence. I started working freelance at the magazine three weeks after graduating. For a while, I was afraid that it was obvious that I had just graduated and had no magazine experience, so I never wanted to ask questions or show weakness. And when I did, I thought I was failing. I think this is something we all go through when starting a first job. Everyone here is really nice, patient and helpful, so that feeling went away over time. Now I ask a lot of questions :)

SPD-U: Who are some of your design idols (and can we have their Instagram tags? ;) ) 
I love Braulio Amado's work (@braulioamado). He can turn even a lump of play-doh into a cool poster (actually). I'm also really lucky to be able to work with Gail Bichler, Matt Willey and Deb Bishop, who's work I admired all through college. 

SPD-U: Last but not least: most heavily binged Netflix series (totally relevant).
Best question. Of all time, probably Breaking Bad. Currently I'm watching Killing Eve. It's awesome.

Keep an eye out for our next interview with Leslie Xia. Leslie is an amazing designer and art director making big waves in the editorial community with experience at places like Fast Company, Esquire, VICE News, and Men's Health.




Last month, SPD-U held our first YOUNG FIRE event! Thanks to Ben Grandgenett (Deputy Art Director, The New York Times Magazine), Aimee Sy (Digital Art Director, Glamour), and Simon Abranowicz (Deputy Art Director, GQ) for speaking and Jeff Glendenning (Deputy Design Director of Features The New York Times) for moderating.

Missed the event or want to listen again? Check out the video above. Special thanks to Stanley Collado for editing the video together!


Join SPD-U for YOUNG FIRE: A Show & Tell of Emerging Design Talent


Join SPD and Go Studios for an inspiring showcase of work and lively conversation with three accomplished editorial designers, just a handful of years out of school.

Their stories, and paths to early successes, will likely inspire students and young design professionals of all kinds.

Ben Grandgenett
Deputy Art Director, The New York Times Magazine
SVA ('13)

Aimee Sy
Digital Art Director, Glamour
Syracuse University ('17)

Simon Abranowicz
Deputy Art Director, GQ
Syracuse University ('16)

Thursday, October 11th
7:00PM - Reception with panelists
7:30PM - Presentation & Discussion (To end around 9:00PM)
Registration closes on Friday, October 5th at 5PM EST

Go Studios Penthouse
318 West 39th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue)
New York, NY 10018

SPD Members: 
FREE with RSVP before Friday, October 5th
General Admission: $15 
At The Door: $20
Not a member? Join now and attend this event for FREE!

RSVP / Buy Tickets Here!

Space is limited so RSVP today! No refunds.

A huge thanks to Go Studios for hosting us for this event! Go Studios is one of the premier rental studios in NYC. Whether you shoot fashion, celebrities, catalogs, still life, food or video, Go Studios will meet your needs.