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.