By Katherine Mosqueira
For many undergraduate students nearing the end of their fourth year, graduating college and entering the real world feels daunting and uncertain. For others, the future after college is clear. UC Santa Barbara alumna Julia Marsh is one of those grads who was ready to forge her way to professional success after building the necessary skills while completing her undergraduate degree. Today, she is a successful graphic designer and graduate student in New York, preparing for a future in a field she loves.
Marsh is a 24-year-old from Carmel, a small town on the coast of Northern California. Her college journey started in 2011. While she loved art, she thought it was too impractical a field to pursue as a career so she chose to study writing. In her freshman year, Marsh decided to apply for a job at The Daily Nexus, the student run newspaper on campus. She became fast friends with the design director at the paper, who convinced her to take an available position working in layout. Within a few short months, she took over the role of design director.
“It was at this point that I fell completely in love with design and realized this is how I would spend my life,” Marsh recalls. “I’d always been very artistic, but design, not art, is the perfect mixture of beauty and function.”
She began to study design on her own time and started to develop her own style. Designers Stefan Sagmeister -- known for his album cover art for OK Go, Aerosmith, and Lou Reed -- and Jessica Hische, a lettering artist, were particularly inspiring. “Everything they touch truly becomes magical,” she said, adding that the work of these artists helped guide her through her undergraduate education, which didn’t offer design as part of its curriculum.
Marsh graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in German and Professional Writing with an emphasis in Multimedia. In a recent interview, she revealed that one of the main reasons she loved studying English at UCSB was because of the eccentric enthusiasm the professors radiated. She specifically mentioned that Enda Duffy remains one of the most unique professors she had during her undergraduate education, using the words “darling” and “dramatic” to describe him. Her adoration for her professors did not go unreciprocated. “Julia is a creative and intelligent woman, a brilliant presence in class,” Professor Duffy said.
Marsh also made friends within the English program who eventually helped her launch her career. She and her friend Natalie O’Brien restarted The Catalyst, a student-run literary magazine in January 2014 after a six-year hiatus. “Julia was part of a group of students who revived the English Department and The Catalyst to make it one of the most exciting arts magazines produced in an American university,” Professor Duffy added. Marsh also added the Multimedia Professional Writing minor to her studies because it was the closest she could get to studying design at UCSB.
Madeleine Sorapure, Director of the Writing Program at UC Santa Barbara, had the opportunity to teach and work closely with Marsh throughout her undergraduate career, especially with Marsh’s participation in the professional writing minor. With some of Marsh’s work displayed in frames on the wall of her office, Sorapure said, “Julia is very talented and a pleasure to work with. One of the most impressive things about her is that she took advantage of every opportunity possible to improve as a graphic designer while she was here.” Sorapure praised Marsh’s originality. “She designs some crazy stuff. She has a different, creative way of approaching things and thought outside of the box,” Sorapure said.
Aside from her studies, Marsh maintained four to five graphic design jobs for the entire she was an undergraduate -- many of which were connected to UCSB. Not including The Daily Nexus position and The Catalyst, Marsh spent a year as the Art Director at WORD Magazine, an Isla Vista arts and culture publication. Outside of design work, she was also a member of the university’s only all-female a cappella group, VocalMotion, for four years and she was on the UCSB Mock Trial team for two years. These positions made her passion for design skyrocket.
After graduating from UCSB with these art and design roles under her belt, Marsh went to work as the creative director for a startup company in San Francisco, called Brandless, an American e-commerce company that manufactures and sells food, household, and personal products. “I picked up a contract gig for Brandless as their first in-house graphic designer. There I created everything from content for social media to email design to landing pages to how-to videos and beyond.” While this position was a fantastic learning experience, Marsh still planned on going to graduate school and decided to leave the startup.
She is now based in New York, living in Brooklyn as a graduate student working toward an MFA in Design at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. When asked if she missed California, she said she barely had time to think about it. “I’m so completely in love with this city and all the opportunities it offers,” Marsh said of New York. “The people here are so friendly, driven, creative, and fun-seeking. And I’m so inundated with work that it’s impossible to dwell too much on homesickness.”
She has just wrapped up her first semester of the two-year program, which she says is so intense and competitive that she has no time outside of school right now. A typical day at the studio consists of working on various projects such as illustrations for a book, drafting sketches for a new brand identity, painting and hand-lettering for a poster, editing video for a documentary and many more skills. “I usually have one to two classes with some of the most inspiring designers and they offer critiques of our work,” she said.
Marsh often fantasizes about doing large-scale installation work where people get to interact with the project. She’s already had some experience doing this. “Recently, I completed a project where I built giant typographical structures spelling the words ‘Take Care. ’ I filled the structures with hundreds of boxes of Brandless tampons and panty liners, and gave them out for free in the front of the New York Public Library,” she recounted. “This kind of positive, socially-charged, physical work is what I’m really interested in right now.”
Within five years, Marsh hopes she will be on her way to opening her own small design studio. If not, she wouldn’t mind working for a design firm of around 20 people, she said. “If it means I can play the role of creative director and have the freedom to roam among many different projects, countries, and mediums, I’ll be happy.”
Katherine Mosqueira is a fourth year Film and Media Studies major with a minor in Multimedia Communication Writing at UC Santa Barbara.