Alumni Stories: Noel Danforth ’85 on Working as an Independent Graphic Designer

Position: Principal, Gold Star Studios/Independent Graphic Design Professional 

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Description of what you do: I am a graphic designer. I use visual communication (design) skills to design and develop a broad range of materials for my clients. You can see some of my work on my website:

Major at Dartmouth:

What is most satisfying about your current work? 
Being fulfilled by what I do each day. Design exposes you to so many of life’s currents and allows you to use your intuition to explore.  I have variously fallen in love with different aspects of my design practice: form, color, typography, layout, my tools and my current obsession—my camera. I’ve been exploring the idea of seeing and perspective through the camera lens.  

The beauty of a career in design is that there are so many possibilities and if you like learning (most liberal arts students do) it’s a great field as it is continues to evolve and there are always new things to learn. When I started my career in graphic design the computer was a relatively new tool for designers; with the computer and of course the web, many new areas of design practice have been born. 

What’s the best way to enter your field? Any essential elements of preparation? 
There are various ways to obtain the background you need to be a designer and it’s a multifaceted field with many specializations. My advice is to research what type of design you’d ultimately like to practice and to have that information direct your educational path. Pick a school and culture that aligns with your goals. The traditional path is to attend a BFA or MFA program. Ultimately an MFA is the best route if you’d like to teach design. 

When I started looking into a career in design, I was initially disheartened as it seemed the best approach was a BFA and that I had, in a sense, “missed the boat” and an MFA seemed beyond my reach not having any background in design nor a portfolio. After researching the possibilities open to me and considering school locations, finances and work prospects I decided to take a less traditional path. I attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s graphic design certificate program, an evening program, and gained work experience by day. Before entering the program I took design courses to see if pursuing design studies was something I really wanted, and I was able to build a portfolio to gain entrance. A portfolio allows potential employers/design schools to assess your design skills.  It is a reflection of you and your work, and a good portfolio is a necessity when you start looking for work or are seeking to gain admission to a design program.

What advice would you give to others seeking opportunities in graphic design?
For exploring the field I recommend taking courses in design at an art college. This will expose you to the design skills you need to develop, the culture of art schools, and allow you to start building a portfolio. Once you have developed a portfolio you can apply to a design program and/or start looking for work. Personally I found attending an evening program and gaining work experience simultaneously to be very rewarding; I was able to immediately put my new skills into practice. Design is about practice, the more you do the better you get.

Can you tell us about your experiences in different work environments as a graphic designer? Which has been your favorite?
I have worked in-house for educational institutions, financial services companies, a medium-sized design firm, and an in-house advertising agency. I enjoyed all these experiences to different degrees and I learned something from each environment. One distinction often made in the design world is working in-house as opposed to working independently or as a freelancer. All have their advantages; for me it comes down to personal preference and that can change over the course of your career. Having this varied background is what allowed me to start my own practice. It enabled me to broaden the scope of my portfolio and develop a network for future work opportunities. Running my own small practice suits me now and is my current favorite.

How would you recommend students who are interested in freelancing get into the field?
A freelance design career is something that develops over time and doing good work is the best marketing tool. If your work is good, clients will become repeat customers and new clients will seek you out. To start out you must be armed with a strong portfolio then you can either introduce yourself to prospective clients/employers or seek out an agency that specializes in connecting employers with temporary design help. This latter approach is an excellent way to see different work environments and to explore what type of work you might enjoy as a practice long-term. 

What do you do to keep your practice/perspective fresh and evolving?
I enjoy experimenting in different media; this gets me away from my computer and allows me to access different thought pathways for problem solving. I believe design is about keeping open and developing a keen eye. Also, I find it important to remind myself in a more tactile way why I love what I do. Picking up another media and working with color, shape and texture in an intuitive way helps me to connect to less directed problem-solving. Whether it’s drawing, painting, sewing, or beading, I love to work in a way that allows more freedom for my intuition to connect with an unconscious flow. We all carry ideas around that sometimes need a little coaxing into the light.

How has Dartmouth supported you in your career development?
Dartmouth’s dedication to undergraduate liberal arts is legend, the broad spectrum and depth of course offerings allows students many lens on the world. Design is a big picture field, it’s everywhere and in everything, the more of the world you understand the better you will be at your practice. Though my design skills are essential to my practice the underlying skills are from the liberal arts: having a broad knowledge-base from sciences to languages, the ability to problem solve and communicate clearly, having curiosity and discipline, and a love of learning. Dartmouth serves these up in spades.

Career Blitz: Non-Profit & Common Good



1. Olga Gruss Lewin Post-Graduate Fellowship – DEADLINE: 4/4/12
2. Immigration Legal Services Program Assistant (Entry-Level)(Boston) – DEADLINE: 3/9/12
3. “Constituent Today, Staff Tomorrow” (Web Article)
4. The Riley Guide: Non-Profits, Associations, Foundations & Think Tanks (Web-Resource)
5. Bicycle Advocacy Design Internship – Transportation Alternatives (New York)
6. Genetic Alliance Internship Program – Genetic Alliance (Washington, DC) – DEADLINE: 3/25/12

1. Olga Gruss Lewin Post-Graduate Fellowship – DEADLINE: 4/4/12
The Olga Gruss Lewin Post-Graduate Fellowship supports graduates who have proven leadership in the Dartmouth community and who are pursuing significant acts of citizenship and service to others. For information, visit:

2. Immigration Legal Services Program Assistant (Entry-Level)(Boston) – DEADLINE: 3/9/12
The Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, MA is seeking an entry-level Program Assistant that will support the Immigration Legal Service department and liaise with Haitian clients and other community-based organizations. Must be fluent in Haitian Creole and familiar with Haitian culture.

3. “Constituent Today, Staff Tomorrow” (Web Article)
Interested in working for a non-profit or in a “Common Good” organization after finishing up at Dartmouth? Learn about what hiring managers have to say about connecting the dots to that first position in a non-profit or common good organization by reading “Constituent Today, Staff Tomorrow” at

4. The Riley Guide: Non-Profits, Associations, Foundations & Think Tanks (Web-Resource)
Let’s face it, internship and job searching is tough work. Wouldn’t it be great if someone just make it easy and put resources all in one place? The Riley Guide for Non-Profits, Associations, Foundations & Think Tanks does just that:

5. Bicycle Advocacy Design Internship – Transportation Alternatives (New York)
Design-related internship experience with New York’s leading transportation advocacy organization. Great way to employ graphic or web-design skills in an environmentally and socially responsible mission-focused opportunity.

6. Genetic Alliance Internship Program – Genetic Alliance (Washington, DC) – DEADLINE: 3/25/12
Genetic Alliance is a nonprofit health advocacy organization committed to transforming health through genetics. Genetic Alliance internship program offers opportunities in: Library Science, Health Policy, Translational Research, Public Health Genomics, Social Media, and Non-Profit Management.


Career Blitz: Arts

  1. Visual Artist Opportunity right here at Dartmouth with “Hands On Pianos”.
  2. NBC News Associates program:  NBC News NetworkSports
  3. Journalism Intern: NY Sportimes
  4. Graphic Design Intern (Vector Illustration/Interface Design):  Learning Today, Inc.
  5. Production/Promotions Internship:  CW Twin Cities
  6. The ‘Art of Idealism’ Art Contest: 
  7. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.:  Post-Grad & Undergraduate positions available.

 1.  Visual Artist Opportunity right here at Dartmouth!

New Visual Artist Deadline: March 9, 2012. The Hop and AVA Gallery have extended the deadline for visual artists, both professional and nonprofessional, who would like to paint or otherwise visually transform a donated piano. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni are all encouraged to participate!

Download RFP and application:  For more info about Hands on Pianos, visit or blitz Hop Outreach or call 646-2158.

2.  NBC News Associates program:  Application will be closed on Friday March 16 at 5 PM EST.

The NBC News Associates program is a fast-track opportunity for people with the goal to learn news gathering and production skills. With the same one-time application, you are automatically considered for NBC’s Owned Television Stations group’s News Associates Program! Therefore, 7 will be selected for NBC News Network, and 10 for NBC’s Owned Television Stations group!  To apply:

3.  Sports Journalism Intern for NY Sportimes – June & July 2012.  Candidate should have a journalism background with experience developing various types of written media. Ability to work quickly and accurately in a team environment. For the full posting see:

4.  Graphic Design Intern (Vector Illustration/Interface Design) Learning Today, Inc is looking for someone who can take on the challenge of giving educational information an edgy ‘feel’ so it looks exciting and entices the user. Awareness of teenage trends and understanding how to visually cater to a target market is also very helpful.

5.  Production/Promotions Internship. The CW Twin Cities is currently seeking interns interested in gaining hands-on production experience! This is an exciting opportunity to get your work seen and develop your writing, shooting, and editing skills while you experience first-hand how a television station operates.

6.  The ‘Art of Idealism’ Art Contest.  Submissions must be made by March 15, 2012. Help us create the first art edition of our Founding Stories Book that will give new life to the stories for City Corps members who are serving in some of the highest-need schools across the country, and for the staff and community that supports them.

7.  Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. – Digial Media/Graphics/Design positions available.

  1.  Post-Grad Opportunity:  Turner Sports’ NCAA Digital group offers college graduates and post-graduate students an opportunity to learn “on-the-job” with an 11-month internship focusing on digital media.
  2. Internship Opportunities:  The Students@Work Internship Program provides on-the-job experience to student volunteers. Apply for internships in Atlanta, outside of Atlanta or abroad.

For more information on the Arts Career Field, please visit: