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How I Became a Designer: The Full Story of ATNN

My journey from full-time college student to self-taught brand designer, studio owner, and course creator.

March 14, 2024

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I think it’s about time that I share one of my most commonly asked questions: how’d you get your start?

(If you’re more of an auditory learner, there’s a podcast episode you can listen to below in case you don’t want to read it)

Pre-Design Era 

My academic background is originally in English Literature, specifically Multiethnic Literature and Asian American Literature. I didn’t start out my college journey in this major—it just sort of found me. I’m from the south and was raised by a single mom, so I always had my sights set on the flashy child of immigrant dream jobs like doctor, lawyer, engineer, professor…I had the extreme luck of getting into Princeton University, and I started out my freshman year as a pre-med student! I did well enough in those classes, but my mind and life felt more full when I started to engage in extracurriculars (particularly creative ones).

Most of my social life came from my hip hop dance company that I joined that semester. It was a rookie thing that I fell into and ended up having the best time of my life! I met my best friend and formed a relationship with Black culture that I was previously not exposed to. I took up a position in the company as the publicity chair, which meant I was in charge of creating all of our marketing materials for our shows. This position forced me to create posters and flyers and digital graphics, and thus my design journey was ignited!

Side-Hustle Semester

I started to do graphic design as a hobby and as a source of additional income, while also studying as a full-time student. What’s important about me being pre-med and then discovering English is that it illustrates a trend in my life: I always think I know what’s coming ahead, but while I’m looking away, my small passions end up becoming my life’s work.

You see, I became an English major because we’re required to take a variety of courses in different subjects, and for my literary analysis credit I chose an Asian American literature course that changed my life. I had never really thought too long and hard about what it meant to be Asian American—as an active identity that I chose to embrace. This course opened my eyes to the world of color; I learned how words, images, symbols, and stories written by marginalized folk read and felt different from the words of White authors. I had never felt so seen. I resisted being this major for a long time because it wasn’t practical and wasn’t in the plan, but as soon as I gave in, I knew it was the right choice.

The same exact story goes for my graphic design story.

COVID 🤝 My Career

I started ATNN Design (fka Alyssa Nguyen Design) in the Spring of 2020 after sh* t hit the fan. All of my extracurricular activities were in-person, so I had all this time and nothing to fill it with—and thus, my design business was born. I started out as a freelancer, taking odd jobs from anyone via Facebook groups, friends’ referrals, school alumni, and even Upwork (I know lol).

I figured everything out through lots of trial and error and endless consumption of literally anything I could find on the internet. It took me about a full 9 months of figuring things out before I got the swing of things and started to book branding clients via my own Instagram account. I always considered taking a course, but they were too intimidating for me at the time, so I stuck it out and did it the internet-hermit way.

(P.S. I created a design course with everything I wish I learned when I was starting out and it’s been renovated this year! Join the waitlist to learn about the launch this summer)

Going Full-Time

As time went on, I started to legitimize myself! Think proper invoicing, project management, proposals, etc. I did this for a full year (so end of Junior year into my Senior year) before I decided to forego a “stable” job and jump into running ATNN Design full time. My background at Princeton, reading and consuming tons and tons of material about multiethnic characters and media, didn’t go to waste though! As I started to niche down and figure out my footing, I realized that my innate passion for these communities and subjects bled into my brand interests. Also, my experiences in college, like the Black Arts Dance Co. and Asian American Studies classes, made me feel so safe and seen. And so, that’s how I ended up becoming a design studio focused on centering BIPOC, Women, and Queer-led brands and creating a place where their voices and values would be respected.

So yeah, that’s my story! If you made it this long, you deserve a hug. Here you go.

Listen to the Podcast Episode