How a graphic design alumna is using the mantra engrained in her mind as an undergraduate to her role with a popular online fashion service.
It’s not too often that you hear a Penn State alumna say that she came to Happy Valley because it reminded her of her small, Catholic high school in her native Puerto Rico. But that’s exactly why 2018 graphic design alumna Mále Reguero decided to come to University Park rather than attending design schools in Savannah, Georgia or New York City.
With a class size averaging around 20 students, the Penn State program offered Reguero what she knew she needed — the kind of mentorship, encouragement and attention that she received from her art teacher in the private all-girls school she attended back in San Juan.
It was there that her art teacher — who was a graphic designer herself — noticed that Reguero and a few other students were interested in learning more about making a career out of art. In response, that teacher started a graphic design elective.
“After taking that course, I attended a summer architecture camp and pretty much realized that architecture was not for me,” laughed Reguero. “But a graphic designer came to the camp as a lecturer and I was completely blown away. It was the best of both worlds — I could have more creative freedom while solving specific client problems.”
'Big time' experience, personalized education
When it came time to apply to colleges, Reguero was looking for an experience to mimic her time in high school — a tight community-like setting with only around 100 students in her graduating class. It was her school counselor that encouraged Reguero to take a look at Penn State’s Graphic Design program, so she decided to visit campus just to get a glimpse at a “typical American college setting,” she said.
She was not intending to fall in love with University Park during that visit the spring of her senior year — but that’s exactly what happened, .
“I knew that if I was going to move so far away from my home and family to go to school in the United States, Penn State was the place for me,” said Reguero.
When she first arrived on campus Reguero felt a bit overwhelmed with the sheer number of other students and the size of the campus, but she felt at home before long. She joined the Puerto Rican Student Association, got involved with THON, and became heavily invested in the student-run Design Association, even serving as president her senior year.
“I was getting the ‘big time’ college experience while also getting a very personalized education,” she said.
Reguero credits, among others, Associate Professor Ryan Russell and Kristin Sommese, who recently retired and is now an emeritus professor, with shaping her experience as a designer at Penn State.
“Ryan was the first person to really treat us like adults. He would throw us into projects head first and expected a lot out of us,” she said. “He held us accountable, but he was also very supportive and encouraged us to be ourselves in our work. He expected a lot and was demanding and but that just made me work even harder to try to impress him.”
Sommese, Reguero says, served as a mentor and guide during her junior and senior years, and that guidance was present even outside the classroom.
“She would notice if we weren’t acting like our usual selves and would reach out by saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Let’s talk. You’re not performing as well in class so let’s find a solution together,’” said Reguero. “It really meant a lot to have someone who was concerned about us as people, too, not just as students with deadlines.”
At the end of her third year — when graphic design students start an internship program that places them in a professional working environment — Reguero set out for New York City as an intern with Rent the Runway (RTR), a popular online service for renting designer dresses and accessories. Between her previous internship experiences in Puerto Rico and her Penn State education, she was ready to put her skills to work.
It was that experience that led Reguero to her current full-time position as a junior designer on the RTR user interface and user experience team. In her position, she works to ensure customers have a positive experience. She also helps design marketing assets for the company such as emails, company swag and posters.
With no previous experience, or schooling, in user interface, Reguero admits she was nervous stepping into her first full-time position but has since been thriving.
“I just focused on making the customer happy, as I had been taught, and things started to take shape for me," she said.
She was also a major player in the launch of the RTR Kids campaign, where she was able to put both her Penn State training and her own creative impulses to work. Samples of Reguero’s work can be found on her website.
“It was a great project because it was a new facet of the company and it wasn’t like anything we had done before,” she said. “The whole campaign was more colorful and playful since it’s a service geared toward kids and really, I was told to take the idea and run with it.”
'Work hard and be nice.'
Reguero admits there are some challenging aspects to working as a graphic designer — such as the constant battle to stay relevant, not just visually, but also technically — but she said the feeling of pride she gets when she knows an audience instantly connects with a project keeps her excited for her future.
“It can be stressful to have to learn new software and programs constantly but by learning new things, we are opening up new opportunities for ourselves,” she said.
Reguero said being able to pivot, adapt to your surroundings and accept criticism are all important traits for graphic designers, all of which she was able to learn and practice while at Penn State.
“User interface wasn’t taught when I was at Penn State, but it wasn’t really a big deal because our instructors really had us focus on putting the client – or in my case, the user – first,” she said.
Reguero recalls a time when she had to design a printed menu (seen here) during her time at Penn State. She can still hear Sommese encouraging her to think about how people were going to grab the menu, where they would put their hands first and how that should influence the design.
“That type of thinking translates to user interface. ‘How will customers navigate specific and focused actions, what will draw their eye first, how do we optimize what we are communicating?’ All of these questions have the same goal, which is to ensure the customer navigates our product with ease,” she said.
Her parting words to new graphic design students are what Reguero herself has found to have worked in her journey thus far: “Work hard and be nice.”
She added one last bit of advice to rising designers: “When you feel like you’ve failed or haven’t been true to yourself, always, always get back up, change directions and try again.”