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Airbnb's Jennifer Hom on building a meaningful career in illustration

Meet Jennifer Hom, Head of Illustration at Airbnb! Today, Jennifer joins us to share her background, how her illustration career took off, and also lend advice to folks looking to start a career in the arts.

Jennifer Hom Jennifer Hom Art director and illustration manager @Airbnb. Formerly illustration manager @Uberdesign, doodler @Google. SF resident with a NY attitude.

I’m Jennifer Hom, an illustrator-turned-illustration manager/art director who’s been marinating in the tech world for a decade. At Airbnb, I lead the illustration team which means I’m the person who guides the rest of the company on the best use of illustration.

How did you break into illustration and land your first job?

My first job in illustration was as a doodler for the Google Doodle team back in 2009. I was lucky enough to speak with them at a recruiting event during my senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design. I thought they were actually looking for engineers and accidentally stepped into RISD instead of Brown University up the hill. Fortunately, I was wrong. Before I met Google, I was applying to more conventional art jobs—like games and animation studios. They all rejected me.

What does being a successful illustrator mean to you?

Haha, being able to pay my bills! I’m very practical about my career and see it as a means to facilitate the kind of life I want. I like to eat, for example. Working as an illustrator/art director allows me to do that so I consider that a job well done.

I now consider it a mark of success to find opportunities for other illustrators to get paid.

The softer side of what I consider success has shifted over the years though—I now consider it a mark of success to find opportunities for other illustrators to get paid. At Airbnb, I advocate for meaningful and continuous use of illustration—building it into the company as an essential part of our brand. I love seeing the work of others contribute to Airbnb’s identity. My team regularly fawns over art coming in from all over the world.

What advice would you give to new illustrators starting out in their career?

Don’t become too precious about what you think you should do in your career. I certainly had a vision for myself when I was in school, and I 100% missed the mark. But I think I ended up in a respectable place! There are two things I believe in for most people:

  1. Seek out internships just to try something out: I tried storyboarding, graphic design, and even entertained art gallery management. It’s like casually dating a career path to see if it’s a good fit for you.
  2. Interview as much as possible: It’s critical to be able to speak about your work and interviews are a great way to practice this. I interviewed for roles I had no real interest in, but it helped me build confidence in a professional setting.

What are some tips you have for designing more inclusive illustrations?

Imagine all of the people outside of your own social circle and use references from authentic sources (i.e. from the people themselves who are in the desired demographic). Don’t work with stock photos when looking for references of people with disabilities—those are staged, cast, and art directed by people who probably don’t live with the portrayed disability. Try looking at Instagram accounts and see how people choose to represent themselves.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?

I’d probably get into fashion considering how much time I spend sewing these days. I’ve also considered becoming a tattoo artist (but needles legitimately scare me).

Fast Facts:

  • Favorite design tool: Procreate
  • What you listen to while you work: My Favorite Murder (SSDGM, kids.)
  • Coffee or tea: Tea
  • Name another illustrator you admire: Sophia Foster-Dimino. I love her personally and professionally.

Want to keep up with Jennifer? Find her on Dribbble, Twitter, and at jenniferhom.com.

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