Valencia grad Tony Ray remembers the first time he saw his work on the digital billboards near London’s Waterloo station. “It was surreal, seeing the cars whiz by our ad. I almost couldn’t believe it.”
Ray, 24, is one of two graphic designers for Urban Massage, a rapidly expanding mobile massage platform with offices in London, Paris and Vienna. Together they manage the visual direction of the company, interacting with employees across departments and countries to push international ad campaigns.
Since joining the company in March 2016, Ray’s work has been featured at tube stops, double-decker busses, large digital billboards, and in printed media across London. In Paris, his designs have hopped onto over 1,000 buses and entertained the glances of metro riders across the city.
While Ray says it’s his most exciting job thus far, it certainly isn’t his first. After getting his A.S. in graphic design from Valencia in 2013, Ray was in a full-time job within weeks, working at BrandCo, designing custom websites for over 200 clients. Before that, he had internships with local printers Mama’s Sauce, and Valencia’s own Public Affairs and Marketing department. Two years into his salary job – after years of growing up and living in Orlando – Ray gained a wanderlust that had been building for some time.
Ray first became enchanted with London as a boy, on a family trip in 2003. Blessed with dual citizenship in the USA and United Kingdom – Ray’s mother was born in the British territory of Bermuda while his grandfather was stationed there with the Air Force – the young graphic designer decided to move there in December of 2015. Getting past the initial culture shock, as he got better acquainted with the bustle, his appreciation for the city only strengthened.
“As far as cities go, I don’t think there is anywhere quite like London,” Ray says. “A lot of people compare it to NYC, but London is a beacon for east and west on all sides. In my company alone, you’ll find people from all across the world – just a handful of our staff is London-born. And out in the street, you will hear six different languages spoken on the same block.”
While Ray is, no doubt, enjoying the cosmopolitan setting of his current position, it doesn’t come without the job stress one might expect when working for a fast-growing company. But it’s a challenge that the young professional is taking in stride, building on a strong foundation that goes back to his time at Valencia College.
Ray credits Valencia professor Jason Ellison, professor of an exceptionally difficult portfolio class, and Kristy Pennino, program chair for graphic and interactive design, as teachers who challenged him to be better.
“My time at Valencia was invaluable for preparing me for the realities of the global job market,” Ray says. “The skills and industry standards instilled in me were a dominant factor in the competence I’ve been able to demonstrate in my field… I am grateful for the time I spent at Valencia and the amazing teachers who instilled in me a strong desire to always do the best work I am capable of.”
With many of his classmates at Boone heading straight to state universities and private colleges, Valencia might not have been an obvious choice for Ray. Both of his parents are architects, and they always encouraged him and his brother, Alex, to pursue creative interests rather taking the oft-suggested doctor/lawyer path, says Ray. Both children attended the Crealde Art School in Winter Park for two summers his early teen years. Alex, who is now a freelance illustrator, went on to earn a BFA at Flagler College in St. Augustine. When Tony graduated, he chose to attend Valencia straightaway, coaxed by family members who endorsed the community college in more ways than one. Their father, Andy Ray, is the program chair for Building Construction Technology, and encouraged his son to apply to the East Campus program.
“So many kids are convinced that going to a $10K/year school is the only way to go,” says the young Ray.
“I enjoyed my time at Valencia. I really dig everything they have going on, and I’m grateful for everything that I learned when I was there.”
Now that Ray is in the workforce, his advice to current students is to “take the lessons you learn at Valencia to heart and understand that you WILL be using this knowledge in the real world.”
As Ray continues to build on the design knowledge acquired in the classroom and in the various posts of his young career, he is working on projects that explore an exciting new frontier in graphic design – the use of analytics to integrate user interface design of the company’s app with user experience.
“You can see what people are reading, touching, and more importantly and when they lose interest,” says Ray. “Something you thought was really effective could be of no interest to your audience, and that is eye-opening.”
For someone in the business of opening eyes, Ray is doubtless excited by the new direction. Wherever the young graphic designer goes next in this journey, it will be hard to dispute that he’s making the most of the $6,000 A.S. degree. It’s proof that focus in the classroom coupled with a little courage to step out of one’s comfort zone can bring a vision to reality.
“A lot of people told me ‘you’re really brave going over there,’ Ray recalls. “Looking back on it, I think it was more that I was dumb. There were ways I could’ve been smarter about it, but the insight and experiences I’ve had since landing here I wouldn’t trade for the world.”