It’s 2005. Miley is still just Hannah Montana, cell phones don’t have apps, and blogging is still a mysterious new frontier. Enter Joy Cho, a newly engaged graphic designer looking for a place to share her inspirations after moving to Philadelphia from New York. While on the hunt for a new job, Joy turns to the unknown world of blogging as a way to process this incredible transition in her life.
Fast forward eight years and Joy’s small site has turned into Oh Joy, a powerhouse of design, fashion, and all things good in life. Now in Los Angeles and married with an adorable daughter, Joy is a graphic designer turned blogger turned entrepreneur. She continues to post beautiful moments from her life while also taking on social media projects for notable clients like Target, Anthropologie, and Banana Republic. As if these projects don’t keep her busy enough, Joy’s “Rx” side of her business provides consulting services for companies on portfolio development, brand brainstorming, and more. To top it off she also has her own line of stationery, home office products, baby clothing, and wallpaper. Read on to see how this wonder woman changed the face of lifestyle blogging and graphic design while remaining true to her boutique company roots.
Full name: Joy Cho
Current title/company: Creative Director and Blogger of Oh Joy
Educational background: BFA from Syracuse University with a degree in Communications Design
Blogging since: 2005
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
I moved to New York two weeks after graduation and sent out resumes and my work samples to every company in New York that I was interested in working at. I went on a ton of interviews and ending up getting my first job at a boutique ad agency in New York as my first job. We had all fashion and beauty clients so it really helped to solidify my love of fashion.
Before launching your blog in 2005, you were working with fashion clients at a boutique advertising agency in New York. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What did a day in your life look like then, and what is the biggest difference between your career then and now?
I learned a ton at my first job. It made me realize how much you learn on the job and how different real life is then school. I was a graphic designer there and was assigned to various client projects. Other than that being my first job where I was a junior designer so I didn’t have as much creative control as I do now in my own business, I was also assigned to certain clients and therefore didn’t have as much variety as I do now. The variety of projects is what I thrive on, so being able to do that in my own business is so important to me.
You mentioned you learned exponentially more on the job than you did at school. What specifically did you learn that was so valuable? Also, did you get a chance to intern or work in college or was this job your first job ever?
I think school teaches you a lot of things just in a different way than you do on the job. When you’re working, you have real deadlines, a real client, a real boss, and real expectations that you either meet or you don’t. School helps you to prepare for that in many ways, but you learn how many jobs really go once you’re actually doing them. That’s a reason that I often encourage students to take part in internships and on-site work experience.
I had three internships while in college before graduating. One was at a design firm, one at a magazine, one at a record label. They all showed me what it’s like to work in those types of offices and helped pave the way for what I wanted out of my first post-college job.
You started your blog Oh Joy! in 2005, before blogging became the hugely popular industry that it is now. What prompted you to begin blogging? What was your intention for it when you first began?
That year, I had left my 2nd job in New York to move to Philly for my boyfriend (now my husband). So I was in a new city, newly engaged, and looking for a new job. I started my blog as a place to keep my inspirations during a time when I had a lot of transition. The site slowly became read by more and more people and it helped me to be able to launch my own design studio due to the clients I was getting from folks who read my blog.
You said your blog went from being a private space for you and your inspiration to becoming your own design studio. What happened that allowed for that transition? Traffic? Advertising? Something else entirely?
There was no overnight success with the blog. It gradually started getting more traffic and became the way in which most of my clients found me. At the time, I was freelancing and looking for a new full-time job, but the blog made it such that I was getting a continual stream of freelance clients and was therefore able to turn the freelancing into an actual business full-time.
There was no overnight success with the blog.
You’ve worked with companies like Target, Anthropologie, and Banana Republic on various social media collaborations on your blog. What is it like working with such high caliber clients? What advice would you give to others in the same industry hoping to work with this type of clientele?
When you work with larger clients and companies, it can be really exciting because you get to reach a bigger audience. I started my business and career working with boutique companies—who I love and continue to enjoy working with. So larger companies just provide a nice change and a wider customer base to interact with. I think the biggest thing is to just do your thing and be true to your style. It’s easy to try and change your style in the hopes that a certain customer or client will come your way. But every brand—whether big or small—is looking for you to be uniquely you and will hire you for that reason.
Many of todays entrepreneurs are still in the process of building their portfolios and striving to gain consistent work – would you ever recommend working for free?
Yes, I would definitely recommend it. We all have to start somewhere. I did a lot of free (or cheap) work when I was starting my business and trying to grow my portfolio. Once you build up momentum, you don’t have to work for cheap forever, but it can be a great way to work with companies you believe in who may not have a ton of money and you both win by working together to build something new and amazing.
With so many blogs popping up every day, what’s the best advice you can offer new bloggers to set themselves apart?
Stay true to what you are interested in and what you want to share with the world. It can be tempting to see what successful bloggers post and try and follow what they do, but the world doesn’t need more blogs that are similar to what already exists. Create what’s you and find what makes you different than everyone else. I know it’s easier said than done, but remember that everyone has something to share and that can inspire others.
Your brand has developed many facets since it launched, including the Oh Joy! Studio services, products ranging from wallpaper to baby clothes, writing, and business and brand consulting services. What prompted you to continue to add on and expand your brand in such a varied way? How much time do you allocate to each part of your business, and in what ways would you still like to see your brand evolve?
My business definitely evolved over time into areas I never planned on but I grew to love and wanted to expand into. I started my business with the intention on combining my favorite parts of my last two jobs.
With so many to hats to wear, how do you support each facet of your business effectively? How many people are on your team currently, and when did you feel ready to begin the hiring process?
I’ve changed the type of staff I’ve had a lot over the past several years. I started with interns during the early days of my business. Then for a handful of years, I worked mostly with freelance contributors for my blog. Then, last year, I decided to go back to blogging by myself and no longer had regular contributors posting. Now, I’ve found the best balance that works best for my business. I have freelancers who help with content I am creating for my blog (photographer, videographer, illustrator, etc. when needed). And I have three employees who are on site who help with either design projects, video projects, or day-to-day business. I am the only one who posts to my blog, but I have an amazing team of people who help me create the final product for the content I blog.
Time Magazine featured Oh Joy! as one of the top websites in the “Design 100” issue. What did it feel like to see your blog including in such a highly esteemed news source? What about Oh Joy! would you attribute to gaining this type of recognition?
It was truly an honor. I don’t think I took my blog that seriously back then, and getting that kind of recognition really made me grasp that people were reading it.
You’ve lived New York City, Philadelphia, and now Los Angeles. What are your favorite things from each city, and how did you adjust with each move?
Nothing beats New York, it has the most electricity of any city I’ve ever lived in. I love that it’s always awake and full of excitement. Philly is my hometown and will also have a special place in my heart.
Keep working hard, and stop worrying about things you can’t control.
Philly is the best food city I’ve ever lived in, hands-down. I went from hating LA to loving it. The weather is beyond amazing, and full of so many things that Los Angeles is whatever you make of it.
Best moment of your career so far?
The best is yet to come. Stay tuned for my dream project coming out next year. ; )
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Keep working hard, and stop worrying about things you can’t control.