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Roxbury woman blazes her own path in graphic design field

Kassmin Williams
Roxbury woman blazes her own path in graphic design field
When Roxbury native Sydney Janey lost her job in 2005, she took on freelance projects that lead her to start her own business as a graphic designer. (Photo credit: Sydney Janey Design)

Roxbury native Sydney Janey didn’t have plans to run her own graphic design business when she started her college education studying printmaking and American art history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2001.

However, by the time she wrapped up her education with a graphic design certificate from Massachusetts College of Art in 2008, she found herself doing just that with Sydney Janey Design.

Janey found work as a designer at publishing company Houghton Mifflin after graduating from UMass Amherst in 2004, and started graduate school at Mass. College of Art in 2005.

In 2007, Janey was laid off from her position with Houghton Mifflin. At the time, she was still attending graduate school.

Janey said she looked for work for a period of time, but had no luck due in part to the rocky state of the economy and also due to the lack of racial diversity in the design field in Boston.

“In Boston, there aren’t a lot of black people in the field of design, and with some of the larger firms you get a lot of ‘well, I don’t think you’ll fit into this environment,’ or ‘we don’t think you’ll be comfortable with the office dynamic here,’” Janey said. “So once they saw me, because my name doesn’t always give me away, it was sort of like ‘you have great work, but we don’t know if you’ll fit into the social scene here’ kind of thing.”

After dealing with the challenges of looking for a permanent position, Janey decided to take on freelance design projects as she wrapped up grad school.

“When I finished up [at Mass. College of Art], I started concentrating on trying to make goals and being on my own because I really liked working for myself,” Janey said.

Janey is a few years away from marking 10 years as a local business owner and in that time, Janey said she has had her share of challenges and accomplishments.

“There’s definitely been some major successes and it’s been great for networking and getting out there and meeting people. My family is pretty huge for getting to know people beyond my last name, [it has been helpful],” Janey said. “But it’s also had its downside of doing work and not getting paid.”

One of Janey’s most recent successes was working with the Boston Globe and the Boston Association for Black Journalists for the National Association of Black Journalists’ 39th Annual Convention and Career Fair held in Boston on July 30. Janey said she worked for months to help prepare for the National Association of Black Journalists’ reception and party.

Janey designed all of the graphics for the event including a slideshow that was presented at Fenway covering the history of black journalists dating back to the 1700s, she said.

“It was a lot, but it was very rewarding,” Janey said.

Janey believes that in some experiences her age, 33, and her gender have worked against her. She told the story about a client she had about two years ago who refused to pay her for a rebranding project she completed after receiving the invoice.

“He called me into his office to tell me he needed to school me on the way of business because the way I’m conducting my business isn’t proper. [He said] he wasn’t going to pay the invoice and I’m lucky that he’s even taking the time to explain this to me,” Janey said. “And [he said] because I work in a home office it was ridiculous for me to ask this much and he asked me do I think my work is even worth this much?”

Janey said the conversation could have been different if she was a man.

To cope with the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship, Janey said she views all her experiences, good and bad, as lessons.

Along with running Sydney Janey Design, Janey has also made it a priority to remain involved in the community.

Janey is a member of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee, a member of design organization AIGA Boston and a part of Youth Design, a program that focuses on addressing the socioeconomic needs of urban youth by teaching them design skills.

Janey credits her philanthropic spirit to her family who she said has deep ties in Roxbury.

“It’s just been second nature to be caring about the community I was born into,” Janey said.