October 05, 2011

Mimi Phan: By Her Own Designs

Mimi Phan

Mimi Phan can sometimes take a while to respond to questions. But it’s not because she’s nervous or is at a loss for words. She just likes to really think about what she’s going to say and how she wants to say it.

“I get made fun of a lot in [my] office because I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “I’m very tough on myself. I’m always struggling with myself because I want the best product.”

As a child growing up in Lynn, Mass., she always had a passion for art in all mediums–from drawing and painting to graphic design and photography. But when it came time to choose a career path, her practical mind wouldn’t let her pursue a career in the arts. At least, not initially.

It took earning a degree in economics from Tufts University and spending a year helping banks trade commercial and real estate loans in the Financial District for Phan to realize she had had enough of finance. To clear her head, she spent a year-and-a-half in her sister’s ceramics studio in Virginia, hoping that a break would help her figure out what she wanted to do. After carefully thinking it through, she decided to go back to school and pursue art, and enrolled at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts to study graphic and web design.

She found the perfect combination of practicality and creativity at her current job as a web and multimedia design specialist at Wentworth, where she designs and codes websites for the school.

“The internet is still kind of in its infancy,” she said. “Part of what I have to do is stay on top of all the [internet] trends, so I have to constantly challenge myself to learn all this new stuff.”

Now that she’s tapped into her creative gift, she can’t seem to stop–not even in her free time. She has her own freelance web design business, where she designs sites for mostly nonprofits, as well as entrepreneurs–a side-business that was her full-time job before Wentworth.

“I like web design because it’s a tool to get organizations and people known. I like working with [nonprofits] because [websites are] a good tool to get their message across,” she said. “I also like to work with other artists because that’s how I started, so I like to help them get their work shown.”

Phan attributes her motivation and sensibility to her peers in the Web community and to her family’s immigrant story. A soldier in the South Vietnamese Army, her father escaped Communist Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and found his way to Boston, and her mother and sisters joined him shortly thereafter. Mimi was born a year later, the first of her family to be born in the U.S.

“It’s so cliché, but my family, we came from very humble beginnings. I think that keeps me very grounded in what I do. I’m just grateful that we’re here at all,” she said.

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