Students in field

Art & Design Alumni, Robert & Stephanie Lake (’07), Provide Unique Freelancing Opportunity for Students

August 27, 2019

Robert & Stephanie Lake

For Robert Lake (BFA, ’07), design has always been an important part of his life.

“I grew up liking art and drawing, and when I got to high school, I was unsure of what direction to go,” said Lake. “I began looking into Finlandia’s Industrial and Product Design program and decided to come here because I liked to draw vehicles.”

For Lake, the small class sizes and opportunities to work on projects enhanced his learning experience.

“I was really happy with the size of the classes and having teachers give me one-on-one attention,” said Lake. “I did a couple projects for guy locally that had a vehicle that would raise and lower to the ground a certain way for wheelchairs.”

Despite his love of vehicles, Lake said the professors challenged him to focus on other kinds of design.

“I was stubborn, but eventually got to a point where I would like to do a few other designs,” said Lake. “For instance, in furniture design you can add elements of automobiles.”

Although he had obtained numerous experiences in design while in college, Lake graduated in 2007, right before the economy fell, which made finding a job challenging.

“I got quite a few interviews, and I kept applying to studio jobs and thinking ‘I should get this job’”, said Lake.

One such interview was with Wilson’s Sporting Goods in Chicago in the racket division.

“They contacted me Wednesday night and needed me to be there Thursday morning,” said Lake. “They said the tickets were at the airport so I got a plane and went for an entire day long interview.”

Lake waited six months before the company replied and said they had gone in another direction. Fortunately for him, Wilson’s rejection was a blessing in disguise.

“A week after they told me no, everything fell with the economy,” said Lake. “I probably would have been the first one let go and I told my wife it turned out to be good for us.”

Eventually, Lake landed a job at Robbin Sport Surfaces in Ishpeming where he works as a Computerized Numerical Control Operator. Fortunately with the rise of the freelance industry, Lake has continued with his design projects. As the freelance industry grew online, so did opportunities to join platforms that directly connected companies with freelancers in a number of different industries. On these sites, freelancers apply for projects that the companies post and then the company selects one freelancer to complete the task. Freelancers get to set their project or hourly rates, providing a great deal of autonomy.

Lake was introduced to one such company, UpWork, by Michigan Tech Smart Zone’s Smart Start Program. With the help of their advisers, he set up an agency on the site called Up.Top Designs. Today, Lake and his wife, Stephanie (Graphic Design, ’07), run the agency together. Stephanie serves as a business manager for Up.Top Designs and also owns Lake MarKing, a laser engraving business in Ishpeming.

“I got on the platform and waited three months before I got my first project,” said Robert. “I still have that same client to this day.”

While he’s worked on a number of different projects, he’s best known for trailer brake controllers.

“I don’t know how many trailer brake controllers I’ve designed,” said Robert. “Right now, I have six projects I’m working and three proposals that are out. I am constantly looking for work and working at the same time.”

Creating freelancing Opportunities

For the Lakes, the opportunity to provide students with a similar experience that he had is of great importance.

“I was given two jobs in college and didn’t realizse what I was doing or what they meant to my future,” said Robert. “You don’t realize how important it is to get this experience at 20-years-old.”

In Spring 2019, Robert dropped by FinnU’s art and design program and met with students to offer them a unique opportunity: join Lake’s agency, Up.Top Designs.

“Stephanie and I are experienced with design and can be mentors to them,” said Robert. “As the agency keeps moving up, more people will see us and we’ll get more work, which gives everyone time to grow.”

“It was very informational to learn about another way to start building myself professionally,” senior Graphic Design major Denia Bent said. “Meeting with him helped me to gain more understanding of the business side of my career. I hope to join his agency this fall semester so I can kick start my career.”

The Lakes aren’t just looking for product designers either. Students with experience in marketing, graphic design and other fields are welcome to join his team. When Robert met with students in the spring, he was amazed at how advanced their work was and their thought processes behind their portfolio pieces.

“Some of the pieces these students showed me looked like they were done by a professional and could be hanging up in an advertising agency,” said Robert. “I was extremely impressed by the quality items they were producing. “You may not be able to find projects in the UP to work on, but this platform allows you to do it because there are projects all over the world.”

Next Steps:

The Lakes are still looking for creative individuals that may be be interested in trying their hand at freelancing. Please contact them uptopdesignsllc@gmail.com to find out more.

Learn more about Finlandia’s Integrated Design Program.

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