North Island College alumna Marlee Pestell is breaking into the world of branding and design thanks to skills developed in NIC’s Communication Design diploma program. (Photo submitted)

Comox Valley artist expands horizons through North Island College’s DIGITAL Design department

Submitted by NIC

North Island College alumna Marlee Pestell is breaking into the world of branding and design with digital skills that will allow her to work from anywhere in the world.

Pestell was no stranger to art and creativity before enrolling in NIC’s communication design diploma program.

The Emily Carr University of Art + Design grad had already earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts, as well as a studio art diploma from Capilano University. And she had also carved her own niche as an artist, selling watercolour and acrylic paintings to patrons on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, in addition to a day job working for a Vancouver ceramics studio.

But Pestell discovered there was something missing from her career.

“I identified as an artist most of my life, and my mom is an artist, but it wasn’t until I started at NIC that I realized there was a bit of a disconnect with how I make art.”

“I was creating art that was pretty, but I wanted something more purposeful,” she added.

Pestell found that ‘something’ a few years later. While working at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, she was impressed by the design work of one of her co-workers, who had graduated from NIC’s DIGITAL Design + Development department.

“I found myself drawn to that type of work,” she said. “That’s when I realized I needed to learn Photoshop and the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite and the coding and all the rest of it,” she said.

Pestell registered in NIC’s communication design diploma in 2018. When she and her classmates graduated this past spring, they entered into the industry armed with essential tools to thrive in the industry.

Pestell also learned how to use applications such as Sketch, Invision and WordPress, as well as work with HTML and CSS coding.

As part of her final project at NIC, she designed an entire branding package for fictional company Jungle Vodka, including packaging, logos, a brand guidelines book, collateral and an eCommerce website design.

“When I was in the program at NIC, I realized there was this whole world to explore and it was pretty great,” she said. “I didn’t even notice before I took the program how much design influences our world. And now that I know what bad design is, I can’t un-see it and I want to help.”

Graduates from the communication design diploma have gone on to work in communication and graphic design, front-end web design and development, user experience design and more.

Pestell said the nature of the digital design and branding means working collaboratively with others and being able to do so from anywhere in the world – evening during a global pandemic.

“Going into a career that can be done online is a huge thing,” she said. “I have the freedom to work where I want, travel where I want. As long as I have Wi-Fi, I can create.”

Now, she’s passionate about pursuing a career in branding and design to tell clients’ stories.

“Even though I still identify as an artist, I think all along I was a designer,” she said.

NIC DIGITAL Design + Development 2020 grads are currently displaying their work through a virtual grad show, 2020 Visionaries. Head to to check out Pestell’s work and profile.

Applications are open now for the fall start for the communication design diploma and NIC’s other DIGITAL Design + Development programs.

To learn more, visit


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