Have you ever been shopping for a new car? Think back to the amount of time and consideration that was put into that decision. Remember the infinite number of questions that flooded your head?
Is this the right car for me? Will it be reliable? Can I afford the payments? Is it safe for my children? Does it get good gas mileage? Does it drive well in bad weather?
Prior to making any large investment, it is perfectly sensible to ask these types of questions before making a decision. The same is true when shopping for a graphic design degree.
It would be helpful to be able to take it for a test drive before buying but with degree programs, you don’t get that luxury.
Instead, think of this article as your virtual test drive before becoming a graphic designer. We spoke to eleven professionals in the industry to get some insider tips about the ins and outs of the job.
These experts shared with us some of the things they wish they’d known before entering the field. And luckily for you, we’ve compiled the information in a helpful list, so you won’t have to learn the hard way like they did.
So pay close attention because these exclusive insights can help you determine if you’re serious about becoming a graphic designer.
I wish someone told me …
1. Don’t expect to work 9 - 5
If you are looking for a traditional job working 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., graphic design may not be for you. Although these types of positions do exist, more often than not you’ll find yourself working odd hours to meet strict deadlines.
But this fluctuating schedule isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many designers opt to work as freelancers, allowing them to work on their own time and in their own space. This is especially appealing to mothers hoping to work from home.
2. Don’t take things personally
Many of our experts agree that the world of graphic design is cut-throat. In order to thrive, it’s essential for designers to have thick skin and the ability to accept professional criticism. It’s important to remember that the client signs your paycheck and thus, has the final say … always.
Graphic design is a notoriously difficult—some might even say ruthless—industry so always keep in mind that new projects will come and go. If you get poor feedback on one design, you have to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and move on. Learning not to dwell on the past is an important skill that all successful graphic designers must learn to master.
3. Learning never stops
Once you graduate and land a job, the work isn’t over! The fast-paced design industry is constantly in flux, so it’s imperative for professionals to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques in order to stay fresh and relevant.
As a graphic designer, you’re going to get out of it as much as you put into it. If you have no desire to develop as a professional and evolve with the industry, you’re going to get passed up in a hurry. Alternatively, if you stay apprised of the latest and greatest advancements, you’re more likely to distinguish yourself among your competition and continue building your client base.
4. This is a service industry
It’s important to keep in mind that when it all comes down to it, you’re providing a service for your client. Remember that they hired you. So as much as you’d like to dive in head first and let your own creativity shine, your job is to keep your customer happy and possibly even earn a referral.
Always treat your client with respect. If he or she suggests something with which you disagree, handle it with grace and courtesy. Feel free share your professional opinion, but never act like you know more about their business than they do.
5. It’s more than just mastering software
In this day and age, the term “graphic designer” has become a generic title awarded to anyone who has access to design software. Just because you have an old version of Photoshop installed on your laptop, doesn’t make you a professional graphic designer.
Our industry insiders insist that true designers are trained in the technical aspects, but also in the theory, history and traditions of the industry. For every aspect of your design, you should be able to explain not only how, but why you did what you did.
6. Learn about the business side
It may come as a surprise, but the graphic design industry is more than just matching pretty colors and choosing fun fonts. You can be as artistic and innovative as ever, but if you can’t work within a budget, handle invoices or manage a client, you’ll most likely struggle in the long run.
Mastering the basics of marketing will only enhance your skills as a designer. Not only will your designs be aesthetically pleasing, but they will convey a clear message targeted to a specific audience. Being business savvy will also help you promote yourself as a designer.
7. You still need to use math
For those of you who decided to pursue graphic design as an escape from the frightening world of mathematics, you’re in for a rude awakening! While it is definitely a fun career that allows you to flaunt your creativity, math is part of the daily duties for most designers.
You don’t have to be a math whiz, but it’s definitely worth brushing up on simple arithmetic before becoming a graphic designer. From calculating layout sizes and creative mock-ups to budgeting and bookkeeping, those pesky numbers will continue to rear their ugly heads.
8. Love it or leave it
Last but not least, our industry professionals agree that having a passion for design is paramount. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you will likely get burned out quickly. The long hours and harsh deadlines have the potential to take a toll on you if you’re not fully invested in your work.
They caution that sometimes it’s going to hurt. You may spend hours pouring your heart and soul into a project only to have a client rip it to shreds. But an optimistic attitude and a true love for conveying a clear message through a visual medium will help you stay centered and focused on your career.
Do you have what it takes?
Now that your test drive is complete, you should have a clearer picture of some of the day-to-day circumstances with which designers are faced. Exposure to this insider info prior to enrolling in a graphic design degree program will help you avoid any unexpected surprises when you graduate and enter the field.
Just like purchasing a new vehicle, at the end of the day it all comes down to what’s best for you and your family. If you are still interested in becoming a graphic designer, learn more about the technical skills along with the soft skills needed to succeed in the industry!
Download our free Design Career Outlook to learn more and to start planning your future in design today!
- Allison Dalton, art director at Ridiculous Creative
- Billy Joe Pyle, creative director at Mint Advertising
- Caitlin Ward, art director at Mint Advertising
- Jacob Cass, graphic designer at JUST Creative
- Jamie Volansky, graphic designer at Mint Advertising
- Lidia Varesco Racoma, owner of Lidea Varesco Design
- Mike Steele, creative director at Vitalink
- Natalie Dewhirst, chief operations officer at ThreeTwelve Creative
- Patrick Barcinas, graphic designer at Mint Advertising
- Russell Dow, senior designer at PGAV Destinations
- Taylor Irwin, art director at Mint Advertising