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Graphic Design and Marketing: 6 Things Designers Wish They Knew Before Starting Out

graphic design and marketing

High-quality design benefits just about any type of organization, which is why graphic designers can find work in a variety of different industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20 percent of graphic designers are self-employed. But among the designers seeking to land a gig at a professional organization, most work either in some sector of specialized design services or in marketing and advertising.

“A lot of graphic designers will inevitably go into marketing and advertising because there’s a big demand for that skill set in those industries,” explains Goncalo Costa, co-founder and CEO of Costa Rank. It’s unsurprising if you consider the fact that most all forms of marketing—traditional, digital or otherwise—rely to some extent on quality, eye-catching design.

If you’re an up-and-coming designer who’s seeking a certain level of job security and stability, you may consider looking into openings at marketing and advertising agencies. But before you do, it’s always smart to learn a bit about what you’ll be getting yourself into. That’s why we canvassed a handful of graphic design and marketing professionals to learn what they wish they knew about the industry before launching their careers. Take a look at what they had to say.

6 Things new designers should know about graphic design and marketing

1. Know the difference between designing for a brand and designing for yourself

One of the most difficult obstacles new designers face is parsing the difference between personal design preferences and the design needs of clients.

“Designing for yourself is important—especially after college,” admits Joe Tucker, creative director at Solodev and DigitalUS. “But never get so into designing for yourself that you neglect the details of your client’s needs and goals. Know when to compromise for the sake of the team and realize that you’ll still be producing excellent work even if it looks different than you originally envisioned.”

Our experts are united on this factor of working as a graphic designer in marketing or advertising. “Be open to feedback about your designs, and do not take negative comments personally,” encourages Karolyn Masters, national creative director at iPartnerMedia. “It’s not about you; it’s about your client. Make sure you are wearing the hat with the client’s needs in mind, and do not get stuck in your own power struggle of what you personally like best.” As with most industries, once you pay your dues, you will likely build up enough of a rapport with your clients that they’ll begin trusting you with a bit more creative freedom.

2. Learn how to address a client with questionable taste

“It doesn’t matter if you’re self-taught or college educated—sooner or later you’ll be asked for a design or a revision that goes against everything you know about good design,” says Joe Goldstein, search engine optimization (SEO) director and operations manager for Contractor Calls. He goes on to explain that while your instinct may be to push back, you need to be careful to not offend those who are paying you by potentially insulting their taste.

Goldstein offers a few potential approaches you can take when you find yourself in this situation:

  • Try showing the client where that design will break down. “If you’re designing a logo for a dentist and their idea is too clichéd to stand out, show them. If you know that it won’t work in black and white or when you scale it down, show them. If you think it’s all aesthetics and lacks a message, show them,” he emphasizes.
  • Pinpoint the financial implications of those design decisions and base your arguments on that, translating it into a language the client can understand. “Your client may think their parallax-heavy, slider-heavy website looks amazing, but educate them about how that will impact load speed and what that could do to their SEO. They may think that auto-playing music on their home page adds a ‘wow’ factor, but remind them that if their target market is corporate, then the only ones to hear it will be embarrassed from suddenly flooding their office with music,” he says.
  • Lastly, a more succinct approach. “When all else fails, just shut up and push the pixels. Some clients just want to pay you to see their visions come to life,” he states, adding that you can view such projects as a challenge worth stepping up to.

3. Find ways to keep your creative side well-watered

Graphic designers are often creative by nature, which is why it may surprise some to learn they may not always be able to view their jobs as the creative outlet they crave. “Designing for marketing and advertising can be extremely fast-paced, fun and creative, but not every company offers that experience,” explains marketing and design consultant, Jackie Kossoff. “Each company has standards of design that need to be followed. These standards can be rigorous and provide little room for creativity.”

She suggests seeking out other outlets to bring your creative vision to life, adding that nearly every designer she knows takes on side projects of some sort. From designing for creative startups or local nonprofits to selling your original designs online through venues like Etsy, be sure to find that outlet so your creativity doesn’t feel stifled.

4. Understand the target audience and end goal of a project before you begin

While your ultimate purpose in a given project will be to create an effective design, when you’re working in an advertising or marketing environment, there are a few other factors to consider before creating your plan of attack. “Ask as many questions as you can before you begin. Understanding what the client wants is half the battle,” says Damien Cunningham, senior designer and product developer at Find Me a Gift. “As you gain a greater understanding of the client’s needs, you should feel confident enough to offer suggestions and tips for how you feel the material can be improved and how your input can benefit the finished design.”

A common rule of thumb in marketing is to consider the goals—sometimes called Key Performance Indicators (KPI)—of a project before creating any sort of plan for execution. This can include identifying who you’re trying to reach, at what capacity you hope to reach them and, ultimately, what specific action you hope that target audience will take in the end.

5. You’ll benefit from learning as much about digital marketing as possible

In that same vein, if you’re looking to land a job as a graphic designer in marketing, you’ll want to be as well-versed in marketing best practices as possible. This will not only impress hiring managers as you interview, but also make your job easier in the long-run if you have a basic understanding of some of the marketing principles discussed on the job.

Costa suggests reading up on digital marketing, since much of a graphic designer’s efforts will go toward this vertical. “Designers need to know about user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), landing pages, marketing funnels, content pieces for different distribution platforms and so much more,” he says, adding that even learning the absolute basics of elements like development and copywriting can help designers know how their designs will work in tandem with those departments.

“If you want to work as a designer for an advertising or marketing agency, just knowing design isn’t going to help you,” Costa explains. “You need to understand what the industry needs, how it works and how to apply your skills in the correct places.”

6. Know it’s about more than just artistic ability

“Many recent graduates and others getting into graphic design tend to ignore what the market needs. Some designers are way too artistic, which [can be] what makes them very good at what they do, but they lack the pragmatic side that is ultimately going to help them get a job that they enjoy,” Costa says.

While graphic designers are relied upon for their artistic abilities, it’s important to note that in an industry like marketing, you’ll need more than just your creative flair to be successful. “Ultimately, the best artists don’t always make the best graphic designers,” Goldstein iterates. “Making a design look good isn’t the real challenge—pleasing multiple stakeholders, reconciling conflicting design goals and navigating an ever-changing landscape of restraints are. Learn to do it well, and you’ll learn to love the ride.”

Could you launch your graphic design career in marketing?

If you’re curious about exploring the ample graphic design opportunities in the worlds of marketing and advertising, take the advice from our experts to heart before you take the leap—you will likely feel better prepared for what awaits and could even appear more qualified to hiring managers as you venture into the interview phase of your job search.

Another aspect to consider as you move forward is perusing the benefits of some formal education in graphic design. While a degree may not be a job requirement for all the openings you come across, it will certainly send the message to potential employers that you know what you’re doing when it comes to graphic design. For more information on the benefits of pursuing a formal design education, visit our article, “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?"

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