Graphic Design and Marketing: What Designers Wish They Knew Before Starting Out
Almost all forms of marketing—traditional, digital or otherwise—rely on quality, eye-catching design. If you’re an up-and-coming graphic designer, working with marketing and advertising agencies can be a good source of steady, reliable work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 1 in 5 graphic designers are self-employed.1 With that in mind, it’s smart to learn a bit about what you’ll be getting yourself into when working with these teams. 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. Understand your role as a collaborator
Many new designers come into a marketing or advertising space not fully understanding that they must work within a team environment. Copywriters, web developers, creative directors, content strategists, as well as the client, all have expertise and input to provide when it comes to making the final product.
“Approach this as a collaboration,” advises Danielle Gutherie, creative director of Humble Design. “Get as much information from your work partners and clients as you can up front so that you have a clear sense of the purpose and goals on the project.”
Seth Newman, creative director of Sporting Smiles, adds that it’s crucial to get as much feedback as possible on a project, no matter how confident you feel about your concept.
“No matter how prepared you are in your design, there will always be a devil’s advocate,” Newman explains. “You don’t want to spend hours working on an ad, video or graphic for it to get turned down or adjusted to fit the style of your boss’ taste.”
2. 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.
“Graphic design is a commercial function intrinsically linked with marketing activities,” explains Shelley Morris, graphic designer with Rogue Create + Print. “The design work you create will be, 9 times out of 10, about selling, brand positioning or lead generation.”
“Designing for yourself is important—especially after college,” says Joe Tucker, creative director at Solodev. “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.”
3. Become comfortable with feedback of all kinds
As in any creative field, criticism and editorial changes are part of the job. Successful graphic designers will find ways to take in and use these responses to improve and enhance their work.
“Be prepared to take criticism on board, work with it and be able to accept it,” says Paula O’Gorman, design and marketing manager at Promotive. “A great graphic designer needs to be good at taking directional notes in order to improve the end product but also needs to be able to communicate points effectively. This is a skill that develops over time, but it’s important to be able to begin your career with the right mindset.”
“It’s not about you; it’s about your client,” says Karolyn Masters, creative director at iPartnerMedia. “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 build up a rapport with your supervisors and clients and they’ll begin trusting you with a bit more creative freedom.
4. Familiarity with digital platforms is critical
New digital platforms and possibilities seem to open up constantly, making marketing knowledge within these spaces absolutely essential.
“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,” says Goncalo Costa, co-founder and CEO of Costa Rank.
Morris also suggests finding ways to amplify other skills beyond design, especially if they’re in the digital field.
“Many job vacancies, especially in the last 5 years, want all-rounders who can jump from print design to websites to SEO to social media,” Morris explains. Having a solid understanding of design combined with learning the technical aspects of websites and digital marketing will provide you with more opportunities.”
5. Hone your people skills
Successful graphic designers stay in the game not just because they have great visual abilities, but also because they possess solid soft skills that keep clients and others feeling informed and respected.
“The people who make it and last in this industry have built resilience and exceptional people skills,” says Morris. “It isn’t just about a great portfolio and the ability to use Adobe® programs. It’s about how well you can sell your ideas and work with suppliers and clients and build positive relationships.”
6. Prepare yourself for continual learning
Due to the always-evolving digital landscape, expect to be constantly learning new things. Marketing and advertising are focused on trends and new developments to capture prospective customers, making change the new normal.
“The constant change or update in the tools being used in marketing might throw off people who are not used to change and are not very technologically adept,” says Rhonda Swan, founder of Unstoppable Branding Agency.
But it’s not realistic to think you’ll know every single new development or technology that arises, either.
“I don’t expect people starting in the field to know every platform or to be a master in their craft of design, but I do expect them to want to learn, to be excited to learn new skills,” Newman says.
Launching your graphic design career
If you’re curious about exploring 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 feel better prepared for what awaits and could even appear more qualified to hiring managers.
Another aspect to consider is 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. For more information on the benefits of pursuing a formal design education, visit our article “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?"
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed November 2021] www.bls.gov/ooh/ Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.Top of Form
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015 and has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022.