More than Logos: Graphic Design Pros Discuss Unconventional Jobs

Designer at deskYou’ve been out in the working world for a while now, and while it’s nice to be paying bills consistently and building a small nest egg, you just have this nagging feeling that there has to be a better job for you somewhere.

You want a job where you can use your tech skills and creativity – not to mention a career that will make your friends just a bit envious. Graphic design is a natural choice.

But unless you’ve already built an amazing portfolio and are juggling job interviews, the next logical step is the one that leads to you earning a degree. 

And if you’re thinking twice about investing the time and money into a degree because you’re not sure you’ll be able to land a cool job, worry no more. Graphic designers are lucky enough to have some of the coolest jobs out there.

But don’t take our word for it. Take it from these two industry players who have taken nontraditional graphic design career paths.

Non-profit company graphic designer

Devora Homnick was interested in art, but she wanted to be able to measure the success of her pieces by more than just the price for which they sold. Her dream turned into reality when she became a graphic designer and eventual art director for New Jersey-based Kars4Kids.

Homnick designs anything the organization might need, which means her job is full of variety.

“In one week I can be designing a billboard that will be displayed on a busy expressway, a postcard reminding donors that the end of the fiscal year is coming, and location displays for a community coat giveaway,” she says.

While the diversity of projects is one of  Homnick’s favorite things about her job,  she says it can make the work difficult at times. Each project serves a different purpose and focuses on a specific audience, so she needs to keep that purpose in mind while designing.

In fact, the ability to multitask is a crucial skill for designers who want to work on a variety of projects.  Decision making, problem solving and critical thinking also feature prominently in a long and distinguished list of skills to be honed before becoming a graphic designer!

But any frustration that comes with juggling multiple projects and marketing messages is worth it, Homnick says.

“One of the best things I have found in working for a non-profit is getting to see results of my work in such a positive way,” she says. “It’s great to be involved in such meaningful projects; you really get a whole different kind of compensation package.”

But even in a career that offers a variety of projects, Homnick is still working for one organization. What if your career plans include a multitude of employers, or maybe even being your own boss? That’s where Taylor Ridling’s path has taken her.

From t-shirt designer to freelancer

Although Ridling is a freelance graphic designer now, throughout the course of her career, she has seen it all. She has worked for a surfboard company, assisted a children’s book designer, designed t-shirts and been part of a traditional communications department. 

And it all started in middle school when she traded a boy band CD for a copy of Adobe Photoshop. She followed her design dreams from her high school’s “gifted students” art program into college, where she took a multitude of art classes to prepare her for her future career.

Working a variety of design jobs has given Ridling a few interesting stories to tell, such as the time the Josh Abbott Band played a show in Oxford, Miss. and ran out of merchandise – guess who came to their rescue with brand new t-shirts? She even hand-delivered the shirts to the band’s tour bus. But despite the array of design jobs and experiences, she says nothing beats being a freelancer, where she controls her time and schedule.

Tips from graphic design pros

By now it should be obvious that the range of graphic design jobs is pretty big. But how do you land the one you’re seeking? Obviously you need creativity, but, just as important, you need to know about the field.

Homnick and Ridling agree that the first step in finding a graphic design career is to make education a priority. 

“Learn as much as possible about the different mediums you’ll need to use, be it printing processes, web programming, or advertising specs,” Homnick urges. “The more you know about the medium you’re using, the closer your design will be, in actuality, to the concept you’re trying to put out there.”

In addition to learning about important aspects of design like typography and color theory, Ridling took several marketing classes to give her a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  It turned out to be a smart move, considering many designers create pieces that need to send a specific marketing message.

And while education is the place to start, experience is what will help you build a comprehensive portfolio and showcase the range of your abilities. The women both urged young designers to value each and every opportunity, even if your first graphic design gig isn’t your dream job.

“Don't overlook jobs that include tasks other than design – it's a great way to learn skills that may help your resume stand out in the future,” Ridling says.

Homnick says that you never know how interesting a job is until you’re doing it, so you should treat each opportunity as a learning experience. “If you’re a reliable designer and see every project as an interesting challenge, you’ll develop into the type of designer the people giving interesting jobs are looking for.”

The bottom line

You’ll have plenty of job options as a graphic designer. Will your career lead you to have one, steady job at a company or will you work on a variety of projects as a freelancer? That’s up to you, of course, but one thing’s for sure: Your friends’ jobs certainly won’t be as cool as yours.

Have these pros convinced you that you’ll have the awesome job you want as a graphic designer? Check out Rasmussen College’s School of Design to learn more.

Elizabeth Xu

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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