What I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE Becoming a Graphic Designer ...
Isn’t hindsight always 20/20? If only you could travel back in time and give younger-you some choice advice. Nothing to alter the time-space continuum of course, just a few tips to help you avoid some costly and painful missteps.
You could have avoided a few bad deals, kept out of trouble more often and maybe arrived at life decisions a little quicker. Though a time machine is pretty out of reach at the moment, you can have the next best thing when it comes to becoming a graphic designer—without any risk of catastrophic time-travel ripple effects!
If you are considering a Graphic Design degree, why not look a little further into the future to ensure you are making a smart investment in a great career? We’ve gathered experts in graphic design to share some of the things they wish they’d known before entering the field. And just to make things easy, we’ve compiled the information into a helpful list.
Before becoming a graphic designer, I wish someone had told me …
Before you dive into a graphic design career, you should at least be aware of the following:
Boring work is part of the gig
Creativity-centric careers give professionals the chance to exercise their artistic abilities for a day job, but that doesn’t mean you get to make what you want all the time. “Being a professional graphic designer is just as much about working on tedious boring jobs as it is building cool brands that require lots of creativity,” says Natalie Downey, senior designer at Duckpin.
“You aren’t always going to work on projects that are exciting and fun, but [less exciting work] is a huge part of the job that some find surprising at first.” When clients, customers or your own company give you a project—your priority is usually their goals before your own. Ideally, the two come together often. But Downey says tedium is part of graphic design as much as other careers.
“And yet, seeing your artwork out in the world makes all of the not-so-glamorous days worth it.”
Be big on collaboration
It’s easy to feel possessive about your designs or your ideas; but when you are working as a graphic designer, collaborating with others is a huge part of the job. There are always more variables to deal with when you add more people to the work you’re trying to do—but Downey says teamwork can be a very gratifying part of the role.
“Collaboration was one aspect of the design firm environment that I fell in love with,” Downey says. “Being part of a team and working on projects together challenges you to look at things differently and almost always results in stronger concepts.”
No designer is right for every project
“I went into this field thinking that a great designer can create for anyone,” says Shavanna Pinder, creative team lead at Geek Powered Studios. “When in reality, client and designer pairing is much like any other close relationship; styles, temperaments, and values should complement each other.”
Pinder explains that clashing in these matters right off the bat can build up to a series of frustrating exchanges. While you may not always have the choices you’d like, trying to communicate big picture concepts right at the start with clients might help you decide whether you want to take on the project. “I’ve created some pieces at the insistence of the client that I would never publicize that I made,” Pinder says.
“It’s better for everyone—and a lot more enjoyable—when you and the client are on the same wavelength.”
Expectations aren’t always realistic
You know how long a project is likely to take—all the steps between conception and execution. You know how design choices are likely to play out in a finished product and what the aesthetic impact will be. Your client, boss or customer does not necessarily know these things.
“I was surprised by unrealistic expectations from clients,” Downey says. “Whether it’s a shockingly low budget or an unreasonable deadline, be prepared to have a solution.” Downey explains that sometimes you’ll make sacrifices and sometimes you’ll push back to establish a healthier design relationship. But as the professional who understands design and will be doing the work—the job of honestly communicating with clients or managers comes down to you.
Data analytics impacts designers too
Increased interest in using data analytics to make more informed choices seems to be a trend across hundreds of careers—and the same is true for design. “Even though specializing is important, designers are expected to be a jack-of-all-trades,” Pinder says. “The latest addition to your toolset is being able to dive into data and analytics and make informed decisions based on the results.”
A course, an online module, anything you can do to add a little data analytics understanding to your repertoire could be very helpful in your job hunt and your design career.
To always get a deposit first when freelancing
Graphic design is notorious for clients expecting to get work for free. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how many sob stories there are, my own included, of being ripped off by bad clients,” says Alex Kemmler of eboundhost.
There’s nothing wrong with an arrangement where your expectations and the client’s expectations are clear from the get-go, even if it’s an unpaid one. But don’t allow contract ambiguity to rob you of your work and time.
“Simply put, my number one tip is to always get a deposit before starting work,” Kemmler says. To navigate this, Kemmler advises drafting a statement of work, what’s included in the price, what’s not included, payment terms and schedule.
Then, get a deposit of at least 25 percent up front. “Legitimate clients won’t have a problem paying a deposit against work yet to be performed.”
While circumstances will vary from client to client, Kemmler says that a client who balks at a deposit is much more likely to stiff you or be otherwise difficult to work with.
You have lots of career options
Becoming a graphic designer isn’t a one-way street for the rest of your career. It’s a versatile skill and education base that offers opportunity in many different roles. “There are so many avenues within graphic design,” says Casey Mathison, brand experience manager at Marr Media Group. “A graphic designer can mean illustrator, animator, layout artist, website designer, UX designer, etc. It really is a multifaceted career!”
You never stop learning
Whether you get a graphic design degree or teach yourself graphic design, the initial education is really only the beginning. “You will never stop learning,” Mathison says. “I see this as more of a positive, but it can be daunting trying to keep up with an industry that evolves every day.”
Besides, the more you learn, the more versatile and valuable your work will be. There are several potential opportunities out there for employees with experience in more than one area. You never know where a little extra know-how can take you.
The journey of becoming a graphic designer
If this advice from graphic design pros has you feeling inspired, harness that energy and use it to launch into some learning! Experience counts for so much in your graphic design abilities.
“I would tell my younger self to get started sooner,” Mathison says. “If I could, I’d go back and push myself to go after it. I’d love to have those extra 10 years of experience under my belt today.”
If you are still interested in becoming a graphic designer, you’ll likely want to know more about the flexibility of this degree. Learn more about some common outcomes in our article “What Can You Do with a Graphic Design Degree? Exploring Your Options."
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019. Some insight remains from original piece.