How to Become a Graphic Designer - career information from an insider's point of view
Without a doubt, graphic design must be one of the most popular career choices amongst young people today.
In my years in this field, I have had numerous requests from friends or their children for advice with regards to a career path into Graphic Design. While I am humbled that they view me experienced enough to counsel these youngsters, I am also very much aware of the long and competitive road ahead of them, should this be a profession they choose to get into. I aim to give you the lowdown with regards to this profession - armed with the knowledge and information from an insider's point of view, you then can decide for yourself if this is what you would like to do for a career.
Graphic Design, at its best, can provide you with an array of interesting work. You will be working with fellow designers who see things and situations beyond the obvious, who think outside the box, whose dress code seem to be universally and endearingly quirky. You will be working on projects that involve colours, fonts, images, design flow, contrast, balance, movement, mockups, presentations, public speaking, marketing strategy, sales, bottom line and more. At its worst, you have to contend with deadlines, compete with fellow designers for plum projects, deadlines, continually be at the top of your game, deadlines, stay past midnight at the workplace to complete a project on time, deadlines, can be difficult to manage a reasonable work-life balance, and, yes you guessed it, more deadlines.
Graphic design is a vocation not for the bashful, dreamers nor slackers. If you reckon that you are non of these, by all means I invite you to please read on.
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What is Graphic Design?
I wonder how many of us are really au fait with what Graphic Design is. I have had responses like ,"It is that thing you do that makes a box look good", "It's when you use Photoshop to create a pretty picture", "I don't know, I just sit at the computer and design stuff". Well, it is all that and more.
Imagine you have something you want to sell, or perhaps make known to the public, or a complicated process you would like to inform or persuade others about. In short, you have information you want to communicate but how do you impart your information? You could do it the slow way and explain to one person and then to the next, or you can transmit it openly by a megaphone or a public address system. That process is called verbal communication.
However, if you use any visual media, for example, a poster; a brochure; a logo, a press ad, a jar label, a web banner, you are now transmitting your information using a type of visual communication. This process is called graphic design.
What does a Graphic Designer do?
The purpose of a graphic designer is to meet clients' marketing needs by producing effective creative visual solutions that make a difference to their bottom line. In order to achieve that, the graphic designer must understand what the clients are looking to accomplish with their marketing campaign. A brief will be supplied by the clients and the designer must now muster up ideas and concepts that will position correctly the clients' product and services in marketplace.
The Graphic Designer's main job is string together design elements utilising computer programs such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. I, for one, work with drawn (hand drawn or digitally constructed) and photographed images on a daily basis. When the occasion demands it, I would paint in the traditional way (brush, palette and paint, etc.) or create crafts using modelling material, cards, masks and such but skills of these kind is less required of a designer nowadays. I also work with different fonts and together with images and the supposed 'white space', I would now create and organise these elements around on an area to communicate a convincing message to the market.
You might not be aware but graphic design is a major part of your everyday life. From packaging like a facial tissue box to more prominent things like signboards, graphic design consistently educates, persuades, inspires, stimulates and communicates, graphic design permeates your life more than you think possible.
Learn to Think like a Graphic Designer
What skills do I need to have to become a Graphic Designer?
Can you draw?
I am a firm believer that if you are able to quickly sketch your thoughts and ideas out as concepts on paper, that would give you a head start and a sure advantage as compared to designers who can't. As you probably understand now, graphic design is visual communication, so being able to put down ideas on paper is essential.
Do you have a passion for technology?
You would probably have to have a passion for technology as you will be sitting in front of the computer screen for long periods of time. From having a desire to learn up and master the software programs pertaining to the career path you have chosen to troubleshooting computer hardware when things break down, it would put you in good stead to have the attitude that you want to know more, to learn more, to be more knowledgeable where technology is concerned.
Print Designers (those who design magazine ads, press ads, posters, catalogues, fliers, brochure, packaging, labels, billboards, etc.) will need to be acquainted with InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and/or Quark XPress.
Web Designers ( those who design website, web banners, HTML emails, etc) will need to acquire skills in Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Photoshop, Flash, and Illustrator.
There will be Graphic Designers in other fields of work like the film industry, fashion industry, etc. I will not pretend to know exactly what skills are required, I imagine it would somewhat similar but rather not say for certain. I would appreciate comments from anyone who is associated with these such industries to give their two bobs worth in order the readers might be acquainted with those fields of work as well.
Do you think outside the box?
To be a graphic designer, you need to be creative. To be creative, you need to think outside the box. Are you a person who brainstorms, looks beyond the obvious, searches for solutions even when solutions are not easily found, never gives up because problems appear irresolvable, think innovatively? Are you one who is not afraid to think differently and form a new perspective?
I am not referring to coming up with creative ideas that are odd, whimsical and non-relevant to the clients' market (and I have seen plenty of those). Good Graphic Designers take the initiative to understand their clients' requirements and come up with relevant creative solutions that meet their clients' visual communication needs.
Do you have good presentation skills?
It is essential that you are able to present your work, albeit to the Art Director, the company directors or your clients, and to present it well. Majority of the times, you get one chance to convince the other party that your ideas, concepts, strategy, project, campaign is the one to go with, is the one that will make a difference to the clients' sales. If you are not comfortable with the idea of standing in front of a group of people while selling your work to them, there are three things you might want to consider:
- Decide to work on this weakness and make it into a strength.
- Know that if you do not better yourself in this area, you could possibly be hampering your advancement in this industry, or
- Perhaps decide now that this might not be the industry for you.
Are you a self-starter?
Without a doubt, the industry is now fast-paced as compare to 20 years ago and has evolved into one that requires the designer to be au fait with the programs that they use. You would need to be motivated enough to want to learn and improve on your skills on a daily basis. You will also need to be one who has initiative and has good survival instincts. A good Graphic Designer is aware that progression within this industry is heavily reliant on his knowledge, skills and presentation. There is a lot of competition out there, only the fittest will survive.
What you need to Know and Have
What level of graphic design training, education or qualification do I need?
There are different schools of thought on this.
There are those who think that education is not necessary if you are able to get a role of a Junior Designer and pick up skills as you go while on the job. There are a couple of pitfalls to this:
1. You will need to be a self-starter to thrive in this environment.
2. When you are ready for an upward move in your career and are looking for another job, you might discover that there are companies out there who specifically employ those who are qualified only, disregarding the experience you have accumulated during your Junior role years.
The option that majority go with now is to sign up for full time or part time courses, starting with little or no prior experience and graduating with a professional portfolio and a deep understanding of the workings of the design programs. In Australia, these courses are available both at Graphic Design schools, TAFE and University level. You will walk out with a graphic design qualification (Diploma or Advanced Diploma) from TAFEs or specialist Graphic Design schools, while the Universities will offer a Degree level.
Entry-Level Graphic Design Jobs for the Graduate
Graduate graphic designers who have successfully completed a course in graphic design need to ensure that the portfolio of work is the best that can put together. The type of work in the portfolio needs to be relevant to the business that you will going for interviews for. You can look for positions as desktop publishers, prepress technicians, production artists junior graphic designers, and junior web designers. However, you might find some printing companies willing to hire apprentices without education, giving you hand-on experience while learning on the job.
Learn to put together an amazing Portfolio
Make money as a Graphic Designer
Graphic Designer salaries tend to vary somewhat, it does depend on your experience, the skills you have, the position you fill and the type of industry you work in.
On one end of the scale, the printing industry pays minimum wage (approximately 35,000AUD per annum) with Desktop Publishers hardly able to make a decent living. On the end of this scale, designers working in Advertising and Film industries will draw higher wages, with Art Directors and Creative Directors earning in the vicinity of six figures per year. While a career in these positions is tempting, do keep in mind that there is a price for everything. There is high pressure working in these positions of Art Directors and Creative Directors, constant deadlines and working around the clock is often an expected thing.
There is the option of freelancing as well. Your ability to earn or not earn dollars is very much dependant on you. As a freelancer, there will be many an occasion where there is abundance of work and you will have to burn the midnight candle. But there will be many days or even weeks when the work seemed to have dried up and nothing seem to be happening no matter what you do. How you market yourself and your business is essential for a freelancer, you have to make opportunities happen for yourself and most important of all, you have to network with others in order to visible to potential clients. How much you charge as a freelancer again is reliant on how skilled you are, how unique those skills are and how experienced you are.
My personal experience
I have been in this industry in Melbourne, Australia, for more than 20 years and have seen the industry change over the years. It has been, at its best, an exhilarating ride, at its worst, an interesting journey. I cannot imagine having worked in any other industry, this one keeps me going every morning. Everyday is a new day, no one day is the same as the day before. While it has its pressures and downsides of constant deadlines, it has brought out another dimension to my life I think another industry could not have. I am a more complete person in that in order to think outside the box, I discover who I am along the way and am a better person for it.
I hope this hub has given you the information you are looking for and has helped you somewhat to decide if this industry is for you. Do contact me if you have further questions, I look forward to it and hope I can be of more help.
I wish you the very best in life. Keep smiling :)
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