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Life as a Graphic Designer in the Corporate World

Updated on March 12, 2013

I started my career in graphics in 1989. I had just started working at a large bank in the media department. As part of the job, I was given a Macintosh, Aldus Persuasion, Aldus Freehand,and Quark Express and told by my boss that "we were going into the presentation slide business." Luckily, I had experience in graphic arts, and knew how to use a computer. I was familiar with the Mac and had been doing speaker support slides on the VideoShow system, using a PC with DOS.

I took very easily to the Mac and learned Persuasion fairly quickly, with help of a vendor who became my mentor. Soon we were doing hundreds of slides a month.This started my career in the graphic arts, which evolved over time into a graphic designer.

There have been times when a co-worker has asked me to talk to someone they know, or perhaps one of their kids, about what to expect with career as a graphic designer in the corporate world.

Here is some of the advice I have given. These are my opinions and my own experiences working in banking, insurance and a short stint at a graphics studio.

In no particular order:

Learn Microsoft Office.There will be a day when a client wants you to design a form in Word. You need to know how to insert graphics into the header, use tables, use the form fields for electronic forms, adjust text using styles, import pictures and more.

You will be asked to do a PowerPoint template, so be prepared to know how to use slide masters, design templates and the many other commands and controls that make a good looking slide show. You should know how do a chart – not just one that is effective, but one that is readable and not cluttered, a chart that could be considered a work of art. Not kidding here. You have only a few seconds the get the audience's attention. A well done chart is worth its weight in gold.

Clients will want to use animations, make their text fly in and use clip art. Be prepared to tell them why that is not a good idea! Be ready to explain why filling the slide with text is also not a good idea. My answer for that: a PowerPoint presentation should represent your company in a positive, professional light. Poorly thought out presentations, bad design, cheesy effects and overkill of text will overload your audience quickly and can leave a bad impression.

You will need to know the basics of Excel, if not just to open the file and transfer over data.

Be versatile. You will work on posters, brochures, flyers, presentations, trade show displays, Web sites, nametags, and much more. Seminars are very important to our company, so we have a complete meeting package of services. We start with the e-mail blast and paper invites, then supporting materials such as the presentation booklets, agenda sheets, handouts, customized notepads and booth displays. We add videos to our PowerPoint shows, so you need to know how to add videos, and ensure that the sound works properly.

Not all projects will seem all that important compared to the higher end work you do. That should not matter. Give all customers the same amount of importance. Customer service is very important to your future success. Arrogance will not go over well in this world.

Be ready to improvise. My pc recently crashed, leaving me without my Adobe CS5 programs. It took two days to fix it all, so I had to figure out how do the last minute additions for a seminar. PowerPoint came to the rescue, as did Publisher. I did the bag tags and signs in these programs, printed it all out on our high-end Konica Biz Hub, cut the tags with a xacto knife and punched a hole in the tag - all in about 30 minutes. Learn to be fast, stay calm and figure out a solution. If you are lucky enough to have a high-end printer, learn how to utilize it for printing projects. I am printing out high-end 8.5 x 11 booklets on a glossy paper today, which will be cut and assembled to give to customers. It is a small run, so it makes sense to do it inhouse. Even a small printer can be used to do small run projects.

Build up a good rapport with your vendors.This is common in all areas of graphic design. I have had the same printer for years because they are great to work with, respond quickly to my needs and meet my last minute requests. I have been burned by printers before – doing bad work, not being on time, bad attitude, etc. This is not always apparent when you first meet. A good relationship with your printer will prove invaluable over time.

Know the basics of Web site design and programming. You probably will not be asked to create a site from scratch, but you need to know how it works to design effectively. I learned how to do Web sites in the mid 1990s by trial and error and lots of research. I also took the time to learn how to use CSS by downloading free CSS templates, and ripping them apart. I soon built my own sites using Dreamweaver. Now we use Joomla to do our sites. It is not my job to build it, but it is my job to design it. It also helps to know how video clips will be used on Web sites.

Know how to use type properly. I see it all the time – black text on a dark background, text on top of a photo where you can’t even read it. Using multiple serif typefaces, all caps, etc. Often it is form before function.

You only get a few seconds to grab the attention of your audience. Don’t waste that time by using four different typefaces on dark backgrounds and using lots of photos competing for their attention. Remember your audience. Small text is harder to read.

Use images properly. My philosophy for image use is that there needs to be a reason for it to be there. A picture just sitting on the page to fill white space is not always effective. Customers often want to fill out the page. I remind them that we need to make the page easy for people to read, otherwise, it will go unread. Images can help draw them in, but should be there to help support the text, not just as filler. Text heavy pages do not always need a photo.

We stay away from clip art and have never used illustrations, as it does not fit our company style guide.

Not all projects are going to be fun.There will be times when all you are doing is formatting sell sheets, and applying styles to text. Remember that all of these are important to the success of your company. It may not be fun or pretty, but it all helps the company in ways you can’t always see. You may get tired of the company design standards that you have to adhere to. The graphic standards are in place to insure that all of the materials stay consistent and look like they came from the same company.

Don’t let the programs take over. It goes without saying that any person considering becoming a graphic designer needs to know the Adobe Products – Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat at the very least. Sketch your ideas on paper before doing any computer work. I do that when I feel that the program tools are taking over or I am relying on the easy-to-use Photoshop filters. I like filters and effects, but use them very sparingly and only to add interest to an image.

Know about copyright laws. Eventually, someone will want to include a cartoon or photograph in their presentation, brochure, or other materials. You will have to explain to them about why it can't be done without permission from the artist. When this happens to me, I remind them about the copyright laws, and send them to our legal department if they have any other questions.

Diversify your talents. I have added video production to my skill set. I have a background in this, and was able to learn how to use Adobe Premiere and Sony Vegas Pro easily. Adobe After Effects is my next challenge. I relearned how to use a camera, set microphones and how to light most situations. I have applied these to doing photos as well.

Not all companies need this and you may not ever need these skills, but I have noticed on a few job listings that these skills are needed. It never hurts to know the basics of video production and photography, even if it is just for an interview or a portrait. As a creative, your company is going to look to you for answers.

And last – Be prepared to help people with software issues. In my last job, I was the PDF and PowerPoint guy. I always tried to be helpful, as the people asking are just trying to do their job without the training they need. I am not a Word expert, but I still help people out and learn a few things in the process.

Again, these are my opinions from over 20 years of working in graphics. I feel very fortunate that I get paid to design all day. The work never gets dull and the design projects can be very challenging. Working within graphic standards is not difficult, and I find a way to put my personal stamp on a design.


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    • Wylie Smith profile image

      Jackie OBrien 4 years ago

      I'm in a somewhat similar industry. I do video production in the South Shore MA ( I have an employee that does my graphic work and then integrates them into my videos. I was doing quite a lot of work graphically myself in college, but now doing video production for many corporate companies I can certainly relate to you.

    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 4 years ago

      Thanks - plenty of other designers did not agree with my comments about MS Office. It got a bit heated on a design forum where I shared this article.

    • Vector design profile image

      Saim 4 years ago from California

      Really interesting share. I agree with your point of view about the graphic designer life.

    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 6 years ago

      Glad you found it helpful. They may not tell you these things in school so I thought it was a good idea to document what my world is like. With over 20 years in the business, I have seen it all. Good luck on your career.

    • Meluleki Sibanda profile image

      Meluleki Sibanda 6 years ago

      This is beautiful man. I will be actualy studying Graphics and Web design next year.

    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 6 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed it! I hope it helps out an aspiring designer.

    • holdmycoffee profile image

      holdmycoffee 6 years ago

      Great and very informative hub! Welcome to hubpages.