Here’s my advice if you are thinking of becoming a graphic designer.
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Typically graphic designers will have a creative background. In many cases, this starts at a very early age. If you are a creative and visually driven person, it is likely that you will be drawn to creative subjects such as art and crafts at junior school. You can then progress to more specialised creative subjects like art & design at secondary education, followed by A-levels or more commonly Diplomas in graphic design.
Leading on from this many people choose to study the subject of graphic design further at University earning a Bachelors degree (3 years of full-time study). Most graphic design job advertisements will require some kind of degree level or equivalent qualification in the subject. Once you have obtained your degree, you still can’t officially call yourself a professional graphic designer until you have done some paid work. This would preferably be for a design agency or in-house design department. Even after you have overcome that hurdle, there are still plenty of ladders to climb to reach the top of this profession.
Is a graphic design job right for me?
Just because you like drawing doesn’t automatically mean you will make a great graphic designer. Graphic design is primarily digital now, and you will spend 95% of your time working on the computer. Being a good designer is challenging and takes a lot of years of experience to perfect.
Firstly you will be working with ‘people’ all the time. You need to have a fairly good set of social skills, patience and ability to talk to people and work with others.
Secondly, you have to be able to take criticism from others as well as dish out some self-criticism. No matter how good you think, your design is there will always be someone who hates it or thinks it could be better if you did X or Y. If this person is your client, bad luck, you better listen to them. If you don’t like working under pressure, then graphic design might not be for you. Clients often have impossible deadlines and wild expectations. To avoid a total meltdown, you need the aforementioned people skills to manage expectations and create positive relationships.
How do I get my first job as a graphic designer?
Firstly it’s not easy to become a graphic designer. No one wants to employ someone who has no experience no matter how good their degree and portfolio work is. IMPORTANT! Make sure to get work experience while studying your degree. Work for family friends, friends of family friends, local businesses and build up a small freelance portfolio. If you are lucky you can combine this type of ‘free’ working with modules in your degree like professional practice. When you do finish your degree, start looking for work straight away. This is one of my most important pieces of advice for wannabe graphic designers. When I finished university in May all my friends went off on holidays and took ‘time out’ before eventually starting their search for a job in late October. It was already too late. By then they were one amongst thousands of new graduates applying for the same small handful of ‘Junior Graphic Designer’ roles. I started writing off and sending out my CV before I had even handed in my last assignment. In doing so I was able to secure a junior graphic design job with the marketing department of a local college. My role would be to assist the senior designer.
There was one small catch; I needed to register as self-employed as the college didn’t want the expense of taking me on as an employee. While this was a daunting prospect at the time, after getting some free advice from the bank I got set up, and it was actually quite straight forward. An bonus to being employed freelance was being able to charge them a health £12.50 an hour for my time. My friends meanwhile, were forced to continue their Saturday jobs in shops and restaurants and look for unpaid internships. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to work for free and I was so glad I made that decision as my friends endured some pretty awful working hours and duties in the name of ‘it’s all great experience’.
When looking for your first job always make sure you ask in the most unlikely places. I had only written to the college marketing department because one of the staff had mentioned they were in need of a designer. While I was thrilled to get my first job, it’s fair to say I didn’t enjoy it much at all. I had to travel a good 40mins there and back when I needed to go to the office to work. The senior designer very stern and didn’t have much of a sense of humour. He often didn’t explain things that well which led to me having to re-do a lot of stuff.I wasn’t fully prepared for the tasks I was asked to complete being so new to it all. Saying that, I earned some good money and most importantly got some valid work experience. This put me in a much stronger position than many of my fellow graduates. Six months after leaving university, when the recession was biting hard, I secured my first ‘real’ design job. I was to become a junior designer working in a proper design agency.
How do you make a success of your first design job?
It was a daunting prospect when I first started working at the design agency. Although a very small agency, the other designers seemed to know so much more than me. I was not used to speaking to demanding strangers on the phone or answer the phone full stop! I took notes constantly and read them in bed each night. I wrote down everything I thought I might need or find useful. I listened carefully to my Creative Director, I watched how he worked, how he dealt with clients. I took all the advice he gave me and with each project tried to improve on those minor mistakes from the last.
There were two disasters in my two years working there, both very minor in the grand scheme of things. I was often praised for my work and my Creative Director in particular recognised my ability to learn quickly. I was also good with clients; polite, helpful but also professional and stern when they tried to take advantage. In just under a year of my being there, the lady above me left and I took over her duties. These included managing one of the biggest accounts we had day-to-day. It was all going great except that my pay didn’t reflect the additional responsibility I was taking on. The work was also boring, mostly artwork, very little room for creativity. When it came to my first annual review, I got the crushing news that the agency was struggling and pay cuts were on the horizon. I would be kept on the same wage (being the lowest paid of all anyway). I was so disappointed. I had worked so hard all year to learn, improve and take on more responsibility, I knew it was time to move on.
It’s important to learn quickly and write things down. Listen to the senior designers, watch them and take note of how they work. You can learn a lot from them. Also, it’s important to know when it’s time to move on and find a new challenge, don’t stay at your first job for too long and if you feel like your achievements and skills aren’t being recognised or rewarded speak up.
I hope you found this post useful. This is advice based on my own experience of becoming a graphic designer and may not be the right approach for everyone. I am always happy to help out students so if you have any questions about being a graphic designer, feel free to drop me a email.