So, You Want to be a Graphic Designer… Now What?
By Elle Phillips, Elle Phillips Design
Please welcome our guest writer, Elle Phillips, back to All Graphic Design. Today she wrote an article that is full of wonderful advice to individuals who are looking to become a Graphic Designer. She was inspired to write this wonderful article by a young man who emailed her about his dream of becoming a Designer. Elle realized that she could write an informative article to help many other people who also wish to become a Graphic Designer. We are lucky enough that she decided to reach a larger audience, by publishing her article on All Graphic Design. Elle received a lot of traffic to her site by publishing her previous article - Designing A Catalog From Conception To Completion - A Catalog Design Tutorial - on All Graphic Design. If you also wish to publish your article on All Graphic Design, please visit our Submit a Graphic Design Article page to see how to do so.
So, You Want to be a Graphic Designer… Now What?
I recently received an email from a young man who stated that he “likes to draw” and wants to become a Graphic Designer, but wanted to know how to get started. At first I thought the obvious answer was “get a graphic design education,” but after more thought I realized it isn’t always that simple.
With today’s continually rising tuition costs and the cost of hardware and software that is so necessary in our industry, simply going out and “getting an education” isn’t always possible. Whether you’re right out of high school, a Mom looking for a career she can do from home, recently out of the Military or simply someone who feels they have a knack for design and is ready for a career change, consider that you have a few options on how to gain the skills you will need to pursue your dream job. But first, ask yourself some questions:
1. Why do you want to be a Graphic Designer?
The answer to this question is very important and can have direct impact on if you can make it in this highly competitive field.
If you wish to be a designer simply because you have a friend who makes a lot of money and you want to make lots of money too, then you should probably reconsider your options. The success of most designers comes with time, effort, skill and knowledge. Granted, there are some designers out there who are born with phenomenal skill and require little effort to do what they do best, but the majority of us work hard to keep up with the latest trends, maintain excellent customer service to our clients and continually stay educated on the latest hardware and software. There is a certain amount of skill required to becoming successful as a designer, and it’s no easy task. If you’re in it simply for the money, be prepared to make very little your first few years out of the gate, or nothing at all if you’re just no good at design.
If you want to be a designer because you feel you have some artistic abilities or your friends often compliment you on that great birthday invitation you put together for your sister, then you might have something going for you. It is definitely not a requirement that you posses the ability to draw, but it certainly helps. In my personal opinion, most artists (visual, musical or otherwise) have a natural eye for color, shape and composition. Call it “right-brained” if you will, but it’s commonly the case that naturally artistic people are drawn to more artistic fields – and graphic design is one of them.
2. Do you feel you have what it takes to be a successful Graphic Designer?
Just touching on the point I made above, some sort of artistic eye or creative flair is often helpful to becoming a designer, but there are many more traits required.
Are you willing to learn? Technical knowledge of the programs used to create today’s layouts is a MUST, so you need to ask yourself if you’re tech-savvy enough (or willing enough) to learn how to turn what’s in your head into tangible, print-ready collateral. It’s not a matter of learning one or two programs… to be truly successful, you will need to know a very wide variety of layout, illustration and photo manipulation programs, as well as web authoring programs and coding languages if you wish to pursue website design.
Are you good with people? While you may think all graphic artists work individually, that’s not always the case. Entry-level designers often start working in a team environment, so you’ll need to be able to work with other designers and under a manager or Art Director while you gain valuable skills. If you have aspirations of becoming a freelancer and want to work on your own, then you’ll need to be able to communicate well with potential clients.
3. Can you take criticism?
Oh yes, your work will be criticized. Just because your Mom loves the Mother’s Day card you made for her in MS Word doesn’t mean someone out in the world will pay you for it. Be willing to accept criticism for what it’s worth and use it to improve your abilities. If someone tells you your design stinks, you need to be able to smile, shrug it off, and find a way to make it better. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t believe anyone else’s opinion matters, you are going into the wrong type of business. As a Graphic Designer, you’re serving others, not yourself. It’s going to be your job to create good design (and defend it), but ultimately make your boss or client happy!
You’ve answered “Yes” to all the questions above… now what? Steps to becoming a designer:
OPTION A: Get an advanced education from a Graphic Design School or University Graphic Arts program.
When I started in the world of graphic design 11 years ago there was adequate competition, but nothing like there is today. Since computers took over and re-shaped the art of design, knowledge of the fundamentals as well as design software is key to being competitive. Education in the field of design is almost essential nowadays, and is by far the most thorough means of diving into the field.
Find a school that offers a degree in Visual Communications or Graphic Design (or some variant thereof) who will teach you the fundamentals of creating masterful design, as well as the technical programs used to execute your ideas. From typography to layout, InDesign to Flash, you’ll need to know it all. You can gain much of this knowledge from Art Institutes, Universities or Graphic Design technical schools. Find one that’s right for you, your budget, and your situation. Talk to different schools and find out if they offer scholarships or grants and apply for them all. Student loans are constantly going skyward and, often, simple things like filling out an application or sending in one of your latest artistic creations is all it takes to get free money for school.
OPTION B: Self-Study
I personally believe this is the more difficult path, but if your situation hinders your ability to train at a school, then your only other option is to learn on your own, and you can certainly do it.
First, I suggest learning the programs. You’ll need to know how to use a professional layout program (sorry folks, Word and PageMaker are not industry standard) such as QuarkXPress or InDesign, as well as photo manipulation and illustration programs. Adobe has made it very easy to get all the programs you need out of one box with their Design Suite (which includes InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat and a few other programs), so that may be the way to go. It’ll cost you roughly $1200 (USD), but that pales in comparison to the cost of college tuition.
Go through the tutorials, read the manuals (Adobe actually makes them fairly easy to follow) and gain as much technical knowledge about the programs as you possibly can, then start volunteering your work. If your nephew’s 3rd birthday is coming up, offer to design his invitations for free. If your neighbor wants to sell his house, offer to design his flyers for free. If your friend is starting their own business, offer to design them a logo and business cards (yep, for free). Do whatever you can to put your newly gained skills to use, but don’t do it for money… do it for portfolio pieces. One of the most wonderful things about the Graphic Design field is that the emphasis is not on your degrees or education, but on your portfolio. This is how you will be judged. This is how you will be hired. Your portfolio will ultimately determine your success.
Once you’ve established a quality portfolio with pieces you’ve designed for yourself as well as others, be prepared to show it off. Get a nice portfolio case or find a creative way to present it, and start applying for jobs. Most companies will require electronic pieces to be emailed to them or a link to an online portfolio of some sort, but eventually you’ll need to bring those pieces (and more) into your one-on-one interview. If you’re determined to be a freelancer, you’ll be showing these pieces to potential clients and it will be your job to convince them that you’re the person for the job.
When you’ve accepted your first professional position, remember to always continue learning and improve skills and portfolio. It will be satisfying to you, and you will only become more successful.
I hope this article has helped the young man who emailed me and answered questions for those of you with dreams of becoming a professional Graphic Designer. If you have any questions or comments I encourage you to contact me through my website at www.ellephillips.com.
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