Design Drama

documenting the delicate dance of design

The Truth About Graphic Design November 17, 2008

I’m always amused at how people find my blog. I normally get a lot of “Michael Jackson + Bubbles” or “Jeff Koons + Prince + toy poodle + latex.”

“Tonight, I saw a search for “Truth About Graphic Design Industry” in the search list.

Heh.

You want the truth?

I’ll give you the truth.

THE BAD NEWS

(A) You won’t get rich. If you’re entering this profession thinking you’re going to be printing money, I suggest you seek other avenues of employment. There are months that I do well. Others, I could probably do better asking “do you want fries with that?” or working at the Gap.

(B) If you’re thinking “oh, I’ll get to meet famous people…” — ok, in Nashville, on occasion it could happen. I’ve met, I think, 3 people of note through my job — the coolest being this lady — a friend of a client. She was ultra amazing and a total English lady in every sense of the word. Oh, and she’s still beautiful. I have photos with her and she even indulged me with an autographed press photo for my brother, a huge James Bond fan. We had nice conversations while chain-smoking cigarettes as she regaled me with stories of her time in the movies, her rounds in Hollywood and her work on “Goldfinger.”

(C) “…oh, maybe I’ll get famous, like Michael Beirut, David Carson or Stefan Sagmeister…” — don’t count on it. Chip Kidd said it best: “famous designer is like famous electrician”

(D) If you’re going into this field and you have an ego — you better lose it quick. Sooner or later (sooner, rather than later) you will have to sell out. Get used to selling out. Once, a friend of mine asked me “do you love everything that you design?” — I laughed and said “No! But the checks cash the same.” With that said, always do your best and give your all. But, note, there will be limitations — like images you have to pull from the internet or someone’s low resolution vacation photo they want to incorporate into the project. In these cases, refer to the famous words of one Mr. Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”) and “…make it WORK!”

(E) Get used to wearing a lot of hats — especially if you’re a freelancer. I’ve done the freelance thing for almost 5 years. I am the receptionist, the cleaning lady, the accountant, bills payable & receivable, customer service, order fulfillment, production artist, creative director, liaison (between printer and designer), typesetter, photo retoucher, editor and copywriter, just to name a few.

(F) To be a great graphic designer, you must learn to handle criticism well. Would I like every project to be my own ideas and a masterpiece? Sure. But there are always the clients that have their own visions. And those visions are unique to the client – and many times the client has a completely different approach that is refreshing. Learn to listen. It’s not about the designer, after all. It’s about a happy client.

(G) The client is always right. Now, mind you if they want your Photoshop files, you should refer to this post — but most of the time, you need to listen to the direction of what the client is requesting artistically.

(H) Above all else, you will be suited to this field if you meet one requirement: sitting in front of a computer and sketch book, drawing, dreaming and creating — and the whole time you’re doing these things, it is NOT WORK. I adore what I do. Do I get insane at times? Absolutely. But I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have friends who have desk jobs pushing paper — and the grand majority of them hate it with a burning passion.

THE GOOD NEWS

(A) I contain so much excitement and passion for the field I am in. There is magic in my profession. I can’t think of any other gig where you could say to 50 people “give me this product at the end, you have to use photos A, B, and C and it has to meet requirement 1, 2, 3, and 4” — and in the end you could have 50 results that meet the specifications.

(B) This is probably my favorite characteristic about my colleagues: graphic designers are a very sharing and giving community. There have been times I’ve been assigned a type of project that I’d never done before and I’ve had questions as to how to tackle the job. In those cases, I called up another designer or two – I’ve even emailed designers I didn’t really know – to seek advice; the common thread is that everyone has always been happy to help and give me counsel. We’re a tight group — we’ve all been through the war, so to speak.

(C) A fantastic perk of my job is that every day is different. There is no way to get bored. Then there are all the things one can learn — in the past few months I’ve learned about a Creek Indian leader, Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery, and the Planetarium at the Adventure Science Center of Nashville. I am always being presented an opportunity to find out new things. I feel so incredibly blessed to make a living doing something I consider fun and exciting and engaging.

(D) Graphic Designers are some of the most fun people you will ever meet. I love every single, solitary designer friend of mine. And I meet new ones all the time. We’re a well rounded and diverse group. And we usually have really fun parties or at least the invite to one.

(E) You get to write off all your cool technology from the Apple store. The iPhone is worth the blood, sweat and tears, right?

So, if you can take the good with the (sometimes) bad, then I’d say you are suited for a career as a graphic designer.

Good luck… if you’re willing to hang in there through this economy, you’re in for a treat.

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