So You Want to be a Graphic Designer? - Advice for Aspiring Minds Who Love Design

So You Want to be a Graphic Designer? - Advice for Aspiring Minds Who Love Design

"I think I want to get into graphic design, any advice?" For some reason, in the past two months I've gotten at least a dozen emails or Facebook messages about this one question, so I thought I'd brain dump all my advice into one blog post. 

Graphic Design is amazing. Clearly, I love it. I chose it as profession. But there's a lot of misconceptions of what it is and more importantly, what it takes. So behold several questions to ask yourself if you're interested in design:

Do you have to go to school? I chat about this question with my designer friends quite often, especially now that I have some years under my belt since I graduated. And its generally a split decision if you ask someone who's been in the business a while. Do you have to go to college for Design to do it? No. Is it going to help you tremendously? Yes. There's the obvious points of course - you're going to take the time to properly learn design theory, history, and be able to have a solid portfolio when you graduate. But the main disadvantage I see by not going to school is you miss the epic experience of Critique aka "the Crit." where a student formally presents his or her work to the faculty and fellow students. 

For those who aren't familiar with this, think of the Critique as a your course final. A brutal, nerve wracking on another level exam that if you fail, you don't just get an "F" and cry silently. No no sweet child. You're going to be ripped apart in front of your peers on that final and be graded by not only how well you take your beating, but how witty your rebuttal is from those jabs given to you. 

Ok, that might be me working through some hurtful memories from college, but all joking aside the crit is by far one of the most valuable things I took away from Art School. I had some brutal professors. I mean, brutal. And they ripped my work apart throughout school. Which felt like a personal attack because as a creative, we feel like our work is part of who we are. Getting a bit woo-woo, I know, but its the truth. Our projects are our heart, souls, deepest thoughts, and a visual representation of our hard work. So when someone critiques it, it feels like an attack. But its not. The Critique in each class is not only to weed out those who can't stomach it in the long run, but it will make you a better artist. The majority of the crit's I got were constructive and in the end my work was stronger for it. It can be hard to endure, but its an exercise that you'll be thankful for if you want to do this in the long run. Which ties perfectly to my next point.

Do you tend to take things personally? Can you take constructive criticism? Because if you think surviving a critique sounds hard, wait till its a paying client. Most designers specialize in brand identity aka, you're branding a business. So you're going to be designing the visual representation of someone's dream, hard work, and probably a good chunk of their savings. This is going to be their baby, their pride and joy, and they are going to tell you (as they should) if you're completely off base in your design...or if they don't like it. And that might hurt a little. 

Now there's plenty of conversation and research that should happen before you get to that point to avoid this type of issue. But sometimes...they just don't like it. It could be you did everything they asked, and they're just a pain in the ass. Or it could be your design isn't up to par. Either way, its going to sting and/or infuriate you. You can not take things like this personally. So if you're someone who tends to over react to emails/conversations and can't get past that, I'd recommend either going to school or taking a course to be able to thicken your skin in critiques or really think if this is something that you want to do. Whether its brand identity, invites, web sites, product and UX design....the theme through it all is your translating people's wishes on to paper. And if you don't get it right, you need to be able to take criticism and get back to the drawing board. 

Can you multi-task? Whether you work for yourself and freelance, or work for a corporate company, you'll be multi-tasking several projects and clients at a time. The more senior you are in a  company, the more you will be expected to juggle. And if you work for yourself, you're playing book keeper, lawyer, project manger, and designer all at once. There (hopefully) is always a lot going on and it can be stressful to keep it all straight. Being able to multi-task is a characteristic that will prove itself very useful. (You may like my my blog post for some apps to make running your business easier)

Do you like being challenged and constantly learning? Because it never stops. Trends change. Your software updates constantly. You have to be prepared to stay current on a variety of things to stay on top of your design game. Most of us enjoy it. But if you don't keep up with the times, you'll quickly become an outdated designer. 

Do I need to be prepared to spend money for equipment? Yes. You're going to need a pretty efficient computer with a  good bit of memory on it. Otherwise you're not going to be able to run half the software you need. There's is NOTHING more infuriating than waiting 10 minutes for Photoshop to load. Trust. 

And then there's the software. Get Adobe Creative Cloud. Not Canva or Elements. Not any of the other freebies. Cough up the $50/month so you have the right software. Because when you're working with a printer or another designer, its going to make your life so much easier than being "that guy" with the different file types no ones use to working with. 

Do you enjoy being on the computer? This seems like a no brainer but think of how much time you think you'll be at the computer and you'd be safe doubling that number. Because you're not just going to be designing. You'll be researching, wire framing, writing proposals, invoicing, book keeping, and of course...learning. Playing on your software and learning the new releases will save you time (and therefore money) in the long run. 

Do you love being creative? At the end of the day, you could have said the "right" answer to all of these questions but if you don't have passion for being creative, you will burn out. You'll lose sight of why you're doing this in the first place, blow up at a client, or worse...stop caring about what you design. Having that fire inside of you for wanting to create things is the most important piece of the puzzle. 

That was quite a long list, but hopefully I've given you a clearer picture on the road to being a designer. I absolutely love design and photography, and if you're ever interested in chatting more, make sure you sign up for my newsletter or message me!

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