As a graphic design instructor, and as a professional designer, I hear the same things over and over again. I’m not sure where the rumors started, or how they continue to grow, but I thought it was time that someone set the record straight.
Myth #1: All Graphic Designers are Rich
I probably hear this from new students more than anyone else. Some of them are in school because they love design and can’t imagine doing anything else. But, a surprisingly large percentage of them are expecting to leave their graduation ceremony in a limousine. Somehow, they have gotten the message that graphic design will bring them fame and fortune. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this simply isn’t the way it works.
Design is an extremely competitive field, and therefore, companies don’t need to go broke to keep their design departments staffed. There is always someone out there willing to work for less, and unfortunately, that keeps our salary rate pretty low right out of school. If you’re talented, and you put in the time and the work, you will move up the pay scale. But, be realistic. You’re not going to be making doctor or lawyer money. Not unless you want to do the hard stuff. If you have the drive and talent to be a back-end programmer, then you might take home a pretty nice paycheck.
I don’t think that most of us are starving, but I know that many of us work a 9 to 5 and freelance on the side just to make ends meet. If you really want to know what type of salary to expect as a graphic designer, read this Creative Opera post, “Design FAQ: How Much Money Do Graphic Designers Make?”
Myth #2: It’s an Easy Job
When I tell people I’m a Graphic Designer, the usual response is, “Oh, that must be FUN!” as if Graphic Design isn’t a real job. I’ve had clients say, “I wish I could come to your office and play all day with you instead of working.” I’ve had students who have answered my “What made you choose Graphic Design?” question with, “It’s an easy job. I want an easy job.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that’s it’s not easy, it’s not a game, and it’s not a joke. Designers work long hours, under extremely tight deadlines, for demanding clients. We are expected to do design work, customer service, accounting, and sales. We are the ultimate multi-taskers, working on several projects at once , and we are expected to constantly come up with fresh creative ideas. Any designer who owns their own firm has all of the responsibilities of any other company owner. Just because the end product might be clever or beautiful, that doesn’t mean that a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears weren’t sacrificed for that end result. If you love design, you should do it. If you’re looking for an easy job, look elsewhere.
Myth #3: The Studying Ends After College
If you don’t like books or if you don’t like constantly learning new things, graphic design may not be the field for you. When I look back at my college books, I laugh. We were using Photoshop 3, and Illustrator had just started to replace Correl Draw. It has been up to me, for the last 10 years, to constantly read books, study tutorials, and attend classes to make sure that my skills upgraded with the design programs. Not only did I have to keep up with the latest software, I had to keep up with the world. As a print designer, I had to take it upon myself to expand my skillset to include Dreamweaver, HTML, XHTML, and CSS. I taught myself Flash and I’m doing my best to figure out PHP. I own enough books to start a small library, and I probably spend as much time updating my skills and learning new things as I do working on paid projects.
It is important to stay on top of the latest programs, the newest trends, and to continually expand your skillset. Why? Graphic design is extremely competitive. If you’re not constantly learning, you’re going to get passed up by those who are.
Myth #4: Designers Don’t Have to Deal with People
It seems that many designers have this lovely image of their future selves sitting in front of two gorgeous wide-screen Apple displays while rocking out to their favorite band — designing in peaceful bliss for 8 hours each day. There might be a few jobs like this available somewhere. But, for most of us, we will be dealing with clients — or a sales team — on a daily basis. Be ready for constant interruptions, jumping from project to project as the calls come in. Be ready for meetings, phone conferences, and a hundred daily emails. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the position of Project Manager, hounding clients who seem to have dropped the ball on a project, or following up with past clients.
People want to communicate with their designer. And, in order to create a successful end product, it is in your best interest to form a relationship with your clients — even if their calls interrupt your favorite song.
Myth #5: Clients Realize that the Designer Knows Best, and will Give them Freedom to Design
Probably one of the hardest concepts for a student or a new designer to grasp is that after school is over, they are done designing for themselves. Sure, there is the rare (and treasured) client that will trust you to make all of the right decisions. But, most clients come in armed with myths #2 and #7 and assume that they can do your job just as well or better than you can. They will direct every detail and revise your designs into the ground.
Once you are working for a paying client, it doesn’t matter what colors you like, what fonts you like, or that the design would be cleaner if some text was cut. If the client wants to squeeze 3 full 8.5 x 11 sheets of text onto a regular tri-fold brochure, it is up to you to make it work. If the company colors are mauve and royal blue, it’s up to you to make it work. This can be extremely frustrating at first, but remember, it’s the client who needs to be happy here. Not you. It’s not your job to create something you love. It’s your job to create something your client loves.
Try to look at each client as a challenge. First, you must try to read their mind. What do they want? How can I create something they will love? Then, you have to give them what they want, and still try to maintain solid design principles. Go in knowing that there will be many revisions. Expect that the client may make things difficult by demanding you use a certain image or by adding a bunch of copy. And, then, when it happens, use it as a test to see how talented you really are. Make it work. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that the client is the boss — not you — the better.
Myth #6: Designers Can Easily Start their own Company right out of School
So many students live with the belief that they will start their own multi-million dollar company the day after they graduate. I see the seniors in class gathering their friends and designing business cards so they can all partner up and rake in the money. Now, I’m not saying that it hasn’t been done, or that it’s impossible. But, I am saying that it is highly unlikely that you will go straight from the classroom to owner of your own company with no prior experience. And, it’s not smart to assume so.
You do learn a lot in school. But, you don’t learn half of the things that you’ll need to know to run a company. Those are things that you learn on the job. You’re not going to learn how to deal with clients, how to handle contracts, estimates, and billing, or how to hire illustrators and printers at school. You’re not going have a network of reliable people right out of school. You’re not going to know how to run a meeting, how to set up a conference call, or how to keep track of hundreds of open jobs. It is important that you build a foundation for yourself with professional experience before you venture off on your own.
If you’re hoping to start your own design business someday, try to find a job in a smaller company where you can have your hands in many departments. You’ll learn a lot that way. If you have the patience, work for a few different companies so that you can see that there are different ways to run a successful firm. Start building your freelance cliental, make sure you have some savings, figure out your taxes, get your insurance and a retirement plan in order, and THEN take the leap and start your own company. The road will be much easier this way, and much more likely to end in success.
Myth #7: Anyone Can Do It
As designers, we get a lot of “Oh, my cousin is a designer,” or “My friend is a designer,” just to find out that these people know a little Photoshop, or create invitations with Word. The two examples I seem to run across the most is those who have played with Photoshop Elements, and those who have created their first website with FrontPage. People think that because they can remove red-eye or make a photo sepia-tone, they are on their way to a second career in Graphic Design. These are the people I am up against when a client says “I have a neighbor who will design my website for $50.00.”
Don’t let these individuals affect you. Don’t drop your prices to meet theirs or become overly competitive with them. It is okay that people find design to be an enjoyable hobby. If any of them want to become full-time designers, they will still have to complete the courses and learn the skills that you already have. In the meantime, try not to be frustrated. You’re going to hear it the rest of your career. Everyone thinks they are a designer, and you just have to be secure enough to stay professional and let them be. You know that there is a lot of talent, time, and dedication involved with becoming a professional designer, so try not to roll your eyes or feel threatened. It should make you feel good to know that you have a job that others actually want to do for fun in their spare time. Lucky you!
Myth #8: There are Plenty of Dream Jobs to Go Around
I’ve found that most student designers share the same dreams. They want to test video games, create album covers (only for their favorite bands), design t-shirts, or spend their days color-correcting images in Photoshop. Your dreams may be different, and that’s probably good. The problem is that some students are so set on these dream jobs, that they forget to make themselves marketable just in case they can’t land one of these rare positions. Try to be realistic. Expand your skill-set just in case. Don’t close your mind to other possibilities. There just aren’t that many of these jobs available. If you can’t make it as a video game tester, you’ll be glad that you took your other classes seriously so that you can land a job as a character designer instead. As a designer, you can never know too much. And, if you have a wide range of knowledge, you’ll be surprised how many other awesome jobs you’ll have to choose from!
Want to better your chances of landing your dream job? You might want to read the Creative Opera post, “6 Things You can Do Now to Help Guarantee that You will have a Design Job after Graduation”
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