8 Common Graphic Design Myths Revealed

posted by Manda 106 Comments

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”

Hungry for more design myths? Check out 8 MORE Graphic Design Myths!

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j000 August 10, 2009 at 3:19 am

This is so true I used to think as well until I decided to be a web designer. Thanks for sharing this great post I will tweet it for the rest of the world to see and learn.

Cara August 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

I think it’s funny that I have never heard any of these myths. I guess I shouldn’t say ALL of those myths. I’ve heard of one or two of them, but never believed it. Like anyone can do it and you can get your dream job right out of school. I’m not a fool. All my life I have been designing things, and I’ve seen work from those who said they were “designers.” And I know that education will never stop. I think that will be one of the best things about my career as a designer. Right now I am learning how to design a web site at my internship. The Web Designers here have taught me so much, it was like taking two extra courses. There is always going to be more to learn, even if you’ve been in the industry for years.

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[…] You can read the article in its entirety here. […]

Mark August 29, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Each one of these made me laugh a little inside. I just got told I made a lot of money today because they “knew what designers made”. Huge myth.
.-= Mark´s last blog ..Inexpensive Ways to Market Your Business =-.

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Pamela Harvey October 14, 2009 at 5:37 am

Loved the article, so true! Here’s what I have to offer:

Myth #9:
The graphic designer is also an illustrator. The designer can do technical illustrations, create cartoon characters, transform the photo of Aunt
Sally into an engraving the size of a postage stamp. All at no extra fee.

While many graphic designers can, and do this work, many also subcontract illustration, just as they subcontract photography, and they, or the vendors, require separate compensation. The myth is that the client will receive illustration included in the design fee, that the designer by definition is also an illustrator, (hence the term “graphic artist”) and that the client will not have to purchase images or fund custom illustration or photography, so there is no corresponding budget allowance for this. “Oh, I didn’t realize we’d have to buy images. Can’t you just do it?”

I like to use the interior design analogy: the interior designer puts together fabric, floor materials, accessories, window treatments, etc. and various other components to engineer an appealing, beautiful, approachable and functional ambiance for any room or rooms in a home or office. But the interior designer does not make the quarry tile, silk/wool jacquard chair covering, or bleached oak flooring, and most clients seem to understand this and do not mind paying for “materials” that obviously, and from necessity, are outsourced.

The fact is that a successful final graphic design for anything from packaging, corporate identity, billboards, signage, to web design and email marketing comes from the work of many people: account executives, designers, art directors, production designers, illustrators, printers, and sign fabricators. To a greater or lesser extent, depending on the size of the graphics firm, whether a newbie (or “oldbie”) one-man-band or an experienced studio of thirty, the designer needs to be compensated, not only for the design itself, but for the outsourced services that make the end result a functional and aesthetically pleasing solution for the client.

Web Design Company October 26, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Great Post. i refer back to this post often. Thanks for the reference.
.-= Web Design Company´s last blog ..Airoom =-.

Mitos sobre el diseño November 2, 2009 at 11:46 am

[…] Articulo Original: 8 Common Graphic Design Myths Revealed […]

professional website Templates November 18, 2009 at 5:39 am

Nice post … i really appreciate .. thank you

Design Informer November 28, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Wow! Great post Manda! Everything is spot on! #1 and #2 are my favorites.

I am definitely not rich, but some of my friends seem to think so.

Also, being a designer is not easy. People don’t realize that we probably work more hours than most people do. Most people, they work their 8 hours and go home. Me, I live and breathe design. I work 8 hours, then go home and work on my freelance business, and then I run a design blog. Very tiring!

Thanks for this great article!
.-= Design Informer´s last blog ..Wallpaper of the Week – Escape =-.

ashley December 5, 2009 at 3:16 pm
IS THE BEST! Check it out.

Cierra December 9, 2009 at 11:44 pm

I LOVE this blog!! It is so helpful. I am currently a student pursuing a career in Graphic Design and It is no easy as some people make it seem. Long hours drawing out layouts, then long hours transferring them to the computer..oh and the cost of supplies.

@gariphic January 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Great post, enjoyed reading this whilst nodding my head in agreement to every point. Graphic Design is one of the few professions where we have to wear many different hats. (It also helps if you can read minds and turn jobs around by yesterday).

It always frustrates me how the profession of graphic design is often perceived, such as fun, unprofessional, casual, ‘free’lance. There is very little respect for the experience, craft, education + talent. People tend to view lawyers as professionals and pay them $200/hour, but not so for designers.

Mt biggest peeve is when clients say work for cheap, it will be a good portfolio builder. What other profession is asked to work for free or on spec? Would you ask a mechanic to work on your car on spec or to add to his mechanic ‘portfolio’ — of course not.

Graphic Design February 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I especially agree with #5 and I’m sure most freelancers or small design studios struggle with getting clients to understand and accept our professional opinion/recommendations.

The only myth I don’t agree with is #1. I’ve never once met a designer or student that believed the graphic design profession would lead to immense wealth. On the contrary, I’ve found most students and young professionals worry immensely with making a decent living in this field.

Thanks for the post!

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Joanna @BOCOCreative March 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

So true! #7 especially resonates with me and my experience.

Chicago Web Design March 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for this great article! So many people think that they know everything about web design / graphic design, when many of them believe these very myths you have pointed out.

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[…] 8 Common Graphic Design Myths Revealed […]

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stella March 24, 2010 at 10:59 am

Your Comments great article, but it made me feel a bit sad and hopeless. I always wanted to be an illustrator when I was growing up but was pressurised into a hard science degree path. 20 years later I’m a struggling freelance web designer – after having spent the first 10 years as a struggling artist. I was just getting somewhere great with the art when I became very ill and now I am struggling just to get back to the same pay grade (do you know how frustrating it is to learn about 6 programming languages and still know that I got 10 times as much money last time I drew a 30cm sq. picture with felt-tip pens?)

I feel really miserable if the point that it’s impossible to be a ‘real’ graphic designer without a degree. I have 2 degrees and sundry other qualifications already and I can’t afford another. I was bullied out of taking art or graphic design when I was too young to stand up for myself (we had to decide at age 12). I’m nearly 40 and this has basically ruined my life. Sorry if that sounds melodramatic but I was the kid who was always sketching, the quiet imaginative one. A freind’s mother asked me a long time ago if they should ‘allow’ their young daughter to take fashion design at college and I explained that it wasn’t worth ruining her life just to stop her from “wasting” her time with art college. That was the attitude people had with me – I was top of every class at school, so I *must* become a scientist of some sort, pencils and paper are for babies and losers and it’s not a “proper job”.

I think somehow that should be one of your myths.

Sorry if I ruined an up-beat little thread here, it’s been a quiet day here.

Manda March 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Hi Stella, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

I feel terrible for your situation, but please don’t let it get you down. As a college instructor, I see many (MANY) students your age looking to change careers, and most of them are extremely successful in their second career. There is something to be said about following a career path when you are more determined and mature — and when you really understand what you want out of life. It’s never too late!!

Please also do not worry that you don’t have the time or money to return to school. It is becoming more and more acceptable in the field of design to enter your first job without a college design degree. (In fact, I am planning a post about exactly this on Friday – so check back!) A potential employer will be happy to see that you’ve been to school (no matter the degree) and should be able to appreciate the hard work and dedication it took you to learn so much on your own. Check out the information shared by the Usman Group in this article. Do you see what they say about having a college degree? Not a requirement!!

There are so many helpful (free!) articles and tutorials online that with a good amount of determination, you can learn everything you need to put together a good portfolio and land your dream job. And, if there is still more that you’d like to learn, you can check out — which I love — or find a training center or highschool community night class where you can learn whatever design skills you like for much less than you would pay for a full-fledged design degree.

Don’t give up Stella! I can see that you have a true passion for design. Please keep at it, I know you will succeed! Best of luck to you 🙂

Chicago Web Designer April 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Great Article, I’ll have to check this blog out more often.

Web Design Chicago July 31, 2010 at 1:08 am

Amen! So many people think graphic design is simple and takes minutes…little do they know. One piece of 40 layers can take an hour to create. The work is tedious to say the least. Although I enjoy the heck out of it.

Great article… I like your style!


Manda August 20, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Ha ha! Isn’t it funny? I think perhaps people think it’s so simple because we all love it so much that we just don’t complain about it. I know I can work for days on one layout — and it seems like 30 minutes. Time always flies when I’m doing something I love!

SPEAK DSGN.CO » 10 Reasons why freelancing is hard October 8, 2010 at 10:55 am

[…] one of the great Graphic Design Myths of our time: design is easy. Anyone can do it. Clients only see the end result. Once it’s on […]

Opportunities August 1, 2011 at 10:58 am

Becoming a freelance web designer is certainly not an easy job and requires really hard work especially in the beginning because you have to build a portfolio to show your work and gain the experience required.

mike September 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

I am a recent graduate trying to find a job in Web design. I have to agree that the money is not there. Everyone expects something for nothing, and figures it is easy to create a 500 page site. I would love to get into the industry i spent so much time studying, but I might have to take a regular 9-5 just to pay the bills. If anyone needs a Web site, please hire me! lol

Elin October 4, 2011 at 3:33 am

Up to this moment, these myths are still circling around. I’d say when you need help when it comes to website design, do not waste your time. Hire a professional Graphic Designers. It’s a good investment., truly worth it.

Jaime April 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Wow this was an insanely insightful article, I mean a lot of the things mentioned should be common sense but it is occasionally good to refresh yourself.

Honestly this read cleared up and brought back some things I forgot i knew.

Thank you so much Manda,
I am definitely keeping this close.

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Jodie August 17, 2013 at 7:29 am

This article is a brilliant read and has reinforced my thoughts on what we do everyday in reality and what everyone thinks we do. More students need to understand these myths, so that they only go not design if they still love it after knowing these facts, that way the de-valuing of design by those who will work for free or a pittance can slowly be eradicated. But alas, that’s like wishing for gold eggs.

Royal Flush Studios August 21, 2013 at 8:45 am

Thanks for sharing this article. This is a must read for up and coming designers who are looking to establish themselves in this competitive market.

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