What Do You Mean?
In graphic design, there are many many options when it comes to choosing a career. You can go into web design, print design, advertising design, animation, illustration, etc. Within those facets of design, there are also many different types of companies to choose from. You can work for a print shop, a magazine, a newspaper, a design studio, an advertising agency, and so on. Within THOSE specific places, you can hold many different positions from intern to creative director. It is extremely important that you know what direction you want to go BEFORE you start sending out resumes.
Why do I Need to Choose a Path First?
Once you start down one path in design, you will find it difficult to move away from it. For example, if you start off working for a newspaper, you’ll see that your career will advance — within the newspaper industry. If you start out as a web designer, it will be hard to convince a company to give you a shot as a senior prepress manager. They will be looking for someone with print and prepress experience — not someone who can write clean css. This is why it is important to decide now what type of design job you really want. You don’t want to start your career in a design field that you don’t enjoy because — before you know it — you’ll be stuck in that field, and unhappy. Take the time now to make the decision so you can build the career you really want.
What Type of Design Job Do I Want?
Not sure what you want? Think about what you are really good at. What classes did you excel in? What types of design work do you find enjoyable? Does time fly when you code websites? Can you not get enough InDesign? Do you thrive on tight deadlines and concept work? You want to put yourself in the position to start your career at the bottom of your chosen field of design, so that you can end up on top in that same field.
Still confused about your options? Don’t feel bad — you have many, so it’s hard to be educated about them all. Here are two helpful articles that break down some of the fields of design:
- Graphic Design job descriptions from Design: Talkboard
- 16 Designer Job Descriptions by Jacob Cass on his blog, Just Creative Design
You can also search the want ads and the online job boards for types of jobs in design. Look at the job requirements and duties to see what fits you best.
Another great way to find out about specific careers in the design field is to ask someone working in that position. Call, write, or email a professional working in a job that you think you might enjoy. You won’t believe how open and friendly most designers are — and how willing they are to share advice with new and upcoming designers. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them with your questions — find out first-hand what their daily responsibilities are, how many years they had to work to get to their current position, and what the best and worst parts are of their job.
Try to be realistic while you are making your decision. Be sure to take into consideration the current and future job market. Is there a big call for Photoshop artists or t-shirt illustrators in your area? Can you really make a living playing video games? How secure will a job at a newspaper be for a print designer in ten years? Can an animator find work in your area, or would you have to move to California? Here is a brief outlook for graphic designers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Do your own research to find out what types of jobs and design companies are in your area.
You also want to consider your current skillset, your education, and your experience. If you have a BFA in print design, it will be very difficult for you to get a job in animation. If your last job was in web design, you should probably be looking for a web job. If you have limited experience, you shouldn’t expect to get a senior design position. You’ll need to put in more time on the job — probably 5 years or so — to earn a position like this. If you are a new graduate, you will have to start out in an entry-level position. Be realistic and be aware of your talents and experiences when deciding what your next steps should be.
Worried about which design paths will bring in the most income? Check out this Creative Opera post: How Much Money Do Graphic Designers Make? to get a handle on the best paying design careers. Realistically, you may have to choose between what you love, and what can pay the bills. The choice is yours — but you want to make it yourself, not have it made for you. Think long and hard about what type of life you want for yourself. Personally, I chose what I loved over what would make the most money. But, I have friends who chose the other way — and they go on many more vacations than I do!
What about work hours? Do you have (or want to have) a family? Do you need to be home by 5pm every night, or do you enjoy the challenge of a more demanding work schedule? How do you feel about travel? Most positions with smaller design firms won’t require any travel, while it is hard to get a job in an ad agency without travel requirements.
What about stress or responsibility levels? I love multi-tasking, jumping from project to project, and working under demanding deadlines. It’s fun for me — but it’s not for everyone. Think about how you work best. Do you need to concentrate on one thing at a time? Do you prefer to work alone or in groups? These things will often depend on the size of a company. If you work in a smaller company, you will be required to perform various job duties like managing your own projects, dealing with clients, and sometimes even making sales calls. In a larger company, you may have a more specialized job — working for only one client with a large team. You’ll want to think about what situation would be best for you.
Create Your Path
So what do you do now that you have done all of this research? Now that you have delved deep inside your soul to find out where you belong in the world of design? You need to use all of your new found information to create a path for yourself. Start with your dream job and work backwards.
For example, if my dream job is to become the senior designer at a small prestigious design firm — working mainly on identity design, then that is where I will start. I will find some job openings similar to my dream job, and look at the requirements. How many years of experience do I need? What type of experience do I need? I might even call or email the company and mention that I am just starting out, but someday would like a job like this one, and ask what type of experience they suggest I get to increase my chances of landing a job like this one in the future. I can then use all of this information to create a path from where I am now to where I want to be. I can try to get an entry-level job that will give me the experiences I need to get a mid-level job that will give me the experiences I need to eventually interview for my dream job.
It sounds like a lot of work. I realize that this is the most boring part of the process. But, it is such an important step, and is almost always skipped over. I wish someone had stressed the importance of knowing where I was going when I was starting my career path. The more clear your destination, the easier it is to choose your roads. Take the time and do the research that you need to decide what is going to be right for you. You may not land in the exact job that you hoped for, but taking the time to think through your goals will give you a much better chance at building a career that works with your life and makes you happy.