24 November 2020

A letter to a college student about my career in graphic design

Dear Chloë, 

Thank you for asking my advice on the subject of Graphic Design. I’m so flattered and know that whatever career path you take, you’ll really fly! I’ve been so impressed by your many talents and skills, I’m sure it’s hard to choose a favorite. Luckily, I have a feeling you’ll be able to keep dabbling and stretching yourself in each area and gain even more areas of expertise. This was fun to look back on the many years of growth. I’m always happy to help you if you have more questions. xo. Marta Dansie

Describe education and career path. My education took some twists and turns and looks different than I had once hoped. I finished a couple years at the U of U. I took communications and health and family consumer science courses (which I loved). However, I spent most of my time in the Arts building, working on prerequisites to apply for the Graphic Design program. I loved Art History class and the 2D and 3D art classes stretched me in new ways. I was exposed to creative mediums I had never tried before. I loved my artsy classmates, from all walks of life, who worked long hours in the Art building. I took Photoshop software classes and worked on building my portfolio. I looked forward to learning more about graphic design and hoped I would be accepted. My husband, Dan was applying for law schools at that same time. He received good news of acceptance to a law school in California while I was denied entrance to the graphic design program; my portfolio needed work. Now that I know better, I realize it lacked a cohesive theme running through each piece. 

We moved to California and I looked for work to support Dan. I submitted that same portfolio for a graphic design position at a big printing firm called Kenny the Printer. By some small miracle, I got the job and received a baptism by fire, learning graphic design on the job. They must’ve been very desperate to fill the position. I learned a lot that year, my co-workers were very patient with my shortcomings. I think back to that year and am grateful I learned how to design something from scratch and send it to print. I learned the importance of CMYK colors, high resolution images, getting approval signatures from clients and creating vector images. I worked there for a year and decided to start my own freelance business, working from home, once we moved home to Utah. I’ve been self-taught ever since!

How did you choose graphic design. I have loved magazines and note cards my whole life. My cousin and I were pen pals at a young age and I enjoyed finding the best stationery for our correspondence. I’ve always been drawn to typography on signage and into fonts and how they paired up. I love how something like a logo can say so much about a business, even down to the paper it’s printed on. These choices all add up to create a story about what that business wants to be. I liked collage work and scrapbooking. I thought learning how to format items on a page would help me make books and writing was a passion too. My sister needed assistance designing Opa’s books, and I needed a job as a newlywed, so it fell into my lap. She painstakingly helped me learn the basics of layout and design. I owe her a lot for being so patient. 

Would you change anything to get into this career. I would’ve liked to finish school, however I think learning as I went was also incredibly helpful. I was ashamed that I was a “drop-out” for a long time and realize now it’s okay that I made different choices and supported my husband in the process. I would’ve been easier on myself knowing that plenty of people find their passion in unique ways. When I was building the portfolio for graphic design, I wish I would’ve chosen a topic or theme that I was passionate about. It would’ve been better executed had I really dug in deep and worked on something that mattered more to me.  I really appreciate artists and wish I was one! Delving deeper into illustration would’ve added another killer ingredient to make the graphic design work more special. 

How has graphic design changed since I started. Social media has changed graphic design! There are so many apps and templates available now. We had to create everything from scratch. I am grateful for YouTube. Since I am self taught, everytime I’m stuck with an issue, I can google it now and receive immediate help! The programs continue to improve, it’s fun to continue to learn new things in Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. I love the big, wide world of graphic design and how easily you can find fellow designers through social media. Collaborating with other artists (I’ve never met) is one of my favorite newer things that I’ve enjoyed. 

 Is there anything about your job that surprises people? I’m not sure what might surprise someone. It is funny that I have a handful of clients I have never met. The majority of the time I create something for someone, have it printed in another state and have the print shop deliver it straight to my client. I don’t get to actually see the printed piece! This is only after years of building trust with both my client and this print shop to know it’s gonna be high quality work. 

Another surprising thing is how I get inspired. I will see wallpaper, a child’s drawing, typography on a bus or a clothing catalogue and find it super inspiring. How it’s placed or the colors used will provoke me to create something. I like that circle of inspiration, go go going forward.

What type of people do you work with? One of the best things about being a freelance designer is getting to work with the people I want to work with. At first, I said yes to anyone who was willing to pay me! Now, I can really hone in on the type of clients I want. If I can tell that a client seems high maintenance or impossible to please, I can say no and direct them to another fellow designer. I have the pleasure of working with awesome people. I choose to surround myself with people who are thoughtful, artistic and creative which makes me so happy. 

There is a customer for every budget and I’ve weaned the clients who don’t want to pay my prices and customers who don’t understand why paper goods are important! I love commissioning other illustrators as well. I  work with artists who want to sell their goods at craft fairs and need help with prints, labels, packaging and business cards. I find a lot of joy supporting small businesses, entrepreneurs and handmade artisans, so bouncing ideas off each other is worth gold. Gaining a network of creatives who share ideas and resources has been the key to any success I’ve had. I highly recommend finding your people, the kind who aren’t jealous but are the enthusiastic, cheerleading type. This is what every small business owner needs. 

One of my very best friends is what one might call direct competition. She emailed me after following my blog for awhile. We are moms running graphic design businesses out of our homes, we have similar aesthetic tastes, we both create paper goods and work with a variety of clientele. However, instead of jealousy, she created this thoughtful environment of sharing ideas and building each other up. She fawns over and emails me the links to the coolest scripty fonts, the best printers in town, and letterpress inspiration. We often help each other when we are stuck - designwise. We have discussed pricing, printing woes, problem clients and given each other plenty of advice - usually in the wee hours. I’ve been amazed that this friendship has only grown and never felt competitive. It’s one of the best things I’ve learned in my life. 

Describe a typical day of work. I am first and foremost a mother, so I am usually busy doing mom tasks for the most part. However, I carve out time to do emails and work at the computer for a few hours. After lunch I will work and then after bedtime, I get back to work. I squeeze in emails here and there. In my busy season, I have to stay up late or get up early to have quiet time to work. I am usually balancing many clients at once and they are all at different points in their projects. I will be in final revisions with one client, corresponding on the inspiration board of another client and sending files to print and emailing new clients along the way. Sending invoices and purchasing royalties to commercial clip-art is constant as well. I’ve been upping my game with posting on Instagram in my down time. Once a quarter I’ll photograph my own paper goods, which takes me a full day to shoot and edit and prep them for Instagram posts. I enjoy this type of photoshoot work, otherwise I’d outsource it. I like that I can figure out how to balance my work and take on as many clients as I feel I can handle. Even though taxes, invoicing and the nitty gritty is never fun - it is an important part of the job that can’t go ignored. 

Has Covid changed my job at all?  Thankfully no. One of my busy seasons is fall, gearing up for the holidays and more clients have reached out to me this year which is amazing. I think everyone is craving season’s greetings and sending well wishes to all their loved ones. People are also being generously thoughtful in choosing to support small businesses at this time. I feel so grateful! My kids are homeschooling because of Covid, so finding any alone time to work has been more difficult this year - but locking myself in my room while my husband takes over in the evening has been helpful. I’m grateful for a partner who has supported me in my business since day one!

What do I need to know to be a graphic designer? (I could go on and on about this question!) You’ll need skills in Adobe software. We all have our comfort zones, but knowing InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop has served me well. For instance, you would build a logo for a billboard in Illustrator, you’d do fine detail work on images with Photoshop and create a cookbook or multi-page pamphlet with InDesign. They each have their solid strengths and knowing which one will provide the best end result is helpful. You’ll need to learn how to finalize each product; usually graphic designers are the middle men. Clear communication with clients is key. Are they putting the final image on a t-shirt or a skateboard? Do they need it for a website or a business card? I often find myself problem-solving for  clients and knowing which type of artwork file my client needs in the end is the solution. Dabble around in what you like best; formatting books, making logos, website work, doing product design, etc. I think eventually creating a niche for what you prefer to design is the best way to go about finding your favorite clientele. 

Another important skill is knowing how to take feedback well. Learn to know that not everyone has your exact same aesthetic and be willing to lean in an opposite direction for your client’s tastes - not your own. Once you build up enough work, you will start pulling in clients that like your work and appreciate the type of design you do best! You’ll need to put yourself out there and be willing to drum up business, post on social media and charge your friends (or offer trades) for your design work. It’s awkward at first, but it helps with your mindset to take your business seriously.

Is it necessary to graduate with a degree in graphic design? No, definitely not. However I think the education would be extra helpful tools in your toolbox; the more experience you have with graphic designing, the better! A design firm is more likely to hire someone with a degree and killer portfolio. No one has ever asked me to see a diploma (phew!), however they do want to see what I’ve designed in the past. 

What skills or practices have you learned from your job that have positively impacted your life? Time management. Making tight deadlines! Clear and transparent communication with clients. I’m so much better at responding to emails rather than ignoring them. Knowing I’m not for everyone and that’s okay. Pushing myself to make goals and work to achieve them. Showing my kids that I run my own business and work hard. Knowing if the breadwinner in our family loses his job, I have the skills to earn and provide. Running in the same circles as other like-minded small business owners makes me happy; we are all cheering each other on. Looking for inspiration everywhere and getting paid for being creative is really wonderful too.

What’s your end goal for your career? I look more at this career as a side hustle or fun hobby that makes a little money. I am not a big dreamer in that way, however I do think it would be neat to write, design and publish a book someday. I used to crave to be discovered or gain fame in some way and now know that fame is not shiny or very glamorous. I am glad I can do little design jobs as they come and fiddle with personal projects here and there. I love finding beauty in the ordinary and that’s what I’ve come to enjoy in my own work. No one else needs to think it’s ultra fabulous - if my client and I am pleased with it, that can be enough.

Do you expect your job to change within 5 years? Yes and no. I think the basics will stay the same however I think the trajectory is headed for more social media presence and websites for growing businesses. More shortcuts for creating graphic design pieces will come about, but having your own toolkit and knowledge of building graphics from scratch will always be helpful. Hard work will never go out of style. I think it will be a popular field of interest, however the opportunities are endless. I think people will crave a unique and artistic voice, because we will be inundated with the templates and the color palettes that get overused. True, artistic taste and an unapologetic one is always more interesting to look at.

What is the hardest / least favorite thing about your job? The business-ey stuff like taxes and making sure I don’t spend more than I earn is not my favorite. Invoicing clients and figuring out how much to charge took a long time to get right. Figuring out what your time is worth and asking for it is hard! I also find it tough when I feel stuck and need to start over or if I have a super picky client. Sometimes it is like mind-reading, hoping to know what they want! People are passionate about their businesses and need their logo to be just right; so pulling out a lot of details and information is helpful. Tight deadlines on big projects have given me many sleepless nights, but the feeling of accomplishment helps ease the pain. 

What is my favorite part of the job? I love creating something that didn’t exist before. I enjoy listening to a client’s needs and then designing something they are really pleased with! I love packaging orders with extra care. I love building a client’s main logo and then morphing it in new, yet cohesive ways within their printed materials so it all works together. I really love sharing ideas and talking business with other small business owners. I love discovering cool new illustrators all over the world and buying the rights to their work and utilizing it on my own. I enjoy pushing myself to get better in certain areas or make mini goals for my work. I love that I can do it at my own pace, take on the clients I want and shut it down if I need to. I love working from home and having the freedom to put my kids’ needs first. It is kind of a dream job for my situation. I feel so lucky!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...