Lauren at Creative Curio has set out 6 questions on being a graphic designer and asked other designers to answer them as she has to give people a little insight into the ups and downs of the graphic design industry.

I decided to take some time out and answer them here.

Six Questions on Being a Graphic Designer

Just for reference, when and how did you get your start in the industry?

I started at about 16, my first job to pay me through college was washing down big industrial presses on the night shift, although it was easy work I got to know a lot of people in the print industry and got a lot of experience of litho printing, which little did I know back then would come in very handy later in life.

Half way through my college A-Level I put myself forward to join a design firm in Nottingham (UK) to do some free work on a brochure they were doing for young people to find out about housing and benefits etc.

They had hired firms to design it before but kids just weren’t warming to the ideas it was relating to and so they decided to hire young to appeal to young.

The idea we came up with was to design the booklet around the theme of the film trainspotting, which was massive at the time, although out target audience was 15-17 year olds and the movie was an 18, everybody knew about it so we decided to go with it.

Thankfully for us it was a massive hit and we got an award for it so that was my first taste of the industry and my first lesson that in design being to literal when targeting a certain group can often hold you back.

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How do you define graphic design?

I’m not the best person to ask as people are always having a go at me for calling everything Graphic Design, I guess it’s because the work I do covers so many different areas I rarely get to specialize in anything and people that do specialize in a certain area tend to what to be known for that exact skill rather than giving it a general term.

For example I call certain Illustration, Graphic Design and Illustrators are always having a go at me saying Illustration and Graphic Design are two completely different things. Which is true but I generalize way too much.

What was the hardest thing to learn about the industry?

It’s tough! People on the outside think you sit drawing pretty pictures all day, the truth of it is in this day and age Designers have had to increase their business knowledge so much you almost have to split your time between Sales and Design whereas a few years ago you had a sales person doing the selling and you concentrated solely on the design elements.

Like most industries it does boil down to money, whether people like it or not and keeping the value of the industry up has got harder with the growth of the internet. It’s allowed people to trade easily worldwide with the use of paypal etc. meaning someone in East Europe can afford to work for $10 an hour and people in the US and UK are charging $60 an hour, it’s hard to compete with the kind of rates people are offering.

The only benefit designers have over most industries is quality. It’s clearly visible even to a non-designer what is bad design, good design and great design, the standards are there for all to see and we have to embrace that fact.

What is the best part about your job?

The best part of my job is I rarely work on the same thing week in week out, we have 5 designers now and we share projects out between us and get to feed off each others ideas, logo work one day, web work the next and print the next, it keeps it nice and fresh.

It’s also a nice job to do because people who design have a real passion for it so you get to mix with others who have that same passion which is always nice.

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What is the number one thing you would like
to tell new designers?

Don’t get into the industry unless you’re willing to be quite poor for long periods of your working life. Even if you get the chance to start in quite a big company you have to be willing to start at the bottom, there’s way too many industry taught lessons to learn to believe that you are good enough to move in at the top.

As for freelancing, these guys have it really tough, you have to work for many years almost not knowing where the next pay cheque is coming from until you build a solid customer base, one month you could be snowed under with high value work and the next nothing, like most Industries we all tend to go through quiet periods and business periods at the same time (or at least it feels that way most of the time).

Least a quiet period in a company you will still get the same amount but for freelancers they have to ride out the slow times on their own which can often be tough.

What is something you wish other designers would understand?

Like it or not at least 80% of graphic design now a days is business, it’s a sad thing but with so many people having access to the internet and computer software you have to use your business sense to come out on top or you’ll never make the sort of money the top companies are.

My favourite example I use everyday is Web Designers, they build a site, write loads of content about how they can change the face of your company with a brand new website and using the latest SEO technology they can put your business in the search engines and get you more clients and orders etc. Now what I do is look at this guys site and say he lives in Edgewater, New Jersey which has a population of 7,677 (Roughly) you can type in google ‘Web Design’+’Edgewater’ and the guys own site appears on the 10th page of google! He’s maybe completing with about 3 other web design companies in the area but lacks the ability to put himself top of Google, so how does he expect to effect the results of another company maybe located in a much large city?

SEO with most web designers offers false hope and often very false claims, it’s something that web designers just include by default often don’t know the first thing about.

Be sure to visit Creative Curio to read the links to other designers answers.

Other Designers Answers....
Six Questions on Being (or becoming?) a Graphic Designer by Jacob Carter
Working as a Graphic Designer by Tracey Grady
Six Questions on Being a Graphic Designer by Rob Cubbon

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Toon Creffield

I'm Toon Creffield - A Graphic Design and Marketing professional from Sheffield, UK