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Graphic Design Student Questions

Recently I’ve had several graphic design students contact me with questions for their school projects. In case any other students are interested in the answers I’ve posted some of them below.

How did you become interested in Graphic Design?
At an early age I realized that I could draw slightly better than my peers. They were better than me in sports, math, school grades, and other areas of interest. I also received positive feedback from my teachers and parents about my drawings. So I guess art became a way for me to differentiate myself from the pack and I focused on getting better and better. I was probably only 10 before I knew that I was going to pursue a career in the visual arts. However, I thought I’d draw comic books. I had no idea what graphic design was at the time. Todd McFarlane, one of my favorite comic book artists back then, said in an interview that he studied graphic design as a way to learn more about page layout and that it ultimately helped him to become a better cartoonist. That set me on the path for graphic design and then in college I fell in love with the craft of design and left cartooning in my wake. I still love comics though and maybe one day I’ll get to make one.

How profitable is the graphic design field?
It depends. I know people that couldn’t make a go of it and gave up. Others I know have made quite a successful career out of it. Unfortunately I feel like graphic design is undervalued in american society and thus it’s not as high paying as it could/shoud be or rather there aren’t as many high paying positions as there could be. In order to be truly “profitable” in a monetary sense you’ll need to start your own business or climb the ladder at an agency until you make art director. Working as a graphic designer for an in-house department only pays okay and has a low glass ceiling.

Did you start off working for an already established design company before you started your own company?
No. After graduating I planned on getting a job with an established firm but it was right after 9-11 and the dot-com bubble had burst so it was a hostile job environment. Hiring freezes were everywhere. I had some connections to the Little Tikes Toy Company and I started by designing Caillou (a PBS show) licensed toy packaging on a freelance basis. From that I’ve built a foundation of clients and Little Tikes still hires me several times a year to work on their catalog.

Besides a degree in Graphic Design is there any other training or class you suggest we can take to help us out with being a designer?
Hopefully the school you’re in is teaching you about design principles and not just the technical side of design. The principles are crucial to becoming a good and successful designer. If you only know the software you will have a difficult time. Read books on design theory and augment your education. Even if you are going to a conceptual school there are only so many hours in a class.

Don’t worry too much about the software and technical side. That will come with time. I remember asking my professor why we weren’t learning more about font management and technical printing issues. And he told me that it would be a waste of time to teach that in school. There are so few precious moments you’ll have with your professors. Focus on theory as a student. You’ll have time to master the practice of technical and mundane in the field.

What are the skills needed to be a Graphics/Graphical Designer?
The ability to take a non-physical concept and turn it into a visual representation or metaphor is the most important skill a graphic designer can acquire.

What does being a Graphics/Graphical Designer include doing?
The main task of a graphic designer is to take the message of Company A and deliver it visually to Potential Customer B.

How long have you been in this career field?
I got my first graphic design job in 1999. It was a student gig for the Ohio University Alumni Association. I worked 10/20 hours a week all through college and it gave me some good experience outside of the academic world during my educational period. Plus it gave me just enough money to buy beer and pizza every weekend.

What strategies do you take to attract clients?
Make good work. Leave a client happy and satisfied. The best way to get new clients is by focusing on your current clients. First off it’s much easier to maintain a client than find a new one. Secondly there is no better way to advertise than word of mouth. Outside of that I have a website that allows people from around the world to see my work and contact me if they are interested. Networking events also seem to work.

Have you ever worked internships, if so how many and how long did you work them?
My sophomore year of college I had an “internship” at Disney. I signed so many non-disclosure agreements that I probably can’t say anything bad about it, so let’s just say it wasn’t what I thought I was getting into. Internships can be good if they lead to a job from that same firm but don’t expect to learn anything valuable about the industry beside the fact that when you graduate you will have to pay your dues.

When you first started in graphic design what were some of the programs you used?
QuarkXpress was the big one back then; I also used Freehand and Corel Draw. None of which I use today. Which brings me back to the point that you shouldn’t focus on the technical side. The software and hardware used to make graphics will change, the principles will live on.

How have the programs and software you used changed since back then?
It’s gotten faster and easier. Adobe now has totally dominated the field with their creative suite. Which is both good and bad. I wish Apple would get back into making pro software for graphic designers (not just film makers).

As an established graphic design artist what advice or tips would you give to us aspiring designers?
Ask yourself if you are passionate about graphic design. If the answer is “no” then stop now. Life is short. Find something you are passionate about to spend your life doing. Why delay the inevitable. If it’s not a passion you will either give up or hate your life.

If the answer is “maybe” then figure out why. In your early twenties you are at a major fork in the road so be sure you’re making the right decision. Maybe you like design but you’d rather be an architect or a fashion designer. Maybe you like conceptualizing only and you should really be a writer. Figure it out now while you’re young and still standing at the cross-roads. It’s much harder to make a change after you’ve started.

If the answer is “yes” then or course continue on the path. Never stop learning, never stop challenging yourself, keep up with the world around you, and have fun. Graphic design is a great career!


  1. I had stumbled up on your site while looking for internships/job in the Graphic Design industry. I am in the process of testing the market.

    Your powerful words towards starting young in deciding what you are passionate about is heart felt advice. At the age of 34 it is hard to feel confident in breaking into the Graphic Design industry but I know I will not regret it for I have found my passion later in life.

    Thank you for sharing and it is great to have read your blog.

    Nicholas Gomez

  2. Nicholas,
    Thanks for the kind words. Glad you found the site helpful. You’re right it’s more important that you find your passion at any point in your life and act upon it then it is to put your head down in your early 20s and march forward blindly. Good luck with your entry to the wonderful field of graphic design.

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