10 things I’ve learnt as a Graphic Designer

Towards the end of this year, I’d have been in the industry as a Graphic Designer for three years. It doesn’t really seem possible. As most of you will know, I didn’t have a brilliant first step in my career, but it was a first step none-the-less.

Now in my second design job, I’m very happy.

Unlike others, I didn’t always know I wanted to be a Graphic Designer. Through school I took mostly creative subjects – but didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, just that I could see myself in a creative role. Being an Artist wasn’t an option for me. I’m too sensible and worry too much about the future, and never saw an Artist as an appropriate career path. I mean no disrespect to artists, it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t discover Graphic Design until a friend pointed out a course at a local college, and from there the chips began to fall into place.

At college I learnt the ins and outs of Adobe Illustrator, Indesign and Photoshop, and did some projects that I’d still be proud to show in my portfolio today. At University I discovered my love for typography and working with vectors. And also a passion for editorial design. I love love love designing magazine spreads. And I’m happy to say I get to do a little of that in my current position at Freebridge.

I think to mark this occasion of realising I’m a tiny bit wiser than I was three years ago, I’d like to share some lessons I have learnt since leaving University and having a full-time design job. Here it goes…

    1. Nothing prepares you for working in the industry.
      I think University tutors paint a picture inside of your head that shows you working in a cool studio in London, with like-minded creatives, bouncing ideas off each other, being accepted and getting to work on high-profile projects straight away. I’m sure some studios are exactly like this – but the reality is, not all of us can work in them. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I couldn’t afford to do the unpaid internships in big cities that some of the students on my course did, they fail to tell you at Uni that it helps to have rich parents. Although the unpaid internships and working for free has gotten a lot of bad press lately, it still does happen. So, like a lot of others on my course, I started out a little differently, taking a design job at a less prestigious place to get some experience, but still earning some dosh. Which brings me to my next point…
    2. Don’t think that just because you can’t make the move to London, you’ll be unsuccessful.
      Like a lot of creative graduates, I envisaged myself moving to London to find the job of my dreams. And then I met someone, and it kind of changed everything. I don’t see myself as being held back – more the fact that it’s made me realise that I don’t have to go to London to find a studio to be happy; I can do that right here. Do I want to stay in Norfolk forever? Not really, but I probably will because of more than just my job – because even though design is a massive part of my life, it’s maybe not the most important thing to me. I love design. But I also love my family and wanting to grow it. I was discussing this with Adrian, and we both came to the conclusion that we would rather be where we are right now with our careers, than be the best in our field and not have a life. I like my 9-5 week – I’ve heard horror stories of people working all hours in studios in London…
    3. Presenting ideas.
      I’ve never been good at this. I had a horrible habit of laying my piece of work in-front of whoever it is and not explaining anything. This is a confidence issue, but I now never present an idea I don’t like. If I don’t like it, and somebody else does, then I would end up designing something I hated, so I don’t give it as an option in the first place. I rule it out. Of cause there will be some designs I like better than others, but there is nothing worse than working on something you resent the person for choosing!
    4. Things can be as hard as you want them to be.
      I’ve only really started to realise this … I’ve started to make things a lot more creatively challenging for me, which makes my job more interesting. I’ve recently been dabbling in working with paper to make something 3D. And there is also the corporate Christmas card I designed, where I had hand drawn the lettering first before vectorising. I didn’t have to do it this way, but it made it more creatively challenging.
    5. It is possible to love your job.
      That feeling where you wake up in the morning and don’t mind the thought of going to work. I know amazing right? It’s possible. And if you don’t feel like that then do something about it.
    6. You never stop learning. 
      I carry on learning everyday, whether it be through seeing more on the internet and what other people are doing on twitter, taking creative criticism from my boss or experimenting and coming up with new ideas, it’s all a learning curve. Keeping up with people in the news and referring to others blogs really helps to keep in the loop with current trends.
    7. Criticism.
      I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, so taking criticism when I thought something looked bang-on was always hard. I’ve gotten a lot better at this. I think this is mainly because my clients are now more internal, and less external. Before, I was doing creative work for customers that didn’t really have an appreciation for design – essentially they wanted a sign that did a job and that was that. Now I’m designing for people that understand design a bit more, and can appreciate what I’m trying to do. Whether it be a poster to promote an event or a simple corporate form. Creative criticism is vital to making sure your work reaches its full potential, which is at the end of the day, what ever the client wants. That’s what we get paid for after all.
    8. Always look at things around you.
      Anything can be inspiration. I’ve had some of the best ideas come from just looking at what’s around me! Looking through magazines, on Behance and of cause trawling through things on the internet (see number 6).
    9. The more skills and areas you dabble into – the better.
      My role varies a lot and I try to try out lots of things – but I also like to learn a lot too. There are lots of things I want to get into – web design, illustration and more. It all makes you look more appealing to employers, especially in this age where we see a ‘one designer fits all’ job description. I’m writing a post on this soon.
    10. Never forget how lucky you are.
      There are times where I sit in my chair at work, and I can’t do something creative to save my life. It stresses me out, makes me doubt myself and I get annoyed. You can’t always come up with the best ideas at the click of your fingers. They take time to nurture. Being a designer isn’t a right – you work hard for the privilege. Getting paid to do what you love is an amazing feeling.

So there we have it. My 10 things I’ve learnt since being a graduate. I wonder what I’ll learn in the next 3 years? Is there anything you’ve learnt that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Creative Cowell x


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