The Graphic Design Career is a fast growing career that is becoming more and more competitive with every passing day. People are realizing how much money is available and how flexible the graphic and web design career really is. You can work full-time in house in a small studio or large agency. You can earn extra money on the side, you can freelance full-time from the comfort of your own home or you can even use your skills in design to you accomplish business projects.
The bottom line is its a great choice for creative people looking to express themselves and earn a decent and comfortable living at the same time.
In order to survive in such a fast growing and competitive field though it is essential you do everything you can as early on as you can. I started in college, but I know people who are freelancing and running businesses and websites at age 14 and even younger! The age aspect should not discourage you, but should rather inspire you to get your butt into gear before other graphic designers leave you in the dust!
So no matter what age you are or what stage you are in, we have created a list of things you can do to get your dream graphic design career going in the right direction.
Graphic Design Career Preparation Tips
1. Major in Graphic Design
Going to college and getting a graphic design degree is an outstanding accomplishment. Many employers weigh this heavily and you will have a much better chance of getting a full-time job with a degree in design, but there are always exceptions. If you have an extremely strong portfolio, good references and freelancing experience you can still get a great job, but if you can get the degree go for it!
2. Figure Out Your Specialization
Many jobs in graphic design tend to be specialized, such as identity design, packaging design, magazine design and so on. Its good to find the specialization you like best and work on it, but also make sure you are well rounded and multi-talented designer.
3. Plan Your Credits Carefully
Lets face it, college can be a pain in the butt, especially when it comes to planning out your classes. You need a certain amount of credits to be full-time, core classes, required classes, electives and you are trying to get a decent schedule so you can hold a job at the same time! Planning your credits out carefully and registering as soon as possible will help ensure you get the best schedule possible so you can complete your degree quickly and have free time to work and relax.
4. Take Advantage of Your Counselor and Teachers
Your counselor and teachers are incredibly valuable assets while going to school. Get your counselor to help you plan out your schedule and keep you on the right track. Ask your teachers for extra help when needed. Most teachers are available outside of class and will critique work for you. Your teachers have years of experience and knowledge of the field so tap into it.
5. Take Advantage of Career Services
Career services is an often overlooked resource at most schools. If you are looking for a job, projects, help with your resume or anything else, take a trip to your career services department if your school has one.
6. Become Involved in School Events
My school had many great events, and when I look back, I wish i had taken more advantage of them. There were trips, get-togethers and incredible guest speakers. We even had our own museum on campus! So if your school has similar opportunities make sure you don’t pass them up.
7. Develop Friendships With Your Classmates
You are all working towards the same goal, so developing friendships is an excellent idea. Not only is social interaction healthy, but as friends you can help each other out to achieve these common goals. Plus most of you will be working in the same field in the future and you never know when a friend could come in handy in a bad situation.
8. Get an Internship
Internships are just as important as freelancing experience and many schools can help you find an internship. Even if you don’t get to do much design work, its a great way to network, get your foot in the door and become comfortable working in an office environment with other people.
9. Get a Certificate in Graphic Design
If you don’t have the time or money to attend a 4 year school, there are many schools which can give you a great crash course in design in one year or even online. I still recommend the 4 year school over this, but getting a certificate in design or individual programs can help a lot if you have no other schooling.
10. Practice Your Photography
This is a talent I plan on mastering in the near future. I love photography and its also great if you are a graphic designer. Having the ability to shoot your own projects in real life can give you a real edge when it comes to displaying your portfolio. Great photographs of projects can go a long way and its another super skill to throw on your resume.
11. Learn HTML, XHTML and CSS
Web design is mixing more and more with the graphic design career. I have seen many graphic design job listings ask the designer to have at least some web design experience and many jobs require you to know how to code a site very well. So this is a great skill to pick up and will help you with your own portfolio site and landing a job in the future.
12. Take Some Business Courses
Taking one or two business classes can prepare you much better for freelancing and running your own studio if that’s one of your dreams. All knowledge is good knowledge and the more you know about business the better off you will be financially.
13. Master the Adobe Suite
As a graphic designer you will be using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign on a daily basis. Mastering the programs will make you a more productive and creative designer. Most jobs also start you at running speed and don’t have time to teach you how to use the Pen Tool! Be sure to master keyboard shortcuts as well.
14. Stay in Touch With Your Roots
Its easy to become totally wrapped up in the computer and lose touch with your roots. By this I mean its important to sketch things out on paper once in a while and think outside the computer box. Don’t be afraid to pick up a pencil and use the environment around you.
15. Express Your Creativity
Design can be very “corporate” and restricting at times, and designers are naturally creative people. This is why its good to express your stretch your creativity muscles once in a while. Create personal work, non profit work or other projects that will allow you more creative freedom so you don’t feel constantly trapped and restricted.
16. Create a Portfolio Website
Time is precious and the web is becoming more of an industry standard. This is why you need a web portfolio. Many employers don’t even have time to look at print portfolios and will ask for a website URL or email with a PDF of your work. If you plan on freelancing, your website will be even more important and the sooner you get it up the better off you will be.
17. Create a Print Portfolio
Even though a web portfolio is becoming arguably more important, don’t under estimate the power or importance of a print portfolio. In additionl to your main portfolio you should have some disposable print portfolios you can hand out to potential employers.
18. Create Your Own Personal Identity System
Having your own business card, resume, letterhead and so on will give you a professional edge and show you really care about your career. Spend a lot of time on your identity system because its a direct representation of yourself and your skills.
19. Create a Resume and Cover Letter
You will need this sooner or later so you might as well start working on it now. A well-written and nicely designed resume is going to be a great ally in your job finding battles.
20. Research Job Requirements
Job requirements are changing constantly and every job has unique requirements. Some require more than others so its important you have a good idea of whats expected of you. How can you prepare yourself properly if you don’t know exactly what employers demand skill wise?
21. Start Freelancing
Freelancing builds up incredible experience, especially when it comes to dealing with actual paying clients. You will quickly learn how to deal with clients who have different personalities, how to protect yourself, how to muti task and so on. This is where the business classes come in, but with a little planning and research before hand there is no reason you cant jump right in and start freelancing early on. I landed my first paying freelance gig while I was taking my first Photoshop class!
22. Take Advantage of Design Contests
There are tons of design contests on the Internet; many of which offer incredible prizes! This is a great way to gain exposure, build up your portfolio and win some sweet swag and money in your free time! Following design blogs is a great way to learn about up and coming design contests.
23. Build Up Your Vault of Free Design Resources
The web is filled with an insane amount of free resources including, free fonts, vector artwork, textures, patterns, design elements and so much more. Start downloading, check the usage rights and keep all your graphic design resources organized, because you never know when you might need them.
24. Get the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook
This is a fabulous book for any designer that is packed full of great tips and resources; especially for designers interested in starting their own business or freelancing career. They releases a new version every so often, so be sure to get your hands on the latest one.
25. Start Networking
Networking may be 25 on the list, but in terms of priority its probably number 1. The more people in the business you know the better off you will be. Keep in touch with your network of contacts. Don’t consider some one in your network if you never communicate. A phone call, business lunch, or email once in a while is required.
Help people in your network and they will help your in return. So keep expanding your network of contacts and be sure to keep in touch on a regular basis.
I Hope you all find this article on preparing yourself for a career in graphic design useful. Feel free to add your own suggestions and comments in the comment section below!