Graphic Design as a career? Need some input from experienced folks.

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by Laplace, Aug 15, 2005.

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  1. Laplace macrumors member

    Aug 14, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    Hello all, I am posting on behalf of my fiance. She is finished with the first two years of college, and now she has chosen to go into Graphic Design here at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. From what I understand they have a pretty good program, but I am not really informed on the matter, so I can't comment much on that.

    I have read up on some of the posts here about Graphic Design and you guys having a hard time finding jobs an what not, and also that alot of you do freelance type work. I understand what freelance work is, but exactly how does one go about getting clients for freelance type of work and generally what type of people/companies are your clients for this?

    Also, when doing freelance work, what kind of money could she expect to see out of college, if shes good? (And she is very good, on canvas anyways. Her artistic ability and creativeness never cease to amaze me, so I would bet money that she would be good graphically as well.) Also, if she went to work for a company what ballpark kind of figures are we looking at here? I checked the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for Graphic Designers in various regions, and they were projecting upwards of 60K a year in some of the larger cities, but surely this can't be right, can it?

    As a graphic designer, how computer savvy do you need to be? For instance, she is currently a windows user, but I have told her that she will be moving to a Mac soon for her Graphic Design studies. She is what you would consider an average computer user. She can do basic stuff, but as far as anything else goes, she's never really had any experience there. Does graphic design also mean web design almost always/sometimes/never? I don't know if they teach web design in University graphic design classes do they?

    And finally, what kind of Mac would you recommend for her? She wants portability, but I was skeptical as to whether or not a Powerbook would be capable enough for graphic design. I don't really know though. Suggestions?

    Thanks in advance guys/gals, I am just trying to help her and myself get an idea of what she is getting into.

  2. Jaffa Cake macrumors Core

    Jaffa Cake

    Aug 1, 2004
    The City of Culture, Englandshire
    I can only advise you on the situation here in the UK (I wouldn't know where to begin in terms of job prospects and wages in the States), but my experience upon leaving university was that it was very, very difficult to find permanent, gainful employment. It took me a while before I finally got myself a full-time, properly paid job. They reckon that Graphic Design is one of the most over subscribed degree courses over here, with way more students graduating each year then there are jobs available. As a result, many first jobs aren't very well paid, but if you're talented and willing to stick with it, you'll find yourself something good in the end.

    I've not worked freelance myself, but I have a friend who did so and he got himself hired for such work by joining an agency who notified him when work came up. Once again, I don't know how the set up is on your side of the pond, but I imagine there'll be agencies who can help your girlfriend out. And of course, once she's been in the industry for a while and has made a few contacts she may very well be able to find some freelance work under her own steam.

    As for which Mac, a Powerbook should do her fine. And yes, you do need to be computer savvy. She'll need at least a working knowledge of the main design packages – Quark/InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator/Freehand... plus knowledge of web based applications like Flash and Dreamweaver will be advantageous. Graphic design doesn't necessarily mean web design (I and most of my friends in the profession are pretty much 100% design for print people, for example), but designing for the web is a very useful skill to have and won't hurt her chances if she's going up for a job with similar applicants who don't know one end of a website from another. Some courses will offer more web design than others, she'll have to do a bit of research with the colleges to find out more.

    The best advice to give is to not let any set backs get her down – if she's got talent and she's passionate about her work then she'll not go far wrong. Good luck!
  3. beatle888 macrumors 68000


    Feb 3, 2002
    I'll answer a few of these.

    she needs to be an Art Director or Creative Director if she wants to make any cash. Designers, unless your the cats meow to the top Ad/Design Agencies you aren't going to be pulling in much cash.

    As a basic designer your talking $45,000 to $60,000. Art Directors can make much more and Creative Directors as well. Thats where you get the most cash. They can bring in six figures but it'll take time.

    Freelancing as a production artist/designer you can ask for $50 to $75 an hour. Art Directors can ask for $100 to $150 an hour.

    Find clients at Ad Agencies. Look on the net for agencies in your area and sell yourself like your hot stuff without actually telling them your hot. You need confidence and qualtiy samples of your work.

    She should know how to use Quark, Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop but she doesnt have to know any of them very well. It will however limit her as an artist and an asset to an agency but she can get by with knowing the basics. If she's designing its the creativity and her ability to communicate visually that will count. If she can layout a brochure and have it be TIGHT as far as consistancy in layout, vendor specs are followed and she knows a bit about file preperation as far as using cmyk images for print blah blah blah then she'll be fine. Designers dont really need to know how to do pre press production but if she doesnt want the more experienced designers raising a brow at her she should learn the basics.

    i work as a freelancer at ad agencies on the west coast. its not pretty if your not an Art or Creative Director.

    talking to the girlfriend directly,
    dont use a laptop PERIOD (come on,she needs to live/breath this stuff). You need a machine thats gonna push some pixels and run apps like crazy. sure you can settle for a laptop but if your serious get any dual G5 even the 1.8 and use lots of ram. a minimum of a gig and grow into more. set yourself up a nice little studio and live there. your boyfriend needs to understand the your going to spend alot of your together time with the computer instead of him. you can work it into your life together but it has to be a life style. put it this way, if you dont go all out in every way to do your best and get the best you can afford and hone your craft....i wouldnt bother. i mean you can put in less effort but im talking if you want to make the big bucks then you have to live it. and many do and its a great life but dont do any of it half-ass unless you dont care to pull in more than $45,000.
  4. Laplace thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 14, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    That's some great advice guys, we read it and she is getting very excited and very interested the more and more she reads. She had a couple questions after reading the responses though:

    1. Money is an issue, and she wants to know where is the absolute cheapest place for software. We can get the student discount on the hardware, but before we purchase the software we want to know we are taking the right route. We are also, going to check with the Graphic Design office at the University. I understand that alot of the time they will offer special discounts and packages for related majors.

    2. What exactly is the difference between an Art Designer and a Graphic Designer? Any difference in major, or is it just a more managerial position? Do you guys recommend her getting her Masters degree? Will it make any difference for getting positions? (I understand it probably won't have an effect on Freelance type work)

    3. Geographically, where are the hot spots for graphic designers/art designers?

    Thanks again for the replies they've been very helpful.

    Chad & Christine
  5. devilot Moderator emeritus


    May 1, 2005
    From the little that I have read about software, if you were to purchase Adobe software at educational prices, then part of the EULA agreement (the contract if you will) states that the work created w/ educational priced software may NOT be used for commercial work. Translation: Christine may NOT legally be paid for work done using educational software.
  6. Sweetfeld28 macrumors 65816


    Feb 10, 2003
    Buckeye Country, O-H
    Graphic Design is good and all, but pay can vary. I am currently studying for my Bachelors Degree, with a major in Visual Communication Technology. My school also has a Graphic Design major, in the School of Art, but it mainly focuses on the "Graphic" Design aspect [meaning logos, font usage, page layout design, Thumbnail Design, and other stuff]. Thats right, lots of Thumbnails [man do i hate drawing thumbnails].

    In the School of Technology, VCT majors tend to focus on the Production aspect of Design. We tend to focus on Print Design, Web Design, Photography, Video Production, and Motion Graphics.

    Regarding you questions, i think it is better to have some knowledge of all the main Adobe, and Macromedia programs, rather than having alot of knowledge in just one program. This is one thing that i ahve noticed in my major, too many people tend to use one program to create alot of their work.

    As for the Hot Spots for jobs, i can't give you any specific places, but i think out west is the big target for people in my major. I think most of the bigger city's are where alot of the Ad agencies are. But, if your girlfriend is good, and can get some co-op's at some big named business' then i think she would get a better understanding of what it will all entail. [example: My friend is heading out west this weekend to go work for E!, while it is a big cable station, they don't pay for co-op's, or at least the one he is doing]

    Be prepaired though it is a very competitive business. It is a job in which she is going to have to be constantly learning, and learning the new features of programs, and how to use them.
  7. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004

    Errrr... until she has to do a two-spot colour job with a spot UV and a die-cut. Learning about reprography, dots, stock, trimming and folding are essential to becoming a good print designer. Get a part-time or voluntary placement at a printer for a few months...

    Pre-press is essential in order to avoid having your files thrown back in your face by a printer. Which will usually occur when the deadline is tight.

    As well as Indesign, Photoshop, QuarkXpress, Illustrator... wrap your head around Acrobat and especially creating PDFs.

    Immerse yourself in your Mac. Computer-savviness (to a point) is essential. We're merciless at temps who can't handle a job properly -- they rarely get offered a second chance.

    Learn as much as possible about type and the setting thereof. Regardless of medium, design is about communication and there are very few jobs that don't include some form of type...
  8. iGav macrumors G3

    Mar 9, 2002
    Seniority ;) and thus responsibilty.

    The hierarchy of design, basically looks something like this.

    Creative Director (then you get the wanky bits, like Executive Creative Director etc etc which is a meaningless bollocks title)
    Art Director
    Senior Designer
    Middleweight Designer
    Junior Designer

    Creative Directors head the entire creative department.

    Art Directors head up the creative on specific projects.

    Senior Designers, well good ones can do everything an Art Director does.

    Middleweight Designer 3 - 4/5 years

    Designer 1-2 years experience.

    Junior Designer usually fresh out of University.

    No difference in major as far as I'm aware, although I'm sure they'll be courses out there with special 'Art Directors' classes. :p

    Art Direction/Senior skills etc etc develop with industry experience... it's something you learn from the day to day work within a creative environment. Not something you learn about in the classroom.
  9. beatle888 macrumors 68000


    Feb 3, 2002

    whats your point? im telling her what she needs to know in order to make it. this is advice from someone who has been dealing with ad agencies and the print industry for more than fifteen years.

    you quote my reply and open yours with Errr but then go on to support what i originally said. so um, Errr back at you and step in line at the department of redundancy
  10. beatle888 macrumors 68000


    Feb 3, 2002

    the creative director usually comes up with the concept.
    art director provides the look and feel.
    designer comes up with the design elements based on that art direction.
    production/layout artist turns the digital files into an actual working mechanical that can be handed off to certaint vendors/publications according to certain specifications used to get the best results in any given medium.

    these lines are very blurred. usually art directors dont make the best designers but a lot of places usually skip the designer and place the task on the art director. this isnt really that good of an idea. art directors are usually too organized. designers are a different breed and need to be free and flighty :) which is a luxury that art directors dont really have. they do however know how to let a designer go "out there" and reel them back in to fit the creative directors orginial concept and the clients needs. just go to your school and talk to the counselor.

    start reading about it. theres magazines and plenty of books on the subject.

    back to work...
  11. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    My point is that telling someone that they can get by with just a little press knowledge is pure BS.

    In fact, it's pure 'blah, blah, blah' to quote you.

    15 years in print? Baby.
  12. Lacero macrumors 604


    Jan 20, 2005
    Will Isabel make an appearance any time soon?
  13. chaosbunny macrumors 68000


    Mar 11, 2005
    down to earth, far away from any clouds
    Hm, from my point of view the others have already aswered your questions pretty well. Maybe it is helpful if I tell you how the job works for me and how I got there. Just as an example... if it's not, forgive me for holding a monologue.

    I finished graphic design college here in Vienna 4 years ago. We learned computer skills as well as color management, proportions, typographic history, and other theory. After the college I already knew very much about the programs described above, quark, illustrator, photoshop. Indesign wasn't out at that time, had to learn that later on my own, which is no problem when you know quark. Unfortunately we didn't learn very much about macs in general, which is not necessary, but VERY usefull. If something is not working correctly during weekend you'll want to be able to fix it on your own to finish a job. But I got better and better at that mostly learning by doing and thanks to this forum.

    After college I had to do a year of civil service. During that time I did some jobs for occasional clients to earn some extra cash. After that I already had some connections and decided to work independent, as this was always my dream. If I had taken a job at an agency these connections would have been gone. The first 2 years went rather bad... I always participated at competitions and won nothing, tried to find clients, practiced computer skills and tried to learn new programs. Most of the time my financial situation looked grimm. Fortutately my father helped me from time to time. Autumn 2004 was the time when everything changed. Slowly but certainly I had gained more clients and as I always worked very hard for them for moderate prices they came back and told others about me. Now I almost have too much to do. I'm freelancing for 20 hours a week and most of the time have 2-3 other jobs for my own clients. I enjoy my work and am very thankful that everything turned out fine for me... at least for now "fingers crossed"

    So from my experience you have to have a huge amount of staying power. Be prepared for some major disappointments until success comes. Be prepared that often no one will understand/like the ideas/concepts/designs you worked so hard to come up with. Creativity is good but often clients don't want/understand it and in the end you'll have to set everything centered with Times new roman over a blured picture. But if you believe in your ideas and dreams and work hard enough for them you can end up with a interesting, funny job where you can earn a good amount of money, which is maybe the most important thing in life apart from raising a family at some point.
  14. AppleMatt macrumors 68000


    Mar 17, 2003
    Of course can't think of an example now, but to get started she could go on one of these sites where people place an advert for a job (i.e. create a new logo for our company using this draft) and designers 'bid' for the lowest price they will do it for. Then they do it, get paid, and there is a feedback system just like eBay. Obviously designers with a lot of positive feedback get more jobs.

    It's not going to fund her life, but it's available immediately and will give her a nice introduction into freelance work, contracts etc.

    edit: it will also give her a start in accepting if/when the client doesn't like your work. I'm sure that's easier to take by reading an email than being told it in person.

    edit2: I googled it. This is the first link I clicked, and I've personally seen a lot more better sites - however it should give you a starting point.

  15. mouchoir macrumors 6502a

    Apr 29, 2004
    London, UK
    Calm down there matey. Blue was on the money. You weren't very clear, and essentially said designers don't need to know about pre-press.

    Which is nonsense if you design for print.

    Bluevelvet knows her stuff by the sound of it, and I'm amazed you've been working so long with your attitude.
  16. iGav macrumors G3

    Mar 9, 2002
    That's crap. :eek:

    Can I just say, I literally do not know any designers that don't own either an iBook or a PowerBook (or the odd VAIO :eek: :p)

    They're essential, especially when you need to work client side or present work to clients outside of your base.

    You can't go to a client meeting, with just a pencil and paper... you'd be laughed out of the industry, well you would in London. ;)
  17. Black&Tan macrumors 6502a


    Mar 4, 2004
    I've been a designer here in the states for almost eleven years and have never owned a laptop. When I present concepts to a client, I provide high quality runouts, mounted on museum board.

    I can see a laptop as necessary for a web designer, but I've been quite happy with my towers. Ot of all the designers I've met, maybe 10% own laptops in addition to a tower.

    If you're going to be running Photoshop or doing large layouts in Quark/InDesign, a tower and the largest monitor/screen you can afford should be your priority.
  18. iGav macrumors G3

    Mar 9, 2002
    Holy sh*t you must have great deadlines. :eek: :p

    Seriously though, the flexibility that a laptop gives is unrivalled, especially when working client side. It's great that you're in a position where you have the time to print, paste up and present concepts, but if you've got to scoot across a city the size of London/L.A./NY wherever... to meet at the clients offices then it can save soooooooooooooooo much time if you can work on changes on the fly at their location, rather than be tied down to your own desk, with your own tower at another location an hour away.

    I totally agree about having a desktop machine and a good screen, but the flexibility that that offers is very limited when you have to leave the comforts of your office... even more so if you're a freelancer.

    I still think that the comment regarding not using a laptop, period is crap. ;)
  19. mouchoir macrumors 6502a

    Apr 29, 2004
    London, UK
    I think we should both go and design in the states, sounds like a good deal they've got going there!
  20. Black&Tan macrumors 6502a


    Mar 4, 2004
    I provide comps for the intial concepts, and either runouts or pdf's for changes, depending on how time sensitive the project is and how complicated the layout is.
  21. iGav macrumors G3

    Mar 9, 2002
    hahahahaha :p

    Although, might not be all good. To whizz slightly off topic, have you listened to this conversation between Ian Anderson of TDR, Michael Horsham of Tomato and Neville Brody? fascinating insight... especially the part about pitching, and how U.S. agencies are approaching it. :eek:

    Rinky dink link

    A good way to kill 75 minutes of your time. :)

    I'm not questioning your method fella :)

    I just find that my PowerBook can be like a flux capacitor... :) it can buy you time. :p
  22. highres macrumors 6502a


    Jul 1, 2005
    Near the Singularity
    As a Production Manager and Art Director at an advertising and design firm in Los Angeles, California specializing in prepress print work, web design and e-commerce for the diamond industry I have just a few tips hopefully not mentioned above that may help:

    --Have a good working knowledge of both platforms PC and Mac, and know your design software packages well. (Adobe and Macromedia are the most common)

    --Typsetting and writing good copy and taglines are essential. Communication skills are highly valued and will get you promoted past people who don't write copy and just do design-work.

    --Working under deadline and putting in as many hours as it takes to meet the deadline is crucial, be prepared to sacrifice personal time to make it happen. My biggest week was 110 hrs on a crucial make or break deadline.

    --Troubleshooting and the ability to find out what a clients wants, problems or needs are and getting it done under time and money pressure is huge. Do what ever needs doing and never say "that is not my job".

    --QC or Proofreading skills are also highly valued, the ability to catch mistakes or errors before they go to output saves the company time and money. The ability to read through pages of type or pricing and find the one error and fix it is priceless.

    --The ability to be part of a creative team and working with the designers, account executives, daily operations managers, web and IT guys, output or film houses and web-press operators on press checks to accomplish a common goal on time is critical. In print advertising pre-press knowledge is a must, if someone has to stop a large web press during a print job it can cost up to $30,000-$40,000/hr while they fix your incorrect pricing, color problem or output problem. I have seen people lose jobs over this and it sucks.

    Other than all that listed above, doing graphic design can be very satisfying and fulfilling when everything is running smoothly and everybody is working together. Salarywise I started out as a designer and made about 60K my first year but had more OT pay than regular pay (1.5x over 40 hrs, and 2x over 60 hrs). Eight years later as a Production Manager/Art Director I was making about 125K a year so the money is there if you go and get it. Good luck and I hope it works out for your girlfriend. :)
  23. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    Well said. Excellent post... :)

    ...also esp. the bit about proofing.
  24. Lacero macrumors 604


    Jan 20, 2005
    I think there is a definite difference between a Graphic Designer, and someone who works in publishing doing color separations, page layout and typesetting, but the job description seems to mingle.

    Anyway, in most large marketing departments, you have the head Graphic Designer who designs the layouts, a Creative Director who oversees everything, and then you have the minions who do the layouts, typesetting and then you have the techies who handle PDF conversions, FTPing files, color separations, etc.

    In smaller bureaus, 1 or 2 people take on multiple roles.
  25. Laplace thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 14, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    Thank you all yet again for the immense amount of information and direction for Christine. She and I have been following and reading this thread in earnest. This sounds like something she will definitely excel in and love.

    Thanks again,
    Chad and Christine
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