So how plausible is it that going for Graphic Design would be a productive decision?

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by east85, Apr 14, 2012.

  1. east85 macrumors 65816


    Jun 24, 2010
    Sorry about this load of questions but, I have been contemplating this recently as a serious career choice and have actually already been accepted to a program but I am having second thoughts.

    Is it often the case that Graphic Designers find it hard to locate work? How does one even get off the ground after they complete a BA/BFA program for Graphic Design? Is a solid work schedule more common than freelancing? Which would be preferable?

    I really am depending on loans through college, so it would probably be devastating to say the least, if I couldn't locate a professional job afterwards.

    Thanks so much for your response in advance. I will reply to whatever comes up in here.
  2. JoeG4 macrumors 68030


    Jan 11, 2002
    Bay Area, Ca.
    Please take my opinion with a massive bucket of salt, because I'm in engineering and not art - but your priority from this point on should be building your portfolio.

    As far as education, I think it depends on the school and what you want to do (plus what you're willing to do). Why do you want to be a graphic designer? That's a question I'd love to see the answer to hehe.
  3. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    The best graphic designer I know went for marketing/finance after accounting didn't pan out. Your degree has no relationship to your artistic abilities, and all that matters is a portfolio. If you like art, go for psych, and draw on the side. There's very little that you can learn from a degree that you can't learn from just doing when it comes to drawing.
  4. east85, Apr 14, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012

    east85 thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jun 24, 2010
    Thanks for that bit of info. I have yet to formalize a traditional portfolio that is at least presentable on a professional level. Good advice.

    As for your question, I have taken a little bit of upper division Psychology in the past so I might be able to apply that in perhaps a visual communication or marketing environment speaking in terms of practicality. I have always enjoyed doing artwork, as in- I find it comes rather naturally to me and does not feel all that miserable. I trained for 2 years in drawing in high school and 4 years for general art. However, most of the artwork I have done has not been delegated to me as a project or strict guideline, so that is also surely a concern of mine. I know that there are projects that people must do that they do not enjoy doing in some circumstances, but perhaps that is the case with all work.

    I have a couple sketches I could share (most are unscanned in my sketchbook), but none of them have ever been digitalized into a mixed medium. I think the industry has clearly moved in the direction of a digital medium, so it's kind of a skill that would be needed to be viable as an artist. I know a few people who did go for things like fine art and photography, who struggle quite a bit.

    I guess I could TLDR this and say that I enjoy and possess a decent, but amateur level of skill in producing artwork as it stands. I'm pretty confident that I could create something of value so as long as I had a tablet, proper hardware, training and good mouse to work with.

    I would note that one friend of mine, who does do this for a living, seems to be struggling. I will admit that his work seems subpar, at least to my eyes. He has offered a few words of wisdom though, saying that not knowing how to code holds a lot of people back.


    I would actually, ironically, be closer to finishing a degree in Psych if I instead did that, as I did do some level of college work prior while working towards a Psychology degree (would likely be a late sophomore/early junior where I've transferred). I quit for about a year because I felt like it would be a good idea to just sit back, clear my mind and think on my future and work. Ironically, as you can see, I have yet to come to a decisive conclusion concerning my future.

    Such is life.

    I think your points are fair concerning artwork and art related degrees, but would it really be safe to say that most companies or firms would hire a graphic designer without a degree?

    If anyone else would like to chime in about their experience, if they did get a Graphic Design degree that may be helpful as well.

  5. JoeG4 macrumors 68030


    Jan 11, 2002
    Bay Area, Ca.
    There is always plenty of room in the world for talented artists. You might be able to pull off something like designing UIs for iPhone games or something :)
  6. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    It depends on the company that's hiring you. My friend works for a t-shirt company, she's designed numerous T's, and the guy she works for goes to the same university she's at. Obviously there's no HR department to screen her out, but she gets by on the merits of her portfolio.

    If I were to go into news, my technical communications degree would get me past HR (if they even require it) and my portfolio would get me a job. My one professor got into doing health segments on the news because he had a psych degree, and had a portfolio.

    Basically, unless you're going for a vocational degree it doesn't matter what degree you have, just as long as you have one.

    So it seems.
  7. JoeG4 macrumors 68030


    Jan 11, 2002
    Bay Area, Ca.
    Oh yes, and you're definitely not the first person to draw without a tablet. It helps, but you can live without one. I think even with tablets a lot of people just draw on paper and then color with the tablet. I've noticed that when you draw stuff, it looks so much better when you color it XD
  8. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    I run a graphic design studio in the UK and have been in the industry for 16 years. It is a difficult and competitive industry. You need to be skilled, determined and well informed to succeed. There are many more graduates than there are jobs and those who aren't willing to fight for the work won't get it.

    My own path was to beg for a job in a small publishing company I spent a year there producing adverts for regional magazines getting paid much less than the minimum wage (which was brought in a couple of years later) and often working into the night to meet deadlines. I did learn an awful lot though about how a studio/business works and all the speedy mac shortcuts. After that I moved to another larger publisher and then to a design/ad agency. It is a lot easier once you have some experience under your belt. Throughout I was learning new skills in my spare time. The web really developed in this time and I taught myself things like Flash and HTML. I started my own business 9 years ago and it has steadily grown from there.

    I get a resume sent to me pretty much every week and in the summer after graduation perhaps every day. Most people think it is enough to send out anonymous emails but these will all just go straight in the trash. I simply don't have the time to go through them. I consider that if someone really wants the work then they will make an effort. If someone picks up the phone and asks for a few minutes of my time to go through their portfolio I will usually agree. Sometimes I will give them some freelance work or take them on as an intern. They always have a lot to learn before I can set them loose on a client's work without careful guidance. A good portfolio is important but they also need to have inter-personal skills, confidence and drive to succeed.

    Freelancers can get good money if they have a good set of regular clients. They get the advantage of not getting involved in the politics of working in one place and get a variety of work. On the downside you may find that you spend your time doing bits and pieces rather than getting your teeth into a whole job. If you are strong at conceptualising - an ideas person then you should work full time. If you are a tech lover who can speed through artwork then freelance is a good option.

    As I said, it is a tough industry but there is always room for one more if you are determined enough.
  9. beowulf70 macrumors regular


    Oct 20, 2010
    I tent to agree with everything steveash posted above. Determination is a good thing. However, if you are only an average designer after you graduate or do not have great communication skills and a 'big brain', you will probably struggle and determination may not be enough. I freely admit to being pretty average at writing and this has probably held me back.

    Your success will also depend on the discipline you choose to work within. Digital design has obviously grown exponentially in the last decade and will continue to do so. So, do you choose to join a growing area? But also join thousands of other wanabee's? Or do you try and stand out from the crowd, should you be able to.

    Experience is key and there will always be the 'chicken and the egg' scenario: without experience, companies won't want to take a risk. Unless you get a break by being determined, different, and of course highly skilled, it could be very hard to make a career in graphic design.

    For a start it's not very well paid. I've 22 years experience and been freelance for 4 years on and off, in London (which as I'm sure Steve will attest to) is a global centre for design, even then work can still be hard to come by. (Having Top 10 "named agencies" on your CV sometimes helps).

    I've been lucky enough to work as Senior Designer for Sony Design and Creative Head at the UK's No.1 design agency, Imagination. Not in digital design but in branding, experiential and packaging. Having that experience undoubtedly helped me and continues to do so.

    When I graduated, I sent my CV and covering letter to every design agency in my locality and got maybe 3 interviews from 30 contacts. Remember, this was before email, so I couldn't even send a PDF of my portfolio. But I had something that was needed at the time. Apple Mac experience. (this was 1990).

    Like Steve, I started in a small presentation and design studio, on minimum wage. It may have been in a medium sized town, but it was the break I needed, with real work and real life experiences.

    I worked my ass off every day, learned as much as I could on the job and after 1 year was head-hunted and moved to a larger ad agency in London. After that, my career grew and grew.

    Any opportunity to show people what you can do is vital. Even if it's for 1 or 2 weeks and for no money. Some interns might get paid to cover their expenses, others will receive nothing. Do not be put off.

    Suffice to say, a career in design is possible and enjoyable! But, if you are seriously concerned about money, especially after accrueing debts studying, you might want to think twice.

    How about law? :rolleyes:
  10. farmboy, Apr 15, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2012

    farmboy macrumors 6502a


    Nov 26, 2003
    A few quick comments:

    You do not have to be able to illustrate on a professional level to be a graphic designer. You could have a career in print or electronic design without ever having to illustrate anything. Useful, but not essential.

    You could certainly get a degree in design, but it's still going to rest on how much you develop a feel for good design (in anything). Read books, look at what wins awards, look at what works. Try to get a summer job in a related field--printer, publisher, ad agency, web designer, whatever (get dirty). You'll learn more quickly than in school--such as even if it's the perfect design, if the client hates it, you make changes. Designing is a business--sometimes you cash the check and restrain your Inner Purist. There are a lifetime of perfect designs ahead of you--take the money and move on.

    Don't let Designer Angst (similar to Writer Angst) paralyze you. Graphic design is a deadline business. If you have to pull from what you've used before to get started, you're just smart, not compromised as an artist. Corollary: All Deadlines are Lies. But the minute you count on that, you're gonna get screwed. Meet the deadlines.

    Finally, almost everything you design is intended to sell something. That's the dirty Truth that most people getting into the field get blindsided by. Don't fear it, use it; it's not just about great design. Become conversant with the arts of persuasion and motivation, both visual and copywriting. Some of the best designers I knew were dynamite copy writers. Understanding what the writers have to do will give you a step up. Sometimes you lead them, sometimes they lead you.
  11. lucidmedia macrumors 6502a

    Oct 13, 2008
    Wellington, New Zealand
    Design is not an "easy" career, but those who excel in it are those not looking for an easy career. For people like me with a short attention span and a desire to learn something new every day, design has provided me a career that constantly challenges me and offers up different experiences.

    There is a huge demand for designers with the right skills. Currently (in my area) those skills are UX design plus front-end development experience. (in layman's terms read that as strong user-centered visual design and a working knowledge of HTML/CSS and jquery).

    There are many designers in the market right now who are still rooted in traditional print design, and where there are still jobs in this space, there is far less demand. New designers entering the workforce with these skills are finding themselves in competition with designers with 5-7 years experience who have been laid off.

    I teach in a graphic design program who's curriculum mixes both traditional design/advertising with ux/experience design and service design and we have a very high employment rate after graduation... but I will say that nearly all of those working designers have "web" or "ux" on their business card somewhere (unless they get a job at an advertising agency).

    If you are in the US and want to see some data on design jobs, download a copy of the AIGA/Aquent Design salary survey ( This will give you a breakdown on design salaries organized by experience, role and location.
  12. 12dylan34 macrumors 6502a

    Sep 3, 2009
    Many colleges that aren't focused on liberal arts have more abundant opportunities in creative fields (sounds weird, but hear me out). I'm going to the University of Colorado, which is more of a sciencey school, but I had no problem getting a job as an animator at the planetarium making 8K video shows for the dome, which is some pretty advanced stuff. There aren't hoards of people looking for the same type of job as you, so there are more available positions. While there aren't necessarily world-class creatives here to teach me stuff, there are still some pretty good professors, and I've had no problem learning software myself. This gains you experience, and gives you an opportunity to make some great work for your portfolio.

    Going here is also much cheaper than some design schools, which can be $50,000 per year, plus.

    I'm not advertising this school specifically, but just a public university in general. If you put in the work wherever you go, you're liable to find a job. It really comes down to how much you spend for your education, just so places can check off that you have one.
  13. R1PPER macrumors 6502

    Oct 1, 2008
    Design. Advertising. Marketing. Digital. It's a huge industry with thousands of jobs, from artworkers to design directors. You should get afew years working in a design agency before you try and Solo it. Then you can always go freelance and set up your own thing. Or partner up and set up alittle graphic design studio and if your very very lucky you might be another success story.

    Thats how
  14. JoeG4 macrumors 68030


    Jan 11, 2002
    Bay Area, Ca.

    lol last time I brought this up here someone yelled at me about how I had no taste for design or something XD
  15. Madmic23 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2004
    As a former graphic designer, I can tell you that it is not the most high paying job to get into.

    I worked at a small town newspaper in the advertising department. The turnover was insane. In my two years there, we probably went through about 9 different people for 3 positions. The pay was low, and the hours were long.

    This is true of any entry level job, but I know most of the people I worked there with did not continue in this career path. Two of them used the contacts they had made at the paper and went on to become successfully self-employed.

    The upside is, it’s very easy to do freelance work from anywhere, as long as you’re good and can get the jobs.
  16. TyroneShoes2 macrumors regular

    Aug 17, 2011
    Put whether it is economically appropriate aside for a moment.

    What needs to be answered first is two things:

    1) Do you have the talent to be good at this, once you have the training?
    2) Is this your passion?
    You typically have to be good at something to be successful. The better you are the more employable you are. The cream will rise to the top. If you believe you can be better than the average designer, if you have faith in yourself in that regard, move to the next question.

    If it is your passion, and quite honestly I think it should be; I think it has to be, that will firstly aid your ability to become skilled and therefore employable. Secondly, it will make you happy, and that can take a lot of the sting out of comparing the car you drive to the car your neighbor who is a hedge fund manager drives. If you are happy doing what you do, money and materialism sort of becomes completely secondary.

    Obviously, such a choice has to be realistic. If your passion is repairing typewriters and VCRs, or selling buggy whips, or being a blacksmith, you'll be happy all the way to the poorhouse.

    Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than getting paid to do something that you find tedious and boring. Also speaking from experience, there is no better setup than to find employment doing what you love to do; its like getting paid to have fun.

    Once you answer those two questions to your own satisfaction, then begin the weighing of pros and cons.
  17. citizenzen macrumors 65816

    Mar 22, 2010
    What? LIke this?

    Attached Files:

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  18. mlblacy macrumors 6502

    Sep 23, 2006
    the REAL Jersey Shore
    a yes and no...

    First off, Steveash hits the nail on the head...
    we live in an odd time where many connection attempts just get immediately round-filed. To that end I would suggest you not go the email or mail route, at least at first. Go old school, pick up the phone, or try and stop over in person (which is probably the hardest thing to time, since most studios will be far to busy to deal with unplanned distractions). Make a first connection as not looking for anything more than advice. Come clean, and say you are interested in the field and want to know how to get started. Many designers will gladly share advice with someone who is trying to get started.

    As far as formal design schooling... I have been an art director and designer for over 27 years now. 17 of them working for a company, and now 11 years on my own running a design studio. I went to school for art history, by the way. Go to school. A good education should teach you how to think clearly and to write well. Specific software platforms & skills taught in schools are mostly a waste, as they will be obsolete the day you learn them. A design or typography course would not hurt though...

    I learned everything on the fly, by myself, and taught by some sage souls along the way. It is way easier now too... with tons of good technical schooling options like, etc. Learning how to learn is a key skill, as the technical skills you will need will continuously change.

    The field can be lucrative for some. For many it is a tough road though, as there has been a trend among ad agencies to fire most of their creative staffers and rehire them as freelancers (how classy). Most agencies I know run a mean & lean ship, and have collaborations with other professionals that they can bring together on a project basis.

    Seek an internship, or unpaid position, where you can pick the brains of the brightest minds you can find. Ask a lot of questions, and never say no to what is asked of you (work related). Watch and learn, and then decide if it is for you, or not.

    Build a body of real work, not fake stuff. It is actually easier than you think, as there are always folks looking for "free" work. Be selective when choosing your clients (even if they don't pay).

    There is a good short book by the principal of Mule Design called "Design is a Job" ( It is a short but good read that covers most things you would want to know (including how to fake it when you are getting started, and how even crappy jobs can teach you valuable skills, like speed). It is a book I wish I had read when I was younger, and find the advice spot on.

    best of luck to you,
  19. mlblacy macrumors 6502

    Sep 23, 2006
    the REAL Jersey Shore
    and some more thoughts...

    Right now college is really, really expensive. Jobs for most fields are scarce.
    If you were to start out on your own, I would say do it on the side. Even when employed in the business I had side gigs of my own. If you went into an established program somewhere I would check out the placement records very carefully. Avoid like the plague the "commercial" for profit colleges (not talking about Lynda).

    Also, you are a stone's through from a large printing operation in Greenfield, Ohio (RR Donnelly). Have you ever thought about taking a tour of the plant there? There are many different sides of the design biz, I would not discount any of them, especially at the start.

    As far a the "real men code" talk... yes it is a handy skill. However, many designers produce well running, efficient websites, with little code knowledge to start. Also, if I was asked about web design from a young designer, I would say learn the WordPress platform. It is mostly free, and in some ways the future for many websites... (lots to quibble about in that, but that is my two cents).
  20. citizenzen macrumors 65816

    Mar 22, 2010
    To be honest, I only get "enough" out of it.

    And yet, they pay me.
  21. twiggy0 macrumors 6502

    Oct 8, 2009
    That gave me a good laugh.

    To the OP, I'd actually value having a good portfolio over a design degree. A portfolio shows your true potential, a piece of paper saying you got an achievement doesn't. And a picture speaks one thousand words, much more then you can fit on any diploma. I probably should have held back from the last sentence, but you get the point.

    I'm going to be hiring a graphic designer within the coming months for my business and the only thing I'm really going to be looking at is their portfolio.
  22. lucidmedia macrumors 6502a

    Oct 13, 2008
    Wellington, New Zealand
    There are quite a few comments in this thread stressing the importance of the portfolio and dissing design degrees as if they are in no way connected.

    I don't think anyone would deny that a strong portfolio is what gets you work. In my experience, however -- when it comes to getting those FIRST few jobs as a designer starting out -- a candidate who has previously spent three years getting critique/peer review on their design work for 15 hours every week usually has a stronger, broader portfolio than someone who has been tinkering with design at home or trying to learn from books.

    Many on here seem to equate a design degree as the opposite of "experience", but I guess i see it a bit differently. I see it as an education mated to a method of rapidly gaining a portfolio of work in a safe, competitive environment.

    Design degrees are technically designated as "professional degrees", meaning that they are designed to prepare a student to enter the workforce. This is very different from liberal arts based degrees or fine arts based degrees that have no such requirement for accreditation.
  23. aaron.lee2006 macrumors 65816


    Feb 23, 2006
    Ontario, Canada
    While a formal education is absolutely necessary in many fields, design is much different. An education in design, be it a BA/BFA or college training will provide a solid background on principles. That being said, it is not nearly as important as your portfolio. In fact, I have worked with many individuals in my field who do not have degrees or formal training in design but are all extremely talented.

    Many will go to school for design thinking it is a guaranteed way to be successful in the industry. They couldn't be more wrong. I have a diploma in design, but what I do now was never taught in school. In fact, most of the things I have done since my graduation have had little to do with what it is I do. I'm an interface designer for mobile platforms. Never took a class on it. Picked it up and rolled with it myself.

    However, be prepared I did interview with many places who were concerned about formal training. If you're talented, and you can prove it, many places will overlook the education problem.

    This is an old thread, I did not reply to it just for the OP. Wanted to give some insight on what I have learned.

    Okay back to pushing pixels.
  24. ShikariMR, Mar 5, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016

    ShikariMR macrumors member

    Jan 16, 2015
    I come at this mainly as a 'hirer rather than any kind of designer. As a Film Producer, for example, I devised and storylined quite easily, was totally at one with screenwriters, 'continuity', technicians, and such, but never got in the way of the Director or Lighting Cameraman. When in publishing, sales promotion etc, I found a great affinity with the old school of graphic artists for say book design and covers. I now see almost all of those highly talented real artists are out of the game. The best man I ever knew had to give it best and go into a Security job in order to eat.

    What I saw was a generational change where people with Degrees in Applied Obnoxiousness got direct entrance into major firms as Level One Managers By then, I was too 'senior' for them to affect me much but they were usually arrogant managers of junior staff - unless and until someone slapped them down. The Senior Vice President of a USA company so big it had to be broken up into local ones once said to me: "People skills are the attribute we value most highly, and the one we find it hardest to recruit, and the one we will pay mnost highly for.''

    Speaking from mainly but not totally UK experience, I found the new breed have lousy people skills for the most part. They are too often 'users', looking mainly to their own advancement. A high class designer wlll have to contend with that mentality because all too often they have control of the fee levels and payments for outside work. More to the point, these totally untalented unimaginative people will want to leech off those who do have vision and true talent.

    I saw driect entrants coming in in batches of ten, (like fish fillets from a freezer shop) and within a year or so nine of ihem would have fallen out of the bed. I recall a group of seven of them found clustered around a calculator working out what their pay level and pension would be in thirty nine years time - it is a matter of simple truth that not one of them survived even a full year.

    What I think I'm saying is that if you want to be a disciple of the old time greats, to produce truly excellent work, original themes and illusrations, innovative prodiucts (NEVER lose sight of that possibility) find a way to be self-employed; better expressed as 'be your own master.'

    I apologise to nobody for saying that I have many reproductions of the work of Norman Rockwell; worshipped at the feet of some of the great designers such as William Lyons of S.S later Jaguar Cars; thought the Raymond Loewy Studebakers were superb (at least as to design). and the designer yes, DESIGNER of the lovely - fortunately also lethal - Supermarine Spitfire fighters.
  25. v3rlon macrumors 6502a

    Sep 19, 2014
    Earth (usually)
    I made a few small changes to Steveash's post. Now it applies to pretty much ANY industry. I work in Semiconductors. It applies. I moonlight in photos, video, web dev, and programming. It applies. My wife works in a pharmacy. It applies. I have a friend doing backspace support, and another in Solar Installations.

    So, given that no one is going to give you $125K starting salary and a company Mercedes, do something you can enjoy sometimes. It will be hard wherever you go. You will hate it sometimes. Your co-workers will annoy you sometimes. You will pay too much in taxes and get too little appreciation for you work.

    Do something you like.

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28 April 14, 2012