Well, here we are just over one year since I graduated Towson and joined the workforce as a full-time graphic designer. A lot has changed, my skills are constantly changing and improving, and I’m finding out that there’s a lot I know – and a lot I don’t know.
But looking back, there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to pass along, possibly to the next design student who is looking to find work as a designer once they graduate.
1. Lessons come from the unlikeliest of places
While going to school, I had some really great professors, and some not-so-great ones. I try my best to get along with everyone but some people just can be indifferent towards others. I try not to let these things be personal – sometimes you are one student out of hundreds they are dealing with, so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But regardless of whether I liked the class at the time or the professor, there was always some nugget of information I look back on now as invaluable information.
“Design is like solving a problem with infinite solutions”.
This one came from one of my first professors and always sticks with me whenever I’m about to start a new project or design piece. It can be intimidating at first when you are looking at a project because the infinite choices can be overwhelming. It helps to go back to the drawing board, so-to-speak, and figure out what your end goals are and how you want to get that message across. Then start to narrow it down until you get something that will work for you and (possibly) your client. Yes, there may be infinite solutions, but ultimately, there is only one that will work.
“There’s no guessing in design”.
This was a great lesson, especially working in my favorite vector-based design program Adobe Illustrator. Essentially the lesson learned here is that when you are just moving things around and “guessing” if they are aligned right, spaced evenly, etc. then you could end up with sloppy design work. The best part of designing vectors is that you easily have the tools to make things precise, even if it means breaking out a little light math. No reason to let that Algebra class go to waste.
“Start with a plan or else you are just pushing pixels around.”
This one I am most guilty of. I used to rarely sketch out my ideas before hand, which inevitably ends up with more time wasted on “pushing pixels” instead of having an action plan from the start. Just taking the time to get your ideas on paper will save you a ton of time in the long run.
2. If first you don’t succeed…
I will admit that the first position I found after college turned out not to be the right fit. But that doesn’t mean it was a waste because my time there was immensely beneficial. Even though I learned graphic design, I didn’t realize how much of my job was going to end up in marketing, web design and writing copy.
I was mostly working on HTML-based email campaigns and designing graphics, but I also got the chance to learn copy writing as well. I was surprised at first when my job was transitioned into writing copy also, because I’m mostly a visual artist. But I wrote so many papers in school that I just realized that it all prepared me for the creative writing that has become such a huge part of my work now.
While that first position wasn’t the best fit, the experience gained is really helping me with the contract position I am in now. Hired on to a new company to create all the marketing and content for their websites (2 websites total), I am writing TONS of copy now! And you know what? It’s actually really great, so my advice is to be flexible to what comes at you. I thought I was going to be just a graphic designer. In this past year, I have been creating digital illustrations, animations & motion graphics, writing case studies and industry articles, designing web content & web design on WordPress, along with the usual design projects for print and web like product flyers, email marketing and branding.
And my photography skills are turning out to be highly beneficial to my bosses because I am able to go out and gather content for their industry to be used in the marketing. Sometimes stock photography doesn’t have the specific image you are looking for so it’s nice to have the ability to go out and make our own content. You never know when that one class or hobby will help you in your career.
Even though the first place didn’t work out, every opportunity is utilized so don’t get discouraged if you don’t end up at the right place on the first try.
3. Experience, experience, experience
Even though the job market has been crazy, I somehow managed to find a job pretty quickly after college, which I was not expecting. I think part of what helped get my foot in the door is that I was able to get a couple design internship opportunities along with freelancing to gain experience.
When I first started applying, I mistakenly thought that my previous experience in office administrative roles would be irrelevant to my new career. It turns out that any and every experience can be relevant if it shows you in a positive light. Looking back, it was easy to see how some of those skills I learned in office management can be transitioned over into what I do now, especially with regards to my Etsy store. Even running a micro-business needs some organization. Design is one thing, understanding business is quite another. And often with freelancing or independent artist, they often go hand-in-hand.
Whether you are working for a company, trying to open your own design firm, freelancing or just selling your art, it helps when you can understand the other side, even if it’s just at the basic level. And it doesn’t hurt to retain those bookkeeping skills I learned, even if it was almost two decades ago.
Overall, I am happy with how far I’ve gotten in this past year, but it’s also a sobering reminder that I still have a lot to learn in this field. After a year of working, I realized my website needed a huge overhaul and I still cringe at the immature past variations of my portfolio site. It’s okay. They can’t all be winners. But the important thing is to just keep moving forward and remember that education doesn’t stop once you are out of school.
I am grateful for this past year and how much I have learned and looking forward to every opportunity to learn more, create more, and hopefully, inspire others to do the same.