4 things I learned about Graphic Design

Small disclaimer: the following article is based on my personal experience. Some things may or may not apply to some people. I am not a graphic design expert (yet), some or all of the things stated below may be wrong in some people’s opinion but the purpose is solely for knowledge, advice and experience sharing. 

When I got my job as graphic designer, I knew almost nothing of the real life experience of what it means to have a job. I had just finished university studies and, to my shame, I admit I hadn’t had any other job until then. Now, six months of training and almost two years of work later, I know a whole lot more about graphic design and life in general so I decided to put it all in words and possibly help someone who wants to follow the same path.

They say that some of the best things are those we don’t plan for, those that just happen. That’s what this job was for me, something that just happened. I didn’t think I would be qualified for it and even my boss confessed to me once that he did not plan on hiring me. When he saw that I kept showing up to training and was genuinely interested in graphic design, he gave me a chance.

So if there is a major piece of advice I can give to anyone, not just someone who wants to work in the industry, is that hard work, perseverance and showing interest can get you a log way. I hope that the following paragraphs will be of use to those of you who want to follow the path of graphic design and maybe help you decide whether this really is your calling or not.

A good graphic designer knows how things are made

And by made I mean actually made into a final product. Graphic designers who want to be good at what they do, know there are differences between a raster and a vector image, between 72 and 300 dpi, between RGB and CMYK, and so on and so forth. They also know when these differences come into play and how to optimize their work based on what their clients need.

Let’s say someone comes to you with a request for a logo to put up on their Facebook page for their new business, a bakery or perhaps a coffee shop. Sounds pretty simple, right? You make the logo, they are pleased with it, everyone’s happy. Few months later they come back to you, saying how great their business is going and that they would like to re-brand their packaging. Or start work on a visual identity for their business. What now? You made the logo for Facebook purposes only. You sit at your desk, staring at your computer screen wondering why the logo you made a while back looks pixelated when you import it in a 300 dpi document. Having it made in vector format from the beginning sounds like a good idea now, doesn’t it?

Planning such things ahead is crucial when contracting new clients, even if all they want or will ever want from you is a logo or icon or business card. It will not only save you time and money (because nobody is going to pay you extra for re-making a logo which you were supposed to do right from the very beginning), but others as well, especially if you are hired to work for a bigger company.

Graphic design is not just about making Facebook covers, fancy logos or eye-candy website designs. It is also about planning ahead, visualizing how your design is going to look, how the client might be using it in the future, what other purposes it will have in the long run.

Save, save, save…

I lost count of how many times I had to start all over again because either the computer froze, software crashed, power went out, and so on. I still have the bad habit of not saving my work as often as I should. I get so caught up in the creating process that it often slips my mind.

When you work with big file sizes (typically for large prints), the chances of your software to crash increase along with the document size and complexity of the design. Of course, that also depends on hardware specs and what software you use. Most have a back-up option built in and you can adjust the frequency of it according to your needs but I wouldn’t rely on it too much. At work I use CorelDraw and more often than not it happened for it to crash while trying to back up the file I was working on.

It is better to make a habit of saving your files every few minutes and also physically back-up your documents every once in a while in case something happens. Imagine losing years worth of work because your HDD suddenly decided to go haywire.

Studies in the field of graphic design are not mandatory

I am a self-taught graphic designer so this comes from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been to an art school and doesn’t have any kind of studies in the field whatsoever. Yes, I have a talent for art and I draw and paint as well, alongside graphic design, but everything I know was learned through practice, tutorials and work experience. It wasn’t until this past year when I decided to follow and online course on web development through Udemy but that hardly has much to do with the visual aspect of graphic design.

My boss, however, went to the local art school and afterwards followed university studies in art, and I often asked him if I need any kind of studies to become better and move forward in my career. The truth is I don’t and I believe neither does anyone who wants to become a graphic designer but doesn’t have the means to follow higher education studies.

I was tackling design before I started working in the industry, I mainly created web graphics and wallpapers. And even though my boss and I are friends now, I still had to go to an interview and prove my worth to someone with a lot more knowledge and experience than me. The fact that I had no studies in the matter had little to no importance. After I was hired, I had to learn how to work in Corel. Having used only Adobe software until then, it was confusing, if not frustrating at times. That was when I learned about vectors and raster images, when RGB and CMYK are used, how important it is to add a bleed and trim marks and how to optimize my work for future use. And I did all that by following tutorials, asking questions, listening to advice and trying to re-create random designs found around the internet (for the purpose of practice of course).

Sure, you need to have some sort of talent or ability to put together elements and create something visually appealing but a lot of that knowledge can be taught by looking at what other designers make, the advice they offer on blogs and in videos and through practice and tutorials that break everything down into basic information that’s easy to take in. And while having studies in art or graphic design is useful, don’t let the fact that you lack such studies or the means for them discourage you.

As long as you like what you do and work hard for it, you have just as much chance to be successful at it as someone with studies in graphic design.

And then there’s clients

I don’t know if it’s the same in every other country and culture, once again, this is all spoken out of my own experience. But if it’s one thing I learned ever since I started working as a graphic designer is that clients can be a handful at times. I have been pleasantly surprised throughout the last two years of what a delight it is to work with some of them but the majority can give you a pretty hard time.

If you have the slightest interest for graphic design or funny articles, you probably came across some entitled “Clients from Hell”. And while that seems a bit blown out of proportions, turns out it’s not that far from the truth. While some clients can be Godsend, others are a really big pain in the nether area to deal with, especially when they come to you with a request at the last minute.

They also want things done fast. And while you try to play the good guy and do everything on time so all your clients are satisfied, they decide that what they requested is not so urgent after all. Or that they don’t need it anymore. Or worse, they need even more things done, just as urgent. All in all, it can become pretty stressful. The key is to know how to deal with them and to not lose your patience. Not in front of them at least. I respect all the clients that come in the office, no matter how hard of a time they give me or my co-workers. I’m always calm and kind with them, even if I’m not having the best day and do my best to solve their problem and ask for details.

Because the company I work for deals with fulfilling orders as fast as possible (this is what we pride ourselves with), I often find myself overwhelmed with requests, either from my boss or from my clients. So a trick I use in such cases is to try and stall as much as possible, without being ignorant to what my clients need. “Yes, it can be solved by the end of the day” instead of “Of course we can deliver the order of 5000 flyers within the next hour” when you clearly have half a dozen things to do in the same time.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that we, as graphic designers, are not just someone who sits in front of the computer and makes miracles happen with just a few clicks and then have all the time in the world to do whatever we please. Especially not when we are also those who produce the materials they order. We are human beings with personal lives and needs. And while yes, the saying “Our clients, our masters” is somewhat true, there should be set boundaries on how much they can “abuse us” (if you make yourself available to a client 24/7, it will eventually start abusing you).

I hope this article has given you a slightly better image of what being a graphic designer means, although I barely scratched the surface. Truth is, we continuously have new things to learn, even in a field we believe we are experts in. And with the process of creation the boundaries are represented only by our imagination. Now tell me, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned through your work experience?

As a bonus, I’ve created a 2017 calendar, free to download here. The document is an A3, 300 dpi, print-ready format, all you need to do is download it, print it and cut it along the marks. Happy New Year!

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