Career advice Sought for future Graphic Designer

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Career advice Sought for future Graphic Designer

Post by wshang »

My daughter is a soon-to-graduate-from high school student who is strongly considering a career in graphic design. As a father with no background in this field, I am somewhat worried as the principal schools under consideration are trade school-like. In other words, these are single curriculum schools with no opportunity to earn a minor which might otherwise allow one to change majors, try out other courses or even get an unrelated minor which might give her a backup source of income.

With cartoon shows like The Simpsons farmed out to Korea, I am concerned about the exportability of graphic design jobs.

I know some BH's are graphic designers or working in the field. Could you please give me and my daughter some career advice? Many thanks.
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Post by mithrandir »

You have a right to be wary. Graphic design is not a lucrative field and it may be to hard to justify paying $20K or so to a trade school just to get work that pays $15-20/hr without benefits.

Maybe that's harsh. I think you need to consider your daughter's talent. If one has honest talent they can do well in almost any field, but if it's just an "interest" it may be a losing proposition.

Also consider your daughter's technical skills. Much work in the graphic design arena revolves around the web so if one is uncomfortable with light programming (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash) I would be concerned. It's not that no one is doing print media anymore but the market is already flooded with print-oriented graphic designers and they are all fighting over too little work (I have a relative in this field). The demand for business cards just isn't what it used to be.
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Post by bb »

I suggest just going and talking to some folks locally that are
employed as graphic designers.
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Post by livesoft »

I know three graphic designers and they seem quite satisfied in their careers.

One has her own business making brochures and advertisements for small businesses in the area. Did you ever wonder where all that junk mail comes from? How about restaurant menus? Store signs? Etc? Someone has to design it.

The others work for companies as members of in-house marketing teams. Someone has to create product brochures and other marketing material. They also provide web content.

Most of this kind of local work cannot be exported to Korea.

Basically anything you read or view has probably had a contribution from a graphic design person.
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Post by bradshaw1965 »

I've worked with Graphic Designers my whole career and know quite a few who have satisfying, long term careers. The best advice I can give a designer is to recognize that Graphic Design is a service field and not about developing an art practice. There are opportunities for developing a practitioners creativity, but the long term success of the career will be in developing client relationships and satisfying the clients needs.
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Post by bradshaw1965 »

Also, rereading your initial question, I'd be wary of for profit trade school training for Graphic Design. The BFA in Graphic Design from a traditional 4 year school or accredited art school is the typical credential for a junior designer in the studios I am familiar with.

The BFA would also include liberal arts classes beyond art training and would satisfy requirements for a bachelors degree if your daughter would not practice in the field, which is fairly common.
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Post by scubadiver »

Might your daughter consider studying marketing instead and perhaps minoring in an appropriate technical discipline to develop / enhance her graphic design skill set? This sort of background would posture her to pursue a number of opportunities in and related to graphic design.
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Post by Billy Pilgrim »

I know a couple of graphic designers and they are constantly hustling for freelance work. Don't take our word for it. Have your daughter observe some graphic designers and see how she likes it.
Last edited by Billy Pilgrim on Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by MrsO »

I'm a graphic designer. Well, specifically I'm a user interface designer, so my work is entirely web based. I'm sure my father shared many of your concerns when sending me off to an expensive school to pursue an art degree. Luckily it seems to have paid off.

As many have noted, there are many branches of design. Print design tends to pay much less than web design, but web work requires some technical knowledge. Digital design seems to be in high demand now and there are a lot of branches within that field -- web design, mobile applications, usability, multimedia, information architecture, SEO, marketing, to name a few.

I agree with your hesitation about an art-only education. When I was in your daughter's shoes, I opted to go to the best liberal arts program I could get into. At the same time, I have worked with many successful people who only have an associates degree from an art school.

A few things I love about my career choice: It is highly portfolio based, so even a recent college grad can demonstrate their skills in a tangible way. Work environments tend to be relaxed -- I have never felt much stress at work. Design work can be done remotely. Money is good (I make six figures and do not live in NYC or the Bay Area). Income can be supplemented with freelance work, and freelance work can be very lucrative. It is possible to be self-employed. Design work that requires judgement tends to not be outsourced (low level production work is what is often outsourced). Some of the technology has only been around for a year or two, so a young person can be on par with a career veteran by knowing the latest and greatest.

I have observed that having design sense, writing/communication skills, business acumen, and technical knowledge is a rare combination. Job candidates that fit that profile often have no trouble finding gainful employment. Some people who start their careers in graphic design ultimately transition to more business-oriented roles, but design seems like a good place to start a career given that a strong portfolio and winning attitude is often enough to get your first break.

I wish your daughter the best of luck!
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Post by imagardener »

My niece wanted to major in Art but my brother said if he was paying she'd minor in Art and major in something more solid. She chose Marketing and minored in Fashion. Got a great job on graduation (fashion), still there years later.

Everyone has a different story but having more than one talent/accredited knowledge is valuable any way you look at it.

If that is her only interest she just hasn't been exposed to enough different areas. IMO that is what college SHOULD be, exposure to things you never even thought of before. She shouldn't limit her potential so young.

When I started college the two majors I wrote were Political Science and French and I never took a single course in either.
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Post by yobria »

Just after college I dated a young woman who'd been trained at a graphic design school in her teens. She grew up in Singapore, where all but the top academic students are given practical training at a young age.

By the time she was 21, she already had five years working experience, and was managing the much older liberal arts grads who'd wandered into the field. She's never had a problem getting good jobs.

If you're artistic and computer savvy, I think a GD trade school is a fantastic careeer choice. Can it be outsourced? Sure, but almost every job can.

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Post by MP173 »

If you are excellent in any field and willing to work hard and create your own luck, you should do fine.

That being said...

I am in sales for a large format screen printing company. Great company, outstanding product and service and I have been in sales for over 20 years with this company. We have several outstanding graphic designers, which translate into sales and $$$ for me. The challenge as I see it is there are too many such students with not enough jobs. That could probably be said for many other fields, but about a decade ago the universities started offering graphic arts degrees.

High school students got a taste of it in school, loved it and majored in college. A glut of graphic design grads developed.

I concur with an earlier statement of majoring (or minoring) in marketing with the graphics art. It allows much more flexibility for growth and employment.

Just my two cents worth.

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Post by wshang »

Thanks to all who took time to provide guidance. I knew BH's are friendly and helpful lot - I appreciate you'all being so helpful. Second hand opinions are just as helpful as firsthand postings. There exists a self-selection bias among professionals, one who is successful at their chosen profession leads to the impression, "if they build it, they will come".

If there were no State licensing of medical professionals, I would fear outsourcing in the near term, (were tissue biopsy specimens diagnosed off Internet images.) There is so little we can do to prepare our children for the inevitable and rapid changes globalization brings. I admire her confidence to strive in a field she truly enjoys - wondering about whether I should have pursued history instead of medicine for fear of unemployment.

She is heading toward computer-related design, which from the responses seems to be the present hotspot. I have told her when she is the new grad, her skills would be in demand, but there will rapidly come a future day when the new "Photoshop"-like program will be something "they didn't teach in class." I see no Warren Buffet-like competitive moat State licensing or some degrees confer.

Thank you for excellent points - begging more specifics:

MrsO: Do you think the Liberal Arts route is better on balance? Like going to get an MBA later versus first getting an undergrad degree from Wharton . . . .

Mithrandir: That is exactly the point, I have no idea where on the scale of talent my daughter stands. If she were "head and shoulders" above the rest, it would be reassuring, but how would one obtain an unbiased and age relative opinion?
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Post by mithrandir »

wshang wrote: Mithrandir: That is exactly the point, I have no idea where on the scale of talent my daughter stands. If she were "head and shoulders" above the rest, it would be reassuring, but how would one obtain an unbiased and age relative opinion?
Have her browse through some online portfolios and output of professional graphic designer/artists. I just picked this site out:

Ask her what kind of response does she get from looking at these. Is it excitement, reflection, intimidation?

There was a time in my life when I actually considered (OK maybe casually) to become a landscape photographer. And it wasn't because my primary job was lacking (I've been in IT for 14 years) but I got caught up in that "oh, you have to follow your dreams" stuff that gets brandied about.

What a disaster that would have been. The day I discovered I realized I had no business trying to make a career out of photography. I can't "compete", it's just an interest/hobby.

In the creative fields innate talent is paramount (IMO). You can teach people marketing and management and yes even IT but I think artists are born not made.

Now granted you don't have to be the best in the world. In my field there are and always will be people who can run circles around me...only one person can be at the top of the pyramid. But on hindsight I am definitely in the "right" field for me.

It's hard for a high schooler to know what they are born to do but in an economy where the best get paid much much more than the average I believe one should determine where they have the greatest aptitude and decide how to make a career out of that.
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Post by btenny »

There is related area to graphics design area that is much more lucrative and specialized than regular graphics design called Computer Aided Design of things like printed wiring boards and computer chips using computer tools via CAD design. This is the computer aided grapics work done to create all the printed wiring boards and computer chips used in cars and games and TVs and computers and various things. There are literally thousands of employers all around the world like Intel, HP and all the electronics houses plus many others like Honeywell. Many of these jobs are filled by lower level engineers because some of the work is a mix of graphics and some programming so it can be pretty complex stuff. But many others who fill these jobs learned thier skills over the years via On the Job Training. But it pays very well, much better than regular graphics and is always in demand. Think $85K or more with some overtime for all these people. Most of the guys and gals studied mechanical design or some engineering in school and learned a lot about computers and graphics and then worked as assistants at Intel or HP or similar companies and did most of their learning by on the job training. There are few schools that teach the lower level stuff as well.

See here for some discussion. ... 1I7GGLR_en ... 1I7GGLR_en

Similarly there are all kinds of physical layout jobs all over industry to design and repair things like buildings and streets and water lines and so forth. These jobs are also in CAD design and use programs like AutoCAD to store the complex maps and descriptions.

See here. ... 1I7GGLR_en

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Post by MrsO »

Do you think the Liberal Arts route is better on balance? Like going to get an MBA later versus first getting an undergrad degree from Wharton . . . .
My professional opinion is that a liberal arts route is NOT better on balance in terms of building a career in this field. The most important thing is to have some sort of related credential(s) and, more importantly, internship experience and a strong portfolio. However, many job listings require a degree, so not having one could harm someone's chances of getting their foot in the door. Can you give examples of the programs that your daughter is considering?

My personal opinion is that a liberal arts school is a great way to explore interests. My career goals were shaped by the various classes, internships, and extracurriculars I participated in. It is nice to have my Bachelors degree out of the way and it definitely hasn't hurt my career prospects. I do think that my degree from a top liberal arts college is overkill for my job choice. But having a degree in Fine Art is a signal to hiring managers that I am a trained designer and definitely works in my favor.

Most people I work with agree that the majority of what we know is self-taught. We did not learn much in school that can be directly applied to our jobs. This includes people with trade school backgrounds as well as people with Masters degrees.
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