What I Wish I Knew Before Choosing a Career in Graphic Design.

In February 2016, I made the decision to pursue graphic design professionally. Although, prior to that, I had a basic understanding of Adobe Photoshop and had gotten a few bucks from helping friends with that knowledge. Today, I stumbled on Søren Kierkegaard’s famous quote “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. This prompted me to look back and reflect on this journey, the lessons, the successes and also share the valuable lessons learnt along the way. Hopefully, someone who’s about delving into this career path would find something valuable in these words.

  1. Graphic design is not a real job.

It’s a hustle. Why do I believe so? Anyone can become a pro at graphic design if they are willing to put in the time. Also, with free templates all over the internet and tools like Canva, anyone can grab the basics in a few days and start taking on clients as a freelancer. In my opinion, the earlier you choose to be multidisciplinary or diversify, the better. Else, you might have to deal with clients who would always find someone to do it cheaper. Don’t see it as a destination, rather, take it as a means to an end.

2. Upskilling is the only route to survival in the industry.

Those who rise faster in the industry most often transitioned into Art Direction, Creative Strategy, UI/UX Design, Motion Design, 3D Visualisation/Animation, Virtual Reality Development, Digital Marketing, Product Design/Management etc. If you don’t make a conscious effort into learning more and reinventing yourself, your skills might lose value in a short time.

3. If you neglect your health, you will pay dearly for it.

Have you ever wondered why most designers have to consistently battle with back/waist pain, eye strain and so on? It’s because there’s no COB for a designer. You’d spend most of your time ‘making logos pop’ or ‘making just a little revision’. If you are freelancing, you’d have to deal with clients who will call you at night and on weekends for a ‘quick design’ that could take up all your time. Well, I guess this comes with all tech careers and isn’t only peculiar to graphic design. Pick an exercise routine or a sport you love and stick to it.

4. You can never run away from pro-bono work.

As funny as it sounds, graphic design is one of the careers where clients would ask so much of you and tag it as ‘a little favour’. At the start of your career, you’d most likely do it to prove your worth or get your foot in the door, but as you progress and realise that we live in a world where you sometimes need to temporarily hop on someone’s ladder to get you closer to your goals, you’d find yourself squeezing out time to volunteer for certain projects you didn’t plan for.

5. Your relationships might suffer.

Graphic design is time-consuming and in a bid to catch up with new design trends, you’d often find yourself becoming reclusive and detached from family and friends. If you don’t remember to make a consistent effort to keep constant communication with them, you’d wake up one day to the realisation that you’ve become an island. You need to be more intentional about valued relationships. Besides, I think the constant drive to achieve perfection with every project gradually makes you intolerant of people’s shortcomings.

6. Pick an organisation that would help you grow over one that would give you money.

I guess there are a million articles about this on the internet and it’s importance cannot be over-emphasized. Although, money is important, it’s usually short lived and takes a lot of discipline to master. For instance, what’s the long term benefit of working with a firm that’ll pay you heavily today (in a currency that is constantly depreciating) but does not offer promotions or a pay raise?

7. Mentorship can save your life.

Mentorship opened my eyes to understanding a lot about collaboration, pitching ideas, client service, negotiation/pricing, troubleshooting e.t.c It can help cut your journey in half, trust me. You don’t have to learn the hard way; suffering is not a virtue, neither do you deserve try and fail several times before you become good at something. It’s easier to ask those who have been there before you for guidance.

8. You don’t dictate the rules.

A good work that checks all the boxes for a designer might not appeal to the client. You’d most often spend extra hours making the white whiter. Good work is subjective and in the chain of command might just not be ‘feeling your work’ and remind you over and over that it’s almost there and there seems to something missing. Remember, ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ and in such cases, we often find the client’s opinion overshadowing professional recommendations. Learn not to take it personal and tuck your ego beneath your mouse pad. Every designer has at least one work they aren’t proud of.

9. Always demand for a brief.

Oftentimes, clients don’t know what they really want. Their judgement of a good design work is often based on how they feel at the moment. Sometimes, their recommendations would end up watering down your work and fail to pass their brand message across as you intended.

Having a brief, on the other hand, would help you know what the client really wants, determine the scope of work, client budget and project timelines.

10. Get a lawyer.

If you are freelancing, you’d be exposed to a lot of verbal contracts often described as ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Always, get a lawyer to look through written contracts before appending your signature. If you aren’t careful, you might just be walking into a trap. You might have to deal with client’s who would owe you for months, pay you based on what they feel you deserve or even pass your work their spouses who don’t understand a thing about design to determine if your work is good enough.

Cheers to a new month, more sleepless nights and downloading more fonts than we really need.

Multidisciplinary Designer | Writer | Art Enthusiast

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