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Web Worker Careers: Graphic Design

Graphics DesignGraphic designers are a passionate lot. The few interviewed for this article all had one thing in common: They’ve been interested in graphic design for as long as they can remember. Is graphic design the web working career for you?

Graphic Design Career

It’s important to highlight the distinction between web design and graphic design. Those who do graphic design concentrate mostly on print work. They create designs for annual reports, advertisements, brochures, billboards, logos and design identity packages complete with letterhead, envelopes and business cards.

How to Qualify

Unlike many web designers, graphic designers tend to have some formal design education. Lea Ann Stundins worked as a creative director for several agencies before switching to self-employment with her business, Wish List Creative. “The best advice I would offer young people trying to break into design is: go to an art school that has a good reputation according to your ideal design firm/agency. (Ask them, they’ll tell you.) Get an internship at a ‘big name’ agency or design firm. Do anything you have to in order to get that name on your resume. Then, with that school name and that agency name — and a good portfolio, of course — you should be golden,” says Stundins.

Cynthia Courtney, designer and creator of cool stuff, took jobs working with designers she respected so she could learn from them. Although Courtney has a degree in communications design with a minor in illustration, she continues her education by taking courses in Photoshop, business and marketing. “Anyone can use a computer and do a layout with fancy type. Doing it well by creating a piece that solves a client’s problem and can be printed is a whole different ballgame,” says Courtney.

Designer Tools

Stundins lists the important things in her designer toolbox. “My brain mostly. My fingers. A pencil. Paper. Finally, a computer,” she says. Photoshop (s adbe) leads the pack as the “go to” graphic design tool for photo retouching, InDesign is used for page layout, with Illustrator being the choice for logo creation and line art.

Like Stundins, many rely on old-fashioned pencil-and-paper to work through ideas before heading to their Macs (s aapl) turn ideas into pixels. Designers use many ancillary tools such as Acrobat, Stuffit, file transfer protocol (FTP) tools, and file-sharing sites like YouSendIt to send work to clients.

Find Clients

Like many web working careers, marketing remains important. However, most graphic designers find their gigs through word-of-mouth and networking.

Are you considering a career in graphic design?

Photo credit: Tsunei Miyuki

9 Responses to “Web Worker Careers: Graphic Design”

  1. Great article Meryl. I think that often times there is a lot of confusion about what makes a good web designer vs a good graphic designer. I find myself having to explain how the web is a lot different than the print world (your designs are illuminated on a variable sized screen for starters!).

    At the same time I think there are a lot of individuals who describe themselves as designers (all areas) but really don’t have a firm understanding of print design or even sometimes the based principals of design in general. They spend their days designing with CSS code but forget that in print design involves very specific requirements (color matching, typesetting, etc).

    The inverse can be said for web design where layouts will often flex to accommodate additional text and it may be somewhat acceptable for colors to shift depending on the platform, browser, and display you are using.

    – Nick

  2. Meryl, a concise introduction to the ink-on-paper graphic design career, for those young people considering pursuing it.

    As a former Creative Group Head at The Richards Group and former Creative Director at TracyLocke, I was responsible for hiring both the interns and the junior designers/art directors. I told them the same things I told you in this article. Your brain is your asset, the computer is only a tool. And a secondary one at that. Executing strategically sound, well-thought-out, PRINTABLE design pieces requires alot more than just having a computer with Photoshop. And if a young person wants to work at a name agency, they must name drop to get their foot in the door, and bust their butt once they’re there. Having an education at a school like RISD, Ringling, CCAD, UNT, Parsons, etc gives an agency an idea that you have been trained properly in the thought process and design process and execution process for print work. Having a name agency/design firm internship on your resume then gives an agency the assurance that you know how the REAL world works; that you are a proven entity and a safe hire. Then, being nice, and humble about your good work, will get you very very far.

    In my career, I’ve done national print work for Frito-Lay, Corner Bakery, Dr Pepper, Saturn, The Army, Baileys Irish Cream, McDonalds, Fruit of the Loom, Comedy Central, Woodbridge Wines, (I can go on for about 20 years). I don’t do any web design or anything remotely digital. I don’t create art in Photoshop – I prefer ink, paint, marker, or hiring a real-live illustrator person or photographer person. I don’t use templates. I rarely use fonts as they are, instead I modify letters to match what I’ve drawn in pencil. I choose colors based on my formal training in color theory. And I never create mechanical files that cannot be printed as-is by any printer. I learned how to be a graphic designer back before there were computers.

    So I’m sure that for a Photoshop Web Guru T-Shirt Designer like Danny Outlaw, I must seem like a dinosaur. That’s ok. I’ll leave all the Photoshop T-Shirt work in his capable hands.

    And if he would like to try to apply for a position as an Art Director at The Richards Group, he is welcome to send me his resume.

  3. @Danny, mind sharing how we can expand it. We try to go to the people who actually do the job and get the info straight from them rather than research a bunch articles and resources. Most people just don’t call themselves graphics designers and wanted to be in the web design article instead.

    @Tina, thanks.