Career Choice: Graphic Designer

Avatar photo

23 December 2013

By NEBeep

Design is everywhere, from the clothes we wear, the houses we live in to the logos we see emblazoned across our favourite products; there is just no ignoring it. We caught up with the head designer at local design company Sleeky, who worked hard to come up with the logo for b**p, to get his take on what it takes to make it in the industry and how he got his start.

Were you always interested in design? 

I used to draw my own comics as a kid, and spent ages drawing logos of Batman, Ghostbusters etc. Then I stopped being a total geek and got into music – I fell in love with the art of the record sleeve (ask your mum). When I started playing music myself I’d design the posters and stuff for gigs. So pretty much always had an interest in aesthetics and how they work.


What did you study at school?

Usual stuff, didn’t do any art subjects as the classes were a bit cliquey and there seemed to be loads of extra work!


Did you go to college, if so what did you study? 

I went to Uni to do Business Studies. It bored me to tears however and I never wanted to go into marketing or anything like that. I took some admin jobs for a few years until one of my bosses noticed the adverts I was knocking up were pretty good so he promoted me to graphic designer and I started teaching myself everything I could learn about methods, ideas, typography, etc. I’ve since done some one-on-one training with a graphic designer of 40 years and obviously picked up tons of stuff from other people I work with.


What is the hardest part of your job and why?

Clients! Sadly a lot of clients hire a designer purely to put into practice their own ideas, rather than capitalising on the years of experience and knowledge. Instead of designing something functional, beautiful and useful – you end up breaking basic design rules left, right and centre just to get a project signed off. Good clients who let you do your job always end up with the best results, no question.


How important is design and branding today for companies?

Not just today! Look back over the past 50/60 years. What is Coca-Cola without the red can and the famous logotype? It’s just another sticky drink. You see about 200 logos a day but you only notice some, and you remember even less. Needs to be a good one!


If you ever wanted to change career what other options are there for you with a design background?

From a start in graphic design I’ve moved onto web design, so I suppose I could look at programming or something but I very much doubt I’d have the patience. There’s all sorts of different disciplines in design – product design, packaging design, web design, brand identity design, clothes design etc – but the best thing about designing for a living is that each day is different so I don’t know if I would look to change career. For every three or four boring jobs you’ll get a great job that inspires you to do new and interesting things.


Did you have to get together a huge portfolio to show  prospective employers?

The more work you have to choose from the better, but its important to be selective. A prospective employer is going to have quite a few portfolios to look through so it’s better to showcase a few of your best jobs – which show your versatility – than just throwing everything into it. Nobody has the time for that. It’s also a good idea to keep your portfolio updated – newer work shows how you keep up with (and even set) trends – very important in some sectors.


How important is work experience and interning?

Work experience is very important, but there’s a lot of people out there who – if they don’t have to – won’t pay for a designer. They’ll get someone to do work for free ‘as it’ll look good in your portfolio’ and ‘there’ll be loads of work at the end of it’. This is OK for a while but you quickly learn that usually the ‘loads of work at the end of it’ won’t materialise and they’ve just been taking advantage. An internship would be a better idea as it’s giving you actual agency experience, but like all things you should be getting paid for your work and ideas if someone else is making money from them.


What tips would you give someone interested in becoming a graphic designer? 

Learn as much as you can – typography, grid systems, composition, colours, brand rules, designing for print – but don’t be afraid to break some rules where necessary. Each job is different and it’s important to remember that. Think about the person looking at what you’re designing – can they read it? Is it clear? Will it connect with them? That’s more important than what looks good to you. Look at old magazines, films, books, adverts – see how they used to be laid out and compare them to modern stuff – you’ll see what type of thing has carried through and those are the things that work. Also, get a good computer with a great big screen and start learning how to use Photoshop. Use the internet, it’s full of training resources and inspiration. Share your work. Look for freelancing opportunities.

Like this article? Please share!