Key things you NEED to know as an upcoming designer

So here’s one of the most common stories I encounter in my day-to-day interaction with college students that are currently studying graphic design:

You just graduated from your city’s Highschool of Arts and currently are searching for your next move in life. You ask left and right and, you come to the conclusion that maybe pursuing the beautiful painter’s life won’t work out that well for you, given the circumstances of today’s society and marketplace, so you randomly come across the word “graphic design”.

So you either make some detailed research on it by yourself or you simply ask around and eventually decide that you are going to pursue the beautiful messy world of design. Add the fact that you heard that “it pays well” and that “there is a constant need of workforce in this field” just makes it the perfect case. You are going to make at least $1000 / month right out of college, right?

Well, you’d be wrong.

Now, I am not judging anyone that fits this description, but this is one huge misconception that at least 70% of students in these cases have. So to get rid of this problem here are some small things you should know before fully embarking on this journey:

College is way different from high school.

Shocker, i know right?

One of the things that creative minds tend to assume before going to a college that focuses on graphic design is that their artsy feeling will guide them through the years. While it may give you a little boost in being focused on small tasks but it won’t get you far enough for you to get that diploma.

In college you don’t receive tasks that are fully set on the table for you, you’ll need to make some research to fulfil the brief even when experimenting with graphic design at the university level. Most of the time, the professors will try to prepare you for a client’s needy brief which will highly reduce your creative freedom so you won’t be able to just “dream out” a certain project.

College gives you 30% of the required knowledge at most.

Well, that is something to think about.

One of the biggest and most important things that you should acknowledge is that getting your Bachelor of Arts in Design DOES NOT make you a graphic designer. It’s not like you are completing an Engineering Degree and afterwards, you get the title of “Engineer”.

Design just doesn’t work like that.

This is one of the main credits I should give to one of my teachers back when we started college, he clearly stated:

“The work you’ll put out in college is not even 50% of the required skill you will need when going out there in the real world the tasks we give you might be only 30% of the necessities, the hard work you put off-hours and the constant research and individual study will make up the rest of it”

So with that in mind get your hustle up even when you are not in classes, keep on with the hard work on fictional projects, build up your skills individually and don’t sit nice and comfy in your chair thinking that just because you’ve passed the first year of college will result in you having solid knowledge. I always like to say that 1 year of graphic design college is equivalent to 3 months of individual study.

In most cases, college isn’t even a necessity.

Just hear me out on this one.

Having a degree is always a plus, but most companies that understand the value of design and practical work won’t even require you to have a BA.

Why is that? Because the theoretical part that you study and learn in universities mean absolutely nothing if you can’t apply your knowledge in a project. You’ll most likely end up having either a technical interview or a skill test in the final phase of a potential job offer just so that the employers know that you are a perfect fit for the task at hand.

This is the real way they test your knowledge, not just by looking at your fancy bachelor’s degree that states you are a designer and think to themselves: “yep, this seems about right, get him a desk”.

Just because someone has 10+ years of experience, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to compete with them.

All the senior designers will hunt me down for this.

Now we must be realistic in this certain case, I am not saying that any upcoming designer can compete head-to-head with “a veteran” in the design industry, but on another hand, times change, and with times trends and technologies change.

Generally, you are The Falcon and a senior is Captain America

So while on an overall scale you might need to have an incredible hustle to catch up with someone with that experience it is not impossible to beat them at certain aspects, whether it being a certain style of design or a better approach to a certain task.

But as I’ve mentioned before, to be a top contender you need to keep working on your skills and evolving them, even if that means just improving your workflow.

Your artsy vibe might throw you under the bus.

Being an artist is not always the solution.

You would think that having an artistic side would help you lots in this certain domain, and while it mostly does in areas that you are required to have such a plus in your arsenal — sometimes everything you’ve learned and done in an art project might mess up with your whole design thinking.

Such as the complementary contrast that is constantly used in painting.

That specific practice will be a downfall in most of the projects you’ll receive in a design job, especially if we are talking about one of the most popular parts of design, UI/UX where you need elements to be clear while stand-alone.

Another thing that might actually make your designer life difficult, would be the fact that art is always subjective, while design is always objective.

In design you need to make sure that the majority of users (if not all of them) understand what you wanted to express through a specific decision, all the way from the colour you choose in a design to a reason why you appealed to a more rounded look (yes, that is also a thing).

You won’t become rich overnight while being a designer.

One of the main misconceptions I wished was true.

Sadly, this is the truth. If I would have to give a famous quote on how you start getting some well-payed projects, I would choose the following:

“Hard work” — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Ok, leaving aside the jokes and all that jibberish, you need to grind constantly on improving your skills and have a passion for design behind that mentality. You can’t work in the design industry just because it pays well, because you will never improve, and tons of upcoming designers that are passionate about the whole process will catch up to you in no time.

I’ve met plenty of designers in my life and let me tell you, the ones that were passionate from day 1 are surely in a better place than the money-hungry “designers”. Putting in extra work and trying out new things will greatly push you to continue improving.

Sometimes you’ll get slapped around while in a relationship with design

Design is like a relationship, if you don’t find ways to make it fun and seem new to you now-and-then will eat you alive. You will become bored, you will start doing it just for monetary gain, and you will mostly end up stuck in place, so “spice things up” in this “relationship” with design.

That’s pretty much all I can think of, generally speaking, if you think I’ve missed something please let me know down below, and make sure to share with your friends or family that think about becoming a designer in any field.

Creative mind currently based in Timișoara, Romania