What does a graphic designer do?

June 26, 2009

What a loaded question! There are ten ways I could approach this subject. I think most of you have an idea what a designer does, and you see it every day. Every website and every inch of a newspaper or magazine was touched by a designer. But what about being a designer are they NOT telling you? What is expected beyond the list of programs you will learn at school or the 1 inch job listing?

I don’t think two designers would give you the same answer. From my experience, no graphic design career is the same as the next, probably because of their random genetic makeup of geographic location (who provides the jobs in your areas, is the market saturated with designers), what the potential designer THOUGHT they wanted to do when they started their education (what were the misconceptions going in about what the career was about – personally I had no idea!), what they DID do when they were finished their education and found their first precious employment (did they have to grab that Corner Quick Print position to pay the bills rather than design Pepsi’s new logo?) and how long did they hold that position before moving on to the next one?

Why would those things affect a career? Geographically, for instance, if you are in a rural area, you are more likely to be creating brochures for farm equipment rather than flyers for hot DJs and chic art exhibits. What was the expectation going into school and what happened after? I thought I was going to be a multimedia designer, doing interactive CDs back when multimedia was the buzz word. A year after finding no opportunities in that area, I fell into print, which was the best ever! I find that is a major factor in deciding how many designers out there make it. If you are happy designing, it doesn’t matter what you are designing, and the old adage of “paying your dues” rings very true. Talk about paying dues? I also wanted to freelance after school, and after a decade of “paying my dues”, I was finally ready! J

So, you’ve probably realized I believe a true designer isn’t born in the classroom, but is born in the field. The real world is filled with an infinity of potential design problems! You can’t call yourself a true designer until you feel you’ve seen it all, and eventually you will. You will have to finish that brochure with half the pictures you would have liked, or get the client’s logo off a matchbook so you can design their highway billboard. Don’t get me wrong, you need a good foundation of education in sound design principles, but you also have to enjoy what you do 24-7, enjoying problem solving hour to hour, and be expected to perform design miracles and fill roles you never dreamed of.

What unexpected roles come with being a designer? That can be determined by how large a firm is that employs you. I’ve found the majority of firms don’t have 100 employees compartmentalized in their tasks. Often design companies will have a hand full of designers and even fewer sales and/or managing staff. That means consulting clients, travelling to meetings, job quoting, phone calls, product sourcing, IT, copy writing, photographer, etc., falls to the designer to get their client’s job done. No matter how kick ass your poster design is, you may be the one to find a printer, a quality printer AND a printer at the right price – there alone are 3 more problems on top of design than you probably didn’t learned in school, all with their own subset of problems!

Speaking of additional tasks, occasionally a design firm will do some material production in house – this can get interesting! In the past, just a few production duties I’ve completed in addition to the design are pressing designs onto t-shirts, cutting vinyl decals and applying them to signs and vehicles, folding booklets, stuffing envelopes, etc. And don’t think anyone will be there the first time you do it to hold your hand, often you have to find a solution, research it, then do it to a quality level you can charge somebody for. I do have to admit the odd manual task is refreshing compared to sitting behind a desk all day!

I might have conveyed that everything I’ve mentioned is a pain and the negative side of designing… quite the opposite! This career is for those who love variety and the unexpected. Like many careers, it can move you to cities you thought you’d never move to, career roles you never dreamed of, and give you the unique ability to personally and directly impact the world with how you’ve graphically delivered a message.

I have only touched on what a graphic designer does, this is destined to be an ongoing subject!

About Scott Kasprick

Scott Kasprick is a graphic designer in Brandon, Manitoba and owns and operates Reaxion Graphics while helping his wife raise three lively daughters!

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