Life as a graphic design student is quite enjoyable. You get to work on interesting projects, without the constraints of picky clients and tight budgets. Your teachers push you to be creative, giving you great (if your teacher is good) advice to become a better designer. But what happens once you graduate?
Once you have your diploma in hands, things become more real. You have to find a way to make money with your new skills, which means to compete with many motivated graphic designers in a tough market. Nevertheless, no need to panic, there are many paths you can choose as a graphic designer, just try to find out which is more suitable for your personality.
Working in a Design Studio
This is a quite common path, find a job in a design studio. It’s a great choice for a first job, because you will be confronted with real life issues, with experienced designers to help you and guide you through things you have not learned in school. Being around other designers is also excellent to exchange ideas with like-minded people you’ll spend your day with. Most design studios also have a pretty cool working atmosphere, although it can be tough and stressful when you have to meet some deadlines.
Depending on the country you live in, it can be quite hard to find a job in a design studio. Many graphic designers come out of school and are eager to work in one of those studios. You shouldn’t give up if that’s where you want to work. Prepare yourself an adaptable portfolio, adaptable meaning that you should present work appropriate to the agency you are introducing yourself to. Try to meet many designers, for that you can attend design events, conferences or talks. Of course, you should also be active online, have your portfolio site and something you can share quickly.
Starting out as a freelance graphic designer is easy. It’s very easy. What’s harder is to keep your freelancing career going on. Finding new clients and keeping existing ones is not as easy as it seems, you will also have to face late payments, accounting work and taxes all by yourself, are you ready for it?
In my opinion, the best way to be a successful freelancer right out of school… is to get started while you are in school. Obviously it is also hard to keep up with your school projects while handling client work. However, if you can manage to do that you can build-up your portfolio with real-life work, and build a little client base that will help to launch a real freelancing career. This said, becoming a freelance graphic designer right after getting your graphic design diploma is not a common path. Most times, graphic designers wait to have more experience under their belt before taking the risk of the freelancing life.
In-House Graphic Designer
Large corporations, but also middle-size companies who communicate a lot, often prefer to hire graphic designers fully dedicated to their company instead of paying more for design studios. The advantages for the companies who have an in-house design team are quite obvious; it lowers the cost, but also can improve the quality by spending more time on projects and keeping the same designers to ensure a continuity in the visuals. For graphic designers, corporations are usually not the most exciting place to work in, unless you have the chance to work for a company that gives you more freedom in the work or has high expectations on its branding and communication. For example, being an in-house designer for Apple or Skittles doesn’t compare with working for a company that sells swimming pools. Swimming pools are great, don’t get me wrong, but the material is not quite as exciting to design. Luckily there are some advantages. In most cases you will get a more stable position and often better salary than in design studios, which is important to consider.
Once you are experienced enough, you may get the opportunity to teach what you know to a younger generation of graphic designers. It is a thrilling experience, because you are confronted to new ways of seeing things in the world of design. Younger graphic designers are not tired by complaining clients, budget issues or other designers’ worries; they are much more free and willing to create. By teaching, you also have to make sure that you know what you talk about. Students will ask you unexpected questions that will force you to learn more, and they will bring you food for thought. Ironically, teaching is one of the best ways to learn.
Ideally, teaching wouldn’t be a full-time job. Design schools often prefer to hire working designers to teach their students. Finding a teaching job will bring you a good position with a decent salary, unfortunately it isn’t easy to get such a job. You will either have to be famous in your area, so that the school finds you worthy of teaching for them, or you will have to know somebody in the school that can introduce you to a position.
With the Internet, there are now new openings to wannabe graphic design teachers. Opening a blog has never been this easy, and you can even find people who are willing to take online classes to learn what you have to teach them.
Doing technical work only is probably not most graphic designers dream, but it may be a path to consider if you can’t find other jobs in the design industry. Basically, your work as a pre-press technician would consist in preparing documents for printing, which is a task that most designers despise.
With the ongoing rise of screen as a support for communication, graphic designers convert very often to web and multimedia design to be able to make a living. Creating websites, animations or any design work on screen is a great way to keep on getting work while companies are abandoning paper, but it will need some effort to learn new skills and adapt your graphic design skills to new supports.