Rants and Whimsy

The truth about graphic design

June 24, 2014

A while back a young ‘un approached me for advice on becoming a graphic designer. Mostly because I was in close range, lest anyone think I am some kind of graphic design mentor, or because I’ve got such a starry career it needs to be emulated. I’m not and I don’t.

Basically, I had one sentence of advice that actually turned into one of warning: It will devour your soul. No, really. Not even cranking out the hyperbole. Go to this site and know that the stories on there aren’t even uncommon. Graphic designers can read those stories and know that they’re just par for the course. Stuff like that makes up your day to day minutiae. That’s why we’re all a bit special.

Basically, once you’ve graphic designed for a wee while, you have three choices: Work in a big advertising agency and put up with all the fuckery that comes with that. Freelance and put up with all the fuckery that comes with that. Or work as part of a company and put up with the fuckery that comes with that.

Not that this blog is about all that. That’s just generally the reality of work and of getting along with people and it’s roughly the same deal whatever you do – whether you’re a designer or a pigeon salesman or a beautician or a veterinarian or a hit man. Though you possibly have more scope for retribution if you’re a hitman. Anyway, I digress.

If you are wise you will learn how to minimise fuckery as you age. I have. But it can be difficult. The main difficulty comes with managing your expectations versus reality. Chances are, when you were leaving high school or university or whatever, you realised that you were a creative type. You probably wanted to do something artistic. But actually being an artist is scary. Especially if you don’t have rich parents. Not everyone can be a poor, struggling artist. Some of us like to live solid structures with running water and electricity. So, the leap to graphic design seemed logical (for me anyway). I would still be creative, but within the corporate sector, so I would have a proper job and a paycheck.

I was thrilled. I had beaten the system. I had figured out a relatively easy way to be artistic and get paid for it, without years of heart breaking struggle and starvation. Or so I thought.

It turns out, a lot of people don’t hire graphic designers because they want them to be artistic and creative. They may think they do, but they don’t. They hire them because they know how to push the buttons and the order in which to push the buttons on the computer that makes the design stuff. They still want creative control because they are paying. If you have to deal with sales reps and other client facing managers you have yet another layer of opinions and Comic Sans to contend with.

Basically, if you’re looking to use it as a creative outlet graphic design can be a terrible mistress. The worst part is, once you’ve given away your creative juices all week in return for pay, you’ll often find that you have very little left for yourself. So you won’t even have the energy to express yourself creatively with projects on the weekend to the extent that you know you’re capable of. Sucky, huh?

And then you’ll realise that people don’t take your work seriously. Apparently, if you can do it at home on the couch it’s not really work. And if it’s not really work, you can be doing it for free. For exposure. For all that fun you’re having playing on a computer. Not everyone thinks this way. But a surprising number do, and they will find their way into your circle of acquaintances.

It’s one thing to do a favour for a friend. Like creating a birthday invite. It’s one thing to quote a job and give someone a discount in the spirit of ‘mates rates’. It’s another to work for a friend’s business for free or next to nothing and have them try to make you feel like they’re doing you a favour. I’ve actually lost ‘friends’ by turning down this kind of nonsense. Though by that time I can’t say I was sorry to see them go.

However, if I had to do it all over again I’d still be a graphic designer. Why? Well, for one it’s an excellent twat filter. Secondly, if I didn’t there’s a high chance this blog would be covered in Papyrus. And that just won’t do.

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