How Not to Become a Graphic Designer

Click. Breathe. Browse.

You stare. You think. You sit for 9 hours to work.

It’s been 9 years since I’m doing this lifelong learning and I’ve seen how things changed after college. But after scrolling to Facebook just to detoxify, I mean “detoxify”, it somehow adds to my rolling eyes and wants to rant out online.

I always seeing non-designers criticizing other designers’ work that can’t make a cut into the creative industry because their artwork looks cheap and adds insult comments to decrease the artist’s passion to strive. Or some clients trying to undervalue the work because it is only a drag-and-drop session that can be made in 5 minutes.

Although the rise of AI automated software can help a business owner create a logo for 5 minutes, somehow it forgets that a business doesn’t stand with only an independent logo as your identity to resolve your problem or otherwise, you’re going to spend another year spending another budget to change the logo that doesn’t work out.

The point is, a creative’s job isn’t new when it comes to interpreting solutions, juggling multiple deadlines just like any other work roles, and be the best at its own craft while handling other’s criticism in terms of undervalued work, imposter syndromes, and creative block.

If you are new to design who can’t spell patience or overwhelm by what I just told you above these things, then read these things on how not to become a graphic designer in the 21st century:

Google search engine

You’re not a fan of Google.

I always encounter other designers sending a bunch of blurred photos of “How to find similar fonts” or “Where can I find fonts” similar to the images. I likely commend other humans for providing a helping hand if a real lack of resources is the problem and the font is very unique, but when you see a continuous flow of requests where they only depend on others’ skills, then you’re not a fan of Google search.

While most graphic designers enjoy and portray the good side of things of this career, you must consider the walkthroughs of every small factor that can help you become resilient and flexible in your work:

  1. When you find a reliable keyword in your mind, practice how you can shorten your problem and identify what particular problem you are looking for.
  2. Skim and scan the related websites that provide the same answers and use them as your hypothesis to your upcoming conclusion.
  3. Identify what solutions you find that relate to other resources and then make it your final solution.

One skillset is enough to survive.

They say you only need 1–2 skillset to be a graphic designer. I object!

While this type of mindset can be effective, you are might looking for a short-term goal for career growth. Another case is most graphic designers only focus on 1–2 skills in their work because these are the main strengths they used to love but they have other subskill sets they can apply when things are in need.

For example, if you are only good in Graphic design but you don’t have experience in designing in Illustration, then you need to expand your experience and knowledge in crafting your expertise so that you gain more opportunities in the field of doing illustrations. The more you acquire one skillset, the more you benefit from the experience and at the same time, you widen your expansion of opportunities to survive.

Imagine this scenario where you’re the only marketing designer in a small business company and you demand one task job because that is the only thing you can contribute to them or you demand to increase salary because you’ve been moved to administrative tasks and not in your certain area of expertise, then you don’t gain experience where this will help you in your future goal.

So what is the better approach in learning sub skillset without getting overwhelmed?

  1. Find out what’s missing. If you have a lack of skillset that you need to learn for a specific career, then learn first how to do it and why you need it.
  2. Identify the objectives. If you’re new to graphic design software such as Adobe InDesign, you should know it’s purpose. InDesign is the best software when it comes to print layout and formatting. Then look out for tutorials that can give you a shortcut insight on how to create a layout that relates to your marketing needs or client’s request. This goal unlocks your abilities in proper formatting, basic print knowledge and specs, and the tools you need to master in Adobe InDesign.
  3. Once you mastered the lacking skillsets you need, identify what skillset you are good at and then refine it. You’ll never know what big opportunity awaits you when reaching that goal.
  4. Once you mastered the specific skill set you need, apply and repeat in order to gain knowledge in other skill sets. Once you are confident with the outcome, find what skillset is your main strength and polish it. This will enhance you in narrowing what type of field you want as a graphic designer.

Combining print and digital designs as if they work as one.

If you start your degree in digital fine arts or multimedia design, I guess this is not for you to understand the difference between the two unless you’re not listening to your college professor before, then you have a problem.

If you are a type of person who is currently in a different field and wants to shift in multimedia and graphic design, then you should be aware of the difference between print design and digital design.

Sample brand manual I did for a fitness app.

Print design is a subset of graphic design that can be used in your marketing collaterals. (e.g., brochure, invoice spreadsheet, rollup banners, business cards, etc.)

Sample Snapchat ad banner I did for a client.

Digital design is another form of graphic design that is made to use in your website and social media platforms. (e.g., social media designs, web banners, paid ad campaigns)

Before I landed my career in graphic design, I started small in how vast this type of career is until I used to look at how I learned from those mistakes to be a better designer and gain experience about it. So if you feel like you’re in that position right now, don’t panic and remember these tips:

  1. Identify what you are working on right now. In the publication, the print design uses CMYK because your printer identifies only 4 main colors which are cyan, magenta, yellow, and key. The printing machine uses these 4 main colors in order to produce another color which should be exactly the same in your artwork canvas. When you are using a fixed color palette for your canvas, identify your Color Pantone before you print it. In print design, you start your resolution to 300 dpi. If design for a website or social media, then your color mode should be red, green, blue (RGB) while your resolution starts at 72 dpi because your design is only good for computer screens.
  2. When you design for a print artwork, be mindful of using the correct bleeds and crop marks. The design will be printed out with your graphics and when you found out that your design, especially the context inside it, has been cut in the printing machine because you don’t use the correct bleeds and crop marks, then the cost of human error in producing marketing collateral will be your own responsibility, budget to pay the failed collateral, and the social concerns of humans requesting for the artwork. The other side effects will come after so be sure to look at them before sending it.
  3. Always review and proofread. Even in years, I still commit mistakes of not looking on reviewing my work but time and time again, it will be a habit to reduce those errors and so should you.

Who says design is “easy”?

Other than sitting for long hours straight, executing your artwork without being OC because you speak in detail, and rushing through deadlines in a short amount of time, then you might want to see how design can also be difficult in most situations.

Creative block and burnout can be some signs of delayed creativity because you need to work on ideas that will connect to how you want to convey a certain message.

What’s worst is the undervalued treatment from some professionals who use to earn a living through graphic design and by paying them less for a fixed price budget as a result of solving their problems in business. If you are some type of designer who is in this position, think twice, because you are being paid for the rent of the resources they are using, skills and knowledge, and daily expense to survive or else, you’re not a solution to an ongoing crisis.

Unreadable inspirational quote

Using overdesigned script fonts to look cool.

Typography nowadays is one of your weapons in communicating your brand to your audience. But if you’re an old-school type exploring graphic design and you love papyrus because goodness, Comic Sans is so overrated with insults, then you are living in the birth age of Internet Explorer.

When you’ve been following a series of trends in design for a couple of years, graphic design and the use of fonts is also evolving because the way you convey your message to the audience is reflecting your brand identity. The result is your font is hard to read, messy, and inefficient. So remember what ideal font speaks to your brand and use it as part of your brand identity and not just as your temporary typeface.

Graphic designer job posting

Seeing yourself to exist in 5 months.

Go back to tip #1 and #2.

If you breathe graphic design as your short term goal, then you will not make it in the future. I pursue this career when I got interested in how awesome Anime is and how it is appealing to me gives me the confidence to work as a designer. Although my degree somewhat aligned to become a graphic designer, it is very broad I didn’t notice It until I am applying what I used to learn in college (unless if you don’t pay attention to classes and you don’t value your parent’s hard work, then suit yourself).

If you feel not dreaming of becoming someone’s higher position or live the best life you want, then this job is not for you. Your burnout at work can hinder you to quit but if you sustain yourself to your long-term goal, then you will make it. You only breathe design because of necessity and not as your passion.

Using bad contrast to your design.

Whenever I expect this kind of case, not only in my profession but in other artist’s work, I feel grabbing me to the depths of hell. From a red background on a tinted bright color font, I’m sure you need a color therapy session with your client to understand how beautiful life is.

Which has the better contrast: Sample 1 or sample 2?

To understand the right color used for your design, you must understand how a color wheel works or go back to tip #1 on how you can look on the best color palette you can use for your design because the impression lasts when humans see your own creation.

You’re a fan of branded sodas rather than coffee.

Since this is a battle of diabetes and caffeine sugar levels, here is my point out.

Coffee can help you boost your memory to focus when you’re still asleep while soda can destroy your stomach without consuming food.

Coffee on the other hand can help you prepare your daily workaround because it boosts alertness, awareness, and mood swings during the day (recommended when you received an incoming dreadful email from your boss on the flyer he requests yesterday) rather than a soda can only last your mood for a couple of minutes.

Coffee can help you stay last long for hours while a soda wants you to feel refreshed, as said in a brand, but looks dehydrated afterward.

You criticize other’s work and yet, you fall to TIP #5.

So you’re are trying to be cool in insulting someone else’s work in social media but your font and artwork are much worse than theirs, then, there is no reason to join the club of poking someone’s creativity.

While trolls are everywhere and can spread bad vibes that affect your perseverance to learn, it is better look for other creative professionals who can give you an advice and look up to them.

While trolls are everywhere and they can easily spread bad vibes that can affect your passion and eagerness to learn, I suggest looking for successful creative professionals who can give you a better critic in improving your artwork.

Criticisms can be a good fair point in saying the things that need to improve, the word “criticize” has been used in a negative approach for an intent to intimidate or insult without getting a proper solution to the receiver. The ethic is different because normal criticism can be used in any form of ways but constructive criticism can produce feedback that improves someone’s weaknesses without being intimidated.

When you find a reliable keyword in your mind, practice how you can shorten your problem and identify what particular problem you are looking for.

  1. Search for creative professionals who have been successful in the creative industry and follow their ways. LinkedIn and Instagram can help you find amazing designers to boost your confidence and enhance your creativity as your main asset.
  2. Be open and connected for network relationships in the same industry so you can find genuine people who can share their experiences and ideas in their work and personal lives.
  3. Practice and improve. Learn how to improve your artwork by creating a portfolio to boost your online presence and exposure. This will become your greatest edge in finding your future clients to work for you and appreciate your design.
Bad graphic design

You hate simplicity over complexity.

I remember back when I am new to Photoshop and create a dozen layouts for a social community group for fun. The result before was pretty new for me so I think of it as good. Although some designs were loved by many, one person stands out, my college professor.

She saw how horrific her photo was because of too many stack layers and effects, she can’t even recognize her face when I sent it to her. The only advice she said to me is “Be simple” and the rest is history.

From cluttered, messy designs that don’t work to being minimal and modern looking styles, helps me to produce high-end artworks that solve a client’s problem and improving their messaging in their brand.

Just remember, make your work as simple as possible. Less is more. You don’t design by the acts of simply to design. You design to convey information as your form of communication where everyone can understand your own perspective without getting any confusion.

Conclusion

Learning design is easy because you only need is an idea but the challenge is finding ways how to extract that idea into reality. Investing in an emerging career of creative design as another branch of information technology can lead you to value life and career success when you envision how you want to be as your passion.

Ideas can be simplified in the rising trend of digital transformation, and your company needs an identity to says it all. Call for an appointment and let’s make things happen.

Ralph is a freelance designer based in Caloocan, Philippines working with companies in transforming corporate identities to human brands. 🕳🤸‍♂️🚶‍♀️