Advice #18: Choosing a Career in Graphic Design

I am 17 years old and I am a high school student. I just recently settled on what I would like to go to college for, and what I want to do with my life. I’ve always found graphic design [to be] fun and interesting. I am an avid user of Adobe Photoshop, and I love looking at work from various graphic designers. I would love any advice you have to give as far as school or career paths to choose, since this field is already very confusing to me. I’m dead set on being the best I can be, so any advice would be helpful.

Getting a degree in design is just the beginning; it can open the door to an endless stream of opportunities. If you want to go to school for graphic design, this doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to being just a designer. Think of it as a starting point to breaking into the general field.

There are a huge variety of interrelated jobs in the design industry that you can look into including those of a creative director, art director, production artist, illustrator, web designer and more. You may also specialize in niches including logo design, product design, brand identity and editorial design, among many others.

Needless to say, every graphic designer has a unique story to tell. I know people who have graphic design degrees but are now employed as photographers, stylists, art directors and even CEOs of their own studios. The sky’s the limit!

Choosing a school may be the hardest part of your design journey. There are so many schools with design programs and the cost for each can vary quite dramatically. My only advice would be to not focus on a specific school because of its name alone but to instead determine what your needs are. A few of the questions you may ask yourself are:

What piece of the design puzzle interests me the most (typography, packaging design, logo design, etc.)? Does the program offer classes that teach me these skills? What can I afford? How long can I afford to be in school (design programs can vary from 2 to 6 years)? Will I need to work while I’m in school and does the class schedule allow me to do so? Do I feel comfortable with the campus and faculty? Am I ready to design to meet the needs of others (instead of just myself)?

Keep your options open. After looking at four year private art schools and universities, I chose a two year program at a community college. My reasons for doing this were numerous. I didn’t care if my degree had a fancy name at the top and I wanted to gain experience and technical skills quickly. Additionally, I already had a four year degree and didn’t feel that I needed two of them to enter the design field. I was lucky that in my situation, everything worked out as I’d planned. I got the training I needed, landed my top internship choice and a job in the design industry that combined both of my passions, graphic design and blogging. If you’re focused and have set goals, it will definitely be easier to ease into a career once you’ve graduated.

These articles can also help you with choosing a school: A Brief Guide to Design Education, Finding and Choosing the Right Graphic Design School, and The Top 5 Things to Look For in Design School.

Some of the friendships and connections that you forge in school will stick with you for the rest of your career. It’s amazing how many opportunities will fall into your lap when you least expect it. These sources will help you identify opportunities in the design industry:

1. Join a Design Group or Organization: AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) is the oldest and largest professional graphic design organization in the U.S. As a student, you’ll receive a special price break on an annual membership. AIGA regularly conducts tours through local businesses and lets you get a sneak peak inside some pretty amazing places. This is a perfect opportunity to see how different departments work together, to ask questions and to network with design professionals.

2. Sit Down with Your Teachers or Department Head: Go straight to the source. Your teachers have a knack for noticing what you’re excelling at and can provide you with both internship and career advice.

3. Reach Out to Designers You Admire: Spend some surfing through online portfolios, blogs and sites. Figure out what you like. And, never be afraid to contact the people that you admire most for advice. Chances are that they were in your position at one point. If you don’t believe me, here’s proof!

4. Set Up Internships: An internship is a low-risk way to gain experience and to see what different people’s jobs entail. Internships allow you to work on a huge variety of projects (during my first year, I worked on catalogs, spray painted shoes, conducted research and blogged) and you can usually figure out what you like & don’t like pretty fast!

1. The Business Week Design Directory will be your new best friend. It allows you to search by design discipline and country, providing you with the names and addresses of design companies the world over!

2. Do art schools care about your GPA?

3. Grad School: Beast, Burden or Blessing? is an excellent read.

4. Starting Out in an Art Career is packed with straight up, honest advice written by one of my favorite creatives, Star.

5. In The Life of a Graphic Designer In Training, I detail what my path to becoming a designer was really like.

What are you waiting for? Pull out your most mind-blowing concepts, do some research, make a commitment to be the best that you can be and start designing!

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