guest post by Rinki Mukherjee

It’s been more than 10 years since I graduated from the Art Institute of Houston, aspiring to be a professional graphic designer. As I look back, I wish I had known a few things about this profession when I was entering the workforce. To celebrate 10 years as a creative professional, I decided to compile a list of 10 things I wish I knew at college graduation.

1. Not all graphic designers are alike

As a student, I remember some classmates showing distinct personality traits that made them unique. Personality traits like sporting cool tattoos, being members of a band, working in studios or businesses that would eventually support a graphic design career. Some even shared experiences working with celebrities and how they handled the pressure, while there were other students who liked to keep to themselves. My conclusion is that not all graphic designers fit the same mold. There’s a place for every kind of personality in this profession. Over a period of time, I’ve realized that I am comfortable working on established local, national and global brands in an internal agency setup, and I am also comfortable working in non-­‐profit organizations.

2. Find your niche

Graphic design covers a vast area of skills. It is impossible for one person to master every skill. Some excel in illustrations; some create awesome projects using After Effects, others are ideation experts and so on. Every designer has a couple of areas of expertise. The trick is to identify an area of expertise and build on it. For instance, I have expertise in print layout using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Based on this expertise I’ve moved into UX/UI design projects.

3. Stay inspired

As a graphic design student, I was blessed with teachers and fellow students who would inspire me and push me to think outside the box. However, in real life, a good part of the design work is conducted in isolation. If this continues for an extended period of time, the graphic designer’s work will start to look monotonous and eventually become obsolete. In order to prevent this, it’s a good idea to have some go-­‐to websites, magazines and design authors for inspiration. These resources will help you stay up to date with the latest trends in the design world.

4. Identify your cheerleader

As graphic designer, it’s worthwhile to identify decision makers who love and respect your work. They will be your cheerleaders for life. They will be a constant source of new opportunities, freelance work and more.

5. Your best design may receive a moderate response

After surviving design school, graphic designers would like to put their best in every project they work on. However, there are projects that work on time and budget constraints that don’t always get 100% from the designers. Sometimes these projects receive great responses, while there are projects, where designers put in their best effort, which receives moderate response.

6. Network for life

As a graphic designer, it is important to continue to network even after achieving professional stability. Some of us are fortunate to secure a stable full time job. However, there is no guarantee that things will stay that way. With frequent mergers and acquisitions and a recovering economy, work stability is a relative term. It’s important to network with peers and it’s equally important to stay in touch with recruiters and professionals who’ve helped you during your initial job search.

7. Pay it forward

It is important to stay in touch with your classmates and professional peers with similar skills and experience. Some recruiting agencies reward their candidates for referring talented candidates. One of my colleagues made some money by referring me. This is a good way of staying in touch with peers and making some extra money.

8. Have a design rationale, instead of an opinion

Design preference is subjective. It is a well-­‐known fact that what’s good design or color to one individual may seem unpleasant to another. Clients are frequently curious about the opinions of professional graphic designers before making their decisions. It is important to have an opinion. The key is to find a way to communicate these design preferences without any appearance of bias and also provide constructive feedback.

9. Avoid working for free

It’s important to get professional experience in order to add some projects to your portfolio. However, graphic designers are frequently exploited and end up working for free in order to gain experience. One of the things to avoid is helping people you barely know with free design work for their businesses. Non-­‐profits are great places to do pro-­‐bono work. Perhaps, you volunteer at an animal shelter that needs creative assistance and you do some free design work for them. This will look great on your portfolio and will also show your commitment to a cause.

10. Freelancing is a viable option

Unlike other professions, it is possible to get freelance contracts as a designer and have a steady income. Freelancing contracts could be through recruiting agencies or directly with a business. Some established freelancers have a few clients who hire them for their in-­‐house projects on a routine basis. Experienced designers like to go this route after working in the industry for a few years.

These are the things I wish I had known back when I was graduating. What lessons did you learn that you wish you knew then? Let us know in the comments section.

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