So you have just graduated an illustration, graphic design, or other multimedia program. You studied hard and got fantastic grades but have been taught exclusively aesthetics and know absolutely nothing about marketing or business. Where to start?
1) Get Experience Doing Graphic Design Work & Working with REAL Clients
You aren’t going to like what I am about to share with you, but before taking on any enormous mandates, or even attempting to, you will have to start small. Not because you are a terrible and inexperienced artist, not because you are mentally or physically incapable of managing the condensed and often last minute time constraints, but because you simply lack experience managing REAL projects that aren’t provided to you by a friendly professor who has not invested in your work, and probably also lacks REAL experience working in the field. Mainly, you lack experience managing yourself. In design school, they don’t really focus on how to assess a client’s needs, wants, mood swings, and basic demographic factors. They certainly do not teach you how to learn basic communication principles, how to follow-up correctly with a prospective graphic design client. Let’s face it; Academia is a long way away from perfection. That means it’s time for you to educate yourself on how to do REAL graphic design and get the wheels in motion so you can slowly but surely climb the ladders.
2) Choose Between Freelancing & Getting a Graphic Design Job
Freelancing is easier said than done. If you have never freelanced before, I recommend working as a freelancer on a strictly part-time basis to test the waters, while working a graphic design job prior to committing yourself to full-time freelance work or you may be conditioning yourself for disappointment. Get a handle on how to manage a project and a REAL deadline, and then start to learn how to manage a client. Remember, clients are REAL people. That means, real problems. A client may attempt to get you to complete work for free, forget or miss a payment, procrastinate in getting you content so you can complete their website design.
3) Graphic Designers Should Stick to What They Are Great At
In the real world, you can only wear so many hats. Like it or not, you will have to choose to specialize in one field of graphic design or another. So, if you enjoy working with vector graphics, you could familiarize yourself primarily with Adobe Illustrator, and perhaps specialize in icon-creation or acquire some knowledge of Adobe Flex and design interfaces for cell phones and other mobile devices. If you can’t take your hand off of a lead pencil crayon, it may be a good time to consider doing concept artwork for video games. If find yourself constantly doodling or drawing logos, icons, and enjoy coming up with tag-lines, become a branding and logo design expert. If you can’t get off of your computer and you enjoy the concept of motion or love animation, consider a career as an animator for CGI animations in Hollywood movies or become a character designer for video games.
4) Graphic Design Career – Start Small, Think Big
Some people who believe that the only way to learn how to make one’s graphic design career float is to jump in the pool and make-do. I am not convinced that this is necessarily the best strategy to operate and get your career off the ground considering some mistakes can in fact, be avoided altogether. However, to be honest, the lessons are learned best when you feel the burn of the stove, the ridiculous parking ticket, or one of the many other painful experiences life teaches us. Take baby steps and ease into your career. You are young, talented, and can afford to avoid some mistakes that could be avoided. Now, to a creative person, even the thought of writing an agreement or contract is daunting, so either get it done by a legal professional or suffer the consequences. Focus on what you do best and remember the rule of numbers – the more people you talk to, the more projects you will acquire. Keep going. Go to networking sessions, industry meetups, and other social events. Social media and email are mostly useful for follow-up. Don’t give up, but be smart and avoid setting yourself up for failure. Pull up your pants and pick up the phone again. I wish you all the best of luck in your graphic design career. On the flipside, some risks must not be avoided, as going into business for yourself, and getting a job at a company both leave many variables that are not under our own control.