People often ask what I do for a living and are very enthusiastic when I tell them I am a Graphic Designer. They think that I spend the whole day drawing – if only! Joking aside, having a career in graphic design can be very rewarding, even though it has it’s pros and cons. So, what if your son or daughter expresses an interest in becoming a graphic designer? Should you encourage them?
When I said the job was very rewarding, I didn’t mean financially, so if your teenager likes material things, talk them out of it right now. The starting salary for a junior graphic designer in London is roughly £18k- £22k, rising to about £30k mid-career; many people plateau around here. Some professions, like publishing, pay less (average wage mid-career £27k) while if you work in the marketing department of a City firm it will be considerably more.
What do graphic designers actually do, day in day out? This is where it starts getting interesting. From personal experience, this is what I’ve been working on for the past 3 months:
1 Branding for a business coach
2 5 poetry books for children who are learning English as a second language
3 Flyer for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce
4 Website for a life coach
5 Marketing campaign for a health spa
6 Glossy coffee table book project management and design for a marketing agency
7 Email campaign for a physiotherapists practice.
Other graphic designers may have been working on packaging, signing, exhibition design, shop fascias, magazines and a host of other design materials.
There are basically 3 ways you can go:
1 Work for a design group, advertising or marketing agency. Choosing this option would mean working on campaigns for external clients. There would be a great variety of work and the young designer would be working with a team of account managers, copywriters and other designers, being ultimately responsible to the Design Manager or Creative Director.
2 Work as an in-house designer for a single company. Duties would very much depend on the size of the company. If it was a large company, Marks and Spencer for example, the hierarchy would be very much like option 1, but you would be working for a single client. In a small company, the young designer would have more responsibility but less direction from senior staff, and be responsible to the company owner or managing director. He or she would probably also get to know more about the workings of a business.
3 Go freelance or start your own business. I wouldn’t recommend this route for most budding designers, as quite a lot of time is spent sourcing work, and they’d need good business skills. Sometimes it’s the right choice to take though: there is a successful Pottery Cafe, The Happy Potter, in my local high street. Una, the owner, was a user of pottery cafés throughout her childhood and knew whilst studying at St Martins that was what she wanted to do. She got funding, and is now a successful business owner. I’d say that most 22-year-olds aren’t that savvy, though.
If your son or daughter is still very keen to follow this career path, they will need to be a creative thinker and interested in art and design to succeed. Most importantly, they need a portfolio of good work which will be difficult (but not impossible) to build up if they have no formal training.
The classic route to becoming a graphic designer starts at school, as GCSEs and A-levels in Art and other subjects are needed to be able to progress to the next stage. After A levels, I’d recommend doing a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design before progressing to a degree course. These one-year courses are project based and cover a fairly broad spectrum of activities, and at the end the student should be confident which direction they’d like to take once they leave. Careful choices need to be made, as these courses vary tremendously. If you do a Foundation course at a particular university, you may well have a better chance of going on to their degree course.
The final step is to take a 3-year Graphic Arts / Visual Communication or similar degree at a reputable university, specialising in Graphic Design in the final year. Encourage your teenager to visit several universities on their open days; they are all very different.
Work experience is invaluable and it’s good to do this while at school or university. A larger company will give the student a better idea of all the different areas, and they may well take them on afterwards.
Good digital skills are essential, as the majority of work is done on a computer. Coding knowledge is an advantage and will become more and more important in the future.
So, should your kids have a career in Graphic Design? If they are working for love, yes, absolutely. If they want to be rich – forget it!