Deep Thoughts by Scott SaundersConsidering myself a veteran in this field (I studied graphic design before Adobe Illustrator 1.0 came out), I have been asked over the years certain questions from budding young graphic designers or high school students who have considered pursuing this field as as career.


More recently, I was approached from high school student from clear across the continent in New York to be on the receiving end of an interview that she was conducting to gain further insight into this field.  After crafting out my answers, it dawned on my that perhaps some of these gleaming might be worth posting to serve as insight for other students.  Also, in this manner, I can simply point future interviews to this article and save myself some time…


So here it is…. My interview responses to her questions and what I would term relevant to anyone ever asking themselves… “So I want to be a Designer.”


The Interview:


What made you to choose graphic design as your career field?


I always enjoyed art as a child and teen and in high school really focused on fine art (painting, drawing, cartoons).  I loved art but didn’t want to struggle as an adult financially, so when I went to college I focused on becoming a graphic designer. I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and received a degree in Applied Art and Design with a concentration on Graphic Design. I didn’t have it in my blood to be a struggling artist…and I am allergic to overdue notices.


What specific areas do you work in?


Over the last 20 years, my experience has led me to do many things from creating tshirt artwork and cartooning to directing TV commercials and cranking out web code. My favorites, and pretty much what makes up the bulk of my work nowadays, are logo design, website design, and print collateral (wine labels, book cover, brochures)


What is the most satisfying about your career? least satisfying?


The most satisfying thing about my career is that it is never mundane.  I never am working/doing the same thing every day.  Each day brings new joys, new projects, new creative problems to solve.


The least satisfying thing about my career is dealing with clients who think that they know more about designing than I do.  Doing this job is a balance that requires the designer to balance pleasing the client and meeting their needs (your design objectives) and establishing trust with the client so that they will let you do what you do best.  You don’t go to see the dentist and then tell him how he would try to fix that crown on your molar.


How long did it take you to become a graphic designer?


18 minutes. No wait… I’m just kidding. Four years of higher education and, like ten years before that doodling in class when I should have been more attentive.


Becoming a graphic designer is a combination of both talent/skill and knowledge.  You can take all of the classes about layout, color theory, typography, marketing, print production, and art history but it won’t make you a great designer.  What DOES is also having a nature eye for visual space and balance, and being able to make good decisions about how to apply what you have learned.  Do you have to be able to draw and have natural art skills?  I think it will be in your best interests in your career to be able to.  But I know of a few good designers who can’t draw but have the natural ability to be really creative and make the decisions necessary to be awesome designers.  Think of it like this.  No matter how many guitar lessons you take, if you don’t have natural ability to keep a beat, your skills as a guitarist will be limited.


How did you became a graphic designer?


I went to a four-year college and acquired a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Art and Design.  Than, it was a matter of “real-world” experience. Designers build their careers and skills over time.  The creative solutions I designed 2 years ago I would probably have approached differently today.  You are always growing.  You never come out of the gates ready to be a stellar designer.


How long have you been freelancing?


I have been freelancing for my entire career (20 years).  My first hired project by a client was while I was in my last year of college.  Since then, I have worked as an “in-house designer” for various companies and in various industries, while always doing freelance projects on the side.  From the music industry and tech industry, to education sector and advertising world, I have been blessed to have experienced a number of indsustries and roles.  From junior designer and production artist to Creative Director. Now, for the last 2 years, I am back solely doing freelance work full-time and intent to only do that.  I love being self-employed, although my boss can be a jerk sometimes.


Are there particular issues or concerns that you have to face in this career?


Yes.  Because designers are creative people, we are proud of our work.  It is something that we creatively and mentally “birthed”.  Our work becomes an extension of us.  Our natural tendency when a client does not like it or want it changed is to get defensive. This is where the area of customer service comes into play as a graphic designer.


This job is not just about working on the computer and designing logos.  It is selling that idea to the client.  Persuading them that this is the best solution for them, their product and their business.  But in the end, they are the ones paying you.  They ultimately have the final say, and that can be frustrating and disappointing. Not letting that get to you and emotionally divorcing yourself from your work will help you succeed in this industry.


How has this job affected your life?


Being a creative person, this career finds itself in other areas of your life. You look at problems or objectives and find ways to come up with a creative solution to the problem. You think “outside of the box” in all areas of your life.


Now the downside is that sometimes, we (designers) can’t shut off our brains.  I don’t punch out at work and leave it behind.  I am designing in my head at the dinner table, the shower, and when I go to sleep.  Sometimes I can flip the switch, but other times when I am in “creative mode” (as my wife puts), the job seeps into my daily life beyond my control.


Would you have done anything different?


Attended more conferences and learned from more leading designers in the industry when I was fresh out of school and young in the field.  Find mentors and let them pour into you. And embrace receiving constructive criticism more readily.


Are you doing now what you thought you would be doing?


Absolutely. Only now I do it in just underwear and a caffeine IV drip into my arm.


With the skills you have obtained in this profession, if you had to, what career would you fall back on?


If I found myself not able to actually design anymore, than I would love to teach art and design.  I love working with young students and helping them further in pursuing a career in this field.


What advice would you give people who want to be graphic designers?


Don’t become arrogant in your young age. I remember thinking that I was putting out the best work when I was young and first starting out, and I look back and shake my head and say “Scott, you didn’t have a clue back then”.


Also, I would add that if you love doing art for yourself (drawing, painting, etc) as a creative outlet, know that becoming a graphic designer is something different.  We are no longer designing for ourselves, but for a paying client.  That is our role and that is our objective.  Be prepared for that.  Don’t get defensive and don’t be difficult to work with…whether it is a client or a Creative Director.


Is anything you want to add?


If you are looking at being a full-time freelancer (which is where the industry is headed towards), you need to be disciplined.  Be able to manage yourself, and have enough smarts to deal with the other aspect of the business: time management, estimating, invoicing, client relations, self-marketing.


If you fall short of these things, you will find yourself struggling in an industry where there are less staff designer jobs out there and more and more companies and firms are hiring freelancers to get the work done.