I try not to have too many regrets. If I did, I would be in perpetual cringe mode, my face scrunched up like its sole purpose was to hold up a 90’s high school girl’s hair. The one–let’s call it a lament–I have is not pursuing writing when I was younger. You see, writing is what I do. My father, mother, grandma, aunts, cousins have the magic in their blood. Some are even published. The ones that don’t write can sing, play an instrument (or three), or illustrate. You could argue that writing is in my blood too, but the flesh is weak. I was seduced by the sexy side of graphic design.
Don’t get me wrong, graphic design can be sexy. The idea of creating something that thousands–possibly millions– of people will see is seductive. When walking by a store, thumbing through a magazine, driving by a billboard, hell, even looking through the Sunday ads and seeing your work is HOT. There is a sense of pride akin to a splendid bowel movement. You’re proud. You want to tell people about it. You’re tempted to Instagram it and tag it #HolyShit #IMadeThis.
But if you think you’re going to be hanging out in a loft brainstorming with brilliant minds while playing ping-pong, you, my friend, are deluded. And don’t even think about living the Mad Men life. That’s Hollywood, pal. Some do find that blissful life, I think…I don’t know really. I’m still waiting in line at the Design Club hoping the bouncer thinks I’m
sexy talented enough to let me in. The world of graphic design isn’t that way. In fact, the term “graphic design” is a catch-all. I didn’t know this as a wee tot of teen-something but let’s think it through together. Milton Glaser, you know, one of the “most celebrated graphic designers in the United States”. The man behind I Love New York, Angels in America artwork, and the poster for Bob Dylan’s greatest hits album. He’s a regular renaissance man who has worked in every aspect of design (except rockets I think. He’s still alive though so there’s still time). He is a Graphic Designer. That kid at the Kinkos who used clipart and Comic Sans all over your flyer….he’s a graphic designer too.
Now, remember, this is about the umbrella term of ‘graphic designer’. Once you add education, aptitude, personality, and opportunity the difference between Glaser and Kinkos kid is vast. The first thing to do is “Designer, know thyself.” Are you more creative? Branding may be your thing. Do you like everything to line up perfectly and be utilitarian? You can have a career in die or template design. Do you have an eye for spacing and layouts? Newspapers and magazines may be your thing. Are you the person that can manipulate images and has an eye for color? Image specialist. Do you know exactly what is needed in a document to make sure the printer has no issues? Prepress and print production jobs. Do you follow directions well and are not worried about creativity or losing your soul? Corporate design! All of these are considered under the ‘graphic design’ umbrella.
Full disclosure, I am self-taught. I learned by looking over shoulders, asking a lot of questions, reading a lot of books, and taking design classes whenever I could. I got all the software and was not afraid to press buttons and keep a tutorial page open. I read the trade magazines, learned why Comic Sans is awful, and the importance of white space. I started by doing little design jobs for friends. They looked like shit. But from what looks like shit, you learn to make less shitty. Experience is the key. Even designers that have Bachelor’s degrees in design still need real world application. This real world is where you learn that design is not always sexy. Your creativity is limited by tiny budgets, unrealistic turn-arounds, or clients that do not value all that goes into design. You will definitely meet that client that used Photoshop that one time in college and just wants to you do a few mock-ups with unlimited revisions but they’ll take care of creating the end piece and then look incredulously at the bill because “you didn’t even do anything but scribble some rough drafts how about I pay you in beer and Chuck E. Cheese tokens?”
Actually, I will work for beer but that’s not the point. Every job has it’s ups and downs and unappreciative clients. But design is the one field that many people just don’t take seriously. When budgets are in trouble, the first department to get slashed is creative. When your salary starts to creep up because of your experience, in comes a fresh crop of newly scrubbed starry-eyed designers that will work for a fraction of your salary. I believe this BuzzFeed list sums it up perfectly.
If you live and breathe design, go for it. When all of your friends are going nuts over the latest One Direction poster (they’re still a thing, right?) and your first thought is, “Is…is that Hobo? That is the worst font! It’s not even kerned properly! I weep for the future”, then you should probably be in the design field. It was my passion for a long time. However, it was never a part of me like writing is. Writing comes naturally. I read Elements of Style just because. I am a voracious reader; not just for pleasure but to see good (or bad) writing in action.
My advice to anyone thinking about design is: Go with your gut. Always learn new things and try them on for size but know when to seek something new. It’s easy to get in a “I’ve been doing this for ten years so I guess I’ll keep doing it” rut. You don’t have to. I thought I was past my prime at the ripe old age of I’m-not-telling-you but I watched friends my age and older get new degrees and new careers. Quite a few became nurses because if you’re going to clean someone’s shit it should be because they’re sick, not because they’re idiots.
The writing group I’m a member of has people of all ages and stages in their life. They all have different careers, idealogies, and histories but the common denominator is they know it’s never too late to become what you are meant to be.
The moral of this story is: Don’t Get Stuck. Keep your eye on the prize, go for your dream, take one day at a time, give 110%, there’s no “I” in team, just go out there and have fun, and (insert sports cliche here). Most important, have no regrets. A lament or two is okay.