. You need to be a source of constant creativity and strong ideas. You are at a great advantage if you grew up artistically inclined and always had a new way of seeing things that are different from most people. An ability to put a fresh perspective on something while also being relatable to an audience is crucial. Much of the best design work is not just about the appearance of it, but the idea that it conveys. You must always be in tune with the environment around you. Get out in the world to become inspired.
2. For day-to-day work, it can become less stimulating at times. Some days you are called upon to generate the most creative solutions you are capable of. At other times, especially once the overall creative direction has been established, you will deal with the in-between work—little tweaks, applying copywriting changes and sending out PDF files. Just keep in mind that these actions are necessary for your exciting designs to make it out the door.
3. Stay up-to-date on evolving design software. Every few months, design industry software is updated with new improvements and capabilities. There are also new programs and apps coming out at lightning speed, particularly in the digital realm. Always stay up on the latest software to keep your skills sharp.
4. Become educated on production capabilities and design budgets. You can be full of magnificent ideas, but they can end up being too costly to produce depending on a company’s budget. Be mindful that special effects have to fit into the parameters of what a company is willing to spend. Good communication at the onset of a project is critical and shows respect for your superiors who will be footing the bill.
5. Being disciplined and having a strong desire for delivering outstanding design work is a must. While many artistic people don’t like to be held down by structure and schedules, you will need to exercise the muscle of discipline and follow-through. You will be expected to meet tight project deadlines, and it will take many stages to getting to the final product.Your strong desire for quality design and passion for the project/company/industry you are working for will sustain you through these high pressured moments.
6. Remember that your design work must be aligned with the project's objectives, not personal tastes—though your judgement does hold value. Think ultimately about how the end user or consumer would feel when they interact with your work, and what would make them gravitate toward it.
7. Be open to and welcome constructive criticism. It is one of the harsher parts of the industry, but very much a reality. You should not take it personally, as the work is being evaluated, not you as a person. It can be disheartening when a boss or client doesn’t like your design when you put so many hours into it. It will get easier to handle their criticism with experience. At the onset of a project, outlining expectations and defining key objectives will help you achieve client-pleasing results faster.
8. Develop a strong portfolio and resume and always keep them updated. If you ever move on to a new job and your portfolio and resume haven’t been updated in years, it will be very time-consuming to update it in one shot. That is time that should be spent applying to jobs and going on interviews. Tailor your portfolio and resume for the job you are applying for. There will be some design samples that a potential employer’s company will identify with more than some other projects you have worked on.
9. Apply to the best design schools you or your family can afford. These schools are competitive and harder to get accepted into, but if you have a high aptitude of visual skills, go for it. Accredited art schools are preferred, as the curriculum, professors and projects are typically more comprehensive. Many of the best employers look for graduates of particular schools. If you do not have the finances, highest quality portfolio pieces or qualifying grades to get into design-centric schools, consider going to a community college first and then transferring. There are also great programs at state schools if that suits you best. Look into scholarships and grants. There are many available that students are unaware of. Do your research, and make sure to put your best efforts forward. You will cultivate a portfolio for potential employers to review. Unlike other industries, employers can really “see” what you are capable of.
10. Experiment with different design styles and industries when creating projects in college or on your own. This is the time to find your design voice. You may find that you have a signature style or a few. Aside from the design style, you will discover your working process and tendencies. The more you understand how you work, the easier it will be to transfer your skills into the workplace.
11. After you discover your design tendencies, start concentrating on a few industries you think you would be interested in working for. One of the great things about graphic design is that you can work in any number of industries, whether it is for pet products, electronics or medicine. Every sector needs graphic design. Just know that once your portfolio starts representing a certain industry, you can get pigeonholed easily should you ever want to switch the industry you design for. Always have portfolio work ready for the industry you want to work for—even if you have to start out with fictious work.
12. Promote yourself! Keep your work updated with engaging material on portfolio sites like Behance and Creative Hotlist. A strong professional social media presence is a must. LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest are great for promoting your work and knowledge.
13. Learn about the differences between working in-house, at a full-service agency or a design firm. All have distinctive work cultures, and you may resonate with one more than others. Over a career’s time, it is a great experience to work in at least two of these work environments.
14. If you have the strong will to become a design business entrepreneur, it is highly recommended to first gain experience in an established work environment. Becoming an entrepreneur is very buzzed about these days, and there has never been a greater time to become one. However, some of the best education you get is on the job. You will learn a great deal from Creative Directors, Art Directors, Marketing Directors and your peers. Over time, you will gain the experience that you learned from a job and can apply it to your business. It also requires education outside of a college design program to gain savvy business skills. There are wonderful resources available online, at seminars and in books.
Becoming a successful graphic designer requires a mix of talent, skills and determination. The underlying love for what you do will make the stress, procrastination and frustration you may experience at times all worth it. Being able to design for a living is highly rewarding and your hard work will produce tangible results that you can share with the world.
Cathy Laskiewicz is a seasoned Creative Director and President of her boutique design consultancy, Lacia Design Inc. With 19 years of industry experience, she has worked in a variety of environments, including in-house design departments, advertising agencies, and small & midsize design firms. Cathy has done work for companies such as Revlon, L’Oreal, Avon, Dove, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Toys “R” Us, Hartz and several niche brands. Notable firms Cathy worked for include CDM New York, Anthem Worldwide and Raison Pure USA (now Force Majeure).
With a strong foundation in the visual arts, Cathy holds a range of graphic and fine art skills, including print, packaging, exhibition design, web design, illustration, painting, sculpture and creative writing. She has a keen insight into marketing trends and consumer values. Her unique instincts for finding unorthodox yet practical solutions has wowed clients many times over. Cathy deeply values her clients, and enjoys building long-term business relationships with them.
Cathy has been recognized by Graphic Design USA Magazine with 8 awards in the categories of corporate identity, marketing collateral, packaging design and web design. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Seton Hall University in 1998, majoring in Advertising Art & Graphic Design, while minoring in Fine Art and receiving a Certificate in Computer Graphics. In 2006, Cathy graduated from Pratt Institute with a Master of Science degree in Package Design.
Since 2011, Cathy has been a mentor through the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Mentoring Program in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. In this program, she is paired with a student in their sophomore or junior year all the way through graduation, and works with a new student every 2–3 years. This program takes place through the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan. Cathy enjoys helping each student obtain their goals while providing insight into the professional world.