One of the things I love about being a graphic designer is the diversity of the work you can create over the course of your career. There is a saying, “If you can design anything well, then you can design everything well.” While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, I believe it’s the essence of the truth. If you have a strong sense of color, composition, form and type, that can take you far within many different realms of design. Add strong drawing skills (or a good eye for other people’s drawing skills) and an enthusiasm to rise to challenges, and the sky is pretty much the limit for what kinds of design work you can excel at.
In thinking about what tips to give someone just starting out in graphic design, I keep coming back to what turned out to be the WORST bit of advice ever given to me, which was: “Don’t do too many things—people want you to have a specialty, and they don’t trust designers who are all over the place.” Now, there was a nugget of wisdom in this, and that wisdom is that it’s harder to market yourself when you do many things, and you have to be sure that your various mediums don’t LOOK like they were done by different people with different sensibilities. But if you have super-tight body of work that looks cohesive and all part of a package deal, then you can create many more, expansive opportunities for yourself. When you do many things well with your own signature style, you’ll have an easier time becoming a brand rather than a hired hand. Learn to curate your portfolio well (ask for input!) and use social media to your professional advantage.
A tip for landing your first job(s): Do projects on spec to get a foot in the door! Ask potential employers for a non-paid assignment, or just do one yourself and submit it to prove what kind of work you can do. I got my first design jobs this way.
As someone who has taught college-level graphic design, I can say that it takes much more effort to give someone extensive constructive criticism than not to. If someone you respect tells you what isn’t working, take that as a compliment that they believe in your potential. And on that last note, I’d be glad to work with any students who are looking for some portfolio assignments and/or feedback.
Good luck in getting started!