I have been receiving and replying-to quite a few email from fresh graduates and undergraduates [ from the field of Graphic Design study as well as other fields ], asking me what is the best way to make their career or start their career in the Graphic Design Industry.
One of the specific questions normally asked is :
I have no problems relocating. I am willing to join a company as a trainee. But the question is, where can I find out about such companies and organisations who can give me such an opportunity?
Before I can answer the above question, we are to assume certain fundamentals – and this is a generalization – exceptions to these fundamentals would always exist.
- Education : You have some graphic design education. Please note that I did not say “formal” education. You could be self-taught, but you do need some education in the field of graphic design.
- Talent : You have reasonable talent in the area of graphic design. Whether you have learned that talent, acquired it in some other way or were born with it, is inconsequential. Almost inconsequential. You should have a knack for colors, shapes, patterns and general visual goodness. If you can’t make it look pretty, you’re already not going anywhere.
- Business Acumen : This includes some knowledge of how a business is run. Not to run your own business as a graphic designer but to understand your prospective clients’ business and how graphic design might positively make an impact on the same. Business acumen would also include inherent behavioral skills that allow you to ‘get along’ well with fellow-human beings. To be a recluse and still excel in Graphic Design and have people and companies clamoring to hire you, you need to be a genius.
- Internet & Computer Literacy : You should know how to work on a PC or a MAC – preferably both. You should have working knowledge of important graphic design software like the ones in the Adobe Creative Suite. You should know what a blog is, what a website is and what on online portfolio means for a graphic designer. You should know how to search for something online.
If you are lacking in any or all of the above, the internet will prove to be your strongest ally.
ACQUIRING THE FUNDAMENTALS
- Education : Complete a formal course that teaches Graphic Design from a reasonably good institute. If you are familiar with the internet and know what blogs and RSS Feeds are, go online and research what other graphic designers across the world are upto. There are many international universities that offer their notes from lectures in the Graphic Design faculty – for free.
- A search on Google using the term graphic design course notes yields 434,000 number of results – read atleast all web pages and websites linked to on the first five search result pages.
- There are many graphic designers at various levels in the industry who share their experiences and knowledge online with their blogs and websites. A google search for the term “graphic designer” blog yields about 3,120,000 search results.
- Practice what you have learned.
- Talent : You will most probably fall in the category of someone who has some innate talent and the rest needs to be acquired. Varying degrees of the former or latter are found in all graphic designers. After you have understood the basics of graphic design : colors needs to be appealing, typography needs to be functional and elegant, etc., now you need to find out what works. This feels like a repetition of “Education” and probably is, to a large extent. Practice what you’ve learned in “Education”. Draw. Sketch. Illustrate. Make your own typeface. Paint. And sell it. Which moves you onto the next point. [ After all, you really can’t acquire talent. Sorry to burst your bubble but if you suck at graphic design – you will know it. ]
- Business Acumen : While you’re selling it, you will learn how money talks. How to negotiate. What are the business practices in the graphic design industry? Attend seminars. Talk with the people around you. Don’t pretend like you know how it all works. Ask questions and don’t feel rejected when someone who has been around in the industry is terse while answering those questions. Learn what “being professional” means. Ask. And thou shalt get. Understand why prospective clients spend money on graphic design and respect that.
- Internet & Computer Literacy : On the internet, you can find jobs, names of prospective employers, companies and persons working in those organizations – their email addresses and telephone numbers. But if you have nothing visual to show them, don’t waste their time. [ At the end of this article, I will share some of the places you can find such information. ]
Which brings us to the most important element of all, which hasn’t really been mentioned above.
If you have nothing to ‘show’, don’t bother getting in touch with anybody. Your words about how dedicated you are and how hard-working you are and how your cousins and neighbours think you’re the next Sagmeister, are not going to get you a job / recognition / fame / money / a chance to prove yourself. You’ll be shoved out the door as soon as you open your mouth.
You don’t have to have commercial projects on your portfolio but you can surely do better than the projects you did at art school / graphic design school. Show some initiative and create graphics for businesses in your neighbourhood. Design invites and wedding cards. Always keep a picture of the real printed or painted product. Keep it all in the portfolio unless there is a project that you think ‘really’ sucks. We all have those.
If you have an interest in photography and have shot stuff that you think is good, put it in the portfolio. For everything you have in your portfolio, be clear about the one thing that attracts you to each particular piece. Create a story behind each piece. [ Even if you don’t get to personally present your portfolio, you can write a short description wherever the portfolio is displayed, which will take care of some part of the ‘personal’ touch that reflects your personality.
Unfortunately, there is one caveat. If your work sucks, the education, the business acumen and excelling at an internet search and computer-genius with software is not going to take you places as a graphic designer. If you’re a whiz with the software, you might land really hot editing jobs but that’s not in the ‘graphic design’ industry per se. All that matters – fundamentally – for your graphic design career to kick off in the right direction – is a good graphic design portfolio.
Having a good, great or excellent portfolio is no guarantee that you will be a successful graphic designer. You’ve got the fundamentals covered with a good portfolio; but what use is a good graphic design portfolio if no one knows that one exists?
You will reach more people with your portfolio if you have it online. Following are ‘some’ of the ways to do it online :
- Blogging : create a blog on WordPress or Blogger.com for free and every time you design something, post it there.
- Flickr : You can upload photographs of all your projects on Flickr.
- Coroflot : You can create a portfolio listing.
- LinkedIn : Your own professional profile, your online resume.
The above are all free to do.
I you have money from working at a job, invest it in a domain name and create your very own portfolio website.
Now when you find the people who might be prospective employers, instead of horrifying them with a request for a couple of hours to show your portfolio and have a meeting in person, you can send them and email witha link to your portfolio and follow it up with a polite and short phone call. No email attachments unless they specifically ask for them.
PROSPECTIVE GRAPHIC DESIGNER EMPLOYERS
If you are looking for jobs, there are various job boards that can give you multitudes of listings of various requirements that independent design studios and advertising agencies have in the area of graphic design.
- Authentic Jobs [ Disclosure : I have an affiliate code. ] : International full-time and freelance graphic design and other design and development job listings.
- Krop : International full-time and freelance graphic design and other design and development job listings.
- SmashingMagazine : International full-time and freelance graphic design and other design and development job listings.
- Craigslist : Here you can narrow down your search to your specific local geographic location. However, Craigslist is good for one-time, short and small graphic design projects only. There are more people looking to get their design requirements fulfilled for free.
- AgencyFAQs Resources : This is a specialized listing of a large number of advertising agencies and design studios in India. You can get detailed contact data from this website. It also has a FreelancerExchange if you are keen on looking for freelance graphic design projects.
- LinkedIn Jobs : A good place to find listings of graphic designer positions in reputed companies although listings specifically for graphic designer positions are few.
COMMUNICATING WITH PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS
Please keep the following points in mind before getting in touch with a prospective client or employer [ if you are just starting out and do not have a commercial project to your credit ]:
- DO NOT spam – which means that you must not, under any circumstance, copy and paste the same content over and over again and email it to ALL the email addresses that you find. Do not send emails to all the email addresses in any case. Do not CC and / or BCC multiple addresses – it reeks of desperation and unprofessionalism.
- Use the person’s first name when you begin the email. Don’t use abbreviations or slang. don’t use very casual language and don’t be too stuck up either.
- No attachments. But don’t forget the link to your online portfolio and your online professional profile. Without a link, your email is almost worthless. Attachments will most likely be deleted by the company’s server before the email is delivered to the recipient. Even if they do go through, most people will be too busy to accord any importance to them and it will in all likelihood, irritate them.
- Keep your email short. The links should be prominent : in a separate paragraph and clearly inform the recipient which link will take them where. No stories. Tell them your background in one sentence. Tell them where you got their contact details from – one sentence. Tell them why you are sending this email – one sentence. Tell them how you intend to follow-up and request them to confirm their telephone number – if you have their telephone number and ask what would be a good time to call them up. If you have even a slight doubt that the recipient might not be able to help you directly, request them to forward your email to the relevant person and thank them for their time.
- Do not use language that puts you across as someone who is ready to lick ass to get their foot in the door. Remember, if you are good with graphic design, they need you as much as you need them – there are not many good graphic designers out there and if there are many, then the employers most certainly are not aware of them – which is your advantage – you are creating that awareness about yourself.
- Give them your contact details : a hand phone / cell phone / mobile phone number and an email address. Do not forget to sign off with your complete name.
Before you hit the send button, try to find out more about the recipient. A lot of people have blogs and those blogs are usually easy to locate by searching for the person’s full name on Google. they might have written an article, or they might have a complete blog or they might have won an award for a particular graphic design piece or their name might have been in the news for some reason. Try to add a casual mention of the same in the email. Find out more about the company that the recipient works at – what projects have they worked on, who are their clients – are these the kind of clients and projects you would like to work on? Is this the kind of company that you would like to work at? I know most of you will think “But beggars cannot be choosers.” – but you’re not a beggar – it is intelligent to focus and target those companies and people where and with whom you would ‘prefer’ to work at and work with.
This approach will not work if you have multiple recipients of one email body. Hence the need to have separate emails to each separate recipient, even if they work at the same organization.
Even if you do not get a reply to your email, which will be a rare case – not getting a reply will be a rare case if you have taken the time to write a personalized note – you must still follow-up with a phone call. If you don’t have the person’s direct phone number, call up the board line and ask for the person by name and mention that you are following up on an email. If the operator tells you that the person is busy or not available, ask to be connected to someone in HR. If the operator tells you that no one in HR is available, ask for the HR person’s email id and repeat the process. Stay at it and do not forget your follow up.
[ Almost all the above will apply to the animation, web design, web development and pretty much any industry. It worked for me. It still works for me. ]
There are innumerable other considerations. For example, what job profile should you apply for? What job profiles might be available for a fresh graphic design graduate? What are the typical functions of the available job profiles? What are the typical salaries of graphic design interns and trainees? Freelancing as a graphic designer vs. a full-time job? And many more such questions and options that need to be evaluated. For this blog post, however, they do not fall under the category of “locating opportunities” in the graphic-design-prospective-employer space. Not directly anyway.