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May 11, 2007 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Is there a living to be made as a Graphic Design Consultant?

I hate working prepress. I don't have the energy to be a designer. One thing I do enjoy is answering technical questions about printing, graphic design, the assorted applications used, logistics, etc. I actually signed up for MeFi so I could give input on the various design and printing questions I saw come up again and again. I love playing "Stump the Chump." My favorite clients are the ones who ask questions, because they learn and I learn by answering the questions. I'm giving it away free now, could I make a living doing this?

I'm getting ready to go back to school soon. I was originally planning on getting a design and marketing degree but I've got no passion for either.

So, the question.

Designers, have you ever hired a consultant? How was your experience?
Consultants, how do you like your career? Do you find it difficult keeping up with the market?
posted by lekvar to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's called being a Print Production Manager, and it's a bit of a thankless profession. But I like my job overall. I am a printing geek. But you are sort of in the middle between the designers and the clients. Both sides want different things that are rarely compatible, and everyone blames you if anything goes wrong.
posted by apostrophe at 4:01 PM on May 11, 2007

Yeah, that's what I do now.
(I notice that you're a neighbor. Where do you work, if I may ask?)
posted by lekvar at 4:12 PM on May 11, 2007

I think it's more being an art director, because it encompasses print design & rich-media management AND actually guiding project development - it's basically being a designer who is now stuck doing admin work 90% of the time.

As a typesetter, I have to ask: do you really dislike what you do that much? I became a designer because I wanted to be able to actually hold my finished work, and know that it made a difference to people - that I took something that could have been crap and made it useful. I like being an "improver," whether it is of books or simply personnel forms (in fact, form design is a rare pleasure and something I look forward do).

I would hang myself if I had to be an AD all day.
posted by luriete at 4:19 PM on May 11, 2007

I'm not a design consultant. But I run a website on becoming a consultant and I am a marketing consultant who has worked with a ton of graphic design consultants over the years. Yes, there is a living to be made in graphic design consulting. Some people go into art direction, others do production management, project management, design consultation, etc. I know one graphic designer who hated prepress and so moved to online materials only. Some people also outsource the prepress side of things.
posted by acoutu at 4:34 PM on May 11, 2007

As another consultant (bear in mind I do Web content stuff, not design) who is about to make the transition back to full-time work, I have to say that if I take your question literally--that you just want to give advice about design and printing issues and would not actually design anything--it seems to me that you would be putting yourself into an awfully small niche. Just about every person I know who does design as an independent consultant is hired to create some specific product, such as a bruchure or website.

I have to say that I doubt there would be a large enough market to support you--though conceivably it's something you could do after becoming established in that world.

And with regard to luriete's comment, what you describe is indeed akin to what an AD does, but an AD usually gets his or her position by being a designer of some kind first.

You seem to be somewhat technically-minded. Have you considered some other angle, perhaps having to do with developing software, or working with the people who build equipment?
posted by lackutrol at 5:08 PM on May 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ahem, "brochure."
posted by lackutrol at 5:09 PM on May 11, 2007

I work at an ad agency. I'd rather not say exactly where, because I am paranoid of google-happy investigators discovering my secret identity. So if you're already a production mgr, I'm not sure exactly what would be different about being a design consultant. Would you just be a freelance production manager? I don't frankly see much of a market for just providing advice, without getting your hands dirty in the project the way you would managing it. Honestly, the trend seems to be that companies want you to be able to do it all. Build the mechanical, source and manage the vendors, handle all the admin stuff (reconciling estimates, etc.). I do worry about becoming less and less relevant since I don't actually build mechanicals. But if your favorite thing to do is dork out on the technical side of production, I'd recommend my job. Or maybe a studio manager. Another idea would be to get a gig as one of those people that lead seminars. I just went to the PINC conference last week, and there was one guy who's employed by Sappi paper to go around and give lectures on color management, for example.

Oh, and in my world, an Art Director is about the most UN-admin type person here. They're also not necessarily production-savvy. They deal with the big ideas and we figure out how to make it a reality.
posted by apostrophe at 5:56 PM on May 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

p.s. if the technical side of things is calling you, I've heard great things about the Cal Poly Graphic Communications program. I've learned everything I know on the job, but you can actually go to school for this stuff.
posted by apostrophe at 5:58 PM on May 11, 2007

Ah, I misread you earlier, apostrophe. I'm prepress/production manager at a print shop, not a print production manager at a design house. That's something I hadn't considered.
posted by lekvar at 6:09 PM on May 11, 2007

I do the same thing as apostrophe (Print Prod Manager aka "ad agency babysitter"). Sometimes I work as a Studio Manager. Right now I'm doing freelance work. I don't think there's anyway to avoid getting your hands dirty unless you get a job like s/he says, working for one of the paper companies. Perhaps a job as a spec rep for a paper mill?

I've never heard of anyone getting work as a consultant. They always want someone to actually get the work done, cause that's what nobody else wants to do.

Apostrophe, I know what you mean about relevance, but every time I think that some lazy Marketing department enables me to find work.
posted by Salmonberry at 8:32 PM on May 11, 2007

Not what I wanted to hear, but thanks for the reality check, everybody.
posted by lekvar at 1:51 AM on May 12, 2007

There are several different types of art directors from movies to ad agencies.
posted by paulinsanjuan at 9:44 PM on May 12, 2007

There are two kinds of people. Consultants and the rest of us.
posted by humannaire at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2007

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