Do's and don'ts of graphic design
August 9, 2008 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Advice on how to be a successful graphic designer.

I've been learning graphic design for the last six months, and I am gaining confidence, enough to do some side jobs for friends/relatives/relative's friends. I eventually would like to branch out to small businesses (freelance)...and maybe even farther down the line getting a full time job as a graphic designer.

I would like some tips on what to do and what not to do. This can be anything from how to handle difficult clients to marketing myself to avoiding common mistakes in creating typography and images.
posted by sixcolors to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This book really helped me get my freelance business going.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 3:14 PM on August 9, 2008

Freelance Switch.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:20 PM on August 9, 2008

Don't undercharge. If you try to lowball your rates, you're going to get clients that care more about saving money than anything else. This will have three effects. First, because your clients won't spring for anything but the cheapest materials and the quickest design, you won't get anything good to put in your portfolio. Secondly, no matter how low your rates are, they'll keep trying to save more money here and there, so you'll be locked in an endless battle with your clients. Thirdly, well, you'll make less money.
posted by lore at 3:39 PM on August 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's less of an issue than it was, due to ever-improving technology, but learn about the back-end - how to prepare your work for various kinds of printing (offset printing and lithography, colour separation and spot tones, etc) if you're not already.

For simple/cheap/standard kinds of jobs, you don't need to know this stuff these days, but you never know when someone is going to want something beyond what the local printshop's jack-of-all-trades digital press can do. And you don't want to be limiting your options, or the quality of the final products bearing your work.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:41 PM on August 9, 2008

You might consider getting a job in a local print shop. Look for a shop that does more than just quick copies, but actually uses an offset press as well as a digital press. The advantage of this would be that you'd be exposed to a lot of different kinds of clients, and different kinds of jobs. But most importantly, you'll learn a lot about the practical side of designing, ie: you'll learn to make designs that actually are executable by a printer (digital or offset press). You'll learn first-hand why it's so vital to add bleeds to your design if it needs them. You'll learn about preflighting and colour separations and a lot of other things you may have only read about.

I would advise strongly against using a position in a print shop to sell your own services on the side. 1) It will likely get you fired. 2) It's just in poor taste.
posted by wabbittwax at 3:49 PM on August 9, 2008

Get better, then charge more. To be honest, your question about graphic design in February make me think that you are not ready to be trusted with people's projects. Because if you're charging a reasonable rate, then you're going to lose bids to designers and firms with more experience and skill. But if you are charging fifteen dollars an hour, you're actually working for less than minimum wage once you factor in taxes.

Frankly, I feel that someone with as little experience as you have cannot help but further dilute the market and cheapen the field in the eyes of the public. If I'm wrong and you actually have both the artistic skill and the technical chops, then my apologies. But I am so rarely wrong about this.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:24 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Depending on your experience and skill level, you might try to get a job as a graphic design intern or a junior designer before setting off on a freelance career. It's great to be self-educated, but nothing has been more educational, informative, and career- and confidence-building for me than actually working in a design firm as an intern, then junior designer.

Working at a firm will show you the ins and outs of production; you'll be exposed to countless pieces of successful design and typography every day; you can ask questions of art directors who have decades of experience in the business; you can observe how a successful agency is run; you can see how to handle clients; you'll develop skill in communicating complex ideas both verbally and visually. Before I started working in a firm, I did a couple small freelance projects and looking back at them, I'm embarrassed at how little I knew and how clumsy my work was.

And, if you're not already, take continuing education classes at your local university or design school. You need to keep practicing, learning and communicating. Reading about design is important, but graphic design is all about communication and interaction with other humans (for better or for worse), so classes are endlessly helpful.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 4:52 PM on August 9, 2008

I would like some tips on what to do and what not to do.

The only thing you need to do is be very, very good.

If you are very, very good, you will get clients. If you are not very, very good, you will come to AskMe seeking advice. Well, there's your advice. Now get off the internet and work on your portfolio.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:25 PM on August 9, 2008

You're going about it a bit bass-ackwards. Most people I know who've made a go of freelancing started by getting some training, then doing dogwork at a newspaper or some small studio or similar business, moved on to refine their skills under experienced art directors, and then took their own show on the road, so to speak. Graphic design is not a fine art. You need criticism from people who know the business better than you do at this stage.
posted by zadcat at 5:55 PM on August 9, 2008

Do read this and this.
posted by signal at 5:55 PM on August 9, 2008

I would say think long and hard about what you want your personal "brand" to be. In design there are a few archetypes: the brilliant designer who never turns in anything on deadline, the average designer who *always* hits the deadline, the designer who does ok work but is always cheery when they answer the phone, etc.

Personally, I think for someone starting out, the best bet is always hitting deadlines. Become known as the person who is *never* late. I think that's one of the things that new designers sometimes overlook, handing in something late can cost businesses money in many ways.

If you develop that rep, you can then expect to get lucrative jobs as people begin to rely on you. . .
posted by jeremias at 6:54 PM on August 9, 2008

I own a few businesses, one of them is a graphic design firm. The guy that does the graphics actually started working for me as the graphic designer for another business before we branched him out. This occurred after I sold the original business he worked for- so he had some time (10 years) to learn the ropes of the profession outside of what you learn at school.

At first we found that a lot of people need graphic design assistance. Next, we realized that going after the lower-end, cheap seeking clients opened doors to the bigger clients. In the beginning we focused on the real estate market. That led to good word of mouth that brought in more and more clients. We leased some high end color printers and provided the graphic design and the ability to produce the material- this increased our profit margin and over all business. So, in a nut shell, I would not discount going after the cheap clients- they are going to provide you a base and cover your cost in the beginning. If you are any good more will come. I would look for a niche market, cover it with your name/brand and grow your client base from there. Real Estate is a pretty good one as most of these folks are charged with developing their own marketing materials but lack any formal training in the area. These people also like to talk a lot and seem to tell everyone they know where they get their services from.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:02 PM on August 9, 2008

I was pretty confident I knew a lot about design about five years ago when I was lamenting my crappy job. Five years of design experience later and I realize how little I knew then, how lucky I was to get the experience I did at that crap job, and how far I have to go. When I compare my average day's output with what I was doing then, I am amazed at how much better I am. I am ashamed of how cocky and proud I was of that shit.

I wouldn't do freelance now, wait until you have your chops. You don't want to get a reputation for shoddy work, it may follow you around.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:39 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Learn how to run a freelance business. The Graphics Artists Guild handbook is a good business resource for people running creative businesses.
posted by lsemel at 10:50 PM on August 9, 2008

You want How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul. I'm devouring it now and it has sections on most of the issues you're looking into, including what it takes to go freelance, promote yourself, and deal with clients. You can also read sections for free on Google Books.
posted by wundermint at 4:52 PM on August 10, 2008

« Older How does running a B&B work?   |   Mystery Brazilian Song about the Plight of Favela... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.