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My would-be career in the tank.

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  • My would-be career in the tank.

    Just a heads-up, this post is long, whiny and kind of a downer, but I really need some advice, so much thanks to anyone with the patience to read it.

    I'm stuck. I've been designing for about 12 years (including my time in school because I was working in the field at the time), and for most of this time I felt I was at least an okay designer or at least felt I had some potential. I earned a BFA from an accredited university that's known to have a good design program after which I went to work for a small production studio that had a fairly strong reputation, at least locally. However, I think I spent most of my time at that studio archiving projects and taking out trash and doing other odd jobs.

    I was often tasked with doing production work for the senior designer, which is what I expected, but was rarely called on to design anything of my own in the three years I was there. In fact, at one point my creative director mentioned to me that he hired me because I had experience working with phone book ads (which was my first design job) and they were trying to put together a program where some of their clients could have quick, cheap ads created for them to advertise across vast numbers of locations. So apparently they hired me because I could do quick and cheap, which wasn't how I intended to promote myself.

    That firm went out of business due to some bad investments in a weak economy, so I then went to work in-house for a company that doesn't pay well and doesn't really appreciate good design because I couldn't get in anywhere else. I've been there for the past four years.

    I want to be doing better work so I think I need to improve my portfolio. Trouble is, I can't just invent projects for myself to do, and even if I could, I know that clients and prospective employers prefer to know that you've done at least something solid and professional for real clients and they usually ask for evidence of this in the interview. None of the projects I do at my current job are portfolio worthy.

    I've been trying to make up for this with freelance work, but I can't sell myself as a freelancer to save my life. The few clients I've been able to attract offer very low-ball rates and just expect me to be a wrist on a mouse to create the crappy ideas they already have in their heads. I wouldn't accept work from these types of clients except that I can't sell my work at a higher rate, so what else can I do?

    I've even had trouble trying to sell my work pro-bono to charities (yes believe it or not, there is competition for pro-bono work and I usually lose the bid). I've only ever been able to work with one of these, but they were very set in what they wanted and the end result was something I'm embarrassed to even show.

    I have no awards or achievements to speak of. I used to be part of the local AIGA, but had to quit when I couldn't afford to pay the membership fee anymore. People—even other designers—tell me they like my work but all other outward indicators tell me that I'm a bad designer, so I think they're just trying to be polite. I don't want to leave the field because I love design and I don't want to do anything else for a living.

    Am I a completely lost cause? How can I get out of this canyon of a rut?

  • #2
    Hi Le Lackey and welcome to GDF.

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    • #3
      First thing, IMHO awards mean SFA, client success is the only "award" you should be looking for.

      As for re-doing your portfolio, look at work that you have done, and re-do it to how you would have before the client got their fingers into it. You already have the briefs, just do the work again.

      I think an interviewer might understand if most of the work in your portfolio isn't what a client used, you are trying to showcase your abilities which aren't really easy to showcase as a production designer.
      Design is not decoration.


      • #4
        Originally posted by kemingMatters View Post
        First thing, IMHO awards mean SFA, client success is the only "award" you should be looking for.
        This is still a big problem, since I don't think my work has brought any clients any sort of success. This could be because I don't know how to produce successful design, but it could also be because no clients I've ever worked with have ever been poised to reap any success from their branding. Given the caliber of clients I tend to work with, i'd say that's a real possibility, but that doesn't help me find better clients or get a better job.

        And yes, I have reworked some jobs for my portfolio before, but I don't know if it helps my chances any, because I still don't have the final piece to show. Yeah, I think employers understand these things, but a designer who actually can show some solid post-production pieces has the edge and I know I'm always competing against lots of designers who can.


        • kemingMatters
          kemingMatters commented
          Editing a comment
          It's hard to scrub off a self-deprecating attitude, it'll be noticed in how you handle your portfolio pieces and the way you speak about your work. In other words, if you think your own work is shit, so will most everyone else. If you value the work you produce, others will see more value in it.

          The only other suggestion I can think of is to post some of your work in the Crit Pit for review, there's a lot of experience here that will help you smooth out the rough edges. If you do, be aware you might hear things you don't want to hear, but you'll also get some solid advice.

      • #5
        I hate to justify the existence of crowd source spec work sites, but finding projects there and practicing over and over again until you get better might be beneficial. Practice makes perfect, just keep doing mental push-ups. Also, go out into the world and study great design. Also study non-design and become fascinated with the world, to better understand it.
        "You have no friends, you have no enemies, you only have teachers."






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