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  • Considering career change to graphic design

    Hi,

    I am considering a career change. Iíve been a mechanical engineer for 15 years. This career has been ok for me, but to be honest, I chose it for practical reasons. So, Iíve been considering some other options and graphic arts is one of the careers Iím looking into.

    I was hoping I could get some insight from some people that are actually doing this work for a living and get some real world perspective about the field in general. I have lots of questions. So, please bear with me hereÖ.

    1.) First off, what would I expect as a starting salary in this field? I live in the Pittsburgh area and Iím not really into the idea of relocating.

    2.) Secondly, what could I expect to make once I get more established? Whatís the most I could expect to make? What a realistic average? Whatís the minimum that I could expect? How many years would it take to kind of become more established and be making an average salary?

    3.) Thoughts on bachelors degree vs associates degree? Is a bachelors very much recommended?

    4.) Thoughts on traditional brick and mortar education vs a degree that is offered online?

    5.) How difficult would it be to do the required course work given that I will need to still work full time and handle family life. Is the typical curriculum something that a working family man could fit into his schedule?

    6.) How much freedom and autonomy does a job as a graphic designer offer? Do you feel as though you have a lot of say over the direction of your work or are you heavily controlled by otherís wishes?

    7.) How much solitude do you typically get? Is there a good deal of the time spent alone working on projects or is there a lot of social interaction required?

    8.) Do you feel as though there is a healthy dose of creativity involved in your work?

    9.) Do you get a nice bit of variety in your work?

    10.) How about job security? Do you feel stable or could you be let go at any moment?

    11.) How well does the career allow for a healthy work / life balance? Are heavy hours expected?

    12.) I hear the field is very competitive. Is this true? Any comments or thoughts / experiences about this?

    13.) How easily can one hop between different companies or industries? Do you end up becoming specialized or are you able to jump around to different environments / opportunities without many major road blocks or resistance?

    14.) What is the potential for freelance work? Is there a lot of freelance opportunities out there in the field?

    15.) What if I am not technically an ďartistĒ? I used to draw and love art classes but itís not like I even spend my free time with a hobby that has anything to do with art. I seem to have a good eye for aesthetics and color and form though.

    16.) Would there be any value in my technical background? Iíve done a lot of work with 3D cad packages but Iím not sure if the modeling techniques used in cad is similar to more artistic 3D software packages. What about other technical abilities or analytical abilities that I may have acquired in my current field? Does it have any kind of way to give me an edge?

    17.) For those that like Myers-briggs typing, Iím an INFP. I found out that graphics arts is typically a good fit for my personality type. Can anyone give any thoughts / experiences on that?

    Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    Hi Thumper and welcome to GDF.

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    • #3
      Since your first two questions are in regards to salary, to put it very bluntly you will not make anywhere near the wage of a mechanical engineer. If you are lucky, maybe half that. Check out the various websites that show average salaries for your area for various careers.

      The field is oversaturated. Way too many designers. Not enough jobs.

      There might be some value in your technical background in certain niche markets. We have a structural engineer on staff for event work where things on stage move, or may lift people, or things over people. That type of thing involves grand format graphic design and the current trend in the field is animated projection, sometimes onto moving stage surfaces, rather than static prints. Tough field to get into and where you say you aren't an artist... welll....

      Freelance work, I don't recommend it for any student fresh out of college. Too much reinventing the wheel. The usual path is to work in the industry for several years, gain contacts and experience then go out on your own. But since there aren't enough jobs, far too many students are entering freelancing soon after they graduate with no real world experience. I pity their clients. A graduate would learn more in 6 weeks at a real job under a mentor than they do in the 4 years they are in college (as long as they understood the theory they were supposed to learn while in college.)

      Projects have deadlines. Usually they are associated with a product release, a grand opening or other some such event. When it gets right down to it, graphic design is a service industry. There is definitely the potential for overtime and weekend work. Especially if you or your client are late with deliverables, the project is larger than expected, or there are emergency last minute changes.

      You have no autonomy. What you produce may have to conform to existing brand standards. The client has the final say. You are not creating art. You are solving a communication challenge for your client. That is all Graphic Design is about. Your art is just a commodity. If you are working in a studio, first consider yourself lucky, but you will also be constrained by the creative director and again the needs of the client. Your work environment determines how much solitude you get. You do have to interact with people. If you are a freelancer, you have to be a salesman first. Graphic designer second.

      Right now an entry level GD job is 4 years of college plus 2 years of experience. I'd suggest, if you go this route, to do as much interning and part time work as you can at any type of job even peripherally attached to the design field. That can be difficult if you are working full time as a mechanical engineer. An intern level job is going to be paying minimum wage. If that.

      Some people say I'm too doom and gloom on this industry, but the facts are the facts. Too many design students, not enough jobs to train them properly, not enough work to support them all. Plus the software companies coming up with plug and play ''instant graphic designs'' programs and the crowdsourcing sites all making it seem like anyone and their nephew can do design if they have a hacked version of photoshop. I've been in the print end of this for nearly 20 years. I can see the slow steady slide.

      All I can say is, if you have a passion for this and want to do it more than anything in the world, it is possible to make a living at it.
      Good luck.

      Comment


      • #4
        1.) First off, what would I expect as a starting salary in this field? I live in the Pittsburgh area and Iím not really into the idea of relocating.

        The short answer is that it depends. I'm not familiar with the market in Pittsburgh. I'd do a job search for junior designer positions in your area and see what turns up. They won't all list salary, but it would be a good start

        2.) Secondly, what could I expect to make once I get more established? Whatís the most I could expect to make? What a realistic average? Whatís the minimum that I could expect? How many years would it take to kind of become more established and be making an average salary?

        Once again, it all depends. I'd say to become more experienced would take at least 10-15 years. You could potentially move into management or art direction which could be more lucrative in the long run, but in some cases moving into those sorts of positions could result in you being less "hands on" when designing.

        3.) Thoughts on bachelors degree vs associates degree? Is a bachelors very much recommended?

        Bachelors is highly recommended. Most companies you won't even get called in for an interview without one.

        4.) Thoughts on traditional brick and mortar education vs a degree that is offered online?

        Good question. I graduated 20 years ago, before online degrees existed. Online education might be okay, but in person feedback and class reviews of work are pretty vital, IMO.

        5.) How difficult would it be to do the required course work given that I will need to still work full time and handle family life. Is the typical curriculum something that a working family man could fit into his schedule?

        Perhaps. Once again, I graduated a while back and was single. The work can be grueling at times as can getting any degree I would imagine. I would say that it most likely will be challenging. If you're not "working hard" then I'd question the validity of the university or school you're getting a degree from.

        6.) How much freedom and autonomy does a job as a graphic designer offer? Do you feel as though you have a lot of say over the direction of your work or are you heavily controlled by otherís wishes?

        From a creative standpoint, it depends on the company and your managers, etc. If you're in-house you most likely will have less freedom and creativity then say working for an agency, but you tend to work longer hours and perhaps get less benefits going the agency route.

        7.) How much solitude do you typically get? Is there a good deal of the time spent alone working on projects or is there a lot of social interaction required?

        Once again, it can depend on the company. I've been in a mix of both of=ver the years. There will definitely be social interaction whether it be presenting concepts or ideas, or discussing projects, etc. But, depending on the company, you may have quite a decent amount of "quiet time" to focus on getting the work done. Between meetings of course. Ha!

        8.) Do you feel as though there is a healthy dose of creativity involved in your work?

        ​Sometimes. I'm an in-house designer so I do have moments of creativity, but usually I find things to do outside of work to be creative. Or take on freelance or pro-bono work.

        9.) Do you get a nice bit of variety in your work?

        Depends on the company again. Agency work can be more varied. In-house is perhaps less varied, but even then I do get to work on quite a few different things from Web, to email, to print, to direct mail, video, etc.

        10.) How about job security? Do you feel stable or could you be let go at any moment?

        Depends on the company (Ha, do you see a pattern?) I worked in one job for about 17 years, then was let go as part fo a larger round of layoffs. So, it all depends. I think with any job nowadays your job is not guaranteed.

        11.) How well does the career allow for a healthy work / life balance? Are heavy hours expected?

        most in-hosue positions are pretty flexible (depending on the company). Agency work can be much more demanding. In the three jobs I've had in nearly 20 years I usually work a pretty standard 40 hour week. Sometimes more, but sometimes even a little less. But, once again it depends on the company.

        12.) I hear the field is very competitive. Is this true? Any comments or thoughts / experiences about this?

        ​Yup. Very competitive and oversaturated.

        13.) How easily can one hop between different companies or industries? Do you end up becoming specialized or are you able to jump around to different environments / opportunities without many major road blocks or resistance?

        I think it's pretty easy to hop around. I've been in Medical, Tech and a Product company.

        14.) What is the potential for freelance work? Is there a lot of freelance opportunities out there in the field?

        Yes, but fulltime freelance is tough work. It takes business acumen, IMO. And it shouldn't be a consideration until you have 10 or so years of experience.

        15.) What if I am not technically an ďartistĒ? I used to draw and love art classes but itís not like I even spend my free time with a hobby that has anything to do with art. I seem to have a good eye for aesthetics and color and form though.

        Having basic drawing skills is pretty important, understanding composition, balance, etc. is vital but you don't have to be an illustrator per se unless you want to specialize in illustration.

        16.) Would there be any value in my technical background? Iíve done a lot of work with 3D cad packages but Iím not sure if the modeling techniques used in cad is similar to more artistic 3D software packages. What about other technical abilities or analytical abilities that I may have acquired in my current field? Does it have any kind of way to give me an edge?

        It might.

        17.) For those that like Myers-briggs typing, Iím an INFP. I found out that graphics arts is typically a good fit for my personality type. Can anyone give any thoughts / experiences on that?

        Not sure.
        __________________________________________________
        I like to beat up pacifists, because they don't fight back ...

        N.A.N.K.A. "We Kick Because We Care."

        Comment


        • #5
          Hello! Fellow INFP here.

          I can tell you from my perspective, it's the perfect career for my personality in terms of fulfillment. I am a solo professional (I have my own company but I don't freelance for agencies, I work directly with businesses) and I love LOVE love the work 15+ years later. I'm also self-taught (that is not to say I don't have formal as well as informal education in design, I do, it's just not what my degree is in).

          All of that said, if I had to start over TODAY, I'm not sure I'd do it. Back when I started, being able to build a website meant you would never be short on work. Today, offshore web designers, pre-baked themes and drag-and-drop DIY solutions are a dime a dozen. Pretty much literally. I also do logo design and digital documents, but that is also very competitive because I have to compete on a global level. Some days I'm on top of the world, other days I'm utterly depressed about it. Internet crowdsourcing and freelance bidding sites are everywhere, making it very tough for people like me. You either need to be working with very big budget clients doing phenomenal work, or have a great job at a design company (probably the route I'd take if I were you, although I'm not sure how old you are -- in my experience, this industry tends to burn out young people who eventually break out on their own), or you'll be like me... hustling until the day I die, I expect.

          And I wouldn't encourage anybody to go any other route than to get the best formal education you can manage -- in the end, it's the much easier route.

          I don't mean to discourage you, if it's something you really want to do then you should. But don't expect stability or to make a lot of money, especially when you're just starting out. This is not an industry that's high in demand for skilled workers -- they're everywhere.

          I have modest material needs personally, and I value the lifestyle my job has allowed me, and the fulfillment it brings. So that counts for quite a lot. I wish you good luck!
          You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on. --GWB

          Comment


          • #6
            1.) First off, what would I expect as a starting salary in this field? I live in the Pittsburgh area and Iím not really into the idea of relocating.

            When I graduated I was told to expect 35k starting. You are in an interesting situation because you have work experience (even if it isn't GD experience). However I've poked around with research in the past so a more realistic number might be 38-45k starting out.


            2.) Secondly, what could I expect to make once I get more established? Whatís the most I could expect to make? What a realistic average? Whatís the minimum that I could expect? How many years would it take to kind of become more established and be making an average salary?

            This is really hard to say because designers tend to be underpaid. Your best bet would be to add some additional skills i.e. web design, marketing, copy writing, etc. Having these skills will make you more valuable and allow you to do more especially if you are an in-house designer. But like others have said, you'd be most likely sacrificing your salary you have now and probably never returning to that figure.


            3.) Thoughts on bachelors degree vs associates degree? Is a bachelors very much recommended?

            Bachelors.


            4.) Thoughts on traditional brick and mortar education vs a degree that is offered online?

            From someone who got their degree online, I would never recommend it to anyone. That being said, with a family it may be your only option. Just don't go to the Art Institutes...wolves in sheep's clothing.


            5.) How difficult would it be to do the required course work given that I will need to still work full time and handle family life. Is the typical curriculum something that a working family man could fit into his schedule?

            Challenging as with any degree but not impossible.


            6.) How much freedom and autonomy does a job as a graphic designer offer? Do you feel as though you have a lot of say over the direction of your work or are you heavily controlled by otherís wishes?

            Very little to none starting out. If you go with the in-house designer route at a small company (like I am) then you will develop more freedom overtime from others seeing the success of your work. But don't count on something like this happening right away because there are brand standards and leadership's ideas you have to implement.


            7.) How much solitude do you typically get? Is there a good deal of the time spent alone working on projects or is there a lot of social interaction required?

            Majority of my day I fly solo but that's because I am the only creative where I work.


            8.) Do you feel as though there is a healthy dose of creativity involved in your work?

            Yes. Again this goes back to question number 6. It took a bit for higher ups to respect my best judgement when it came to design. Now I am allowed to be pretty creative.


            9.) Do you get a nice bit of variety in your work?


            No. Unless I find the work myself or come up with the projects myself.


            10.) How about job security? Do you feel stable or could you be let go at any moment?

            At my job I feel secure but that is because of all the other skills I have developed and the contributions I have made. If I just did graphic design and nothing else, I would not feel very secure in my current role.


            11.) How well does the career allow for a healthy work / life balance? Are heavy hours expected?

            I enjoy my work/life balance.


            12.) I hear the field is very competitive. Is this true? Any comments or thoughts / experiences about this?

            I'm sure it is but I don't work with other designers so it's hard to say.


            13.) How easily can one hop between different companies or industries? Do you end up becoming specialized or are you able to jump around to different environments / opportunities without many major road blocks or resistance?

            Not sure, still too young in my career to really know.


            14.) What is the potential for freelance work? Is there a lot of freelance opportunities out there in the field?

            Eh...you need to be a grinder to get this to work in most cases. Especially if you do not have an existing network of clients. Promoting yourself, competing with other local freelancers, legal headaches, etc. There's a lot that goes into it.


            15.) What if I am not technically an ďartistĒ? I used to draw and love art classes but itís not like I even spend my free time with a hobby that has anything to do with art. I seem to have a good eye for aesthetics and color and form though.

            These days it doesn't matter anymore. Anyone can be a GD if they learn the software. Mind you, not a good one, but a GD none the less.


            16.) Would there be any value in my technical background? Iíve done a lot of work with 3D cad packages but Iím not sure if the modeling techniques used in cad is similar to more artistic 3D software packages. What about other technical abilities or analytical abilities that I may have acquired in my current field? Does it have any kind of way to give me an edge?

            I'm sure there would be for some niche industry out there.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by EC View Post
              Hello! Fellow INFP here.
              Hi there! Always nice to meet other INFPS!!!

              Originally posted by EC View Post
              I can tell you from my perspective, it's the perfect career for my personality in terms of fulfillment. I am a solo professional (I have my own company but I don't freelance for agencies, I work directly with businesses) and I love LOVE love the work 15+ years later. I'm also self-taught (that is not to say I don't have formal as well as informal education in design, I do, it's just not what my degree is in).
              That's awesome! I'm so glad to hear that you found something so fulfilling for you. Being that the INFP personality type is so idealistic, I sometimes wonder if my expectations are just way too up in the clouds. So, it's great to hear that another INFP has found something that really clicks.

              I actually never gave graphic design any attention in the past regarding potential career options. Truth be told, I didn't even know what it was all about until recently. I bumped into the whole myers-briggs thing and found it to be really spot on for me. So then I read a book about INFP's that focused quite a bit on finding a life that resonated with the personality type. It listed a bunch of career matches for INFP's and graphic design was in the list. So here I am researching it amongst other possible new careers that were recommended in the book.

              Thanks for all your advice and experience. I'm not going to have the time to cover everyone's replies in detail so I'm going to write a more general reply here in a moment but I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the INFP thing real quick.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thank you everyone for your very detailed replies!!! It is extremely helpful!!! Thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions in such detail!!!

                So far, from the things I'm hearing, I may have an interest in the field ....but it may have a lot of risks involved. Mostly, I'm concerned about the income. If I were a single guy without kids, I would be willing to take a pay cut without much thought. I'd trade money for job satsifaction any day. I'm not single though and I am not without kids. So, I certainly have to take their standard of living into consideration too. It's not that it's out of the question, it's just going to be a tough thing to justify.

                Aside from that, the things I'm hearing are not all sunshine and roses, but it hasn't scared me off to the point where I'm willing to just drop the idea. If I can swing it financially, I may be interested in trying it on for size by enrolling in some entry level classes just to see if it clicks for me.

                Thanks again, everyone. Keep the answers coming as well. The more perspectives I can get, the better.

                Comment


                • #9
                  You've already gotten great advice from everyone above, and I agree with what the others have said. Even so, I'll throw in my own two cents.

                  1.) First off, what would I expect as a starting salary in this field? I live in the Pittsburgh area and Iím not really into the idea of relocating.
                  Salaries differ wildly. U.S. metropolitan areas generally pay more than smaller cities. And even there it differs wildly. How the situation might be in Pittsburg, I have no idea. In general, though, the starting wages for a graphic designer aren't good. It typically takes years to establish oneself to the point of making a good living. The chances of making a salary comparable to a mechanical engineer are, honestly, slim.

                  2.) Secondly, what could I expect to make once I get more established? Whatís the most I could expect to make? What a realistic average? Whatís the minimum that I could expect? How many years would it take to kind of become more established and be making an average salary?
                  Statistically, the chances of you even working in the field five years from now aren't in your favor. My best guess is that for every 30 people exploring the possibility of becoming a graphic designer, only one of them succeeds over the long haul. I know designers who are making six-figure salaries, but you asked for realistic advice. Even if you make it past the five years I mentioned, the chances of you getting into that six-figure range are slim unless you move to a major city where the cost of living eats up the extra money you might be making.

                  3.) Thoughts on bachelors degree vs associates degree? Is a bachelors very much recommended?
                  We don't even bother to interview designers with less than a bachelor's degree. In the corporate world, it's getting very difficult to make it work without one. If you're freelancing, it's another story, but again, the chances of making a good living doing freelance work aren't good. It's certainly possible, and some here have done it, but statistically, it's a long shot.

                  4.) Thoughts on traditional brick and mortar education vs a degree that is offered online?
                  Brick and mortar outweighs online by several tons.

                  5.) How difficult would it be to do the required course work given that I will need to still work full time and handle family life. Is the typical curriculum something that a working family man could fit into his schedule?
                  I know people who have done it, but succeeding in a good design program is already more than a full-time job. It takes total commitment.

                  6.) How much freedom and autonomy does a job as a graphic designer offer? Do you feel as though you have a lot of say over the direction of your work or are you heavily controlled by otherís wishes?
                  It depends on the employer or client. Some respect and appreciate what a good designer can do for them. Others regard designers as trained monkeys who can follow instructions and work a computer.

                  7.) How much solitude do you typically get? Is there a good deal of the time spent alone working on projects or is there a lot of social interaction required?
                  It really depends. My job involves interacting with people all day long, but I manage the creative staff where I work. There are designers on my staff, though, who prefer to keep their heads down and concentrate on their work. Others are social butterflies. It really all depends on the nature of the job and your personality.

                  8.) Do you feel as though there is a healthy dose of creativity involved in your work?
                  Yes.

                  9.) Do you get a nice bit of variety in your work?
                  Yes.

                  10.) How about job security? Do you feel stable or could you be let go at any moment?
                  I have a written contract, so my position is secure. My situation is a bit of a rarity, though. Most design jobs are at-will positions, and depending on the financial stability of the company, you could pretty much be let go on a moment's notice. In-house corporate jobs are typically more secure than ad agencies that live or die depending on the clients.

                  11.) How well does the career allow for a healthy work / life balance? Are heavy hours expected?
                  Again, it depends.

                  12.) I hear the field is very competitive. Is this true? Any comments or thoughts / experiences about this?
                  it's ultra-competitive. As I said, the odds are stacked heavily against establishing oneself in this field.

                  13.) How easily can one hop between different companies or industries? Do you end up becoming specialized or are you able to jump around to different environments / opportunities without many major road blocks or resistance?
                  I've maintained a generalist approach and have deliberately switched paths when I've started to become too specialized. Generally, though, the specialization wagon is difficult to avoid. You start getting good at something, then that opens up more doors in that area of specialization. If you walk through that door, then other doors with even more specialized labels start to appear. Heading up the specialization ladder can be a good approach to making more money as long as the specialty doesn't disappear, which happens often in this field. Ask any Flash designer, for example.

                  14.) What is the potential for freelance work? Is there a lot of freelance opportunities out there in the field?
                  Yeah, I do quite a bit of freelance work, which has amounted to a side business for, well, about 30 years now. I could probably do it fulltime, but I don't need the stress. Once again, though, it's difficult to make it in this field. I've been lucky.

                  15.) What if I am not technically an ďartistĒ? I used to draw and love art classes but itís not like I even spend my free time with a hobby that has anything to do with art. I seem to have a good eye for aesthetics and color and form though.
                  Design doesn't center on art and drawing. Those kinds of things are skills and tools that designers use. Graphic design might be more akin to visual engineering, so I guess I'm basically saying working as a graphic designer is about finding appropriate, workable, practical and doable solutions to problems.

                  16.) Would there be any value in my technical background? Iíve done a lot of work with 3D cad packages but Iím not sure if the modeling techniques used in cad is similar to more artistic 3D software packages. What about other technical abilities or analytical abilities that I may have acquired in my current field? Does it have any kind of way to give me an edge?
                  It depends again. Most engineers I've met are creative, but it's a different kind of creativity that values a different kind of aesthetic. The biggest problem most new designers have, though, is coming to grips with the fact that their artsy, creative tendencies that got them interested in the field need to be tempered with a practical, problem-solving attitude. Your background, assuming that the talent really is there, could very well help you avoid this stumbling block.

                  17.) For those that like Myers-briggs typing, Iím an INFP. I found out that graphics arts is typically a good fit for my personality type. Can anyone give any thoughts / experiences on that?
                  I'm an INTJ, which puts me on the analytic- and strategy-driven side of design. I just might have missed my calling as a mechanical engineer. An INFP sounds a whole lot more like a typical designer than an engineer, and it wouldn't at all be an inappropriate personality type. If you make the decision to head down this road, just be sure you do it with your eyes wide open. I'll say it one more time: this is a difficult field to break into.
                  Last edited by B; 06-21-2017, 12:34 AM.

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