Any tips for an enthusiastic beginner?

Hey everyone, I’m currently studying Print Communications, which has been challenging and rewarding as I really don’t know anything about that.
As part of my Assessment Task, I have to join a design forum, so I’ve joined here, but after reading through some of the topics being discussed, I feel that this forum is going to be a big part of my design life here on.
Just wondering if I can pick anyone’s brain on the things they wish they’d known/done when they were first starting out.
Any tips would really be gratefully accepted!


I think I had a good grasp of the creative and technical side of things when I started, but I was completely ignorant about the business side of making art. I look back now and I’m completely horrified at the contracts I signed and jobs I accepted when I was younger. I wish that I had read Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines back then so I had a better idea of the types of business arrangements that were possible.

The first contracts were all prepared by their lawyers. One was 50 pages long. I had no idea that I could negotiate and reject clauses in the contract and add my own stipulations. So everything was in their favor. Work for hire, with pay a little above minimum wage. No overtime, medical, dental or retirement (I was in my 20s so I didn’t think any of those were a big deal… oh man). They wrote it so they outright owned everything I did, but I was responsible for all my own gear and professional liability insurance. I wasn’t even allowed to keep copies for my portfolio, which affected my ability to move up or out. It was all just devastatingly stupid of me.

It took me years before I got more savvy and learned I license my work, rather than giving it away like that. Your work has value. If you are fortunate and far sighted, it may have value for many years to come. Don’t sign away your rights.

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Wow, thanks Mojo!
Do you know where I can get hold of a copy of Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines? (That’s quite a mouthful!)
And also, if I can ask, how did you get into the industry?
My plan is to gain work experience in every studio around until somewhere wants me. Eventually, though, I want to get into Freelance work and sub-contracting, how would you suggest I do that?

You can call it the GAG handbook for short.
Here’s a look at the latest edition pretty much hot off the press:

Depending on where you live, there are some rights a designer cannot claim on work performed. For instance, a logo always becomes the property of the person/company commissioning the logo. You don’t license those. And a designer can only claim copyright on work they created. If the client is handing you copy and images, those aren’t yours, neither are stock images purchased for a project, and you can’t license a layout. You can license any illustrative or photographic work. Where I work, and I’m in the US, we just assume all work belongs to the client at the end of the project.
Price accordingly.

Why did I LOL to that … that’s just awesome!!!

Pro Tip;
Inspiration comes from everything everywhere … remember that always.

I know. And people made study sound so gruesome!
I 100% agree about inspiration coming from everywhere. “Steal like an artist” and all that!

Thanks so much everyone for your tips.

So just let me get this straight, after I hand over a logo and have been paid for it, that logo is none of my business. If it gets its copyright infringed upon, that isn’t my problem, but my client’s. After all, even if the infringers (I don’t think that’s a word) wanted to purchase the license legally, I wouldn’t be able to re-sell it to them anyway. No skin off my nose if it gets stolen.

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You should be aware of who is infringing whom. Logos are notoriously likely to be “copied” even when no ill intent is meant. I could put 6 designers in a room and tell them to sketch concepts for a specific company logo and among those sketches there will be duplicates between designers. IOW, it is possible for several different people to independently come up with the same logo concept.

In the US, logos are trademarked. Once trademarked the owner of the logo has a legal means to respond to theft should they decide to do so. Once you sell it, it is no longer your problem. Be sure to include the transfer of all copyrights to the client in your contract. But you should advise your client(s) to seek a trademark. You should also perhaps learn to do simple trademark searches so you don’t inadvertently serve your client someone else’s concept.

People think logo design is easy. It is far from that. It is possibly the most important decision a business owner makes. Your work (among other things) puts food on his table. Or not. A designer really should have to purchase malpractice insurance before entering the field of Branding.

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But on a more upbeat note,
Take advantage of your time in school. Push the boundaries, because heaven knows you won’t find clients as adventurous when it comes to designed solutions for their marketing woes in the real world.

Always ask questions. Always search for new ways to do things. Always aim higher than the brochures or business cards or out of context logos you’ll be working on in class. Be the one the other students hate because you took a project one step farther than it needed to be taken. ie making a logo? Do a full branding standard. Doing an office mockup? Do a proper elevation drawing with product callouts. The internet can be your friend (but beware of misinformation, as always.) There’s a whole wide world out there beyond the flat page/screen that can be far more lucrative, if you have the drive.

Use the time you are in school to get as much experience as you can. Find a part time job in a print shop or sign shop. Get on your professors to find meaningful internships you can apply for; ones that have knowledgeable mentors that can teach you something.

Here’s a good tip that will serve you well and is not enough emphasized in most schools.

Graphic design’s goal is to help the clients make money with a marketing message designed to reach their customers. It’s not about the art, or about what the client likes. It’s all about the client’s target customers and what they like.

Every marketing message has a target audience, and that audience should decide the design choices for colors, fonts, images, etc.

In other words, design for the end customers.

And welcome. :slight_smile:

Everyone travels a different path. My dad was an independent AV producer… slide shows and film strips. I grew up in a graphic design environment. When I was in high school and college (late 70s, early 80s) I worked on school newspaper and yearbook every year. They offered free materials and access to gear. I did photography and graphic design for school clubs, fundraisers, bake sales, car washes, school plays, concerts, cheerleaders, etc. I was a member of AV crew. I knew how to silk screen posters and flyers. I worked on promotions for student government. I helped to manage concerts and movie nights at the school. I had my hand in everything, and did it just for experience. Never paid for any of that school related work, and that was fine.

First professional break was a little before graduation. A small public relations company needed a part time temp photographer for some events they were staging. I showed them the stuff I shot for newspaper and yearbook and that got me hired. I did decent enough work for them so they kept expanding my hours and the scope of my work. Eventually it included design. There was a high turnover rate and I picked up a lot of projects just because I was reliable and always available. Then I just started packing other part time and temp gigs on top of that. I spent 12 years driving around from gig to gig every day, it was nuts. Made a lot of contacts during that time, and that was the basis for my client list when I decided to go freelance full time.

Yes. Good advice.

Thanks so much guys. You’re all such legends!

Another thing, I can use Photoshop and Illustrator, learning Indesign as part of my Prints course, touching on webdesign, teaching myself Aftereffects for logo reveals, contemplating Java Script… should I be learning photography as well?!
Or can I dump Java Script?

Javascript is a useful skill for getting behind the scenes in web design, but it depends on how behind there you want to go.

If you are interested in getting under the hood, you could also look into Wordpress development. WP is a highly popular platform these days, especially for those who can develop in it and create themes and tools.

And if you’re interested in photography it can be useful, but many/most designers/projects work with commercial photographers.

I do design and photography, but that’s because I’ve been passionate about it for 25+ years.

I don’t really want to get too far “under the hood” as I am, sad to admit, a bit of a techno-tard.
So it’s not really necessary to learn Javascript? I must say, I’m a bit relieved!
Photography sounds way better. Maybe I’ll look into that instead.

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Sure, that could work well for you. BUT, let me warn you, it’s a very hot kitchen, highly competitive with a lot of dedicated individuals.

It could be useful to know how it’s done, that could contribute to your toolbox as a designer. Knowing how to edit images to make them better in Photoshop, definitely a helpful skill.

And I think it’s great that you’re studying print design. Web design is the hot ticket and the hordes are going there, but I think there will always be a market for print.

And… think package design. It’s not sexy, but next time you go into a grocery store, take a look at all the packages. They were created by graphic designers.

Package design has a whole slew of sub-skills to learn, but depending on your location, it’s a good ability to have.

Okay, thanks for the heads up about photography. It doesn’t really sound like something one can “dabble” in.
Graphic design is what I really want to do, and I studied that last year, but I thought to get a handle on the print side of things would be a good idea too.
As I mentioned before, I’ve started to learn a bit of 2D animation, I am really enjoying it, but there is so much to learn! How far do you think I need to take that?

If you enjoy animation, I think it would be a great skill to have! Animation isn’t going away any time soon.

Sure not my area - I took a couple of Flash classes and absolutely did not like it.

If you’re hoping for employment, I would suggest you search on for jobs where you live. That should show you the skills that are in demand, and which ones you should concentrate on.

Another useful skill is video editing. It may fall under journalism, but videos aren’t going away either. :wink:

Video editing. Got it.
Employment in a graphic design studio is definitely what I’m after ATM, all these other skills are more for when I eventually start freelancing. I’ve heard that the more hats you can wear as a freelancer, the better?

Not necessarily.
If you do one type of thing very very well, enough to establish a rep as being a pro, you don’t have to do everything. For instance, I know designers in my weird little corner of the world who have never written a line of code for a client (though they may have created their own website, but even that, I’m willing to bet a few hired out to make it perfect.)

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