Where do I start?

I just graduated with a BA in art education, and am not feeling great about that career path. I’ve always loved graphic design and would love to move towards that field. I basically have two questions:

  1. Is going to grad school necessary/highly reccomended? I want to make sure it’s worth the debt I’d be put in…
  2. Is there a way I can practice using the adobe suite through some sort of free alternative?
    I have photoshop but nothing else. I can’t afford paying the monthly fee for illustrator and indesign. Is there any way I can work towards understanding these programs or do I have to suck it up and find a way to pay?
    Thanks in advance!

I don’t think any of us here would recommend a Masters if you have never done work in the field. An employer would look at it and even though you are entry level would figure you’d want too much money. Besides, it’s highly recommended that if you do a masters after a design degree, that it is complimentary, not more of the same. For instance a Masters in Marketing or writing or business or UI/UX or Tech Theatre (yep theatre) or even Museum Studies. You don’t need a Masters in Graphic Design. You should already have the theory.

You’re proposing to move out of a field where there’s a shortage of good professionals and into a field where the market is completely oversaturated and where the starting to mid-range pay is typically less than a K-12 teacher makes. I’d think long and hard about doing that.

After my BFA and working professionally for about ten years in design, I went back for an MFA (also in design). Every school is different, but the BFA was all about learning the basics. The MFA was different since the assumption was that all the masters candidates were already proficient and fully qualified to be working professionals. As a result, the program was almost entirely self-directed but under loose supervision from one’s graduate committee. I studied publication design and typography for two years without much input from my professors since they had less experience in the field than I did.

It was sort of a joke, but it wasn’t a waste of time. I matured and learned things about myself in graduate school that are difficult to explain or quantify. However, it would have been a complete waste of time if I hadn’t first gotten my BFA since I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was doing. Anyway, most graduate-level design programs still require a rather extensive portfolio and in-person review to establish a prospective student’s qualifications and abilities.

Now, if you wanted to go back and get an MA or an MFA is a studio discipline of some kind, like painting and drawing, you could likely do that with your MA in art education — assuming, of course, you were pretty good at drawing and painting. Then again, if you’re looking at job prospects, there aren’t too many professional fine artists out there making a good living, so you’d likely end up falling back on your teaching credentials.

As for bettering one’s job prospects in design with an MFA, not too many employers care about it. Even so, it shortens the path to a management position at many larger companies. And for those companies that do want someone with an MA or MFA, the competition isn’t nearly as stiff as it is when competing with the hordes of Associate and BA design graduates from partially accredited, commercial schools that have popped up online and in suburban locations around the country. But like I said, heading straight for the Masters without already strong credentials in design might be a fruitless endeavor.

Do you have your MA in teaching already? If not, it might be good to look into the various graduate programs available at various universities. For the past several months, I’ve been working as the communication & marketing director at a university’s college of education. It’s primarily a graduate school (MAs and PhDs), and there are some pretty interesting things going on in education if you specialize and want to avoid the standard K-12 teaching routine.

As for the Adobe suite of software, learning it without actually using the software would be a bit like learning to play the piano without having access to a piano. The learning primarily occurs during practice.

I dunno about comparing Adobe to Piano.
You can learn the basics with some of the lower cost software like inkscape or the Affinity products, just as you can learn to play the piano on a cheap, box-store electric keyboard. But there is still a learning curve when going to the real thing. The theory might be there, but the technique will be a good deal different.

Thanks for the feedback. Pretty dissapointing in all honesty, but I’m glad you were blunt. I definetely don’t want to be making any big mistakes. I don’t have an MA, I just got my BA. I have a background in drawing and painting; I don’t know how good I am compared to all others my age but I was better than most in my classes (I’m sure at least partially because it is not a school known for their art program). I know teaching is secure and relatively stable, so I’m glad I have it to fall back on. I’m just not feeling like I want to do this for my whole life (it’s draining, confining, leaves no time for personal work, I don’t feel suited for it, and I didn’t enjoy student teaching) so I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. Thanks again, I’ll keep thinking.

I see, thanks for your feedback!

Here’s another thing far too many design students find out far too late.
Graphic design isn’t about Art. You say you like drawing and painting, which is all well and good, I happen to believe a graphic designer should know how to draw. But the Art side of Graphic Design is more about using your ability to “see” artistically while actually communicating what your client needs to communicate to their customer base demographic. The job is more a communication puzzle to be solved rather than application of your Art. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that as a GD you get to be all artistically creative. You will find yourself constrained by the realities of having to do business in a capitalistic world. Your art has to make your client money, or it is not successful.

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Yes, but I wouldn’t put the Affinity suite in the same category as Inkscape or compare it to a cheap piano keyboard. In some ways, the Affinity software is superior to and simpler to use than the Adobe counterparts. If Adobe weren’t the de facto standard, I’d likely choose Affinity over Adobe more often than not.

That’s neither here nor there, but @yoidki, you mentioned the Adobe software being financially challenging, which it is. As PrintDriver said, practicing on other similar software in light on not having Adobe CC is doable. The three Affinity products (equivalent to Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) are only $50 apiece with no monthly fees. Unfortunately, their special half-off, $25 pricing ends today, but if you hurry, it’s still available. For what it’s worth, I’ve recently seen job announcement requiring Affinity product proficiency right along side Adobe CC proficiency. There’s enough similarity between the Affinity and Adobe suites, that moving from one to the other isn’t all that difficult.

The creativity needed to solve those communication puzzles is, like art, a creative endeavor, so even though graphic design isn’t about one’s art, it does involve many of the same creative processes. There’s also the creativity (or frustration) that occurs when working with a client or employer. It’s often a matter of educating clients and employers and/or selling them on new solutions that they can’t quite envision themselves.

For example, a client might come to me saying she needs a brochure with photos of horses. After studying the problem, it becomes apparent that a better, more effective solution might be a ten-second video of horses to play on their website and social media accounts. Some clients are totally open to new ideas. Others much less so and regard designers as their paid hired hands rather than as professional experts.

All this considered my approach to my art still plays a role. I’m good at certain styles and not so good at others, and that’s largely a matter of me having personal interests in those things that appeal to me and neglecting those things I have little interest in pursuing. I also need to rely on my own artistic judgment regarding what works aesthetically. If I’ve recently become enamored with a new typeface or color combination, those things will typically work their way into my design work in ways that not only placates my artistic urges but also works for the client.

My comment re Art is the same as it always is.
Far too many design students find out after graduating then getting into their first job that “OH! You mean I can’t do whatever I want?” In college, GD students are given far too much latitude in their selection of projects and way too much leeway in interpretation. A good number find out that doing “styles” they don’t like or being constrained by Brand Guidelines is not for them. After sinking over $40K into a degree.

If all you’re doing is saying, “I don’t want to teach K–12, but I do want to be a designer,” well, with those kinds of all-encompassing thought processes, yeah, the prospects could look disappointing since all the nuances are overlooked — nuances that might contain possibilities where you could be ideally qualified by leveraging your education degree with a design degree.

You mentioned a Masters Degree in design. There might very well be a good program at some university that specifically caters to individuals like yourself. That wasn’t my experience, but that’s not to say my MFA program is like all others. Have you checked around?

With your BA, you already have your general education classes out of the way, so you might find a school where you could get another BA or a BFA in design in just a couple of years rather than four. Instead of a Bachelors and Masters degree, you’d have two Bachelors degrees, but so what; it would still look pretty good on a resume.

Just this morning I came across a job announcement on LinkedIn that was labeled as “Instructional Designer.” It was a position at one of the online learning platforms (Skillshare or Pluralsite or something), that needed someone to design the visuals that accompany online learning courses. Someone with a BA in teaching and a BA in graphic design could be an absolutely ideal candidate for a job like that.

Don’t give up so easily. Just go into it with your eyes wide open then explore all the possible options, as well as the pitfalls. Approach it as a design project where you’re researching the possibilities for your own future. Then develop a realistic strategy on how to get there.

Adobe does offer a free trail for 30 days. Additionally you can get free software alternatives. These programs work similarly, but are not widely used professionally. I’d suggest getting them to “mess around” and practicing general concepts within design before you invest in Adobe’s products.

I’d also urge you to read up on design as much as possible. Graphic design is not a licensed profession. With enough hours put it, you could do it freelance. This is the long way to build a career, but it is possible with a lot of effort.

My no-cost (except time) recommendation is to take one of these free online graphic design courses, using either the Adobe software trials or free software and read a few books on the topic of design before you consider a career change.

I find that many people enter graphic design thinking it is the same as being a graphic artists. I’d also suggest you read this article, “Graphic Artists vs. Graphic Designer,” for a basic understanding of the difference.

OK, thanks. I might have misunderstood your original reply. Those are good ideas and I appreciate your time and advice!

Thanks for those, I’ll definetly take a look! I did actually do one of those courses, on ShawAcademy and I just want to say incase anyone comes across this, don’t do it. They make it very difficult to cancel the trial and will try to sneak as much money out of you as possible. :sweat_smile: So I’m a bit wary of those courses now but maybe I was just a little stupid. Thanks again!

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