Why'd you become a graphic designer?

Hey everyone, I’m 25 years old and I’m applying for a scholarship at an art school that I’ve been accepted to recently to major in graphic design. They want it to be 400 pages long (or a whole page long) and they want to know why I want to pursue a career as a graphic designer. I have a few reasons why I want to pursue a career in the field, but I know that they want to know the backstory behind it or big reasons? The thing is that I’m not sure if I have a concrete backstory or motivation for pursuing graphic design in of itself.

I’ve been sitting down and thinking about my reasons for pursuing a career in design, and this is what I’ve written on paper:

I’ve been creating things my whole life

I want to share more of my creativity with other people and I see graphic design as a way to do that

I’ve worked a number of jobs over the years and I’d like to have a career where work barely feels like work.

In detail, I really have been creating things my whole life. Whether it be drawing, sketching, sculpting, starting businesses, etc. I’ve recently gotten interested in graphic design over the past few years but I haven’t had a full chance to delve into the subject and make a big amount of work or learn the programs. I’ve made a handful or less of designs with Canva and have removed a background with another but that’s about it. Getting interested in graphic design was really random for me. For years I wanted to be a visual artist but then I started reconsidering it because I read more about the art industry and I’d like to create art on my own terms, other than what consumers want in the industry. One evening I was just walking with a family member to the store and I had the random feeling that I wanted to pursue a career as a graphic designer. At that moment, in my mind, I literally said “I want to be a graphic designer…” That was it. There were no pegasus horses coming down from heavens singing hymns, or aliens coming down from the skies to take me away. Just the thought. The possibility crossed my mind a few times over the years but I wasn’t interested. It does look pretty cool. It seems nice to use the computer for creative work just as much as drawing honestly, I feel like it would be a little less pressuring if I’m working commercially with a deadline. With sketching, I’m always making sure I get the lines or shades right but with a design, I can literally click the Back button to fix my last problem, still being careful, but it’s a little less stressful. If I make a big enough mess with a drawing then it may be unfixable. I’m also excited about all of the different kinds of shapes, scenarios or things that I’ll put together and come up with. I’m not 100% sure about my motivation for doing it. Graphic design honestly just seems like a job that I would honestly enjoy doing if I were to work in a traditional job setting. I know there would be a lot of work to do but I feel that I would enjoy it or be driven to finish, for the most part.

So this is where you come in. Why did you pursue a career as a commercial artist/graphic designer? Please know that I won’t steal any of your writing, or plagiarize, I’m just trying to get inspiration and see what prompted you all to pursue the career. What motivated you all? Maybe it would help with my own personal essay to see where you all are coming from as well.

Money, fame, fortune, and chicks. It’s not panning out quite like I thought it would.

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It’s better than lifting heavy boxes. Besides, I actually look forward to work every morning.

Unfortunately, far too many students of graphic design find out far too late that this couldn’t be further from the truth. As a designer, you have to put YOUR Art aside. You have to do for the client what will make THEM money. If you want to be creative, stick with Art. If you want to solve someone else’s marketing problems using a skillset that involves creativity, maybe graphic design is for you. Maybe.

You will be constrained by what consumers want in any of the industries your design clients will be in. My usual example is, if you only love doing anime kittens but your client’s customers are only interested in death-metal gore, those kittens ain’t gonna make your client money. Graphic design is all about ROI (Return On Investment.) Someone is paying you $1000 to design some marketing materials. After printing and distributing (thinking old school here) they are out let’s say, $8000. If those marketing materials don’t bring at least $8000 worth of new business The client’s ROI in hiring you is in the red. You don’t get a do over here…

You will also be constrained by existing brand standards, you will be constrained by what is physically realizeable in the real world, and you will be constrained by budgets.

I went into graphic design as the fall back when the illustration and film scenic industry pretty much died (clip art and CGI happened.) After a little less than a year as a designer, I moved over to print production and never looked back.

I illustrate still as a hobby. Screwing up that last section of a pen and ink drawing may seem stressfull, but you always have time to start over. A deadline in graphic design is a deal breaker. If you are not done by your deadline, you cost someone a lot of money. I work now in a weird corner of the industry that is considered “show business.” There is a date and time the curtain goes up, literally, and if the designer hasn’t come through on time, their client is either paying through the nose for rush charges, or they are going to have a minimalistic stage experience for their patrons. Guess who isn’t going to get paid? Guess who isn’t gonna get hired again? And guess how fast the word of mouth gets around out there? There are far too many design students out there right now for the number of jobs available. You are going to have to work hard, be fairly aggressive, and be really good. Otherwise, there are 100s of others to choose from. Again, literally. Any job opening for a graphic designer these days sees upwards from 100 applicants. If you can’t feel passionate enough about the industry to write this letter, do some serious soul searching. I don’t recommend this career for anyone now unless they have a clear path in view beyond the stuff people can now buy templates for online for a dollar.

Downer. I know. But you gotta really want this, you have to aim high and it isn’t going to be easy.

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If you are looking for that, graphic design is the wrong industry for you. “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” Every project I work on I constantly ask myself “How do I make the client happy?” My own personal satisfaction has nothing to do with it. At all. Ever. I’m 56, and I’ve worked in the industry since I was a teenager. Every client I’ve ever worked with is happy when the consumers buy more of their product and they make more money. And if that happens, I get to keep working.

It was the family business. My dad used to make 35mm slide/tape presentations in the years before powerpoint. I learned how to spec type, do paste ups and layouts, process litho film, use a camera, and it paid more than I could make working the cash register at Taco Bell. Throughout high school and university I always worked on newspaper and yearbook, marketing for student activities. People liked what I did, so I got a lot of opportunities for side gigs. And it always paid better than what my peers were making in low wage/entry level service jobs. It just kind of stuck.

My advice is to clarify your goals. Do a lot more exploration before you go down the path of graphic design. Your expectations may not reflect the reality.

The industry has changed over the years and is absolutely brutal right now. People have easy access to tools that let them design things themselves. You used to need training to be able to send things to 4-color print, or to shoot decent photos, or edit video, or make a website. Not anymore. 25 years ago my competition was a handful of other designers in my city. One of the jobs I recently bid on told me, off the record, that they had also received proposals from Ireland and India.

15 years ago I had a strong side income from shooting stock photography. At the time I remember reading the message boards at iStock and everyone was raving about how much money they were making and talking about quitting their jobs to shoot stock full time because it was so lucrative. I started racking up sales an hour after I posted my first image. There were 10 million stock images for sale on the internet at that time. It’s over a billion now, and read the message boards, nobody makes any money. iStock takes 85% of the sale price, and gives away most of my photos at heavy discount to subscribers. I literally get a few pennies for every download. And the downloads are a lot fewer because I’m buried on page 600 of the search results.

In the year 2020… if I was starting out again… knowing what I know now, and the state of the industry… no way would I go into graphic design. I’d do a practical trade instead. Find a job you can tolerate and that pays well. Get your personal satisfaction from hobbies you pursue in your personal time.

I wanted a job where I would enjoy my work. I have the latest software, the whizziest computer, and people keep bringing me interesting things to do. And I get paid. Happy days.

I was in a technical support/service technician training position at a company that manufactured commercial cooking appliances. It was a “company job” I accepted after almost 8 years of experience on the firm’s factory floor. As low man in the department, I inherited the mundane responsibility for authoring and producing technical documents. (I would have to learn how it had been done until that time, and then self-teach from there, as this was during the advent of ‘desktop publishing’.) That little piece of the position became the thing I could do better than anyone ever had, and over the 20 years that followed, I established and ran an in-house marketing and technical communications department that created and produced collateral and documents for the company and 3 of its sister brands.

So uhh, I was forced into it, then owned it.

Good luck to you.

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