My Advice to a Design Graduate
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with a recent design graduate, Sanjana Pandit. She graduated with a BFA in Art & Design from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is exploring options and ideas around full-time work in the design field. She came to me with some thoughtful and curious questions that I have transcribed below:
Insight into Working at a Small Design Agency vs Corporate In-house Design Work?
Both experiences were invaluable to me but were very different. After I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, I worked at small agencies all working with big name clients. I worked with four boutique design agencies before going in-house. It was eye-opening to experience how each design director ran their business. I was able to see what worked for each and what I thought I might do differently. We all have their strengths and weaknesses. I learned so much at each design firm, and try to incorporate the best of all their businesses in my practices.
I then had a chance to work in-house for a high-end corporate company in San Francisco and jumped at the chance to gain experience from the client/corporate side. Again—eye-opening. I now was only immersed in one brand, Pottery Barn’s brand for the teenage market — PBteen. But I got a deep dive into the brand and the behind the scenes workings of retail, catalog, color correction and photo shoots. The biggest take-away now, is that I hired designers to work on projects for the brand. It influenced how I approach working with big brands now, since I know what it is like to be on that side.
Production Work vs Design Work?
Sanjana expressed that she was very interested in creative collaborations in her next job. Which lead me the shock most graphic designers feel in their first job out of college. Collaboration is there, creative projects? Maybe not. There is a lot of production work that happens in design. The most creative projects go to more senior designers and they lean on you do finish up the work. Absorb all of this. If you can nail down the production and understand that foundation, the creative work because easier later. I find that I now design with production in mind and my files tend to be ready to go once approved. Working like this allows me more time for the creative process and allows clients to get final designs quickly once approved. Everyone wins.
Freelance Work vs Full-time Work and Job Security?
My advice is to work for someone else for as long as you can. Learning from experienced professionals is invaluable. For me, that was full-time work at an agency. I did like the security of a steady paycheck and health insurance.
That all said, I don’t buy into the myth of job security when employed full-time. The reality is that corporations have lay-offs and “re-orgs”; agencies can lose their bread and butter client(s) and you might be let go. The best advice is to always have your resume up -to-date and be prepared should this happen, or — more likely — another amazing opportunity arises.
In the meantime, though, be open to freelance work. Agencies and corporations need support and you have the opportunity to experience different work environments quickly. You may find that you enjoy work you never imagined possible. If it’s not a good fit, you can politely bow out. If you are serious about full-time work, however, negotiate time to spend on the job search effort. If the company needs freelance work of 40 hours a week, negotiate 32 — ask for one day a week and spend it focusing on your full-time goals. Dedicate time to make that happen.
Was the Plan Always to Run My Own Business?
I always thought I wanted to work for myself — do freelance work — but I really had no idea how or where to start. This were so different back when I was going to school. I love that you have a minor in Entrepreneurship. That was noteven a word I was aware of back then, let along something you studied in college! I am jealous.
I think there is a big different between freelance designers and running a business. Much of it is mindset and how you help your clients. Freelance designers tend to follow very specific directions around a project. As a business owner, I do that and so much more — I am a partner invested in their marketing outcomes and I help guide projects to success.
Need advice? Reach out for a free 30-minute consultation.