As I discussed in last week’s blog post, “Owning Photoshop Doesn’t Make You a Graphic Designer,” design is about much more than knowing the latest software. The real meat of this profession is in knowing how to use the tools effectively to communicate visually.
A friend’s husband recently finished a six-month course in Adobe CS4 and wanted some objective feedback on his portfolio. The following is an edited version of the message I sent after reviewing his work. All names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the criminals.
While I appreciate the fact that you’re taking steps to improve your technical skills, it is clear you haven’t been exposed to the basic principles of graphic design. Here are a few things you can do right now to improve your chances of landing a job in the design field:
But first, are you experienced?
I see a good bit of pro bono work in your future. Research non-profits in need of a logo update or website revamp. Hit up your friends for gigs jazzing up their Twitter backgrounds. Take any opportunity that presents itself to practice, practice, practice! You should be having dreams of logos (and Comic Sans nightmares).
Get thee to a library, post haste!
Get your hands on as much reading material as possible, both on- and offline. You don’t have to stick to graphic design either. There are endless sources of inspiration in books on interior, landscape and industrial design; not to mention architecture, painting and photography.
Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad… I’m hot for teacher.*
Take more classes, but not software classes. Check out your local university or community college for informal courses on everything from corporate identity to web layout. It also wouldn’t hurt to take a drawing class while you’re at it. Believe it or not, many of the basic elements of design such as line, shape, color and texture can be learned and practiced without a mouse! (Shocking, isn’t it?)
Separating the wheat from the chaff
I have one last word for you Newbie: Antidisestablishmentarianism. Just kidding, the word is Typography. I can’t stress this enough: A deep understanding and respect for type is what separates the pros from the rest. Furthermore, new designers with typographic skills have a considerable advantage as they enter today’s competitive workforce. The essence of graphic design is communication, and we communicate through language. New designers often treat text as an afterthought—a side dish—when it should actually be served as the main course. (I believe most words are vegan.)
When it comes to graphic design, software is a mere footnote that can be learned in a matter of weeks. The principles and elements of design can take years to master, and only the determined will make it. Good luck Newbie, and remember: If you want to design, you’ve got to do the time. Class dismissed.
*Coming soon… ProfessorWeenie’s Graphic Design Lessons for Beginners. This series of pdfs will teach the basic principles of graphic design and is meant for folks with little to no design background. That might include small business owners or PR/marketing folks without designers on staff. I’m also hoping for at least one astronaut.