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Starting Out as a Graphic Designer: An Insider’s Look Into the Graphic Design Industry

If you’re thinking about seriously pursuing graphic design as a career, be prepared to experience something you didn’t originally set out to do.

Carleton explained that when he started studying graphic design at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), a lot of people in his class dropped out because it differed from their expectations. Some of his classmates thought they would be drawing and doodling all day.

People Have Different Expectations About Graphic Design

“There is so much stuff to it that isn’t fun. You have to be prepared to look at a screen and move letters around,” Carleton said.

While the company Carleton works for is more inclusive in the design process and the gathering of ideas, it’s not like that for every design firm, he says, adding that he is fortunate to work in a positive, creative environment.

“When you first start, you have to be prepared to push pixels for some company where that’s all they want you to do. They don’t want you to be creative. They want you to be a monkey on a string basically,” he said. “That’s something you have to be prepared for.”

Be Prepared To Do the Seemingly Meaningless Work When Starting Out

Carleton explained that if you’re expecting a career jam-packed with creativity and people patting your back over every assignment, then you’re probably looking at the wrong industry.

“I think it takes some time to get to that point,” he said.

The work pace at a design firm can also be demanding, Carleton warned. Some days, his firm simply waits on the client and other days, they’re working late into the night to meet a deadline.

However, if you’re thinking of working as a freelance artist, Carleton said you have to be extremely careful you don’t burn out due to the unpredictable time frame the lifestyle can bring.

Carleton said he was fortunate to be hired after graduating and it helped him grow into a more proficient designer. It was beneficial for him to continue learning from professionals who’ve been in the industry for a long time opposed to learning lessons the hard way as a freelancer.

“From my point of view, there are a lot of advantages to working for somebody first rather than going freelance because it’s on somebody else’s dime too,” he said. “I hate to say it, but you’re going to screw things up. You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s better to do it in an environment that can handle it.”

Working for a Design Firm Has Many Benefits

“If I was freelancing right now and I did a project for a client where 5000 copies were going to print and something screwed up, the client is going to come to me and say ‘we’re not paying for this’. It’s nice to have the company to fall back on,” Carleton said.

But there are many benefits to working on your own such as choosing your hours and the amount of work you want to put in. You also have more control over the design process and what clients you’d like to work for.

“It just depends. You have to really look at how you want to work. Do you want to work in a more controlled environment or do you want to work with your cellphone always on?” Carleton said.

“It’s very up and down. It’s not a nine to five kind of job. You find yourself working very hard some days and other days, you’re not doing much at all,” he said.

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