Career Story: Graphic Designer For A College Fine Arts Department

Graphic Designer For A College Fine Arts Department

Job Title: Graphic Designer

Type of Company: I work for the external media office at a large university, where our job is to design printed and electronic material that touts the school and helps to showcase its events. Most of the promotions we're involved with are tied to concerts, operas, plays, exhibitions and student shows.

Education: BFA, Graphic Design, School of the Museum of Fine Arts •• BFA, Graphic Design, Tufts University •• MFA, Graphic Design, Boston University

Previous Experience: I started as a production assistant for a bi-monthly publication called "Nursing Spectrum." After returning to school to get my bachelor's degree, I did some freelance design work. Later on, I worked at an architectural firm as their graphic designer and, towards the end of my tenure, as head of marketing. I'm in graduate school full-time now, and I am currently working at the school's external media office producing posters, brochures, and ads.

Job Tasks: Typically, when I arrive at work I find some copy on my desk for a new project, usually, though not always, an ad or a poster. The copy gives the detailed specifications for the job: what size it has to be, what it's about, which colors, fonts, and images I'll have to use, and the due date. Ordinarily, I check in with my boss to let her know that I've read this. Then I get to work. Sometimes if the subject matter is unfamiliar to me, I'll research it online to get a better idea what I'm working with.

The software I use is the Adobe graphics suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Sometimes I use only one of these programs; others, I use all of them. Once I've designed several concepts (four to six, typically) I e-mail the group to my boss so she can take a look at them. She selects one she likes, suggests edits and changes and sends it back. Using her feedback, I tweak the design and re-submit it for approval.

After we've agreed on a final version, we send the file off to the printers. They send us a proof, which we closely examine to make sure that there aren't any typos, color issues, or general problems. Once we sign off on it, the file goes to press, and the prints are sent to our office for distribution. Depending on the difficulty of the job and other factors, a project like this can take up to two weeks.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are getting to create something beautiful and interesting and learning about the different plays and operas that I'm designing for.

The parts I like least are the deadlines (very very tight at times) and not having my creative ideas reciprocated. Sometimes, for example, I'll design something that I absolutely love; I feel as though I've nailed it completely, only to find out that my boss doesn't like it and complains it's too bold or too different, and I have to go back to the drawing board.

Job Tips: It's very important to learn all of the programs and software possible. The Adobe Creative Suite, which includes InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Acrobat, is especially important to know. When I was in high school they didn't offer graphic design courses. Now they do, and I would encourage anyone interested in this profession to start taking them as early as possible, so you can start to learn the programs and experiment with design.

To familiarize yourself with all aspects of graphic design, take a production assistant job so that you can see the inner-workings of the process, i.e. file prep and pre-flighting, print detailing and issues, etc. Just after you graduate, these are often the best jobs to get: they give you lots of experience fast. Be sure, too, to take advantage of any graphic design internships that come your way.

And finally, when you graduate from college and start to work as a graphic designer, be aware that not all jobs offer the same scope for creativity. Working at a newspaper designing classified ads won't be nearly as exciting as working at an advertising agency with high-profile clients.

Additional Thoughts: In order to be a successful graphic designer, you've got to have thick skin, because your work is under constant scrutiny. You have to be good too at time management, since deadlines always loom. Having good people skills can help you as well; you're always trying to sell your design to others and convince them that your vision is correct.

And finally, you have to have "it." I know this sounds vague, but "it" is really just another word for having a great eye and talent. With so many people in the graphic design profession these days, it has become extremely competitive, and to be recognized you have to have the talent.

I cannot emphasize the importance of learning web design and animation -- these are in high demand and will only continue to grow! I wish I had learned more about them. Take as many classes in these areas as you can!

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