Advice to Design Students, From Someone Who’s Been There

By Sarah Walter

Despite the echoes of your parents’ and high school counselor’s warning about the woes of going to … art school, you’re now finding yourself following your artistic dreams and studying graphic design. At end of your academic career, you’ll probably know at least three programs of the Adobe Suite like the back of your hand, you’ll have a slew of class assignments you consider to be a great portfolio, and soon you’ll have a tangible degree that proves you’ve paid your dues. You’ll be ready to begin your dream job search, score a great position at an ad agency and work face to face with clients! Of course, that means you and all the 10,000 other students receiving their degrees in Graphic Design in the same year. The question begs, how will you set yourself apart from the others in order to make your mark and score the job? Here’s a few pieces of advice to explore before the transition from academia to career:

  • PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE, (even before graduating) to peers and professionals alike. The best way to do this, in my humble opinion, is by joining your local Ad Club and participating in the events. Learn about the companies in your area and introduce yourself to the local professionals. You will thrive with the connections you build. Seek out real-world experience to show your work through internships, mentorships, or pro bono work. Use this work to build your portfolio – use it to show its application in reality and your ability to work with a client.
  • GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. A creative industry such as this is a little strange. Professionalism = boring, so ask for forgiveness, not permission. Find a niche that appeals to you, then develop it and create your own unique style and workflow that brings you above the rest.
  • FEEDBACK IS NOT OPTIONAL. Acknowledging this and taking it with grace will take you far. Compromise is key: be open to change, but hold tight to your convictions. Some clients will absolutely hate what you come up with, even if it may be the most beautiful design in your catalog. Focusing on the problem presented by the client will result in the solution catering to their needs. Be intentional – you are most likely creating a brand identity for a company or individual, not just another school project.

  • NEVER STOP LEARNING. Outside of school, push yourself to further your knowledge and grow your skills for this ever-changing industry. Stalk #GraphicDesign on Instagram to see what others are doing, email subscribe to design blogs (the freebies on some sites are worth it themselves!), watch YouTube tutorials on whatever your heart desires trying to learn, join the AAF Topeka Facebook group and check out what we’re sharing. It may seem stressful to try and learn everything– you certainly do not have to be an expert in everything before making anything. There’s not one person who understands everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We’re all continually learning!

If it seems difficult, it means you’re growing. Keep pushing yourself, putting yourself out there and you’ll make it. Gain a little bit from all experiences, positive and negative.

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