This ad appeared recently on my local Craigs List job board under the category for graphic design. It drives home the point that working as a graphic designer is as much about proving your value, as it is about creating valuable work.
In the article “29 Things Designers Need to Know + 8 Ingredients for Success,” author Doug Bartow ranks:
6. LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’
Some of your best design business decisions will ultimately be saying “no” to clients or projects. Unfortunately, it usually takes a few disasters to gain the experience to know when to walk away from an impending train wreck.
Carefully measure the upsides of any project—creative control of your design work, long-term relationship-building and gross billing—versus the potential downsides—the devaluation of the creative process, being treated like a “vendor” and ongoing scope creep (where the volume of what you’re expected to deliver keeps expanding, while the schedule and budget don’t).
Who can argue with this advice? The pitfalls of crowdsourcing, spec work, and unpaid internships have been written about and discussed at length among graphic designers. However, graphic designers and students might feel confused as they wade through articles that seem to contradict some of this advice. The 2012 info graphic, “The State of Graphic Design,” is based on a survey conducted by Smartpress.com who claim aggregated the opinion of dozens of the best and most-talented graphic designers in the industry. Among the results, survey participants ranked Internships as the best way to gain experience with online tutorials as a close second, and design school coming in third. While the article doesn’t specify if the internships being referred to are part of a student’s education, or are paid internships—one can make the assumption that not all of them are. What’s interesting is that many design jobs advertised require a Bachelor’s degree; and even more interesting is that many of the participants in the survey are graduates from reputable design schools, like Jessica Walsh, a recent graduate of RISD. This leaves me wondering how many graphic designers are in a state of confusion about how to prove their own value.
Recently, I was approached to design a website through a referral from another client. The new potential client was highly complimentary about my creativity and design skills, she assured me she loved my work, and I believe she was being sincere. However, when it came time to discuss the budget, she only wanted to barter. When I explained to her that I wasn’t in a position to barter for services, she politely thanked me and told me she had a friend who was a graphic designer who would do the work for free. While she really wanted to work with me, she couldn’t pass up the free work—leaving me feeling like I was in “Loserville.”
How often do you feel like you are living in “Loserville?” How do you navigate these murky waters? And most importantly, what advice do you give students and young designers who are just starting out?
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