I get lots of emails from students who need to interview a graphic designer for class. Are you a design student trying to get your assignment done? Below is a list of informational interview questions that students have asked me. You can steal them. If your question isn’t there, send me an email. I’ll answer you and add your questions to this list. Or if I’m in a super busy stretch, I’ll jot you a note saying I’m tied up so you can find someone else for your homework.
I grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota. I attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with a B.S. in Design Communication. (That was the name of their graphic design program at the time.) I’ve worked at a corporate in-house creative department, a small design agency, and am now self-employed.
I liked drawing realistic pictures as a kid, and reading art history books. I also liked science. I wavered between chemistry and graphic design when choosing a college major. Fine art never tempted me—those people are weirdos! (I jest. I have huge admiration for fine artists, but my brain is very practical.) Plus I wasn’t sure how to get a job if I went that route. I finally picked graphic design, because it’s about working out a puzzle in a visual way.
I worked in Rayovac’s in-house creative department in Madison, WI, where I made a lot of coupons for batteries and flashlights. Also some packaging and store displays for retailers like Sears and Walmart. But mostly coupons.
Not knowing how to format files properly to send to a printer. (But I learned quickly from coworkers).
Logos, brand identities with style guides, icons, business stationery, corporate brochures, sell sheets, ads, websites, trade show displays, packaging, patterns for fabric, ribbon, wallpaper, furniture, and dishes.
My favorite projects are logos; I love the challenge of crafting a useful little morsel of design. I dislike websites because I’m a control freak who hates when things can move around. I want words and pictures to stay where I put them. Plus technologies and best practices keep changing, and I don’t have enough interest in this area to develop methodologies and stay up to date. Web design is a specialty in itself.
3 weeks to 3 months.
Lots. They give input during the discovery and strategy portion of a project, and at every new revision.
40-50, more when there are side projects or pro bono work.
Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop
For me, about 95%. 5% is sketching with a pencil or jotting notes.
Cats! Dogs are stinky and birds poop on you. I say this from experience.
See this page.
Most projects have a timeline from the get-go. I write it into my proposals to keep both me and the client on track. Deadlines are my friend, since without them I’d probably just read novels all day long. I usually start at 9 or 10 a.m. and work until 6 or 7 p.m.
Most clients search online for a designer and find my website. I’ve tried to optimize it for search engines and do a good job explaining what I do. A few projects come through referrals from previous clients or fellow designers.
While I was still working at a design firm, a couple people approached me on the side. First friends, and then strangers the friends referred to me. At some point I sent a group email to acquaintances saying I was taking projects if they knew someone in need of design help. With a link directing them to my portfolio online. I can’t remember who my first paying client was! Probably an acquaintance who needed something done cheaply, who already knew me and was willing to give me shot.
From there, I worked on making my website better. It does some of the convincing for me. With prospective clients today, I guess the only other convincing I do is to ask questions to get at their problem, and then say whether I think I can help them with that or not. You’d be surprised how far asking good questions will get you. People just want to know that you “get” them and care about their problem. And I will tell them if I’m not the right fit for their project.
Don’t worry about a lack of experience, as long as you show genuine interest in the client, can confidently explain a process for working through their project, and have good portfolio pieces (even if they’re student projects or for fictional organizations. Might be fun to make concept art for Dunder Mifflin, the Rosebud Motel, or Willy Wonka’s candy company if you need a design prompt). Many smaller clients won’t mind your lack of experience if your work looks good.
If you do need more experience and portfolio examples, pick a small non-profit who desperately needs help with branding. (Tons do.) Work with them for free on a project.
The number of specialties and niches out there. When I started out, I had no idea there were companies that only make websites for yoga studios, or people that only fine-tune the letterforms in established logos.
Working for great organizations, doing smarter, more beautiful branding projects. With a sprinkle of surface design, which is a different exercise altogether and a fun change of pace.
It has helped to realize design is about meeting objectives, not about self-expression. If a client doesn’t like something I’ve made, it’s not about me. It’s about a mis-alignment between the work and what the stated or unstated needs are. But honestly, it feels vulnerable to put ideas out there. Clients can put you on cloud nine, dunk you into a vat of humiliation, or make you want to smash your mouse with a hammer. Take a walk, vent to a patient friend, or write a funny, bitingly sarcastic letter in a Word file (NOT AN EMAIL) and then immediately trash it. Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel better tomorrow, ready to hear the critique and look for the truth in it, because there always is some.
The challenge of using a few images and some text to communicate as clear a message as possible.
Mid-century posters, album covers, and textile patterns; modernist corporate logos from WWII through the 80s, Scandinavian furniture and prints.
Advantages: I love what I do. It’s flexible; I can choose which clients I want to work with and set my own hours. I pick the music and the coffee. I can work directly with the client instead of through intermediaries like account managers. There is the potential to earn more, since I don’t have a fixed salary. I’m the boss!
Disadvantages: I’m the boss! Being self-employed means I have to do ALL the functions of the business, including finding leads, sales, scheduling, project management, estimates, billing, tech trouble-shooting, etc. I am not naturally good at some of those things, and some parts are boring.
Seeing it used in the real world is my favorite part.
It is what you make it. Much of this is within your control based on the practices and boundaries you set. Overall, I’d say medium. There are the stresses of deadlines and having to create on demand. If you’re self-employed, there’s not a steady paycheck so your income might fluctuate. On the other hand, if you love design and feel like it’s a good fit, it’s more likely to feel stimulating than stressful. And as you get more established, there are ways to create a business that has a pretty predictable income.
Curiosity, patience to understand a client and their design problem thoroughly, perseverance to keep working until it’s right.
I work alone from my home office, a room in my house. But designers could also work at desks or cubicles in agencies, coworking spaces, or in large corporate buildings. Their work could be very collaborative in teams with many others, or solo.
Please list 3-4 with brief explanations.
High? Every organization can use a graphic designer.
For getting into graphic design, major in graphic design or design communication. Some of my classes were: art history (I took 5 different ones— that number was required, I think), drawing, design fundamentals, color, typography, packaging, print making, various software classes like Adobe Illustrator. A double major, minor, or elective area of emphasis that would be helpful would be business, marketing, or writing.
If I’m remembering correctly, I’d say 0%.
It’s not necessary and would only create debt. I’d recommend a 2- or 4-year undergrad degree, internship, and starting out at someone else’s company.
Work in-house in the creative department of a corporation, or at a design firm where there are other designers. I would absolutely recommend working with others instead of being the only designer in your first job. You need folks to show you the ropes.
Yes. Having a student portfolio was required for graduation from my university, and showing a portfolio of past work was needed any time I applied for a job.
I think anyone coming to design later in life, who isn’t a young grad, is starting with a leg up. Life and work experience of any kind will make you a better designer. You’re more familiar with how people think. You have more life experiences to draw on, and maybe some other work or business knowledge. So you’re better able to get into the mind of the end user of the design, because you’ve seen more. It will help you design better. Super! Take classes and do the same stuff listed above.
Yep. Email me.