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Fantasy vs. Reality: A day in the life of a graphic designer

By on November 14th, 2017 in Design

Our company teams up with our local high schools and community college to offer job shadowing opportunities for students interested in graphic design. They always come in eagerly anticipating some magical creative environment where designers leisurely ponder infinite fine arts projects to showcase their illustrative prowess. I feel somewhat guilty when I ultimately smash that dream bubble with the reality of a typical day a graphic designer might face.

Wait! You thought that a graphic designer had an easy job too? The typical preconceived notion is that all a graphic designer needs to know is how to draw. Job shadow students seem shocked to learn that they need to pay attention in English and Math class because a graphic design job depends on both subjects. Anyone fearful of Speech class? Hate to break it to you, but you need to have good communication skills in order to sell your ideas. Imagine the looks on those poor students’ faces… DUMBSTRUCK! “What do you mean I have to write copy?”; “Why would I have to convert fractions?”; “My work will sell itself.”

Remember that relaxed atmosphere in the job shadower’s dream bubble? POP! A graphic designer may come to find their work environment is actually more production based than they may be expecting. Teacher deadlines can be very accommodating. Students may have a week to come up with some ideas. From there they may have a couple of weeks to fine tune the concept…then possibly more time to present the final design to the teacher. Guess what? The real world has much tighter deadlines! We live in a fast paced world, and as such, designers find that clients want everything NOW!

Occasionally I come across some online graphics that accurately describe some of the common misconceptions / frustrations that graphic designers face. Here’s one from DesignMantic that really hits home:

I also found this humorous comic by N.C. Winters online and had to laugh. Throughout my graphic design career, I have been in every one of these situations:

Oh, there are those days when I question why I didn’t choose Psychology instead of graphic design. What can I say? I love a challenge! Every profession has its moments when the universe seems to be working against it. Want to know how some of my design friends and I handle the pressure? We turn to the one thing that will surely reverse all the wrong and make everything just as it should be…

A Magic Wand!

OK, so it doesn’t actually work. But in our minds we visualize waving the wand over the problem project and POOF! …Everything is magically as the client requests. We all laugh at the absurdity, but somehow feel a bit better as we hold that glittery wand in our hand.

Keep in mind design work is very subjective. No matter what degree you hold or how much experience you’ve acquired, there will inevitably come a time when someone with absolutely no design background will tear apart your design. I’ve been there – been told someone’s third grader could do a better job. Ouch!

Want to survive a career that is based on people’s opinions? Well, you’ll need thick skin and a wicked sense of humor. Go ahead and form your own opinions of what a graphic designer’s job should look like, and strive to make them a reality! Despite the challenges graphic designers face, working in the field is exciting and ever-changing.