Graphic Design: Routes into the industry

On the subject of qualifications, this depends, a degree will certainly help but talent is probably more important as are organisational skills, how you work as part of a team and whether you ‘fit in’ with the other people in the agency/department.

Proficiency in Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator are a must and Freehand and InDesign will also do you a lot of good. If it’s a new media agency then some kind of Flash or Dreamweaver experience will almost certainly be required. If you don’t have experience in certain software packages and an agency likes you and you’re really lucky, they may send you on a training course.

If you are trying to get your foot in the door at a local agency, but lack a folio and/or experience, there are things you can do. Design stuff for your mates: club flyers, CD sleeves, logos, T.Shirts etc. Offer to re-brand your Uncle’s dry cleaning business; make potential employers/clients know that you understand the fundamentals; take a client brief and present your ideas in an attractive and organised way. Invent a bogus company and design a complete set of stationery and a company brochure; design a website and think up an online marketing campaign. Contact a local agency and offer yourself for work experience during the summer holidays. Ask to sit in on client/designer meetings, ask for a ‘real-life’ brief, go away and come back a week later and present your work to the art director and his/her team. They’d be nuts not to want someone around who’s hungry for experience, who’s willing to help out to get ahead (and who can make a decent cuppa).

Network Network Network!!! Go to design conferences and chat to other designers/exhibitors/guest speakers, go to the local club/art-house cinema/gallery/café bar and meet the local movers and shakers. Go and see the best local bands/DJ’s in your town – chances are there’ll be lots of like-minded people in the audience. Target the small to medium sized agencies, contact them and offer to take the art director for lunch [art directors LOVE going for lunch!], infiltrate the local art/music/independent film scene [delete as appropriate] and follow up any good leads with a telephone call not more than three days later. After that time, people would’ve forgotten you. Don’t be a pain in the arse though – people won’t give you the time of day. Remember that everyone started somewhere and even the top designers/art directors still need to network.

Your portfolio

If you have lots of copies of your work and you don’t mind losing a few along the way, then leaving your book isn’t a bad idea. If you only have ‘one offs’ then don’t. In this day and age, a good way to make an approach would be via a CD ROM – that way you don’t have to worry about losing work plus whoever you send it too can look at it when they’re ready. Also, the design of the CD ROM itself can be another vehicle to get your message across. Make sure it gets to your intended target and then follow it up with a telephone call no more than 3 days later.

Your own branding

Personally I think it’s worth setting yourself up formally as a business – so instead of Nick Welsh freelance graphic artist and web designer, it’s Mono Industries. It ‘feels’ more professional.

Nick Welsh – bespoke design for print and the internet

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