Monday, June 18, 2012

Tips for New Graphic Designers & Illustrators

This September, I will start my tenth year of designing professionally (I started working while in college, designing and illustrating handbills & posters for Electric Factory Concerts via the promotion company GoodieGoodie)

<------------My first paying illustration/design job ( I still love the mule!)
I also recently celebrated 7 years of designing consumer products, for a variety of national retailers like Walmart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond and Michaels.  

So, while I am still learning something new almost everyday,  I'd also like to think I've learned enough to share some tips to anyone just starting out, or thinking of starting out in freelance design. Here are 4 quick, but important tips for new Graphic Designers and Illustrators....

 1)  NEVER WORK FOR FREE: You probably went to an expensive school to learn how to design and if you are anything like myself, you are tens of thousands of dollars in debt (or more). You have great color & design sense, so stop devaluing yourself and start earning something, NOW. And no, "free exposure", and "a word of mouth recommendation", doesn't count as compensation. Why? Because if you do a good job, those things come automatically. If you do a good job, and you do it for free, you will get a reputation as the person who will work for free, and people will come to you looking for free or cheap work. Stop the cycle! And for those of you still in school, I'd caution against unpaid internships for the same reason (Jessica Hische wrote a fabulous piece about this on her blog, you can check it out HERE).   
~A small side note, while I am against working for FREE, I am not against working for TRADE, I have have several successful and satisfying trades, one time in particular that stands out is a job I did for a yoga studio (where I was already spending my money) which resulted in me getting 8 months of classes. Just make sure you you are trading for something you will use and that the trade is for an equal value of your design work. Also, limit yourself to a small number of these per year, because the world runs on $, and your landlord, electric company, and credit card provider is not going to accept a barter.

2) TIME YOURSELF: If you know how long it takes you to work on something, then you will be able to price jobs more accurately and ensure you are getting fairly compensated. Be sure to keep records of the time you spent even AFTER the job has ended and the client has been billed, so you can refer to it later, when you get a similar job. I just designed my first annual report for a client. While I've never done an annual report before, I had designed a similar size program book for a conference last year, so I was able to refer back to this and get a good gauge of how long it would take me. For years, I would write my time down on a scrap of paper that would go into the trash whenever I cleaned off my desk. But recently I discovered a free & easy to use online timer, Slimtimer, that makes keeping track of my jobs much easier. I put all of my jobs into Slimtimer and run reports at the end of the week. If you are not a fan of Slimtimer, there are other timer programs out there, get one and use it!

3) DON'T PUT LARGE-SIZED WORK ON THE INTERNET: We've all used google image search to find pictures for inspiration, ideas, and research, etc. But there is also a large population of people who assume that anything on the internet is free for them to use however they please. One only has to do a search on etsy for "toy story invitation" to see an example of how many people are attempting to make $ from images they found on the internet but have no rights to use. The larger the image you put on the internet, the easier it will be for someone to take it and re-use it without crediting you. While putting a watermark is a good start (especially in this age of pintrest), just as important is making sure everything you post is at or below the standard web size of  480px by 640px at 72dpi. To me, even that size is too big - on this blog I try to post images much smaller, around 350px. This is more a concern for illustrators than designers, but still something to watch out for.  

4) LEARN AS MANY PROGRAMS AS YOU CAN: When you first set out on your graphic design/illustration career, you meet new people, who when finding out your background, will immediately ask, "Can you make ...........for me?" -and you want to be able to say "YES!" Once you've been at the design game for awhile and have specialized your talents and stabilized your income, you can safely turn down jobs that are boring, low-paying, or out of your comfort level. But for now, you need the experience, the word of mouth referrals, and yes, the money. I'll going to share a story one teacher told me (and which I heard a few different versions of from other teachers). This teacher was an illustrator and a high profile client loved his work, and asked if he could make a flash movie for them. He said yes, never having opened flash before. He gave himself a couple weeks before the project started to learn the program using the tutorials and looked up tips anytime he got stuck. The movie came out great, the client was thrilled, he expanded his skills and he got a flash movie for his portfolio to attract more clients. So don't be daunted by something you'd never tried before, if you learned Photoshop,with a little effort you can learn whatever else comes your way, too.
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