What I wish someone had told me before becoming a graphic designer

You've decided graphic design is the career for you. You want to apply your creative streak to something that will allow you to get paid for doing what you love. That's fantastic.

But before you embark on a course or get that job, allow us to share some wisdom from some people in the same field.

We spoke to some of Shillington's own teachers and graduates to find out what they wish someone had told them before becoming a graphic designer. From finding confidence and knowing when to speak up to accepting criticism and confronting fears, this is an essential read if you're about to take the plunge.

1. Take more risks

"When I first started out I think I held myself back and was risk-averse," says Dave Bird, a teacher at Shillington. "I wish someone at the time had said 'take more risks, say yes to things, then figure out how to do it'. Failure is a great way to learn."

2. Find confidence to sell your ideas

"Probably the biggest thing for me was the sudden realisation that my actual design work meant nothing unless I had the communication skills (and confidence) to sell in my ideas," says Hilary Archer, a teacher at Shillington.

3. Fight the good fight

"I wish someone had told me to 'fight the good fight'," says Anthony Wood, Director of Shillington. "You will always have clients who want to make changes you don't agree with and I used to expend all my energy on trying to making every job perfect. But that energy is better put into the jobs and clients that are worth the fight. Sometimes, you just need to let go!"

4. Appreciate criticism

"To understand that critic of my work is not reflective of me as a person," explains Shanti Sparrow, a teacher at Shillington. "I put so much of myself into my designs that negative criticism could feel very personal. I needed to separate myself from my work. I eventually grew to appreciate this feedback because it inevitably made me a better designer."

5. It always feels scary at the beginning

"Every brief and piece of work will always feel scary at the beginning, no matter how experienced you are," says Amee Wilson, a graphic designer and graduate of Shillington. "Self-doubt is completely normal – although it feels horribly uncomfortable you have to trust it will motivate you to create something amazing. Being humble and willing to learn will open way more doors than trying to barge your way in."

6. Ask heaps of questions

"Ask lots of questions," says Emma Stokes, a teacher at Shillington. "Without them, progress is not made. Always go back to the client with questions that will help you better answer a brief and understand who they are and what they want.

"And don't forget to question your own work. Ask yourself – does this answer my brief? Will a user know what that means? Because without questions you get stuck in that little circle of doubt. And you risk making swift misinformed decisions. By staying curious, you won't spend your design career worrying about looking stupid or wasting too much time on work the client won't even notice."

7. Trust your teachers

"Trust your teacher and never take their feedback personally," says Janice Leung, a graphic design graduate of Shillington. "I always found that they were right by the time I got to finished art, even if it didn't make sense at the time.

"Also, when it comes to finding a job, the best advice given to me was my teacher who told me that it's not a case of whether you find a job, but rather – how much you want it. If you want it enough (and work for it), you will land one."

8. Experiment, experiment, experiment

"Experiment with the skills you're taught, and try and expand beyond that in your spare time," advises Zoie May, another successful Shillington graduate. "Be it asking your teachers how to apply a specific effect in Photoshop or trying your hand at different illustration techniques. It could come in handy for your portfolio and future job prospects, and when you go back to full time work you might not have the time or energy (or resources) to practice new artistic endeavours."

9. Push yourself

"Don't be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, whether that's trying a new technique or using a font that you normally wouldn't use," says Julia Zhou. "You'll thank yourself later when you develop into a well-rounded designer who's unafraid of any design project."

10. Great design takes time

"There has never been an extra hour on the beanbag, thinking or resketching, that hasn't resulted in a better design. Great design takes time to refine," says Andrew Hesselden, another Shillington graduate.


All illustrations created especially for this article by the talented illustrator Katie Baxendale

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