It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself flipping through art store catalogs looking for the most impressive portfolio case in an attempt to get some advantage over what seemed like thousands of graphic designers all competing for the same job.

There were countless stories about this graphic designer or that web designer who didn’t speak a word during his interview but simply opened up his book and pushed it towards the interviewer – letting his design work speak for itself.

We’re not going to entertain such fiction here – the reality is very simply. If you want to be a graphic designer – do what you say you’re going to do, on-time and on-budget. It’s not about the art, it’s not about the message – it’s about the business. Without the business – we’re working the checkout at the local convenience store.

If you want to break into the business of design, here’s a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Ignore fear. Put yourself out there and be willing to make mistakes. Show sketches in your portfolio, even random unfinished ideas. People want to know that you’re thinking and more importantly know a bad idea from a good one.
  2. Be afraid. I’m talking about competition here – but not competing with other designers. I’m talking about competing with yourself and pushing yourself to be better.
  3. Design for yourself. Start every project with the kind of enthusiasm you reserve for the projects you love to do – your own. Imagine yourself as the business owner, the consumer, and how you want the piece to look as a customer.
  4. Design for others. Once you’ve got some ideas down on paper – it’s a job half done. Think of it like you’re buying a new suit – it’s still gotta be tailored. Take those new ideas and start to tailor them to your client’s needs. If you’re not thinking about your client by now – you’re in the wrong business.
  5. It’s a business. Designers and artists have been around since the dawn of man and there’s a good reason why we have a reputation for being preposterous and nonsensical. It’s important that respect the business. Be at least 80% billable. Meet your deadlines. Exceed expectations.

This is a great profession and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really exciting people. Sure, there are going to be times you will need to work late, sleep under your desk or design a science project for your client’s kid but nothing beats the feeling of seeing your work in the real world and that makes it totally worth the price.

Now, get out there and slay the dragon.

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