Field Guide — Future Directions By Kerryn Smith
As any freshly graduated design student can tell you the first challenge you will face out in the real world is finding work in your chosen profession. It can be daunting to take the plunge and start your professional career; something that will define your life for years to come. Starting off, the job hunt might not yield a whole lot of choice – at least not for the type of jobs you were hoping for – but that being said it shouldn’t mean you lose sight of the work you really want to do. Even as you take the job as a junior Mac Op or design intern, continue to consider the type of designer you want to be and the type of career you want to have. It’s not necessarily something you can achieve right away but you never know when the opportunity might arise. Design offers you a multitude of options when looking for work but putting things into simpler terms I present you with four main categories or career paths you can peruse as a designer, shedding some light on the differences between working for a design studio, design agency or making your own way as a freelancer. Hopefully you can take away from this a better understanding of the possibilities that await you in the real world of design and can begin to think about your own aspirations and future career goals.
As a freelancer you are basically your own boss. You can range from contracting within an agency or studio, to working with your own clients. For designers this career path can be regarded as the perfect state of practice but is usually most successful for experienced professionals, who already have practice with how to fully operate like a business.
The harsh truth is that freelancing is hard work. You are responsible for managing every aspect of the business, from finding clients, writing contracts and working with budget constraints, to time management and invoicing. You have to be disciplined and proactive in making connections and marketing your skills to get clients.
Benefits you can enjoy in this career path are more flexibility in pretty much all aspects of your workday, choosing where and when you wish to work and with whom. It’s not hard to see the appeal of working for yourself but be mindful of the pitfalls.
Certainly not a career path for the faint hearted but if you are willing to trade a certain level of income security it can be a highly rewarding and freeing experience.
An in-house designer is simply described as a graphic designer who works exclusively for a specific company. Working in a role like this will often mean you will be responsible for the upkeep and growth of a specific brand or product.
As a designer you may find a career like this restrictive or repetitive where each design job is the same and fails to offer you with new creative challenges. It is also more likely that design changes will have to be approved by the higher ups before being put into actions, making work-flow more stilted. You will also notice limitations on creative freedom and design application due to pre-existing brand guidelines and tight schedules, but this can help you to develop more focused skills and experience.
However, there are also benefits to working in a role like this. You are usually afforded more opportunities when employed as part of a larger organization and may develop more of a sense of community within the job, making long-term friendships and business connections. It is also a career which offers the security of working as an employee, with a regular pay-check and stable schedule of work.
Making a career as an in-house designer has many pros and cons attached to it, but ultimately only you can figure out whether the pros outweigh the cons and whether this type of role is right for you.
Working for a design studio is usually an obvious and appealing first step for most graduate designers.
A design studio is defined as a small collective of Creatives, sometimes as small as two people, whose main focus is on the design and production of each project they get.
Working in this sort of role expect to work with a smaller group of people, and have a faster turn-around in projects, giving you a higher range of creative challenges.
Most studios tend to specialise in a particular service or niche of design due to their limited resources. In this case you would be limited in the type of projects you are exposed to, but on the flip side it will help to develop your skills in particular areas. You could expect a more nurturing environment in a studio, with less people in the team you are likely to be involved in more of the important decisions and given more responsibility on projects.
Working with a small team may also likely mean longer hours and overtime will probably be expected when deadlines approach.
Agencies consist of a larger group of people and usually are service based, having multiple departments with each one dedicated to a different kind of service, such as; design, marketing and advertising. They have the ability to take on larger projects and manage larger budgets. There would also be a clear hierarchy of command, with the final word belonging to the highest on the chain.
In the lower positions you can attain as a recent graduate you wouldn’t expected to earn a whole lot of money, but once you have a few years of experience under your belt you can begin to work your way up the ladder into a position with more responsibility and money attached to it. Working for an agency is considered to be a higher stress role than working for a studio.
The agency you work for may be a design or advertising focused one, which will affect the type of career you would have.
A design agency’s main focus could still be on design but they would offer a wider range of services then a studio could. Ranging from both digital and print services, branding, advertising/marketing and even branching out into interior and product design.
An advertising agency’s focus would generally be on marketing and promotional services. While they would have a design department and offer other services they would still typically be focused on advertising and strategy.