Graphic Artists: 5 Worthwhile Pursuits to Take Your Career to the Next Level
You’ve seen the iconic Swoosh on track shoes, running shorts, and jerseys the world over. But did you know that Nike’s iconic logo was designed by a graphic arts student? Carolyn Davidson was studying at Portland State University in 1971 when she was hired by Nike founder Phil Knight to come up with an image for his shoes. She came up with a simple, elegant design that embodies speed and motion. Davidson was paid only $35 for her work—but the success of the swoosh brought her shares in the company and years of freelance work.
Davidson has a lot to teach the graphic arts students of today: Using your connections and putting in your best work, even on low-paying side jobs, can pay off in the long run. If you haven’t yet reached the graphic arts job of your dreams, there are steps you can take to jump-start your career.
When you’re pursuing a graphic design Associate’s degree, your time is limited outside of school and work. But any investment of time you put into becoming a better graphic designer can pay off in an enjoyable career. These five worthwhile pursuits will help you focus your energy and bring your career to the next level.
1. Find a Mentor
Great artists throughout the ages began as apprentices—Rembrandt, da Vinci, and van Gogh, to name a few. As a modern artist yourself, follow their examples and find yourself a mentor who has been in the graphic design industry for years. A good mentor will answer your questions, tell you about job opportunities, and give you insight into the graphic arts field. Ask your mentor to critique your work. Bring your best design and have your mentor pick it apart—learning how your best work can improve will help you elevate your skills.
If your mentor is willing, collaborate on a project. Working with someone more experienced than you will teach you new techniques and skills—and give you a chance to show off your own abilities.
2. Stake Your Claim
Wherever you are in your career or education, pick a specialty early. Do you want to focus on web design? Print design? Or logo design? While it is important to have a good understanding of design principles that span across different types of projects, picking a design specialty and working at it will make you stand out on job applications. Study great examples of design in your specialization and practice your own projects regularly, even if you don’t currently have an assignment for school or work.
3. Read All About It
Become fully immersed and versed in the graphic arts world by reading great books on design. Expose yourself to the best thinking and design in your field, and you’ll see your work and portfolio improve. Ask your professors, coworkers, or mentors for recommendations. We recommend The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy, and The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher. Creative Boom and Creative Bloq have great suggestions as well.
4. Share Your Projects
Start a blog and social media accounts dedicated to your design work. Share what you’re working on, blog about the stories and processes behind your work, and follow graphic artists you admire. Invite your family, friends, coworkers, classmates, and clients to follow you. This is a simple way to create a portfolio that you can share with potential clients—and to attract new freelance clients and potential job opportunities.
5. Aim for 10,000
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, a person needs 10,000 hours of practice before becoming a master in any area. Apply this principle to your career as a graphic artist by getting as much practice and experience as possible. Design every day, and set challenges for yourself: design 30 logos in 30 days, rework old projects, or create a new font. Try online design tutorials that are outside your comfort zone. And spend some time mastering the tools of the trade, including Adobe Photoshop® and Illustrator®. Push yourself and invest time in perfecting your skills, and you’ll build a great portfolio to impress employers.
These five ideas are great pursuits for a graphic artist looking to bring their career to the next level. Whether you’re looking for full-time employment or freelance work, improving your craft and making connections in the field will lead to new opportunities to jump-start your career in graphic design.