Career Week Gone Wild - The Life of a Graphic Designer
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The Life of a Graphic Designer - Episode 024
What is Career Fair Gone Wild?
You know all those career fairs that you go to in high school, and you listen to doctors and lawyers, and try to think about what you want to do when you grow up? I like to do things a little differently. This is our second installment of Career Week Gone Wild. I try to reach out and interview people that have careers my students are interested in pursing. This week we are speaking with a graphic designer who also happens to be my brother-in-law! We will discuss, what graphic design is, classes to take and what life is like as a freelancer vs an employee. Here are some excerpts from our conversation. You can listen to the whole conversation on the School Counselor Gone Rogue podcast posted above or on Itunes, Stitcher or Google Play.
What is Graphic Design?
Marni: I guess my first question is what exactly is graphic design and is it different from being any other type of artist? Are they the same?
Jason: They're much different. Commonly, I guess, you could call it graphic arts, graphic artists, etc. But the major thing is that you have or you should have a specific goal, specific thing you are trying to communicate to customer, the end user, what have you. While Art, there's not necessarily someone who's dictating something. I mean, the artists could certainly have a goal. They're like, "I'm trying to communicate this feeling, this emotion, this message." And all those things are true for a graphic designer, but there's not necessarily someone dictating it for an artist. A designer is trying to sell a product, sell an idea-- or not even sell it, just communicate a certain something.
Marni: It sounds like graphic design typically might have an end goal or a client that's kind of dictating the vision in some way. Occasionally, you'll whip out your skills for fun but it is a little bit more directed by somebody.
Jason: Yeah, definitely. There should be a goal and the success of it is how clearly you communicate that goal, the call to action perhaps. And that's just whether it be to buy a product, to learn more about something in design, perhaps to go to a certain web page. There should be something clear. Also, a way that it definitely differs from normal art is that there is lots of text.
Did Jason’s Interest Start in School?
Jason’s Start in Graphic Design
Marni: When we go back and we think of little Jason in kindergarten, or first grade, or middle school, were you inspired it at a young age to get into this field?
Jason: Not into the field because I don't even know what that meant. But I always liked to draw, make posters, and stuff like that. I always liked projects I guess. So I guess that I kind of just went into this. I think when I was deciding what I wanted to do, I just learned about graphic design. I was like, "Oh, that kind of goes in what my natural inclinations are." So I kind of did it on a whim to be honest.
Marni: And did you decide that before you entered college or was that kind of planned as you were looking for schools?
Jason: As I was looking. I went to James Madison University; good school. I was considering a couple more. I was considering Virginia Commonwealth. But to be honest, the reason I did not go there is because you needed a portfolio and I did not have one [laughter]. So you did needn't a portfolio for James U, so I was like, "Okay. Fine." VCU, it was the advertising graphic design degree that you needed a portfolio, I believe. And James Madison, you did need a graphic design or a portfolio for their graphic design degree. But I went to kind of a specialized sect called media arts and design. Very similar. I have a minor in graphic design; I have a minor in advertising. But whatever, they're very similar. The programs were the same. I guess my degree was a little more technical in that it also had areas where we did video editing, and stuff like that, and also some web design. So that is the difference. It had traditional design, print but also did web and video. So a little more varied. So that was kind of cool.
Marni: It also seems that despite you not having this career mindset while you were in high school, you were still able to enter the program without building your portfolio along the way. So there are opportunities for you to explore a passion and a career even if you haven't decided from the start of kindergarten that that's the path you want to pursue. This other program allowed you to enter without having a portfolio already built.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, it certainly made me, I guess, more of a generalist. So I have a broad knowledge base, especially coming out of school, so that helped out. Especially because I graduated in 2000, the winter, and web design was very hot, so it was good that I knew some of that. And that's kind of my focus even to today, even though I'm not a developer.
Where is the Art in Graphic Artist?
Marni: When you say that you kind of fell into it, and you like projects, and you like to draw, what was it about doing projects that connected to graphic design?
Jason:Well, I don't know. I guess the idea that at the end of the day you have something tangible, something you can point to and be like, "I did that."
Marni: That's a very practical, hold-it-in-your-hands-tie-it--up-in-a-neat-little-bow kind of reasoning. And if we look at the more creative side of it, I think drawing, and painting, and all of those things are those skills a requirement to be a graphic designer.
Jason:You certainly encounter people that are "artsy" in the field, but I wouldn't say that's necessarily the majority. There are lots of folks who you would never think or consider a generally or stereotypical artsy who do it. And there are lots of people who are in the industry who can't draw to save their lives. They have no traditional art skills: they can't draw; they can't paint, whatever. So that's not a prerequisite at all. And I think I'm actually pretty good at drawing. But there are tons of designers who I know who are just way better designers than I am and they can't draw worth a lick.
Marni: So then where does the art part come in? If you can't draw-- and that's probably my own black-and-white thinking. And I guess the one question my student had was, I guess, how do you know when that final product is just right? Are there set laws like rule of thirds that you can follow? Is it more mathematical? What makes it art?
Jason: That's very good. I mean, it's more of a photography concept but it works with any sort of composition that you're doing. There's also something called The Golden Ratio which it's kind of similar to rule of thirds. I don't use it that much and whatever, people use it. But it's a scheme you can do for doing layouts or logo design even. I just looked it up actually, so I'm not going pretend like I knew this right away. But it is a ratio of 1:1.6:8. And you'll see it. It's like a chambered nautilus, has a spiral. It's essentially intersecting rectangles that go in infinitely. But anyway, people use that as a layout scheme as well. There are many rules. There's a school of thought that the Swiss use. They use lots of grids and they're addicted to grids for some reason. People diverge from rules; they challenge and break rules all the time. But yeah, there are shortcuts that people use. I'd say especially in web design because technology kind of constrains things so grids are very popular web design. So have columns, and you try to portion those things, and create a hierarchy. So hierarchy is very important. You have a headline. I mean, that's in a newspaper, right? Big font, and that's the general message you're trying to do, and then you have the text that describes it. So you'll see that advertising. You just have a hierarchy of messaging and that's a big part of it. And that can be done with a big font or just contrasting. If it's very tiny, that also can draw the eye. There's studies and they'll show where the eye goes. And I think, in general, there's a zigzag or something. So you'll notice every website, logos are typically top left. That's where an eye goes, especially, I think, in the western world because that's how you read: left to right. So your eye will go left, across to the right, and then go diagonal down the page to the bottom left, and then to the right. I think that's what it is, it's like Z.
How did High School Impact your Career
Marni: Did anything in high school help kind of shift you to this field; if you look back, any courses that you took?
Jason: I mean, I took art every year. That was good. I just took traditional art where you paint, and draw, a little bit of sculpture. But really, I did not hear of graphic design until after high school. When I was looking into majors, I read about it and was like, "Oh, what's this?" And then I did a little research and that was that.
Marni: And what about math?
Jason: I was actually always pretty good at geometry. So I don't know if that had to do with some of it was because it's more of a visual math. You certainly use a lot of math in graphic design. But at the same time, you're using your calculator all the time because you do have to make some complicated calculations every now and then; you have to divide. But yeah, when you're using print design, you've got to make measurements, if you're doing custom work, and trying to figure out what the best way is to lay it out, and make sure that it works for the printer.
Marni: And granted, you'll rarely hear me defend math ever. But even though there are calculators and there are things that can do it for us, I do believe that having a basic understanding of that could be--?
Jason: Yeah, definitely. You need it because you have to understand why you're doing it. You're not doing it in your head. You have to understand the principle, sure.
Marni: You've worked for people and you've worked for yourself. What do you find the biggest differences are?
Jason: Well, even when you're working with yourself, you're still working for people. But I like that a lot just because-- maybe it goes back to what I was saying. But I like to have a kind of direct access to who I am working with so that there's not an extra filter layer. I just like to be able to talk to them and talk things out. And it's just better than a game of telephone. Or when you have a boss, the client, they'll communicate a problem they think or something. And then perhaps the boss will give his solution. And I would perhaps disagree with the solution [laughter]. And it's like, "Oh, no. I talked to him about it. This is what you got to do." And I would just kind of just go with it. But at the same time, be like, "This is not the way we should proceed."
Marni: You felt you were hired to do a job, but what you were being hired to do was being over-riden by someone that might not have the training and expertise that you have.
Jason: But also, that's something you have to get over with if you're working for someone. You have to do what they say to some extent.
Marni: Is having relationships with people, and superiors, and navigating office environments, is that something that took you time to learn how to handle?
Jason: Yeah. Yeah, a little bit. Yeah, I'd say so. I can be a little hardheaded, a little independent. But yeah. Yeah, you have to learn to trust your boss, your superior. Because even though you might think that they're wrong, chances are they're right and that's why they're your boss. They're more experienced. They've been doing it longer. And it's one of those things you just got to be like, "Okay. Let's do it." A the end, you'll likely be happy.
Marni: So Jason in 10th grade - I'm just putting you in all these random grades-- --comes home and has a horrible experience with his teacher. Would your today self use that same story that you just shared about understanding they're your boss and that they've had more experience? Would you tell yourself that?
Jason: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah, that you should just listen to them because not only are they experienced, and smarter, more mature, etc-- it isn't like you are their first student; they've had hundreds if not thousands and I would just trust them.
Marni: And what would 10th-grade Jason say to current Jason when you said that?
Jason: He wouldn't agree probably, but he should have.
Marni: It's interesting. I think we all kind of progressed to that point and we can see the lessons that we might have maybe needed to learn in in middle school and high school that weren't Algebra 2. They didn't quite click until we were ready to have them click.
Jason: And maybe try to have more of a conversation with your teacher. That's something I certainly never had. A conversation, yeah. Try to be like, "Help me explain why." That would be something interesting to try.
Marni: I think a lot of my students, when it comes to advocating for themselves or having a conversation with a superior, or a teacher, or a parent, it's certainly something that we work with and we work on but it's not easy for them. And I don't know, maybe it is a maturity thing, something you learn as you progress in life. But it's not something that many students are comfortable with. But I think it's a process that you kind of have to go through on your own and get comfortable with it. And it's not going to be right the first time.
This is a small excerpt of my conversation with Jason, awesome brother-in-law and excellent graphic designer. You can listen to the entire epispde by listening to the School Counselor Gone Rogue podcast on Itunes,Stitcher or Googleplay. You can also click the audio box at the top of the page and listen here!
How to start a career as a graphic designer
Classes in high school that can lead you to a job in graphic arts
Resources to build your portfolio
Marni Pasch| Host of School Counselor Gone Rogue| Academic Coach | Team Pasch Academic Coaching
I work with students in grades 6th and higher, who struggle with academic confidence and motivation. I help them survive school with less stress by helping them create concrete goals, tackle procrastination and learn creative study techniques. I empower students to take charge of their education and reach their goals. I do this through individual or group coaching so students achieve success in life, school, career readiness and their social endeavors.