Saturday, 28 July 2012

How can you make money as: Web Designer?

That might sound like a fairly obvious question with a fairly obvious answer but bear with me now because I think it is a little more complex than it would seem at first. There is a massive market for web based technology now more than ever. The world we live in relies heavily on the internet for business and communication alike so naturally it would follow that somebody needs to work on designing these web products. The front end of any web page is guaranteed to have been "designed" as even though there are a number of consumer products that allow the average person to play designer, (even MS Word) the fact remains you still need some degree of design training and understanding for it to be of any real value and have proper functionality (or of course natural talent). Anyway what I want to do here is outline some of the ways in which the web designer can profit from his or her skills.

What are you designing?

More than likely, as most people do, you assume that web designing involves designing web pages for a living and you are both right and wrong about this at the same time. Of course you will as a web designer be designing web pages somewhere along the way but you are not by any means restricted to only this. Even if you were there is far more to it than just laying out a page. Your main concern if you are designing web pages is usability. A web page is not the same as a magazine in that it is interactive. You will still have to make the page in a way that visually stimulates the user but the main thing is going to be making sure that the information is clear direct and readily available at the click of a button. Websites need to be easy to use and obvious in there navigation otherwise people will get either bored, or frustrated, or both quickly, and leave your site. Bearing this in mind your skill set then, should be more of an interaction, or interface designer, than that of a static designer who would be more concerned with wow factor from first glance than usability at second look. Another thing to consider is that the layout of the page and subsequent pages is going to require a lot of art working which will be things like background images, texture effects, buttons, headers and other branding elements that will help bring the site to life and give it a certain personality. The next thing to consider is moving or dynamic elements of a page with which the user may be able to interact with, or could be a short animation or  moving part of the site like a rollover button etc. Then there is the world of social media and communication. It is common nowadays for a website to have social media built into the page so that the publisher can put up to date information on the site regularly without having to worry about complicated CMS clients. You might see an RSS feed button or a live blog posting built into the site. You can also design Facebook business pages, and custom blogs to match the companies branding, so there is growing demand for these types of skills. Email is the most common communicative device used in business today and the fancy interactive newsletters that you receive are also part of the web design remit. 

Where will you be getting this work from?

Probably the most important thing to consider is who will be paying you? If you are a freelancer and I mean the kind that literally bangs on doors and gets there own clients then the answer for you will be simple. Your clients that you secured will be the ones paying you, and how much you make will be down to how much you charge so you will have to be careful not to price yourself out of the market or sell yourself too short. Seeing as this is the trade you are in you should also know that the internet is your friend. It will be your livelihood and income source at the same time if you play your cards right.

For example the web designer of today can do a lot to make money on the side selling website templates. Market place sites like and make it really easy for you to earn royalties on every sale of the template that you make. This way also you get an accumulative income from your designs rather than the one off payment you could expect from a purely bespoke design you may have done for a client. There are numerous other websites that will allow you to sell vector images like Icons you may have created or buttons left over from previous projects.

Whilst we are still on the topic of making money online I may as well bring up another model such as which works similarly to a competition brief. You pick the project and then submit your design idea to the company and should they choose yours as there favourite you get the money that was offered for the project which is usually around 650 pounds for a small website under 4 pages. This might seem like a waste of time considering you are not guaranteed to win but you can always replace any branded elements like logos with generic images and then sell them as templates on the previously mentioned market places if you don't win. So overall it isn't the worst idea in the world and can be great fun just for practice if you are new and need to try out working on live briefs.

You can also use social networking to your advantage and piggyback other people projects because often in the world of web design the developer and the designer need to work hand in hand. In groups and forums and social networks like linked in you will often find advertisements from developers looking for designers to help them finish a project so depending on your skill level and negotiating tactics you may be able to gain work via this method.

If you are not thinking of freelancing at all then you are probably going to be one of two things and that is a designer who works for a creative studio, or designer who works for an agency. If you are a designer who works for a studio then you will be part of a small team working on whatever it takes to get the project done for the client gained by the studio. The same applies to working through an agency except you may not be required on site at all as you will effectively be a freelancer albeit one with access to a regular stream of work. Or the other thing that I haven't mentioned is being an in-house designer. If you take on a massive project such as a football clubs website for example then this is going to need constant care and attention and you will most likely be hired to take care of all the web and graphical needs for the duration of its lifetime which can be a rewarding or limiting experience depending on your viewpoint.

How will you get there?

I said when I started this blog that I would try to give advice that was based on my experiences and had some real world application and so I appreciate that the above mentioned things could be a little too vague to have any real value. But what I will say is this. I have tried most of these things out for myself and none of them are easy, they take a while to get into and a few attempts to get any return so you will have to have some patience.

I went to college and studied multimedia and at that point had no real understanding of web design even though I was taught a little bit about dreamweaver as part of a unit somewhere along the way. When I finally got to university to study graphic design my course was so based in conceptual and historical knowledge about graphic design that any technical knowledge had to be gained in extra workshops and outside learning of my own. This still wasn't enough knowledge to do anything to a commercial standard with so I went and did a few internships but most of them didn't teach me anything and expected me to know everything already so I only really got to understand what web design was all about by building one for myself as a portfolio website. In that short space of time I began to understand why people often say that web designers should have a working knowledge of HTML and CSS because without it you simply cannot understand what your design is asking of the developer and some things are simply not feasible at all. My advice therefore is to learn how to build websites by building them for you and your friends or whatever. The internet is full of learning and you won't need to do a degree in order to find out what you need to know. Just do it and then you will have a portfolio that will land you some paid clients wether that be through online marketplaces or asking around is irrelevant. The key thing here is to produce work and keep on perfecting your skills. The way the world is now everybody wants a website so you won't have a hard time finding work.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

What kind of graphic designer will you be?

In all honesty the answer to this is one that is very hard to define. I have on several occasions thought that I had found the answer only to find out quite quickly afterwards that I did not actually know what I was talking about at all. Thats life I guess, thinking you know something only to discover that you don't. Graphic design, much like many things in life is no exception. It changes with the times like people do. Now the overall purpose of graphic design remains the same as it always has. To help advertise and communicate information in a visually stimulating way. That is not to say that it cannot be a vehicle for other things like tackling perceptions and changing the way people think about what they are doing and how they are interacting with the world around them because it does these things too.

What I want to talk about here though is less of a philisophical stand point on the nature of design and much more of a practicle guide to what you as a designer might get up to during your day. Mainly I aim to give you some helpful information that I had absolutely no clue about when I started my journey into the world of graphic design.

The profession is split up into subcategories that deal with different aspects of design (fairly obvious) and rightly so. Doctors may all be doctors but they all have their specialisms and the same applies for designers. If you are to become an expert in anything then the narrower the feild, the more accurate your expertise are likey to become. Don't take this as gospel I am sure someone will point out many things I have missed but the broad categories of graphic designers are as follows.

Web designers,
( This is largely made up of layout design for the web and is quite similar to that of brochure and magaizine design. The difference being however that the elements of interactivity in the web make the design process slightly more challenging as you have to figure out your customers behaviours as well as make the information palletable. Often web designers double as web developers (writing mark up language similar to what a programmer does) and have good technical knowledge to do with software and computers. Web pages themselves are just one part of web design though as there is a growing maret for e-marketing strategies, e-commerce, games, applications and so on.)

Digital designers,
( Digital design is rather more aimed at interactivity than static design. It can involve anything up to and including web design, interface design, application design, and animation. This particular feild tends to be one of the more challenging ones as it is user oriented and involves a good understanding of semantics and usually requires a knowledge of both static and motion design as well as an understanding of programming laguages. There is more planning and testing involved in this feild than there is actual design as the emphasis is on how things work.)

Motion graphic designers,
( motion graphic designers bring static images to life. They tend to work in film, television, and animation, and take on a very similar role to that of the digital designer. (it is more likely that all of the above would work together on a project) they would do work such as idents, movie credits and dynamic web pages as an example.)

Print designers,
( There will always be work for the print designer despite what people might be saying due to the growing dependance on technolgy. Alot of the information we consume from day to day is in printed format. The menue at a restaurant, a business card, a bill from your phone company, the instruction maual that came with your new PC etc. Any where there is paper there is a print designer involved somewhere along the way.

Packaging designers,
( This requires virtually no explanation as they do precisely what there title suggests. Every single thing that you buy comes in packaging of some kind and therefore in our modern consumer society becoming a packaging designers could well be a great way to guaruntee yourself work (if you are good of course).

Signage designers,
( The modern company has a real challenge on their hands when it comes to standing out from the crowd considering the fact that even your average joe can present themselves as a brand these days. Signage can quite literally capture an audience as well as inform on a location and help to navigate an area all at the same time. So the job entails some serious forethought. Then there are materials and costs to consider as well as environmental issues such as wether or not the sigange gives off light and disturbes the local wildlife and so on.)

Type designers,
( Although when we think of graphic design we tend to think of web design, interface design, and things like magazines what people forget is that typography does not just magically appear. Somebody dedicates there entire career to creatoing character formats, different lettering styles, entire font styles etc whilst all the while considering its legibility and tone as evry font has its own personality.)

So as you can see some of these categories blend over each other as the requirements for each job often require you to be multiskilled, but generally I think this is a fair representation of what kind of work is out there for people. Now under each one of these categories there is also a subset of roles within that. but these are the kinds of things that you will work out in your education and career for yourself so I wont go into that. What  I hope you have gathered from this is that you wont be completely up the creek without a paddle if you find that any one of these genres doesnt actually suit you. There is always another one for you to try and the likelihood is your experience with the other may actually give you a head start in your new direction.

Like I said in my previous post for those of you who read it, you need to get stuck and be brave because your calling isnt going to come and bite you in the arse. Only time will tell (I am so full of cliche's for this I apologise) but knowing what is out there for you to try in the first place should be a big help. I didnt have a clue that half of these roles existed at all when I went to college and I think I would have benefitted greatly from it at the time. You probably already have a good idea wether you are more interested in motion or static or print or digital or 3d or flat etc. So trying out things in each of these will help you to realise where your strengths lie.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why choose a career in Graphic Design?

The philosophy

I think that in all fairness choosing a career is one of the hardest things a person can do. With the variety of different industries that exist today and the exposure we get to the possibilities within those fields from a young age the choices really are endless. 

Ironically enough some of the most successful people on the planet never really chose their careers at all. In reality they just stumbled into them over time through a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events. Don't get me wrong now I am not suggesting that you don't choose a career at all because these people all had goals. Steve Jobs knew for example, that he wanted to work with computers and systems. If you have ever listened to one of his inspirational speeches you will see that he made choices based on his reality at that moment. He did not try to predict the future, because trying to pick a career isn't that different from trying to predict the future. It assumes that you know something of how you are likely to develop as a human being, how the market will continue over the years, and what the need will be for your specific skill-set.

Now looking back on my own choices and what lead me into a career in graphic design I can tell you that there was very little predicting of the future going on. I, like many other young folks out there at the time, didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life, in many respects I still don't. All I knew was that I was fairly intelligent (although my schooling hardly reflected this), I had a few obscure talents such as sports, music, and drawing and that I didn't ever, ever, want to live the life that so many of my parents and there friends lived. 

What was this life I hear you ask? well it conssited of conversations that revolved around furniture choices and what was on the front page of the news paper and the behaviour of the neighbours, marital spats, living beyond ones means and generally having a life that was a carbon copy of every other person within a hundred mile radius. There was nothing wrong with it as such, but I found it all thoroughly uninspiring. I must have been just about to leave school when I realised all of this and so I set about going to college to do something that appeared to hold some promice of the future. It was a multimedia course at the time but to me it seemed like a gateway into cool, modern up to date liberalism and culture, and a far cry from what I already new and was so bored with. The reason I bring this up is because it is an example of my reality at the time and the choice that I made towards my current state of affairs. I had a goal in mind and the vehicle towards this goal was irrelevant.

The possibilities

I suspect that most people considering a career in graphic design are considering it for these kinds of underlying motives. Probably because you think it will allow you to avoid office politics and talk about cultural issues all day, and because it will somehow give you license to wear super sleek modern glasses that you would never have normally considered, and because like everyone else these days, you are addicted to coffee and the internet so you may as well make the leap and join the forces of people who rely on them to get there work done. You probably beleive that you will go to cool hip parties where other cool hip graphic designers party, and your music collection will be so up to date nobody will have heard of any of the bands. And you are right about these things, they are all true of the proffession to an extent. But there are a few realities of the trade that you should be made aware of if you are genuinely thinking of going down this route.

The reality 

Being a graphic designer does not make you cool! It never has and it never will and all the best graphic designers are seriously uncool people that don't go outside. That is because they are so intertwined with what they do they have forgotten what the world looks like when its not printed up in helvetica. 

Being a graphic designer does not pay well. Unless you happen to be some kind of guru that is snapping up the latest advertising campaigns left right and center you are likely to be working for an average wage doing run of the mill jobs like business cards for your local bricklayer.

You do not get to avoid office politics you just get a different kind of office politics and most people think that you quite literally draw for a living and will therfore stick there noses up at you wherever possible.

You can dress like a wanker if you really want to but it is only going to make people think that you are indeed as they always suspected....a wanker.

A degree in Graphic Design is step one of getting a job and it is the third most popular degree in the country. You have an awful lot of competition so you had better be good at what you do! You are going to have to prove it time and time again, also there are something like 135,000 graphic design graduates a year and only about 20,000 job roles to fill.

The hours are basically as long as it takes until the job is done.

The software and the technology that you use will become outdated the minute you master it so you had better like the idea of reskilling on a regular basis.

The internet has created a space for ametures to take over where proffessionals once were and so what you are left with is a minimum requirement of skill level. This is high! You are going to have to become all singing and all dancing to compete with the masses.

People will often try not to pay you for your work and you will have to get used to the idea that people don't like your stuff. It is highly subjective but something that you will have to get used to none the less. 

The last thing that I would like to say is that it can be expensive breaking in. The software is pricey and a machine powerful enough to run it will set you back as well. Not to mention extras like a digital camera, a drawing tablet, a printer, paper, ink etc. 

Where do you stand?

Now having said all of those things above it is still a rewarding career and there are many subdivisions within graphic design that will give you room to breathe. Some graphic designers double as artist and interior designers, others start up there own printing firms, and some freelance in digital and web design, the list goes on. It is really about figuring out exactly what you are good at and swinging your career around to that. The only way you are going to do that is by trial and error and don't be afraid to end up doing something completely different from where you first started because all the fun is in the journey! I think that if you are inclined towards the creative arts and you happen to have some talent then graphic design is as good an industry as any, and probably holds more chance of you getting a pay check for your efforts than being a painter of a sculptor. So get down to your local college, get stuck in and see where it takes you.