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Reader Asks: Getting Into Design

I received a lot of questions on Twitter, in comments and email, in reply to yesterday's design post. I thought this morning would be a great way to touch base on a few of them and to fill you in on what I know (which isn't much!). 


I received several questions in the area of "How did you get into design?" and the answer for that one is simple, yet not short: I started blogging (on LiveJourmal, hayyy!) when I was 14. I spent a few years "customizing" my layouts and even moving my very basic HTML skills to MySpace. In 9th grade I took a basic HTML class at my high school and I already knew everything he was teaching. My teacher moved me to the Library to help work on the student Yearbook, even though you needed to be in 11th grade to do that. I was excited because it gave me an opportunity to branch out and learn more. For the next 4 years I basically lived and breathed that yearbook. I loved it. That's where I first learned InDesign (yeah... before CS2 or anything like that existed!) We had moved away from Quark and I was ecstatic to design almost half of the senior yearbook in 2006. I feel like you should know this though: my work was AWFUL! All capital letters awful! While it was "cute",  I put strokes (outlines) on EVERYTHING! Every piece of text had a stroke. Oh my stars. So embarrassing! Anyway, I went to college for Fashion Design + Merchandising to begin with, but after my first year of classes I wasn't feeling inspired. I woke up one summer morning, went to the administration building of my school, and switched majors. Just like that. I didn't give it any thought or reason, I just did it. Best decision ever. While I loved fashion design + all that it entailed, I had never felt so challenged and motivated by it like I did graphic design. I spent the next 3 and a half years making things I wasn't totally proud of, but I'm glad to have finally found my footing post graduation. While I do have a formal education and Bachelor's degree under my belt, I absolutely do not think you have to have a degree in order to be a brilliant designer. So many of my favorite designers are self taught people. You just have to have the drive to pursue it!

Another one asked in the comments was: "How did you get into freelance design?" As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I never thought I'd do well with freelance. I was always a procrastinator and if it was due tomorrow, I'd do it tomorrow haha That never helped me, by the way! A lot of people wonder how on earth you solicit clients and wrangle them in. Honestly, I don't do a whole lot of that. I think I'm really fortunate that my blog brings me a lot of my business so I don't have to cold call anyone or anything. This little blog has brought a lot of opportunities to me, not just work related, but people and places, too! I definitely wouldn't have the clientele that I do if it weren't for LCH!
 
An email from a sweet gal named Amanda said: "I want to do graphic design and go to college for it, but how do I know I'll enjoy it?" Answer: Honestly, there's no fool proof way to say you'll still enjoy it in college. Formal education changes a lot of things... You don't really learn at your own pace, and you don't get to choose your curriculum. Even if you do go to college for it, don't let that stop you from learning everything you can now! Even after college I'm still Googling things I don't know or have forgotten! There are so many resources out there at your disposal! You can also get a Lynda.com account if you are really hardcore into learning! YouTube videos, blog posts galore... you can theoretically teach yourself anything you want to know! As much as I loved fashion design, college made me not want to pursue a higher education degree for it. Don't stress... most people change their majors. It's life! It happens! Just take the classes you can and try to get a feel for it as early as possible!

Another email asks: "Where did you get your design style? Did it come naturally or has it changed over time?" Oh boy, it's changed! Has it ever! I can't even begin to tell you some of the fugly stuff I've dreamt up! My current designs still aren't world changing or award winning, but I really enjoy them. My aesthetic is very reflective of my personality. I've always wanted to design things I enjoy (that's the designer's dream!). I'm lucky enough that I can pick and choose clients and if their aesthetic is too far of a departure from mine then I just decide if I feel like I can still successfully pull it off. I will admit I've basically backed myself into a corner with my "style" and I kind of like it. I don't have any shortage of clients right now so I don't see any reason to go changing it! I think like everything else, aesthetic evolves with time. There are things I designed last year that I cringe when I see now. However -- at the end of the day, the customer is always right! If they want something and you think it's totally crazy but they won't budge, let them have it! Sometimes you have to pick and choose want to put your name on :) That's design for ya!

Someone asked: "Do I need certain programs to design things? Photoshop costs a lot of money and I can't afford it." I personally think Adobe Creative Suite is the best thing to have. It's the industry standard and I've honestly never used anything else. I don't know if you can get similar results with other programs or not so I can't say. I personally use Adobe CS5.5 and I think it was worth every penny. Yeah, it's super expensive, but I am able to accomplish so much more because of those programs. When it comes to blog layouts, I use Adobe Illustrator to build them, Photoshop to slice and tweak (I don't like the slice feature in Ai!), and DreamWeaver to construct and manually code them. It's not rocketscience, but it's not super simple either. There are a ton of video tutorials though, like I mentioned a few questions ago! If you want to be serious about design, definitely think about investing in an Adobe Creative Suite! There are also several package options through Adobe so check those out! 
A Tumblr ask was submitted that said: "I want to start designing blog layouts like you, but I don't know how to get any work. Do you have any suggestions?" Since I think blogging has been the best (free) advertising for me, I honestly suggest having your own blog. If you do, have a really cool layout that you've designed. This next advice is a little questionable among freelance designers so be sure to ere on the side of caution: Find some blogging friends and offer to do a layout for them. It's free advertising. Try and get some sort of compensation from them (even if it's someone with several hundred/thousand followers... the more eyes on your designs, the better) THEN -- please please please make sure you charge a fair amount! I'm constantly undercut by other designers because my prices are "too high". I still make less than half of what I should per layout with a BFA. I know my hourly worth and I definitely don't make it on blog commissions. Still, it's stable and fun work usually so I enjoy it. There are some people out there only charging $50 or $100 for an entire site redesign and to me, that's kind of crazy! Start off with a low, but fair, price, sure. But don't try to undercut everyone else just to land a job. It's not fair to other designers and all it does is hurt our industry! :) Build a portfolio, even if they're just mockups in Photoshop or Illustrator! Create a PDF portfolio and send it out to anyone who might be interested. The options are limitless!

And one final question: "Are you ever scared of the instability of being a freelance designer?" My answer: of course. I think harsh realities like that are things that need to always be kept in mind... even if it's in a far, back, distant corner of your mind! Freelance work is incredible fickle and it usually comes in waves. I could go months without any (be it my own personal choice or lack of interest among others) and then all of a sudden I have fifty emails a day about reserving a spot. I think it's a little bit different for people who don't have a steady source of clientele (like a blog), but I can't speak for them honestly! I also don't do solely design as my bread and butter. It's definitely up there, but I also bartend, run this blog, and a million and seven online shoppes (with two more in the works)! I have really really busy days, and then really lazy ones. I'm lucky to be doing something I love, but it doesn't come without the work, that's for sure!

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I think designing your own stuff (be it blog designs, business cards, or whatever) really helps you appreciate your achievements. I don't think it's for everyone though! There are many things in my life that would be fulfilling to do on my own, but I'd rather pay someone to do it (i.e: change the oil in my car, pressure wash the house, etc). There's no shame in outsourcing things that you're not crazy for, but if you are interested in doing your own design, I totally urge each and every one of you to get out there and learn what you can! You don't have to get crazy with HTML or CSS, or be the world's best photo manipulator! But if you have a sincere interest in something, don't wait until college to explore! Use your free time and learn everything you can! Then you can be the smartest one in the class! ;)

I think the biggest thing is that you should really love what you're doing. Love designing even if no one is paying you. Love designing things in your free time. Be passionate for the things you're creating!

Sorry for the giant walls of text, but I thought a post like this might be the slightest bit helpful to anyone looking to get into design themselves! It's a flooded market, without a doubt, but it can also be an exciting one to be in!

With that I want to ask, What are YOU passionate about? What makes you tick? I love hearing people's answers to this question!

28 comments:

  1. I'm about in the same boat as you! I'm in school for design currently, and I guess I'm really lucky because it hasn't squashed my passion for it!! I'm studying illustration more so than graphic design though, but it's part of the overall 2D Design program so there's some overlap and I do learn a wide variety of design things.

    I started doing graphics thanks to - embarassingly enough - NEOPETS. They had profiles to design and guilds, and that's what got me started out on the internet, and ultimately what brought me to where I am now going into design. Pretty funny, but also pretty cool I guess!

    This was a great post, you make long walls of text actually interesting and enjoyable to read :)

    xo
    http://kittysnooks.blogspot.com/

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  2. This is such a helpful post! I'm looking into learning to code right now- not for money, just to help out my mum's new real-life shop, so a post like this is helpful. I never knew to use Dreamweaver.

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  3. You are my kind of lady Miss Kaelah!

    I love the passion you write with and I think it is admirable that you are sharing your advice and learnings with others.

    Keep up the good work!

    x

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  4. i loved reading this! it's amazing how you've been able to pursue your passion and succeed!! :)

    it's been my dream to work a non-9-5 job for a long time... i've had sooo many jobs and hated almost all of them. finally, i'm starting to fall into teaching private music lessons!

    there's down sides (like not a lot of stability, feeling like my skills don't measure up sometimes...) but there's nothing better than planning my day the way *i* want to, and having time to pursue songwriting, blogging, and other creative things as i please!

    it also has the added benefit of making me a stronger guitar player, since i'm now trying to learn more skills to offer my students :)

    xo

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  5. Yeah, I make my own business cards, lay out my website. I'm not a designer but I am professional, so whatever I make with what I have, I must keep it pro.

    Yes, if you're truly passionate about something, you don't wait until college. You don't have to go to college, actually.

    Best regards,
    Anhelo.

    www.anheloescalante.net

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  6. Thank you for posting this! As a freelance designer myself I enjoy reading about how others got started and what they do!
    I'm an "alternative" graphic designer, meaning I use a PC and don't use Photoshop and I use Notepad++ for my coding. Crazy, I know. Still, I enjoy reading about other designers no matter what they use and I love that you are willing to share your experiences!

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  7. I love your thoughts on outsourcing. I love Pinterest but I think it gives people this mind set of "why pay someone to make/do something I could learn to make/do myself?". Then maybe you spend the money or time trying to only to discover that it's really best left to the pros. I have an entire shelf of jewelery making tools because I saw something I liked on Etsy but thought, "Hey, I can do that!". I tried, but I just didn't enjoy it nor did my creation come close to the one I did eventually end up buying. I've learned that outsourcing saves me time, money and little bits of sanity:)

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  8. I'm sure a lot of you know this, but if you want Photoshop and it's too expensive, if you have a student id it's MUCH cheaper. All you have to do is email adobe a student id and a current transcript. Creative Suite for example is 450ish compared to the 1900ish it is without the discount.

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  9. great pointers in here Kaelah. I love it!!!

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  10. I love your blog design - the little icons at the top are so cute :) I took design at school but it was all just poster design and stuff, no website design. I wish I was a little bit younger then I would have got to learn it at school! Either way I'm using my limited knowledge to design my own logo, business cards & brochures, etc for my cake decorating business called Sequin Corner. It's really fun! I should really post some pics of them on my blog, I'm quite proud of them :)

    Kc

    a-sparkley-silver-lining.blogspot.com

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  11. i just design for myself and im already getting a huge kick out of it. i think a good way to experiment and try is offering to design frd's sites or blogs!

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing this :)

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  13. thanks for sharing your tips! i went to college for graphic design but it was completely print based which is... not so helpful in the real world. the sweet thing about having a blog is that i can use it as my guinea pig to learn about screen-based design at my own pace (my own, very slow pace, lol)

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  14. I have been curious about a few of these questions myself so thank you for answering them! Your art is truly inspiring!

    :)
    xx

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  15. This is such an awesomely inspiring post! Thank you so much for sharing!!
    xo Heather
    http://ahopelessnotebook.blogspot.com/

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  16. What an inspirational post!

    I'm very passionate about natural health and beauty, natural remedies, and healthy living in general. :)

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  17. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for pointing me towards lynda.com! I've been struggling with learning flash lately, that will be soooo helpful :)

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  18. As a beginning blog designer, you totally just validated a lot of what I've been telling myself: It's okay that I'm self-taught. Thanks for sharing, this post made my night ;)

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  19. This post was perfect for what I'm going through now! Thank you Kaelah!!
    -K

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  20. Hi, sorry I haven't emailed you back yet, about March's ad. I wound up reworking my blog, and I also realized I am broke. I will definitely advertise in April, though! Would you still be able to help me construct an ad + button for my blog? Here is a link to it, so you can see what I'm working with. Don Naylor, over at Adeline's Daddy, is creating a new photo graphic for me, so that should be up by next week. Thanks for all of your help, it means the world to me!

    xo
    michele

    www.shortgirllongisland.com

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  21. i did the SAME THING! when i was 12, i started learning HTML when i wanted to change up my teen open diary (ugh! haha) then into myspace and livejournal and my own sites.

    with the freelance thing, i have a lot of friends who graduated with me (i went into product design, but my husband graduated from a program called digital design, a crazed mix of 3D, motion, flash, and web) and a lot of the people who graduated with him who focused on web never looked up prices to charge. i have a friend who did a fairly large project (redoing a 6 page webpage) for about 50 dollars. we laughed at her, but you are right, it really hurts others!

    i think that one big thing is finding a good school that is good for your price. i lucked into in state tuition and heavy scholarships at the 2nd ranked program in the nation for my degree. there are some good lists of design schools out there, businessweek's is pretty good.

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  22. Thank you so much for this post Kaelah! I asked the question about where you got your freelance work from, and wasn't expecting such a serious and thoughtful response, so thank you! ((:

    I'm a self-taught graphic/web designer... started learning from the Internet since I was 12 or 13. I never thought about going into this line professionally, although I do enjoy it tremendously, and I'm actually applying for Fashion School now.

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  23. Loved this post Kaelah! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

    -Sav

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  24. Oh my gawsh, I cannot agree more with "don't wait until college to explore." I did some dabbling with things in high school, but I figured I'd *really* get into it in college. Not so. I barely have time to do my homework and blog between classes and work. I have sooo many project ideas, but whenever I get a sizable hunk of free time, I just wanna sleep and spend time with friends/family.

    This was a really, really interesting/awesome post!

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  25. This is a fantastic post. I think web design is SO important, and I have redesigned my photography blog many times to get it just right. I taught myself lots of basic HTML codes by Googling them, and this year when I signed up for an HTML class at school (I'm in 9th grade) I knew them all already, just like you did. Same thing happened to me, I got moved to yearbook. :) I usually stick with the photography for it since that's what I am strongest at, but next year I plan to get more involved in the design!

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  26. We have a similar story--I can't believe my graphic design degree stemmed from making Livejournal icons and banners, heh. After a high school web design class I knew it was what I wanted to do. I've never actually used Quark..but I did use Frontpage back in the day...remember that?!

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  27. I'm so happy for you that you're so passionate about what you do! I understand the decision to change your path is hard! After doing a science degree at university I left a well-paid office job to do a fashion design course... Now I work in an office again but I spend my weekends and evenings blogging and making pretty things. The plan is to make it full-time one day, I can't wait!

    www.vintagethrill.blogspot.com

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  28. I have been working in the fashion industry for 10 years now, and I found finding a fashion job when first starting out a little difficult, but I have come across some great websites that had quality fashion positions: www.ragtradejobs.com and www.fashionfirst.com.au. Everybody wants experience first, which can be hard if it’s your first fashion job,however I found doing a short course in Fashion Design a great way to get experience and knowledge of the industry.La Mode College has some great short courses, and they include how to get work experience as well.They have a short eBook on how to get into the fashion industry and become a Professional Fashion Designer.Worth a read! Hope this post was helpful!!

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