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!