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Finding Your Feet as a Graphic Designer: Tips from a Recent Graduate

Entering the final semester of your Graphic Design degree? Do you feel uncertain about the industry and how you can turn your degree into a career? You aren’t alone. Lots of soon-to-be graduates feel unprepared for going from student to professional, including me – the designer who wrote this article!

Knowing what that transition entails, I wanted to share some tips about preparing for landing a job in the industry. Specifically, tips I wish I’d heard while still in my final year. Let’s get into it!

Practice

Not everyone graduates knowing their art style or what design area they want to specialise in – I didn’t find my niche until after graduating. That’s four years of experimentation before finding what really worked for me as a designer.

To find your niche, try different design styles, research how others are doing it, and make moodboards. Challenge yourself, even after you find what works for you. And don’t forget to play around with different software, either. From there, it’s all about practice and refinement.

Once you’ve found what makes you you as a designer, that niche is important to showcase when designing your portfolio assets. It’s your unique signature as a designer, in a way. Expressing it through your work consistently is what will make your portfolio stand out and truly represent you as a creative. In saying that, it’s just as important to showcase a range of differently styled designs in this portfolio – especially if your goal is to work in an agency or studio that takes on external clients.

It takes time to perfect any craft, especially graphic design. So keep experimenting, keep practising, and don’t give up.

Proofing

(Remember this tip the next time you look at your portfolio or resume!)

Graphic design projects demand a lot of creativity but twice as much editing. As a result, you’ll find yourself frequently working through an extensive checklist on every project: Did I export that to the right PPI? Are those lines even? Are the words readable? The list goes on.

That checklist will become second nature, which is a good thing, as to be a designer, you have to be a perfectionist. Some people are lucky to be born with that trait, but the rest of us must work hard to develop the skill.

Precision and proofing are so crucial in design – even something as small as a typo can get you a one-way ticket to a rejection email, and there’s nothing worse than sending a client a design with an error. So take the time to do a final proof on everything you design and run through a list of critical items to check.

Here’s an extra tip: second opinions are fantastic. An opinion from someone that hasn’t spent hours [or days] staring at the same design can be very valuable, especially for spotting errors.

Software

You don’t have to be fluent in all Adobe Suites, but being comfortably familiar with the big three is essential (aka Indesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop). There’s nothing more terrifying than opening an application and not knowing how to use the toolbar. Luckily we live in the year 2022, where the accessibility we have to learn is endless.

(Thanks, Youtube!)

It’s also important to include all relevant software experience on your resume, even if you have only used it a few times. Most of the time, agencies or employers will want to see a range of different experiences and abilities, so even if you’ve only used Adobe Animate a few times, they’ll want to know about it.

Online Presence

Getting your work online is critical. It’s awkward when you’re chatting to someone and they ask to see your work, only to have nothing to show. You can’t drag your physical portfolio around everywhere, so get your work online.

Online presences let you show off your creative personality, and personality plays a big role in landing a design job. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Start an Instagram and post on Behance. Once you break through that barrier of Imposters Syndrome, the likes and followers will come.

The final and most important part of building an online presence is to have an online portfolio. Come on, guys, it’s the year 2022. Employers can’t be bothered to wait for your 8MB portfolio to download.

If you’re not sure where to start, Adobe Portfolio is a great program where you can select a template and design fonts and colours to go with your work. It’s included in the Adobe Suite and can transform your portfolio from mediocre to professional.

Experience

Experience before a first job is hard to come by but so rewarding; it teaches you way more than any degree or YouTube video will. Get out there and make connections, ask your tutors about opportunities, follow social media accounts (a really great one is Design Kids), and score yourself some industry experience.

I was lucky enough to go to a university that offered on-campus internships that had credit points, and let me tell you, those six weeks of experience can make a huge difference – both in terms of building your confidence and skills and how you rank against those without that experience in an employer’s eyes.

Want to learn more tips and tricks? Perhaps about writing an awesome grant application or different ways content can offer value to your readers? Check out some of our previous blog articles!

About the author: Scarlett Palmer

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