I wish to become a successful Graphic Designer. I do know that the field is
extremely competitive, so I want to make sure I can be as prepared as possible.
My problem is that I am currently going to a 2-year
school. After attending my first month, I have come to find that it may be lacking. They
have plenty of computers (my main interest in graphic design), but they have only one
color printer, and one or two scanners. The school definitely misrepresented its design
program. My high school had much more equipment available, and I feel as if I'm going
backward in the learning process. They are teaching us PageMaker, even though I basically
already know it. However, they aren't teaching us Quark Xpress, which I have no experience
with, or Photoshop, which I know on an intermediate level. One dilemma that I can not
change is that I do not have very good SAT scores.
What do you suggest I should do? What do I need to
succeed, or even to get ahead of the crowd? Is this school inadequate?
Insider Advice from
Eric J. Szantai
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
I graduated from a 2-year college in New Jersey, but I
was lucky because the school had up-to-date equipment. I then went on to finish my 4-year
degree in graphic design at Trenton State College. Since then, I've been working in design
for about 8 years.
I strongly recommend that you find a school that has the
right equipment, and enough of it so that all students have the access they need. If your
projects are being delayed because there aren't enough printers, talk to the professor.
You need to complain that the equipment is not sufficient. That's where you start.
Technology vs. Education
But bear in mind that the important knowledge you need to acquire won't come from
printers, or from any other piece of hardware or software. What matters most is what you
get out of the courses and the professors.
Before you pick a school (and later, the courses)
research the professors. Find out what their work backgrounds are. What kind of skills and
experience do they bring into the classroom? How broad and deep is their knowledge?
You see, that's what you're really paying for when you
buy an education in design (or in any other field): the knowledge and expertise of your
teachers. Don't settle for less than it will take to make you as expert as you can
possibly be when you graduate.
Principles vs. Tools
The key to becoming a good graphic designer lies not in the equipment, but in studying
design principles and in building a foundation of understanding of good design both past
and present. Yes, you have to know your software, but ideas don't come from the computer.
The computer is just a tool, whether you're using PageMaker or Quark XPress. Ideas grow out
of your fundamental knowledge of design.
What I'm saying is this: Don't base your judgment about
your education primarily on the quantity and quality of the equipment in the lab. If the
classes are very informative and the professors are very experienced, you may get a lot
out of your school. If they're not, then I would recommend changing schools. And make sure
you research the next school before you sign up.
Capitalizing On Education
Going to a 2-year school is the right step, in my opinion, when you have bad SAT scores.
It will help you build your basic knowledge and abilities, and it'll keep you on track
until you can transfer to a 4-year school. Trenton State accepted many of my community
college credits. If you do transfer, find out which and how many credits are
transferable! It's not fun spending money and wasting time taking the same classes over
again. Though, repetition does makes the knowledge sink in much deeper. :-)
Some very important pointers: make friends and get to
know people in your design program. Learn from them. Study with the best designers you
can, and work to be the best designer you can be. No matter how frustrating it might get
at some points while you're in school, your dedication will pay off. In design, as in many
other fields, what matters is how well you can do your job and who you know. So invest
time in making contacts; keep track of phone numbers; and don't be afraid to ask questions
I repeat: Don't be afraid to ask questions!
These are some of the professional publications you
should be regularly reading and studying: Communication Arts, HOW, and PRINT.
Get To Work
When you've gotten your feet wet in some good courses, it's time to get an
internship with a company where you can practice what you've learned, and where you can
learn what it's like in the real design world. Don't worry about the low pay. The nest egg
you're building is not the cash kind -- it's experience. I was lucky to find some
part-time jobs during college and the knowledge, friends and contacts I made are
Now we can talk about the equipment and the software. In my current job, I use
primarily these tools: Quark Press, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop. I also consider
Freehand and PageMaker important, along with knowledge of one or more slide programs.
Those are the important basics. But don't forget to look toward the future, too.
While I don't think the World Wide Web will put print
design out to pasture any time soon, it's critical to learn to design for the Web. As job
opportunities go, this domain is huge. Just bear in mind that design is design: no matter
what the medium, the fundamental concepts are the same. If you don't "get it" in
print, you're not going to "get it" working on the Web.
My final bits of advice: be different and let your work
be different. Don't be offended by others' opinions -- learn from them. In the design
field, you are constantly barraged by people's opinions. Learn to find what's good in a
piece of work, and learn to compliment it. That's what engages you in discussions that
will expand your own perception of the discipline of design.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to drop
me a note.
has worked as a graphic designer for over eight years, currently for a major
pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. He also designed the cover of
the first edition of Nick Corcodilos' book when it was called The
New Interview Instruction Book.
NOTE: The advice provided above is an opinion, not
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