Designers, why do you do what you do?

Designers, why do you do what you do?

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Guest article by Jennifer Moline of PsPrint.

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The depressing economy we’re in has me very interested in careers – mainly, why we choose to do what we do. A creative career is often seen as a dream job – one that allows you to get paid for doing what you love. I’ve often wondered, however, if a creative profession is worth the stress.

I believe people become graphic designers for the following reasons:

  • While growing up they were always doodling on a notepad, eventually graduating to doodling on the computer.
  • They’ve always been those ‘techie’ types – the ones who would experiment with new programs, codes, hacks and software – teaching themselves how to build computers and make cool stuff.
  • They knew that in this technological era, a career involving computers was a smart route to take.
  • They’re critics about advertising and think they can do better.
  • While signing up for college classes, they noticed their crush was registering for an Intro to Graphic Design course.

So whatever the reason, now graphic designers are freelancing or working in-house at agencies, corporations, publishing houses and more. They create logos, lay out websites, design magazines, etc. But as any creative professional knows, graphic design isn’t necessarily glamorous like “Mad Men,” with Bloody Marys on hand at every meeting.

Designers have their own set of blockades:

  • They have to answer to clients, who don’t always have the best taste or tact. (Tips on how to deal with that here.)
  • They face constant deadlines, often overlapping ones.
  • They inherit more work as downsizing continues.
  • They’re expected to come up with original ideas every single day.

Is it any wonder people burn out? So why do we continue on this path? The work isn’t always creative. Sure, designing a magazine cover or an ad can be a fun and challenging project, but what about the interior of a newspaper or book – those columns and rows of text?

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Here is why I think creative professionals – including designers, journalists, photographers, etc. – stick with it:

  • We’re deadline-oriented and work best under pressure.
  • Once an assignment is turned in, that’s usually the end of it – no revisiting.
  • We’re egotistical and enjoy seeing our bylines and credits.
  • There is nothing much more satisfying than finishing up a job we’re particularly proud of and to see it in print or online. Our success is tangible.
  • We have a passion for good design.

What do you think – if you knew then what you do now, would you still choose your current career? Why do you do what you do? How did you get into this industry?

46 thoughts on “Designers, why do you do what you do?”

  1. Obviously, I am doing it not because the technology, but because of my passion of being creative. I love to draw and sketch out ideas in my notepads and textbooks when I was in schools for as long as I could remember. I didn’t even know what a “design” was back then. To many of us, technology such as computer and softwares are only tools that help the process of deign. What is really matter is understanding the design and know how to execute it well. Also. I love the research part because it let you explore variety of subjects that I could never imagine I would.

  2. Creativity, it is a good pairing and you probably won’t starve in the end if you are good at it.

    Also, sitting in an air-conditioned office beats the crap out of being outside doing manual labor…if you can follow me.

  3. Growing up I wanted to be an artist which then evolved into a designer. For me it was never an option to do anything else.

    I am always amazed how many people say they want to do something creative. I think everyone is creative to a degree, just some choose to stop exercising it. That’s why I am always thankful for being in a creative industry.

    Yes the deadlines can be harsh sometimes and there are ‘too many cooks’ but as a book designer I am always excited to see my work come back from the press. Seeing the project turn from a layout on a monitor to an actual book, or business card etc never gets old for me.

  4. There is a misconception with design as a career. Some designers believe it’s all or nothing, which for me, I can still work a regular job doing something I hate and freelance on the side doing something that I love. Just because you can’t make a career out of it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in the field, if that makes any sense:)

  5. I do it because this career was fun to study, because you don’t lay over the books, you just start making things and learn from them. It was really fun to be in a creative group of people in the University, it is fun now (at work)to do the things in the last minute and then… just say – I HAVE DONE THAT!!! It’s a great feeling! For me there is no other profession that makes me be so involved… and feel satisfied of the things I do.

  6. This is a good thing to stop and think about now and again.

    I’m a UI designer and I LOVE my job. I live and breathe my work and would not know what to do with myself if I did something else.

    I’m constantly pushing myself to improve and I think the reason for this is the constant challenges we face.

    Every project throws up new an interesting problems to solve and knowing that if we do a good job we’re likely to make lots of people very happy is a real boost!

    I try very hard to not moan about my job because when I really think about it I know just how lucky I am.

  7. I’m definitely not doing it because of the technology.

    I find that I get everything back once or twice after I think it’s finished, so that doesn’t apply to me either. But that’s because I have a very hard time getting information out of my clients as to what they actually want or they tend to be disorganised. They are Icelanders, after all.

    My favourite thing is working with rows and columns of type, just blocks of type, pure and simple. Making illustrations is not my thang.

    I think, in the end, I do it because I want to make the world a tiny bit nicer and I want to explore the bounds of creativity within a set structure of rules and guidelines, because out of all design disciplines (besides engineering and architecture), graphic design, especially when it comes to text, probably has the most rules. Finding ways to reinterprate those rules is very satisfying to me.

  8. I think being able to create something memorable, something to be proud of while also solveing a clients problem at the same time is the driving force behind my creative work. There is a joy that comes from working as a creative professional that few other jobs can match.

  9. I find it interesting that the top 3 reasons have to do with computers, not creativity.

    There are still many of us out there that became designers before the desktop computer era. If anyone had told me when I was in college that I’d eventually be using a computer for most of my work I would have thought that they were insane.

    I became a designer because of the creativity. I loved creating images, and was thrilled that there was a career out there where I could collect a paycheck for doing so, unlike a “starving artist.” And, I did not want to become an art teacher.

    Ironically, today I am a freelancer / solo-preneur with a not-so-regular paycheck, and I teach graphic design college credit courses. I’ve been a graphic designer for 30 years, and can’t imagine doing anything else.

  10. I am also a graphic designer, yes I built my own PC, and self-tought everything I need to know about creating a website. I decided to turn independent after having worked for a graphic design agency for many years. I just felt a creative person can not be trapped inside an office all day, and for those running a creative company, please don’t trap your designers inside an office and let them stare at the mac all day! Creative business should be run creatively… I enjoy what I do, and am proud of my work. Thanks for a great article!!

  11. I love being a freelance web designer because of the freedoms: the freedom to be creative (and get paid for it), the freedom to choose my hours (and not be fired because of it), the freedom to say no (and not be fired because of it), the freedom to continue learning (and not be labeled because of it), and the freedom to spend more time with my daughter (and be loved because of it).

  12. Choosing graphic design was never really a deliberate choice in my case. I went to college with other creative aspirations. I graduated with a BFA, but struggled to find any kind of job afterwards. Graphic design was the only field in which my skills were deemed somewhat relevant.

  13. The *being* original *every day* part is the part that I find hard. But that’s why I keep a stack of graphic design reading close by (or use the internet). It can get hard when you’re doing projects back to back that are in similar industries.

    I just completed projects back to back for a cupcake company and followed it up with one for another dessert related company, and it can be particularly hard to leave the first project behind, and start fresh. But thanks to being able to browse (through books and the web) other designers works, it often provides just the *spark* that I was needing to bring a new idea to the surface and develop it from there.

  14. I love being a graphic designer, and even enjoy the boring stuff I get every day. What I hate the most is other graphic designers who try to constantly compete with other designers… just look at the egotistical pricks in the comment sections of design blogs.

    I kinda fell into this cause I didn’t know what else to do, I was good at art and computers, so it made sense.

  15. Wow great subject to think about, why we do what we do.

    For the reasons I think I became a designer, out of the first five points written I totally agree with 1-4 of them. I was always doodling/sketching on whatever paper I could find, I’ve always been interested in computers and new technology and I’m always analysing advertisements thinking what I would do to improve the message.

    I keep doing what I’m doing for several reasons some of which were also mentioned here. The passion is a strong plus for why I keep pursuing this career, I’m certainly someone that works better towards a deadline and a specific brief.

    The amount of talent and competition between myself and my peers is also another factor. To see others work and inspire physically gets me off my seat and designing every time.

  16. I fall into category nbr 1 and I don’t think I made a decision to work with design, it just happened. I’ve had crappy jobs over time but always with design in the back of my head. It’s my hobby, my passion, my life. If I would go blind I wouldn’t know what to do. This is what I love and there are no depressions, no hate, no sad times as long as I can keep “doodling” on my computer.

  17. Interesting ? It’s funny because recently I asked myself that same question. I grew up drawing and creating and eventually graduated with a degree in Interactive Media. I wasn’t completely satisfied and found myself turning my creativity into a “job”. So in search of satisfaction I joined the ARMY National Guard and it wasn’t until I joined the Guard that I realized how much I love my design career. I think that when all we do every hour of every day is design we can lose perspective of why we really love to be creative. Now I serve my country on the side and design on a full time basis. Now I’m constantly reminded of why I chose this career.

  18. Interesting article!

    I am also a graphic designer and really love my job. As I can see most of you also do.

    And I think that this is the real danger… that we love our jobs to much and are so busy trying to make our clients and partners happy that we forget everything else… and might end up getting burned out.

    When you’re young and single it´s no problem to work 16 hours a day… but when you get a little older and maybe have family it´s no longer posible. I know from experience 🙂

    Therefore I think it is essential that we try to find ways to work smarter. And try to find ways to bind our clients closer to our creative businesses.

    Have you ever wondering why there is allmost no older people (+50) in our businesses…

    I think it is worth a thought.

  19. I design cause i love to be creative. I like seeing my work on the internet. I become a part of graphic design, cause i love art and technology. I thought it would make a perfect match, and it did! I’m only 14 and i love to do graphic design. I haven’t gone to college for it, but i hope to one day 🙂

  20. For me, a career in graphic design was the perfect choice – a mixture of creative and logical thinking. You get to use your left brain and right brain equally. Design is about problem solving and visual communication, not art or technology.

    The tools and technologies have changed a lot since I trained as a designer 30 years ago, but my fundamental approach has not. I lament the fact that some design courses today focus too much on how to use the latest tools, and not enough on design essentials like typography, colour theory, legibility and clear communication. If you understand these principles you’ll always be a good designer no matter what changes the world throws at you.

  21. Adding to above list of why we do what we do ….

    1. I believe that the extra effort or detailing can make a difference.

    2. User interactions both active and passive is critical …

    3. And the urge to make a difference or do better gets me pushing my limits.

  22. As a kid I always wanted a job that was creative because I enjoyed art and design, plus i was never great at maths, science etc. Having a job I enjoy is the most important thing to me rather than a fast car or ridiculous pay packet (although I wouldn’t say no). Being a web designer gives me that – although I kind of fell into it – I’m not really techy person.

  23. Actually I believe that as a designer, you like what you do because you love it!

    I always go back to designing, even if i’m a musician!

  24. Pretty relevant stuff. I’m in the midst of a career review because of the crappy economy myself. Sort of…shifting poles; five years of graphic design later, I’m about to become a qualified web designer as well (yes, I learn best from a course!).

    I do it because it’s a logical progression of what I’m good at; I’m a writer and artist by nature, and retail/advertising/corpID is all an extension of what I love. Presentation stuff, in short. I adore it.

    Only thing better is being a WRC driver. Got the passion, working on the skill, will NEVER achieve the budget…so graphic/web design it is!

  25. I got in the industry, because of one web design class in high school. That class forever changed my life.

  26. My mom encouraged me to take an art class my freshman year of college after really struggling with a bunch of science and math classes. I took one class, loved it, and had to declare a major in order to sign up for more. So that’s how I became a graphic designer. Even though I did decently at science and math in high school, I discovered I really could make a living doing something I loved and was really good at.

  27. One point that sometimes it does not matter If your awesome at what you do you can still go under.

    I think a realisation that designers like every other business are in the same game “Sales” is what makes the difference between winning and losing in the web design business.

    You either need to partner up or become a good salesman yourself to succeed.

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  29. Some businesses have a limited client base, but every business needs a graphic artist. If a business is going to do marketing than some one is going to need to design those marketing materials. As long as businesses keep growing and new ones keep appearing, then graphic artists will always have plenty of work. Because of this, the competition is getting rougher every day, so you will need to work much harder to stand out from the crowd.

  30. Good question!and my answer for that would be “I LOVE WHAT I’M DOING”. And that is the main reason why I dont get bored. For graphic designers, you should have this kind of attitude, the passion towards designing.

  31. For me, the best thing is that you constantly have to learn new techniques and technology to be a good designer. I can imagine there are many industries where time must feel like it’s standing still! Always good to keep th brain active I say 🙂

  32. Hehe, none of the 1 – 5 reasons of the becoming a graphic designer apply to me. I never took a design or computer class, I just started making some personal websites in 2001 and then just grow my way up 🙂

  33. A simple love for creating things. Always learning new things and looking for a different approach. This is why we do what we do.

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