in Design

Interview: The Life Of A Real Graphic Designer

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I am a graphic designer for a web design firm in San Francisco. I have been doing graphic design for over six years, as well as some freelancing work on the side. If I had to describe myself in three adjectives, I would say “empathetic,” “creative,” and “caring.” I’m of mixed race (white and American Indian) and a male-to-female transgendered person. I made the transition almost four years ago, and my co-workers have been very loving and supportive throughout the entire process. I haven’t encountered any discrimination in the workplace.

My job is to take what clients and supervisors want from the project and create it graphically on a computer. On my last project a client wanted a certain visual theme, so we took their suggestions and created a few visual themes to pitch. They selected one they liked best, we did a few revisions, and then I designed the final version. Web pages are very complex and making them look nice requires a lot of graphics, so my job in the second stage is to work with our computer programmers to make sure my graphics fit into the technical side of the web page.

I really love my job. Few people are lucky enough to get paid every day to draw. I would definitely rate my job satisfaction at 10. My company is a really great place to work. I may not always feel like my work makes a huge difference in the world, but I enjoy designing things and making someone’s vision come to life.

Unlike some of my co-workers, I did not go to school to learn graphic design. I attended community college for two years and studied art, but I dropped out and started playing music instead. After a few years I wanted more stability so I started taking Photoshop and InDesign classes at night. After that I freelanced for a while before I landed a full-time gig at my current employer. I don’t think the lack of formal education makes me any less competent at my job, but it would have probably allowed me to get a job sooner. At the end of the day, however, employers in this industry really want to see your portfolio and what you can actually do. Having a diploma doesn’t matter as much if you’re a good designer.

A lot of things about graphic design I had to learn the hard way because I didn’t learn them in school. I was self-taught in quite a few things, which gave me a unique approach to the way I handle design. Basically I just played around with design programs, made mistakes, and kept refining my craft. It wasn’t always easy but I was passionate about art, which made struggling through trial and error much easier.

The single most important thing I’ve learned outside of school about the working world is how to interact with clients. Coming from an art background, you don’t make art according to other people’s visions. It was hard for me at first to accept that kind of direction from someone. I took some time to learn how to accept someone paying me for my art to look a certain way. In the end I started viewing my job like a tattoo artist: I’m good at the art, but at the end of the day someone else has to wear that art around, so you need to listen to what they want. Once I started thinking about it that way, I became much more passionate about helping clients bring their own visions to life.

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Getting up and going to work each day is easy. We have a great office culture — the refrigerator is always stocked with craft soda and vegan snacks, and we have a break area with a couch and Nintendo Wii — and everyone in the company is really friendly. It’s more like a second family than an office. Besides that, I’m proud of the things I design. I will occasionally visit old clients’ websites just to see my work in the real world! I’ve never wanted to quit my job because I feel like I’ve found my calling in life. Nothing I’ve done professionally has made me feel this happy, and in five years I’m sure I’ll still be in this job and loving every minute.

My job can occasionally be stressful. We have deadlines and when things get tight we may have to stay late, but it’s only for short periods and it barely interferes with my world-life balance. I’m usually in the office by 9 AM and out by 6 PM. I get three weeks of vacation, five sick days, and two personal days. Our office is also closed for two weeks around Christmas, and I’m able to work from home a few days each month to reduce our company’s carbon footprint.

I make about $44,000 per year, which can be pretty tight in San Francisco. Fortunately my partner is an attorney and makes enough to allow us to live comfortably in the city. If a friend were trying to get into graphic design, I would encourage her to build up her design portfolio so she can show employers her actual skills. Again, a degree doesn’t matter if you can handle the work. I’d also recommend getting a job with a specific company rather than a large design firm — I’m having more fun working at a web design company than my friends who work for big design houses that take outsourced work.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.