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Graphic Design as a Career, and what Mac to do it with?
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Laplace
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Aug 14, 2005, 11:30 AM
 
Hello all, I am posting on behalf of my fiance. She is finished with the first two years of college, and now she has chosen to go into Graphic Design here at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. From what I understand they have a pretty good program, but I am not really informed on the matter, so I can't comment much on that.

I have read up on some of the posts here about Graphic Design and you guys having a hard time finding jobs an what not, and also that alot of you do freelance type work. I understand what freelance work is, but exactly how does one go about getting clients for freelance type of work and generally what type of people/companies are your clients for this?

Also, when doing freelance work, what kind of money could she expect to see out of college, if shes good? (And she is very good, on canvas anyways. Her artistic ability and creativeness never cease to amaze me, so I would bet money that she would be good graphically as well.) Also, if she went to work for a company what ballpark kind of figures are we looking at here? I checked the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for Graphic Designers in various regions, and they were projecting upwards of 60K a year in some of the larger cities, but surely this can't be right, can it?

As a graphic designer, how computer savvy do you need to be? For instance, she is currently a windows user, but I have told her that she will be moving to a Mac soon for her Graphic Design studies. She is what you would consider an average computer user. She can do basic stuff, but as far as anything else goes, she's never really had any experience there. Does graphic design also mean web design almost always/sometimes/never? I don't know if they teach web design in University graphic design classes do they?

And finally, what kind of Mac would you recommend for her? She wants portability, but I was skeptical as to whether or not a Powerbook would be capable enough for graphic design. I don't really know though. Suggestions?

Thanks in advance guys/gals, I am just trying to help her and myself get an idea of what she is getting into.

-Laplace
     
osxisfun
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Aug 14, 2005, 12:46 PM
 
>I checked the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for Graphic Designers in various regions, and they were projecting upwards of 60K a year in some of the larger cities, but surely this can't be right, can it?

big cities yes. but those are at bigger agencies.

she needs to move to a mac ASAP.

she may want portablity but a big screen is more important.

buy a her a mini with 1.5 gig ram , the adobe suite and a dell 24" lcd (or 20 at least)

when she gets good and earns money then buy an intel desktop next year.

and don't take this the wrong way but be willing to move to a bigger city. i am NOT saying its impossible to acheive her goals there but there is a fraction of the work in the south as there is at the east or west coast.

if not they you really need to build up her web site so she can freelance from alabama and do work from all over...
     
Laplace  (op)
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Aug 14, 2005, 04:00 PM
 
Moving to a big city is not a problem. When I graduate from my undergraduate in a few years, I am planning on going to law school in a big city. Possibly Minneapolis, Chicago, DC, or on the West Coast.

I will get her on a Mac ASAP, do you not think that she will need portability in her graphic design classes? I totally agree about the Mac Mini BTW, but I know she will want the "cool" factor of the laptop, and honestly I can see her point about portability for her classes. However, 3K for a laptop that she will have to replace with a Mactel in a year and a half or so just isn't very feasible.
     
osxisfun
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Aug 14, 2005, 05:11 PM
 
Unless she really really needs the portablity i would say now. most classes are going to have the macs in them if they are design oriented.

luck.
     
greenamp
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Aug 14, 2005, 08:17 PM
 
She will not need a Mac or any computer at all her first few semesters. Most BFA GRD programs require a grounding in fine arts courses ( which she may already have taken based on your description ), and the first couple of GRD classes ( GRD1, Typography, Color fundamentals, etc ) are more focused on the concepts of design, and not so much the tools used to makes them. ( For a good reference, here's an example of the BFA GRD curriculum at the school I currently attend ).

Now this is not to say that she shouldn't go ahead and get one anyway, and now is the best time to get a Powerbook or iBook b/c of Apple's yearly back to school promotional program. But she definitely won't need a Mac right away, and her grd dept may have a good deal worked up for their students to purchase one when they do need.

Buuuuuuut anyway, if she's gonna get one, she should get a PowerBook no smaller than 15", which as much memory and hard drive space as she can afford. Oh and don't forget to get the educational discount.
( Last edited by greenamp; Aug 14, 2005 at 08:45 PM. )
     
art_director
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Aug 16, 2005, 08:35 AM
 
1. Yes, she needs to switch to a Mac. While most of the software she'll encounter runs on both systems the industry standard is Apple.

2. Despite what people on the outside might think freelancing straight out of school is not wise. Sure, pick up little projects to help pay the bills but remember there are a lot of benefits to working in an agency / design shop. How else would she learn about printing, presenting, selling, tv production, etc.

3. Freelance work comes from former client relationships, references, prospecting and luck of the draw.

4. Finding a job can be difficult regardless of talent level. A friend I went to school with looked for a gig for 1.5 years. Needless to say he became frustrated. Once he did break in and get his footing he ended up working for some of the best agencies in the world. If they were listed here you'd see many a drool rise from the crowd.

5. Money will be poor at first -- comes down to supply and demand. There are ad schools (ie. Miami Ad School, Creative Circus, Portfolio Center, Brainco, etc.) flooding the market with talent. That drives down starting salaries. I wouldn't expect her to start at more than $30K - $45K. Also, in this business, you get a raise when you quit and move to a new job. The average stay with on agency is 2 years.

6. The more comfortable she is with computers the better. It's not a requirement but it helps.

7. Web design falls within the scope of graphic design.

8. Of the cities you mention Minneapolis, Chicago and the West Coast have the bigger advertising and design communities.

9. Do her a favor and go buy her the Communication Arts Advertising Annual, the One Show, Print Magazine's Regional Design Annual and Archive Magazine. All of these will set you back about $200 but it's money well spent. It will give her some insight into what's being done by the better shops and talent. Not to mention, it will give her an idea of what market(s) she might be most interested in -- especially the Print annual.
     
travisimo
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Aug 16, 2005, 10:04 AM
 
I'm just graduation right now, literally in 2 weeks.
I'm a broadcast and motion graphics major. While i was in school i producted better than average work and it got me freelance work while i was in school. The college i went to had a resume site that a lot of companies would constanlty check. Knowing the software and having the hardware is essential for freelance.

Banking on your school to have the hardware for work purposes is a bad idea. If they catch you making money on "educational" equiptment you could be in lots of trouble. It's always best to have everything you'd need to do anything you think you'd have to do. Luckily for her that only involves a nice computer and a decent array of software.

I've made quite a bit of money freelancing because the overhead is nothing really. I always own all the equpitment and my thoughts and creativty are a free resource i take advantage of

I definatly agree with art_director on that, the longer you hold a job in the industry the moer you get paid. it's just par to of it. as much as i think i know about film and tv, i will always learn so so so much by working for a company. employers know this, they know that school can not teach reall world expericence.. while they may do a great job in providing real world projects for you to do, they may give you a week to do what could regularly take 1 day in the industry. so once you get your feet wet more money will come.

all i can say is read lots of books, trend while is "trendy" looks good and the masses love it...

she'll need to know how to work a computer, she'll need to know how to manipulate graphics, if she's as good as you say she is though she could become an art director and never touch photoshop again lol, that rarley happens but it's a goal for many designers.

i hope i said somthing there. haha

trav
     
CaptainHaddock
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Aug 16, 2005, 10:29 AM
 
In my opinion, a 17" Powerbook would be fast and very nice, but also pricey. The Mac Mini is good, but perhaps a little underpowered if she's used to a fast PC.

In my mind, the ideal set-up would be a cheaper dual-G5 with the 20" Apple display or one of those big Dell screens, plus a large external firewire drive. It's better to keep your files portable than your computer. If she's on a tighter budget, a 20" iMac (plus the external drive) would do just fine. Make sure she doesn't skimp on the RAM.

Freelancing off the bat will be very difficult for her unless she has drive and lots of natural talent, plus a knack for business and self-marketing.

If she has strong design and art skills, I think she'll be snapped up immediately. There's a serious dearth of good designers in the industry. If her skills are just average and need development, finding a job might take more time.
     
tgags
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Aug 17, 2005, 03:03 PM
 
I was an art major and then a graphic designer for 6 years. The economy did hit that industry pretty hard and I was downsized and had hrs cut, etc. So I ultimately got my teachihng certification and I now teach and do freelance in the summers, so it's the best of both worlds.

To answer your questions, it is a viable career, but it is competitive (especially. when companies are cutting budgets, there is little growth and you end up with a large pool of applicants.

Some ppl can make Freelance work for them, I couldn't for 2 reasons. 1. You have to be a salesperson for yourself (marketing your services is a job in itself), and 2. Jobs (and thus your salary) is inconsistent. That can be hard when your bills are consistent
But, as I said, some make it work and enjoy the perks of working their own hours. She could get work thru agencies such as Aquent, Art Squad and The Creative Group, they are temp-to-perm staffing agencies that use freelance designers (though you need experience before they will hire you).

Personally, I found working for a design/printing company the best (for the steady paycheck factor).

With freelance, I charge between $20 and $30 per hour for my freelance services now (I do print and web, in a suburban area). Though it's a side thing for me, so I don't pound the pavement for clients, it has just been word of mouth.

As far as out of college, it may be hard for her to do freelance with no experience, you can't bill clients for your learning curve. If she has good design skills, a good portfolio and solid knowledge of the design apps, she may get right into a design firm (I highly recommend an intership, cause when you get out of college and have that piece of paper and think you are all set, then you find everyone wants experience). Just having that little experience on the resume will make a world of difference in getting a job. Other then that, I started at a commercial printer. They don't pay as much, but as a result, get the lower experience levels that don't command a high salary. And you learn a lot there. The experience I got with regards to what happens to design files when they get to the printer, has proved invaluable throughout my whole career.

As far as "computer savy" for print design she should know the mainstream apps such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesing and/or QuarkXpress, and have knowledge about making PDFs. The platform is pretty much a non issue, navigating and organizing files on either is relatively easy.
GD doesn't necessarily mean "web", but it would not hurt to learn a little in that area as it's inevitable to get exposed to that area of graphic design at some point. How much depends on where she wants to work (or what services she wants to offer clients).

As far as what computer, I personally can't do design work on a laptop, they are too small, but if she is comfortable on one, they are perfectly capable of doing design work. I would go with 1 gig ram with whatever computer you go with (I just got a MacMini and love it).

Lastly, I will give my take on the career (plaese know, this is just my impression), I was fruterated with the career. Having the college degree & design skills, then having to know all that software, and keep up with all the changing technology, the jobs (companies I worked for) didn't seem to account for all that. The highest yearly salary I ever earned was $36k (that was as a designer for an in-house ad department of a medium sized corporation). After I was donwsized, I worked for a commercial printer making less (it was all I could get, the jobs were so scarce). It was high stress, and I could barely afford to live. When I didn't receive a rase after a year, I decided to go back to school for my teaching certification. I am much happier now, my skills are much more valued (and compensated), and it's much more stable. I loved graphic design, but as a career, it was tough for me (again, that's just one persons experience).

Best of luck.
TG
     
art_director
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Aug 17, 2005, 03:54 PM
 
tgags is right, it's a rough business. Make sure your fiancee knows that going in. She should also be aware that she's not going to get rich in a hurry, and perhaps not at all. Depends upon how she plays the cards she's dealt.
     
italiano
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Aug 17, 2005, 03:59 PM
 
I did Pre-press and design for years at local printing companies... I quit in 2001 and went back to house painting as I can make more money and have LOTS less stress. In my area (North Florida) $12 - $13 an hour is standard for design and pre-press - that's sad cause I loved it but the stress can be very high and the pay sux!
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cSurfr
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Aug 18, 2005, 09:18 AM
 
I'm really surprised that so many people recommended the Mac Mini. I would have thought you would have all run away from that machine in a flash. I guess the upside to the Mini is that when the intel machines come out, you'll already have the monitor purchased, so you can just grab the tower and be off.

-cs
-How pumped would you be driving home from work, knowing someplace in your house there's a monkey you're gonna battle?
     
art_director
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Aug 18, 2005, 05:08 PM
 
It goes without saying that the bigger the machine the better. But, for a student, the Mini seems like a good buy. 'Course, it would choke on the files I'm working on now. Heck, my Dual 2.5 G5 with 2.5 GB RAM is taking 90 seconds to save changes. We're talking about one complex bugger of a document.
     
iREZ
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Aug 22, 2005, 04:23 PM
 
mini is fine for the inevitable intel update...makes no sense for you to spend upwards of 2k on a computer just to update it 1 year later. id go with either the next update to a mini, or the recent iMacs...forget the portables unless you guys are financially able to purchase a 15" powerbook...i do all my stuff on my 12" hooked up to my 20" lcd at home...but i know imma need a faster computer real soon.
NOW YOU SEE ME! 2.4 MBP and 2.0 MBP (running ubuntu)
     
production_coordinator
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Aug 22, 2005, 10:04 PM
 
My 2¢

1) She should switch to Mac immediately. Professional designer use Macs.

2) Don't expect her to make 60K unless she has a solid portfolio and solid work history. When working freelance, being creative and a solid designer is only a quarter of the job. You also need to be a production coordinator, editor and accounts payable. You must also be a special type of person... generally with a thick skin. It's NOT easy.

3) If you work freelance, you need to be rather computer savvy. Why? because if you can't fix something, you are going to upset your clients. One missed deadline won't hurt that bad... but if they can't rely on you... they aren't going to stick with you. You need to understand the press, web, color theory, digital cameras, etc. etc. and also understand the mechanics that permit printers to print projects. I've been a production coordinator for 10 years and I'm still learning.

4) There are fewer and fewer designers that can't do either web or print. Most will have an area of concentration... but few can't do both. I focus on the print, but know how to design websites.

I would pick up a Mini or a PowerBook with a nice LCD screen.
     
d.fine
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Sep 1, 2005, 07:05 AM
 
Seems some things are different here in Europe. Knowledge of Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign/Quark are REQUIREMENTS. You won't get anywhere if you don't know your way around with these apps. A home Mac is a plus, for those deadline jobs that you sometimes need to take home with you.

It's a hard market here as well. I take anything I get, just for the sake of working experience, and the learning curve. If you don't have experience nobody will hire you, and those that do hire ppl without experience pay crap salaries, which in a way is understandable. But it tends to be a bit of a vicious circle.

If you get a shot at working in a bigger agency there are loads of tests to do. First round, second round, second interview, etc. But once in you're set, since most here form a network, and you come in contact with lots of other agencies of the same calliber, increasing your chances of getting a good job at a good agency should something go wrong with the current job.

But all in all, it's what I love doing. And if you get satisfaction out of what you do, I don't care what road I have to take to get to the top. I'll find my way, just as long as the job doesn't get boring.

There is room for Freelance work here, tough it won't count as experience to get you into an agency. Most frown upon it, don't consider it a real job, and think you'll run off with their clients.

A Mini sounds good as a first option, or even a PB.

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DeathMan
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Sep 1, 2005, 11:00 PM
 
Tell her she should become a painter. And I don't mean a house painter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

If she's going into graphic design because it seems like a more viable job than art (this is a very broad assumption on my part, but a common reason for people going into graphic design, or "commercial art", as it used to be called), it isn't a good reason to do it. As its been said, low pay, competitive marketplace, etc, make it hard to break in. You really have to love it. This is one reason why I'm considering getting out before I get in too deep. Either that, or I'm going all the way. (MFA program at SVA). Trying to decide.

Either way, the Mac is the way to go.

Good luck.
     
italiano
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Sep 2, 2005, 05:54 AM
 
I worked in the Graphics Design field for a lot of years - last job was Designer/Pre-press in a 3 man Art Department of a large commercial printing company where we turned out everything imaginable from 4-color to Vinyl and Graphics to silk screening. I quit the biz in 2001 and went back to HOUSE PAINTING... less stress and more money. Here in North Florida $12 an hour is considered good money for the printing biz - and I make considerably more painting houses.

Also the majority of work in a commercial printing company is boring as hell and the stress level is high...
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