5 Lessons You Weren't Taught in Design School

August 5, 2013

Earning your graphic design degree is a commendable achievement, and one that can form the foundation for a long and lucrative career in design. But even the best graphic design schools omit critical lessons that have a major impact on the level of success you can achieve as a graphic designer. If you want to land better clients and more profitable work, it would behoove you to take the following five lessons to heart.

1. Word of mouth trumps portfolios

Graphic design schools urge you to build your portfolios so you can land great graphic design jobs. Nothing wrong with that. However, in the professional world your ability to effectively network can play a much larger role in your ability to land those jobs than your portfolio. A recommendation from a well-known client, or simply forging relationships with premier industry players can be all you need to land the best work. Right or wrong, often who you know is more important that what you know.

2.  Clients want copycats

Your ability to craft completely original designs in your  unique created style is outstanding, but in many cases clients want “something that looks like this.” This isn’t to say you should directly copy your competitors (and risk legal issues), but it does mean that many types of designs work best within established parameters. Brochures, posters and websites are perfect examples of designs that require certain visual flows to be effective. Moreover, certain visual presentations are proven to be more effective at motivating response and conversions; to deviate from them would be an injustice to your clients.

3.  It’s OK to use templates

Templates can speed design production and allow you to turn more projects over for greater profits. They’re especially useful for direct marketing pieces, which typically have limited “shelf lives.” You can download a powerful direct-mail postcard template, for example, swap out the colors, text, logo and images, and end up with a postcard that yields an excellent response rate – which, at the end of the day, is what your clients care about most.

4.  You can dictate how much you make

When you graduate design school, it can be easy to believe you’re at the mercy of whatever design house will hire you (or “allow” you to work for free as an intern). While that’s one way to start forging your career path, the problem is that you’re just one designer in a sea of so many other recent graduates. That creates a large supply in comparison to the demand, which often translates into low pay for entry-level designers. If you want to make more money, you can strike out on your own as a freelancer or start your own design firm. Determine how much you want to make in a year, how many hours you want to work, and charge accordingly. If you’re a talented graphic designer, there’s no reason you should settle for $20 per hour when you can make $60, $90 or $120.

5.  You’ll make more money by outsourcing

Outsourcing allows you to take on more simultaneous projects, which means you can make more money. If you charge $60 per hour and work five hours per day, you’ll make $300 per day. But if you outsource two projects at a time at the same rate and pay your designers $40 per hour, you’ll make an additional $40 per hour as well – which translates to $500 per day. Moreover, outsourcing allows you to offer additional services such as web development, printing and search engine optimization so you can keep happy clients in-house for greater profits.

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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

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The PsPrint Blog is a resource for graphic designers, freelancers, small business owners and fans of print marketing. You'll find helpful techniques on printing everything there is to print, including business cards, postcards, brochures, stickers, invitations, greeting cards, door hangers, magnets and more. The PsPrint Blog shares creative ways to improve your design and layout skills, and useful tips for marketing your business in any medium. We also like to have a little fun, sharing design inspiration and spotlighting some our favorite customers' printed pieces in our "Hot Off the Press" series.