HOW Design Live

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May 2-6, 2017
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Blog Post

Finding Graphic Design Jobs in Unexpected Places

10/14/2016

By Eric Wheeler, Guest Contributor
Eric Wheeler

Eric Wheeler

When I was in grade school, I told my mother I wanted to be an artist when I grew up (the only profession synonymous with starving). She struggled to offer both support and responsible parenting, but the latter won out.

“You could be a doctor or a lawyer and fall back on art if those don’t work out,” she said, but the conversation soon became heated as I struggled to express that there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do.

Then, my father, a man of startlingly few words, sat up from the sofa and with his baritone voice perfected by two packs of cigarettes a day simply said, “Let the boy be what he wants to be.”

I don’t know if my mother was stunned by the fact that Dad just used nine words in one sentence, or that he actually shared an opinion; but, either way the path had been cleared for me to pursue my passion.

Determining a career direction is often the first hurdle we face as we mature, but for creatives this can be compounded by a lack of mentors in our profession as well as a narrow view as to the opportunities the field offers.

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For decades advertising agencies have been the gold standard for creative employment. Because of that, so many new graduates inundate them with resumes, clever self-promotion and links to online portfolios, that it remains a buyer’s market.

Even though my first “real” design job was at an advertising agency, I was exposed to a host of alternative options while working as a cashier at an art supply store. You remember those, don’t you? Though many of our customers were art directors with ad agencies and design studios, many came from law firms, architectural and interior design firms, and even grocery stores.

Law firms are often tasked with visually recreating the aspects of a case for presentation in court. The field of litigation visuals is an intriguing and impactful option that calls upon a wide variety of skill sets. On any given day, a designer could be involved in projects that include three-dimensional renderings depicting a building’s construction or lack thereof, information graphics that simplify complex topics and medical illustration that clarifies the cause of a patient’s condition.

Those skilled in animation, 3-D rendering and simplifying complicated content could flourish in such an environment. You can also tell your family that you work for a law firm, which might avoid the blank stares you usually get when passionately expressing the virtues of raster images over vector (for the record, all the cool kids use vector).

Now that we are in the age of home improvement television where tiny houses, mid-century modern makeovers and barn conversions abound, architecture and interior design professionals have been rightfully elevated to rock star status. Designers could serve themselves well by joining the band. Many corporate and institutional clients seek out these firms to create not just spectacular spaces, but also illustrative wall graphics, modern wayfinding installations and interactive displays.

As a graphic designer at one of these firms, you will use every corner of the Adobe Creative Suite as you blend photography, typography and illustration into a cohesive visual experience.

So often, the line between creative disciplines is blurred as the various skill sets depend on one another to provide the best results for our clients. In this environment, the logistics and accuracy of architecture and the color theory and spatial acuity of interior design become harmonious with the conceptual skills and typographic sensitivity of graphic design.

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You may have noticed some grocery stores have a plethora of signage and promotional literature that reflect the food of the moment, such as kale and quinoa, or the promotion of the hour such as half-price wings on game days and buy-one-get-one deals on popcorn when your favorite zombie show premieres.

It’s often in the interest of the retailer to have in-house resources to maximize the speed and efficiency of their promotions. Some have well-appointed studios with computer workstations, drafting and production space and large-format printers.

These in-house departments are often invisible to the public and off the radar of many would-be designers looking to get their foot in the door of the industry.

Creatives who are efficient in web design, social media graphics, illustration and package design may want to roll their talents down the aisle of these opportunities.

When looking for a job in your field, train your eye to look in unexpected places. So much of what we see, and are affected by, may have come from a source outside of the traditional ad agency arena. Colleges and universities, small retailers, insurance agencies and government institutions all have a need for a creative and talented workforce. The more options you pursue, the more you’ll improve the likelihood that you, too, will be what you want to be.

Eric Wheeler is Director, Creative Services in the Integrated Communications Department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio