raphic Designers visually communicate ideas, concepts or information that help attract audiences to a brand, person or entity. Professional graphic designers work freelance jobs or in the fields of web design, communications and marketing.
Graphic designers are currently in high demand in Alberta, with nearly 7,000 employed in the province and 44 per cent of employers recruiting designers in the last two years.
This article delves into everything you need to know about graphic design and what it takes to be a part of this creative field. Here are some important questions we’ll answer throughout this article:
No, you don’t have to be an artist to be a graphic designer, although it can help.
Design, unlike art, has a purpose to solve problems, achieve solutions and effectively communicate clear messages to its audience. While traditional art, on the other hand, can express ideas that have more than one meaning. For the case of graphic designs, having more than one meaning can render the visual ineffective.
A notable example was when a design of toilet signs in Taiwan were considered “a little too creative.” With a drawing of a giraffe assigned to one door and an elephant for another, passersby never understood which one was the men’s or women’s washrooms. This left many social media users guessing how a giraffe or an elephant can relate to being a man or a woman.
Graphic designers are recorded to make an average annual income of $56,601 in Alberta, with wages starting at $23.28 and topping at $33.99, according to ALIS.
The average Canadian income in 2020 is recorded at $54,630. This makes graphic designers competitive income earners in the country. With the right qualities and skill-sets, designers can easily become a valuable asset to any company, whether they are permanently employed or a freelancer.
Faya Shlah is a Graphic Design Instructor at ABM College. She says that there are various ways to be a part of this creative profession.
“It all depends on who the person is [and] how they learn,” says Shlah, adding that some learn by delving into the software while others can “learn in a classroom setting a lot better.”
But regardless of how you begin, the choice to keep learning and advancing in this field is entirely up to you, according to Shlah, adding that freelancing is a very good place to start work as graphic designers.
“Through colleges like ABM College and other places, you can get the education you need to get started. But it’s basically all on you to push past that.”
Unlike most professions, there is one vital component to a graphic designer’s job application — a portfolio.
“Make sure you have a portfolio that works with what the client wants,” says Shlah.
Art and illustration, packaging, marketing and advertising are only a few of many types of graphic designs students can work on. But since there are many different types of design students can master, it is vital to build a strong portfolio that caters to the company’s graphic design style. If you are unsure of what type of design to specialize in, try doing a little bit of everything and see what sticks. In the end, a portfolio is necessary by the time you start applying for work.
“When you walk into an interview, you need that or else it doesn’t matter how good in the interview you are,” says Shlah. “If you don’t have it, they are not going to take you.”
But, what if you already have a strong portfolio? The interview comes next, and it is in this part where your knowledge of theory, application, collaboration and efficient work behaviours come in handy.
What better way to prepare for a job interview than by reviewing a list of questions employers can ask. We provided you with some examples of answers that can give you an idea of how to potentially answer these questions, in your own words and in your own way.
This question is no stranger to any interview. It allows employers to know you better and to understand what brought you to meeting them in that interview. This is your opportunity to show how passionate you are about your work and why you chose a career in graphic design.
Example: “I’ve always been a creative person, for as long as I could remember. But I made my transition from being an artist to becoming a graphic designer back in college. There was something about being able to effectively communicate to a mass audience visually that was so powerful to me. The ability to capture someone's attention, ‘speak’ to them in a matter of seconds through a few words, shapes, images and colours, I feel like that’s a different kind of art that I know I want to master for myself.”
This gives employers a chance to understand how you work. Does your work process allow collaboration? And what do you look for when creating drafts of designs to present to your clients or colleagues?
Example: “As a freelance graphic designer, I worked on multiple food advertisements for a social media business. I did a series of 5 milk tea ads, as per the client's request. Before I started creating drafts of designs, however, I reviewed the client’s social media accounts, any previous ads made, checked in with any branding guidelines (e.g. font, brand colours, etc.) they may have, and reviewed the goals of the ads and of the client in an in-person meeting. From all the information I gathered, I came up with a few designs for them to have a better understanding of what artistic directions I can take and how each can serve their advertising goals. From there, the client chose one design that served as a theme for the 5 ads of different milk tea flavours they wanted to promote.”
This question is not new to the interview process. So, be sure you know what strengths you bring to the table and how it can help your role or your team. Your ability to answer this question shows interviewers that you were not only prepared for the interview, but you are also aware of how your capabilities affect the quality of your work.
Example: “As a freelance graphic designer, I found that patience, multitasking and attention to detail are very important qualities for any creative. I do believe my experience as a freelancer prepared me in many ways to take on this role. In addition, my ability to innovate and be creative with designs while fulfilling the goals of clients is something I am very proud of.”
There are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages or highs and lows to any experience, object or person. Be aware of what qualities can still set you back and how you wish to improve them. This shows employers that you have the humility to recognize your flaws but are responsible enough to take action and improve yourself as a person and designer.
Example: “I am aware that I have procrastinated multiple times in the beginning of my career. In the last year, I’ve taken steps to improve my time management skills so that I would not have to feel intense pressure before my deadlines. This allowed me to not only submit projects earlier than expected, but gave me more time to work on other projects at the same time. As I’ve only recently seen improvements in my time management skills, I’m currently strengthening my ability to do so until it becomes natural to prevent any future tendencies to procrastinate.”
There are so many industries and companies that need graphic designers. This makes it even more important for employers to know what made you choose them over their competitors, or over the available job market of employers.
Example: “I comprehensively reviewed your work before applying. Design is a competitive industry to be a part of, and I want to be a part of it just as much as any other designer. But to grow requires the yearning to constantly learn. Your company has presented multiple designs that I and many others admire, and to say it in that way is even an understatement. I want nothing more but to learn from you and to grow within your company.”
As discussed earlier in the article, designers create art that serves a specific purpose. Your answer to this question informs employers how aware you are of the qualities required to succeed as a designer, and how did you adapt to meeting these qualifications.
Example: “Patience, understanding, flexibility, communication, creativity and knowledge of effective branding, colour and design theory are a few things that come to mind when I think of good designers. Good designers have two sides to them, each carrying complexities of their own. There is the side that makes you appealing to clients and coworkers because of how your personality is comfortable with feedback, instruction, the opinions of others and schedule changes within a given project. And there is the other side that is knowledgeable of design theory and application, which allows others to trust your vision, advice and is the basis of every draft you create that allows others to build upon.”
If there is a lead designer among your panel of interviewers, this may be a question asked. As a designer, there is always a tendency to critique or judge others’ work. You may unconsciously be doing this whenever you see graphic designs in train stations or malls, or even when you open the pages of a magazine. You may also purposefully view the designs of other companies or designers to expand your creative abilities, as studying the works of others can challenge how you work.
Example: “I personally love Aya Kudo’s Pen For All campaign in London. To reach out to the public on behalf of a non-profit organization that aims to support children’s education, her campaign visually embodies the spirit of young boys and girls who are eager to learn. The baby pink and blue colours, along with illustrations of the hands and handwritings of children allow passersby to immediately grasp the intention of the advertisement, drawing attention to it’s goal to support child education in a split second. I’m a fan of it’s minimalistic nature but I personally would still add another accent colour to bring close attention to very important points mentioned within the ads. The words ‘I want to KNOW’ is written in between multiple lines of text that have the same colour. I would highlight it by changing the font colour to a bright yellow shade in order for it to stand out from the rest. This can help improve viewers retention or at very least, make them curious to know more about the ad.”
This question taps into your artistic abilities. Not many people understand what it takes to create visually appealing works of art and design. Let them into your world. Every creative is different. In this case, all you have to do is be authentic to your own design taste and process.
Example: “I look at others and the environment around me for inspiration. Everybody has their own sense of style, and each person is a brand whether they consider themselves to be one or not. Based on my understanding of colour psychology and design theory, I can attach different colours, shapes and styles to different personality types. This is no different for companies. I also think that studying a lot of different design styles and concepts really help me create very different designs every time, and my yearning to design something that looks and feels new despite sticking to the same branding style guidelines is what makes my job so interesting.”
As collaboration is important in the field of design, this question looks into how you are able to adapt your work to the vision or critiques of others. Remember designers, critique for your work is not critique against you as a designer. But since design is supposed to uphold a client’s goals or a company’s vision, the feedback process is crucial to any design work.
Example: “Having worked with clients in the past, I am no stranger to feedback. My goal is the client’s goal and so, it is important for me to understand their point of view in order to move forward. After an initial meeting with the client on what elements the design needs and what goal it should achieve, I create a variety of designs and build upon whichever design the client prefers. If the client does not like any of the designs, then we have more discussions on what to create for the next set of drafts. As usual, I rationalize certain design choices that are imperative to make an ad effective but I would always communicate this in a polite fashion and work closely with the client to make sure their creative vision comes to life.”
Conflict is normal to any workplace. Although you cannot control what happens around you, what matters is you can control how you react to it. Expect this question to be asked in many interviews you do.
Example: “There was this instance where my client did not like any of the first or second sets of designs and was becoming frustrated. I could see that she had personal preferences that I could not exactly envision for the ad. I calmly asked her if I can send her a third set but this time, I would want her to send me a vision board that shows me her specific design taste in order for me to create visuals in accordance to her preferences. Thankfully, we were able to move forward with the project after doing this.”
We hope you now have a better understanding of graphic design and what it means to call yourself a designer. If you want to get a head start on your career, review what it’s like to study graphic design in college or delve into the work immediately by studying our tips to improve your graphic design skills.