What I want you to know about being a graphic designer

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post was submitted by Heather.



I am a graphic designer. I have a BFA and an MA and have taught design for five years at the college level. I am particularly skilled at creating logos and branding, and I love designing editorial and CD packages. I also love typography, and tend to work for other creative people. 

What we designers do, at the root level, is help our clients get their message across to their target audience. We use elements such as color, line, and shape. We utilize principals like alignment, hierarchy, and correspondence. We work one-on-one with our clients to understand their needs. There is no blanket approach because the strategy is different for each job. It depends on what needs to be said, and who you are saying it to. I speak completely differently to my grandmother than I do to my BFFs from high school. Design is similar. 

Good design requires research, and process, and time. 

It requires an education. Yes, anyone can sit in front of a computer and bang out a flyer or an ad. I appreciate how democratic the printed word has become, because I remember the days when I had to drive across town to have anything professionally typeset. But layout—actually moving a bunch of elements around on a given format—is not design. Design is about ideas and concepts. No one is born knowing how to create beautiful typography. It’s like being a doctor. You have to learn the technique and the vocabulary and the tools and the rules. And the tricks.

It also requires overhead. I have to maintain my computer, printer, backup system, and scanner. I have to purchase fairly regular software upgrades. I pay for the jazzy version of yousendit and for my website. Occasionally I buy a new font. I try to stay educated, so I buy magazines, the occasional book, and I’ll pay to go hear illuminating speakers on the topic of design. I need office supplies, and health insurance, a phone, and electricity. I need a room to work from. 

Listen, I love my job. I love my clients. I love helping others be more successful. I love working with other creative people like photographers, illustrators and printers.

What I don’t love is being asked to work for free. Or to work for less than the going rate. It happens more frequently than you might guess. And hey, I get it. We’re all on shoestring budgets. I just wish that graphic design was afforded the same respect that other professions enjoy. Nobody expects to go to a movie, get their oil changed, or have their teeth cleaned for free or for cheap. I’ll gladly lend my talents to non-profits, or to organizations raising money for worthy philanthropic goals. But if someone’s making money, I want to make money too. This is my profession.

When someone contacts me, I will ask a few (or a lot) of questions, and get back to them with a clear estimate for the services discussed. Too often, people have not factored design into whatever project they need design for. They seem surprised that they can’t get a design for a poster, T-shirt, logo or newsletter for $25. All of those projects require hours of work…design isn’t just squirted out onto the page like toothpaste.

So in my perfect, design-savvy world, every start-up business plan includes a budget for graphic design. Even school kids know that logos are tremendously hard to craft—and they know the three criteria a successful logo must satisfy. Bands include fees for a designer to their Kickstarter campaigns so they can hire someone great. My perfect world is flush with good design. Think of it! Signs would be classier, newspaper ads would have more white space, and all your junk mail would at least be easy on the eyes. Menus in dim restaurants would be readable. Business cards would be curious and remarkable. Comic Sans could finally be laid to rest, and we might even see a logo for a roofer that didn’t include a chimney. And for me, personally, no one would ever ask, “Well, can’t ya just (insert random time-consuming design related task here)?” 

Good design makes the world a better place. Good packaging sells. Good branding helps win and keep customers. Good signage helps us navigate the world. Good websites keep more eyes on them. The old chestnut about getting what you pay for is still with us because it’s true. So sure, hug a designer today—but if you really want to see one smile, pay us what we’re worth. We really are here for you.



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