Graphic designer

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Rachel, late 30s

What does a graphic designer do?

Rachel has just finished designing "52 square metres of intense and overlaid imagery" for the front windows of the Geraldton Hospital redevelopment. Using images of the region, input from the local community, and intensive research, she created panels up to 8m by 12m. It took months hunched over a computer, but she says it combined all the things she loves about graphic design - creativity, communication, and community building. "We sent out disposable cameras to the local Aboriginal communities and asked them to take photos... We got some amazing images and we're going to hold do an exhibition to promote the community."

How did you become a graphic designer?

Rachel has her own design business, after working full time and then freelancing - not an unusual career path for designers. She had a background in photography and printmaking, but realised that graphic design made better financial sense, and she preferred doing something useful. "Doing visual arts, I became really self-absorbed and had nothing to do with the outside world. I thought, 'I can't justify this! I want to apply this to something people can use.'" After a two-year Advanced Diploma in Electronic Design and Interactive Media, her multimedia skills were suddenly in demand.

What's a typical working day involve?

If you're working full-time, she warns, be prepared for severe deadlines, long hours, unpaid overtime and "churning stuff out", especially dealing with the business world.

It's unlikely to be "soccer in the hall and long lunches," she smiles. This can be hard if you want to use your creativity constantly, but even if you're considering freelancing, you'll need industry experience: "You learn so much more the minute you step into a job than you can in any course." Working on a promotional CD ROM for the City of Melbourne, for example, Rachel sourced images, created digital backgrounds and mock-ups to show the clients the "interface design" - the navigation system for how people 'move' through the CD ROM. She spent hours working in graphics programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, and became good friends with Director, Quark Xpress, Flash and Dreamweaver too. It's good to have a working knowledge of all these programs, though big firms won't expect you to know them all inside out.

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

The most satisfying moments in design? "When it works and you get it to the client on time and they're all as happy as clams!" or when you think of something really good. "Like with the navigation system for the City of Melbourne, we were racking our brains to find a good device. We came up with a little tram that you move along, and they loved it and it was very Melbourne." Graphic design can be very resource hungry - "so much for the paperless office!" - so Rachel encourages her own clients to choose environmentally friendly options (inks, papers, etc.) when talking budgets. "It's also really nice to do some pro bono work or work for charities - you can be more creative because it's not budget driven."

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

Since leaving full-time work she's learnt bookkeeping, tax, quoting, invoicing and how to set up filing systems. But the graphic designer's staple skill is relating well to people: "If communication is going to be the business you're involved in, you need to be good at it." Aspiring designers also need excellent time management and self-motivation. Rachel recommends joining the Australian Graphic Design Association for information and contacts.

Rachel is now doing her Masters in design communication, looking at how people communicate visually across cultures. She's also interested in teaching design theory, to encourage "good creative solutions", and to make sure people aren't too brainwashed by current design fashions. "The world is so full of bad communication messages and bad practices, and you don't want to be just another voice for the corporate world... Communication is about communities."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).