Considered working as an art director and graphic designer? This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more.
I am an art director and graphic designer with over ten years of experience in the world of advertising and publishing. I would describe myself as funky, creative, and professional.
What is it like working as Graphic Designer?
As a white woman in advertising I experienced some job discrimination when I saw my less professional male colleagues get promoted over me for working around the clock. They would stay up all night working and drinking intermittently but because they clocked such long hours they were perceived as better workers.
As a wife and mother I could not afford to stay out all night “working”. I never complained about the boys who were promoted above me. Complaining in corporate America is the kiss of death; they will fire you for any reason, at any time, even if you complain. Really, it was like a bad sitcom plot. Advertising is still a very male-dominated world and as a female creative it could be very rough.
What is the role of a graphic designer/art director?
As a graphic designer I am responsible for concepts, mockups, pitching ideas, changing the ideas to accommodate the client and the creative director. I freehand sketch my ideas and then scan the idea into a software such as PhotoShop and work on the idea from there digitally.
Color and concept are very important and I have worked very hard to train my eye to be able to discern good color and good design. Many times I meet directly with the client to help pitch design ideas, or to simply provide a friendly and professional face at the table who listens.
Many people think that graphic designers just make pretty designs. The designer’s role is so much more important than that. As designer, I am responsible for interpreting the client’s comments so that I have a visual understanding of what they want versus what works best for advertising and marketing. A designers’ knowledge of color, concept, and industry trends is as important as the salesmanship of the design. Graphic design is about visual communication and I have to be good at communicating ideas.
How enjoyable is your line of work?
On a scale of one to ten I would rate my job satisfaction as six. Advertising can be very high-stress, though the paycheck tries to make up for this. I think that in the future advertising will go back to a smaller model of agency with only a few employees rather than large conglomerates where clients get lost and the price tag is high. I would also feel better, as a graphic design and contributing member of society, to create designs for companies that were socially and environmentally responsible.
I do love being a graphic designer but working for banks and other large corporations is not as rewarding as working for a nonprofit. I am looking for a job as a graphic designer where I am appreciated for my experience and skills. I also want my employers to know that I am a mother first; if my kid is sick I need to stay home and take care of them.
How did you become a graphic designer?
I never intended to be a graphic designer. I was a fine arts major at a top-ten US art school on the east coast and was determined to be a starving artist. There was a great rivalry at this art school between the fine arts majors (the true artists) and the visual communications majors (the sellouts).
I got started in graphic design after I got hired as a production manager, or print buyer, in an ad agency. As a production manager I worked hard hours in high heels, while my colleagues in the art department wore black and drank beer at lunch. And the kicker? They got paid overtime, while I, as an exempt employee, got paid nothing extra for working 60 hours a week. For me the transition to the art department was a no-brainer. I got paid more to have more fun.
What would you change about your career?
If I could go back and do my college days differently, I would major in graphic design or visual communication. I feel like if I had got my career off the ground right out of art school that I would gone further in the industry and would have achieved more in the field of graphic design.
I learned the hard way that it’s hard to be a parent and have a job in advertising. I worked up until the day I gave birth and took only the standard three months of maternity leave. I had this incredible and inexplicable desire to return to the competitive workplace and in many ways put this before my role as a parent. When I did take time for my child, some employers viewed this as negative and became more controlling of my time and work.
Outside of art school I have learned that the best graphic designers with the best ideas do not always succeed over less designers with superior social and selling skills. I also learned that being a graphic designer can be as visually satisfying and demanding as being a painter or fine artist.
What was your strangest assignment to date?
The strangest thing that ever happened to me as a graphic designer was being involved in a top secret branding project that involved two major financial institutions. We worked in an isolated area and had to sign confidentiality agreements. The hours were long and it was incredibly stressful to not be able to talk to other designers about the project.
I get up and go to work everyday because I am making an incredible paycheck. I feel really good and proud when my ideas are chosen by the client, and I know that two million copies of my idea will make it to print.
I face many challenges in the graphic design industry trying to balance work and family. When I have to work too many hours it makes me want to quit my job. Because advertising is so competitive there can be colleague in-fighting and unrest; this also makes me want to quit.
How much does an art director earn?
For the position I hold, the salary range is anywhere from $35,000-60,000 per year. This is a very comfortable salary that allows me to live at a very high level when combined with that of my spouse. I receive about 4 weeks of vacation every year and feel that is enough time off.
My 4-year art degree is a mandatory requirement for my profession, though I have known many designers with only a two-year degree who do quite well financially. Many of my friends have asked me about my graphic design career and I warn them about how competitive and stressful it can be. Long hours and demanding work make the average work term expectancy of an advertising employee about three years.
What are your future career plans?
If I could do anything I wanted, in five years I would own an art security company that is responsible for transporting and securing fine and decorative arts in a museum or gallery setting. In other words, I’d like to get out of graphic design and advertising and do something completely different.
This is a true career story as told to GraphicDesignJobs.org and is one of many interviews with graphic design professionals which among others include a graphic artist in printing, a freelance artist, and everything in between.