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What do designers do?

Designers share insights into their jobs...

DTG quite frequently receives email and inquiries from readers or students asking what it's like to be a designer, or to be involved in the creative field. Rather than answering the same question over and over, we decided to go out there and let some others share their experiences.
      We hope you enjoy these thoughtful comments as much as we did. BRAVO! Each of these will win a great prize from the Design Center -- and we invite you to share your experiences too!

Today, Designers must deal with many jobs
Here's what Linda says when asked about challenges in the graphic arts field :
      My biggest hurdle has been in working for old established companies whose execs still think of the graphic designers as "skilled labor" at best: simply a computerized version of the old paste-up production grunts from the 80s.
      When I first got into the industry, it took a series of professionals including color separators, typesetters and lithographers working with the designer to get everything together. Paste-up was an entry-level job. Now all those tasks are rolled up into one person's job, and it's a highly skilled profession. Even so, some of the corporate execs who have been in the business for a long time and had any dealings with getting their advertising or promotions handled prior to the digital takeover in the 90s don't really know or care that it's a completely different world now.
      The younger companies have a better grasp of what a designer does, in my experience, and have a lot more respect for the position.
Most difficult project?
      I had one project working up the graphics for a web site, which was going to be finalized in Flash by someone else. It was actually his project, and he needed help gathering up and preparing the elements he'd be using. There were several difficulties: he had a specific idea in mind but didn't have time to communicate it to me, and he didn't offer any resources for the elements he needed to have gathered up. It was a losing proposition, very frustrating. (I don't work with him anymore, by the way.) If "tough" means "challenging" -- well, that's different; I like a good challenge if I understand what's needed and what I have access to for solving the problem. But most of the time, the toughest part of a project is the deadline. (See note on the micromanager below!)
Do you like your job? Would you change anything to make it better?
      I like the fact that in my current job, I'm being allowed to develop the design department pretty much however I like, and the folks I work for have been open and supportive.
      I miss having other designers around me though, and I miss the buzz of working with editors and writers and photographers on a magazine. I don't miss trying to convince the ad sales folks that internal deadlines need to be met!
      The things I'd like to make better, I think I'm in the process of changing. I'm building up a clientele, so hopefully I can justify hiring another designer. I'm on the lookout for other professionals that I can bring in for higher-end projects. We're going to be doing a grand-reopening of our shop in a few months, which should increase our visibility and bring in more challenging work. And my plan is to make the whole thing so darn profitable that we can start looking at a health plan! (That's the one big :::sigh::: about this gig; no bennies. Yet.) It's nice to know I'm not stuck with a situation I can't improve.
Who controls the creative? You or the boss?
      In my case, the "boss" would be the client, because I'm pretty much a one-person department. Usually if they are coming to me, they want my ideas and they trust me to show them good stuff. Only once in the last year has someone come to me knowing EXACTLY what she wanted. If she had known how to use the software, she'd have done it herself. Instead she wanted to sit next to me and over-the-shoulder micromanage the whole thing. I grit my teeth and did the project for her, only because the project had been accepted by the company owner. But I had to go pet kitties to calm down after that!
When you have complete control, what do you do?
      I really love letterforms layered with textures. I like taking excerpts of texts... from handwritten letters to quotations from books or whatever... that fire up the imagination, and float them over details of buildings or partial faces, or other unusual textures, lots of translucency and unusual combinations.
Average projects per week: Sheesh. A jillion. OK, maybe 15 to 20, at the current gig. In the past, I've worked at publishing places where I'd work on the various pieces of same magazine for several weeks at a time. So, what's "normal"?
Average layouts per job: Three seems to be a good number. Too many choices gets overwhelming for the folks I'm working with. It depends on how much time I have, and how sophisticated the project (and the client) is. Quite frequently on a really basic project I'll just show a single proof and it's exactly what's wanted.
Overtime required: Not so much now. Used to work outrageous amounts of overtime in the publishing industry. Now I'm at a more low-key place which hasn't had an on-staff designer before, but I've only been there a few months. People are starting to find out I'm there, and things are starting to pick up, so that may change. I'm hoping if it gets too crazy that I can take on a protege rather than go back to 15-hour days.
Most used software: InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and even (gasp) Publisher. I thought I'd hate that program, but it's got some nifty features.
L.M. is a design professional from Anacortes, WA (?)

When Clients don't communicate...
Here's what Mike says when asked about challenges in the graphic arts field :
      Clients and potential clients who don't communicate at all, except to ask you to develop a design. This includes responding to proofs in a timely manner! I am wrapping up a large map project, and not one of the advertisers came to view the proof when available...on 2 separate occasions! Since the map has met with delays on my part, I had expected advertisers to be interested in seeing what HAD been done. It is intriguing the apathy on the part of many clients about their projects, no sense of urgency.
Most difficult project?
      The map project now wrapping up. It is months behind schedule. Lack of time on my part (I work 60 hours/week managing a tire store, in addition to my freelance work).
Do you like your job? Would you change anything to make it better?
      I love my job. I like to help people and businesses succeed.
Who controls the creative? You or the boss?
No boss other than the client. When you have complete control, what do you do?
      I make images the way I want first, trying to see the project form his/her point of view. The views of most managers and clients are short-sighted, in my experience, and a little far-sightedness on my end usually results in a pleasant surprise for the client.
Average projects per week: 1-2
Average layouts per job: I usually work towards 1 which best meets the needs of the project as described. Sometimes I'll have 2 or 3 other layouts; generally I present the design that best meets the projects requirements. It's like an inverted pyramid: start wide and narrow the selections down to just those images and details that matter for the project.
Overtime required: I work on graphics projects entirely from home, except when I must meet with a client.
Most used software: Adobe Creative Suite
Mike is a design professional from Wichita, KS (?)

Using my skills to help kids learn
Here's what Isaiah says when asked about challenges in the graphic arts field :
      -Large projects which need to be completed in reduced timeframes
-Tight budgets
-outsourcing of design and production
-advances in software and hardware require constant self-education
-office politics in an in-house enviornment
Do you like your job? Would you change anything to make it better?
      YES -- I do. Using my skills to help kids learn is on of the best things amyone can do. World Book has such a great reputation with teachers and educators. It's nice to be associated with a great brand. My career with World Book has opened relational doors to others in publishing, and the design community as a whole. While my experiences with World Book as a student may have been few, I have "grown up" with World Book in more ways than I could have ever imagined as an adult.
      I hope that as the publishing industry and learning process continue to evolve I will be willing and able to learn more. And in the process, be a good teacher for the next generation of designers to take World Book visually to the next level for the kids who benefit most from our efforts.
Who controls the creative? You or the boss?
      In editorial design, the collaboration of what I want, what my supervisors want, what the editors want and what the end users need is key. Hopefully we all get what is best for the end user when the project is done.
      You only remain in business because a client is willing to pay for your services. Graphic designers may make images, but what they do best is help a client get their message to a target group.
      Our company produced a training kit with a partner. I was asked to be a project leader. In this role I coordinated the efforts of 3 freelance graphic designers, and 2 production artists. With our in-house team we developed budgets, prototypes, and worked together to produce the program. The process was tense at times, and I interacted with some staff in ways I hadn't done before. I made some mistakes, but I grew from the experiences.
Average projects per week: 2 to 3
Average layouts per job: 1 to 2
Overtime required: Occasionally.
Most used software: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark XPress
Isaiah is a design professional from Chicago, IL, USA (?)

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