How to become a designer and what does a designer do

Since leaving college at 19, I have been a designer. I am now 50. On literally hundreds of occasions I have been asked, What do you do?

It usually goes something like this:

Q: And what do you do?
A: I’m a graphic designer.
Q: Are you? That sounds very interesting and what do you design?
A: Well lots of things really, such as logos, brochures, websites, packaging, etc.
Q: Oh I see, my son is good with computers; he would love to do something like that! How do you get into it?
A: Well it takes more than just an interest in computers. And you have to have, at least, a degree in graphics…

Then a protracted conversation usually continues until one or other gets bored with trying to understand or explain.

Design always seemed to be seen as a bit of a soft option by the education authorities my son or daughter is not really interested in any academic subjects, but they do like computer games and they love Facebook so, anything to do with computers will give them a well paid career… or so they think.

Firstly you have to be really keen on design, all design, full stop. Interests in architecture, fashion, TV, film, music, books, media, and photography are also pretty handy – generally a love of the arts. It more than helps if you can draw, sketch, have some idea about colour, shape and layout. I think three to four years at college or university studying graphic design is a must, and during that time I would expect a student to have undertaken work experience in their chosen field. Hopefully they also might have had a part time job to help support themselves, so they understand and have gained some sort of work ethic and sense of the idea that hard work is done in exchange for payment. And they hopefully have achieved a very high level mark for their studies. This is a great foundation for the next and frankly very hard stage of the process; finding a job as a junior designer. This is when the wannabe designer’s strength of character and commitment will be tested to the full.

When I left college in 1982, at almost 20, I had no idea what was in store “ but it turned out to be quite a long slog! The first job was for pin money, as and when, and mainly included a small amount of artwork. Being so nervous, I usually got this completely wrong, much to the art director’s dismay. Eventually I was told there was no work for me and I left feeling pretty miserable.

There followed quite a lengthy search; job application after application, showing my portfolio to everybody who would look at it (interested or not) and weeks went by with no luck. Desperate for cash I jot a job in McDonald’s as a burger flipper and had to suffer the indignity of hosting children’s parties dressed as Ronald McDonald. Still the kids seemed to respond and so did their parents with great tips.

For a year or so in Brighton and in London the interviews carried on. I worked part time in a small agency and seemed to do much better but the pay was almost non-existent. From there, out of the blue, I heard from a close friend in the business that a designer working on his own was up to his eyes in work and looking for a young newbie to help him. It was pouring with rain when I rang him from an old style call box virtually begging for an interview. He said yes to that and to the job and I was thrilled. Finally I had been given a chance and I loved working with him. Over a few months he taught me a great deal and I repaid him by getting a job elsewhere, something, which I regret to this day.

My next job was an assistant graphic designer at the BBC in London. Really this was a posh name for a caption generator on the new Breakfast Time programme with Frank Bough and Selina Scott. I was part of a very young team, which I loved, but hated the work and the split 12-hour night shifts. Most of all, I did no design work, just generated programme titles and as I can’t spell very well it was a very tough two years. The money was good and looking back it was a great experience; I worked on several TV shows including Question Time, News Night and many others, I saw numerous programs being made such as The Young Ones and Top of the Pops.

After two years I left and moved back to Brighton, working for a real design consultancy. Starting at the bottom I slowly worked my way up. I loved it, met my wife there and after a few of years moved back to Devon to work at Logo Design.

Other than the odd incidental blip I have had a great career and would not change a thing. It has been very tough and a huge challenge; I have never been bored as every day something new has landed on my desk. I have been challenged continually and stretched in every direction. I have made friends for life and I have been able to progress all the way to the top of the company alongside the owners.

I very much hope I can continue to design for a few years yet, working with probably some of the most talented people in the country. Take a look at our website see for yourself and this is what a graphic designer does “ everything. If you are committed and ready to work your butt off, you love art and design, have patience and a very, very thick skin, then design may be for you.

Good Luck!