Hardest Part Of Being a Graphic Designer

Working as a Graphic Designer is not as glorified as many make it out to be. Sure we sit behind our fancy computer setups, sketching ‘pretty pictures’ in our Moleskin notebooks and can do business from the comforts of our own homes, but it can also be one of the most stressful, involving and cutting edge jobs out there.

Graphic design is in an industry that technically and creatively evolves faster than any other profession in my opinion. Designers constantly have to learn new software, stay on top of trends, have our work critiqued and displayed on a ‘pedestal’, manage tight and strict deadlines, consistently stay creative…and when we have time, live our daily lives. We play many roles, wear different hats and face many challenges daily. There are many days when I throw my hands up in the air out of exhaustion and frustration, but in the end there is nothing I rather do with my life and career.

Below I asked a few graphic and web designers what they thought was the hardest and most challenging part of being a Graphic Designer:

  • @studiorohan: As a designer you are constantly trying to improve. In this industry if you are standing still, you’re falling behind; you are constantly expanding your portfolio, your designs, your knowledge, your career and more.
  • @sthursby: Managing expectations. Not only do we expect the best from ourselves, but our clients do as well (with good reason). Convincing those in power that a winning concept cannot necessarily be immediately conjured out of thin air is a challenge.
  • @joelbeukelman: The reality that everyone has an opinion on what looks good/right. A patient would never tell the doctor how to fix their broken bone… nor would a customer tell a mechanic how to fix their oil leak, but a business owner will definitely tell their designer that emerald green and yellow would be the best colors for their corporate identity.
  • @ClaraCharlotte: (a graphic design student) When I first started my studies I was convinced that perfectionism is the hardest part. And it’s hard to stop being one. A layout never screams “I’m done now, leave me alone!” Now I’m convinced that the hardest part is talking to non-designer folk about your work. Mostly getting the client to understand and appreciate your work.
  • @kiryn: Whilst designing is the job, it’s all the complimenting work that keeps it flowing, staying focused on generating new client work and networking.
  • @pxls2prnt: coming up with an intriguing concept. A concept that will capture the minds and emotions of those who view the work.
  • @creativeworld: communicating your design and ideas to other people – at the end of the day if you can’t talk about and explain your design, it may never see the light of day. These days, great designers need to be great sales people too.
  • @nikibrown: balance and time management. I’m two years out of school and still find it hard to manage that work-life-fun-freelance balance.
  • @flyingorange: not letting my creativeness overtake the client’s objective.
  • @thepurpledoor: continually pushing the envelope to keep my style fresh and evolving.
  • @culinaryculture: Interpreting the things that people say for what they really mean. A good designer has to be intuitive and able to see through to the truth of what a client is looking for.
  • Derek Land: trying to handle regular office stuff whilst also keeping up with design, coding, meetings, etc. of a project – in effect, running the office (secretary hat) and simultaneously trying to maintain high quality in my work (designer hat).
  • Joann Sondy: On a day like today when I think I’m turning into a not-for-profit corporation it was hard to keep my cool. Unfortunately, this economic situation is causing some very deep and stressful emotions which make be behave badly… Thus this undesirable stress places undue stress on the creative process.

What’s the hardest part of your job as a Graphic Designer? What can we do to make it easier? Share your thoughts (and frustrations) in the comments below.

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Neha says:

    @flyingorange: I always face the challenge you are saying…most of the time clients interference in design let me to stop using my creativity and just follow there instructions at that time I feel like a machine who is just follwoing instruction not using brain and it makes me dam irritate.

    I try a lot to explain that blue look more professional and these will be good but clients don’t listen and I am still facing this problem

  2. ray keilman says:

    “Explaining to my parents what I do.”

    lol, signed.

  3. Mariusz says:

    Hardest part for me used to be balancing my time between my work that needs to be done now, school that I just finished luckily and personal things that I want to do now to develop my skills and staying on top of stuff. Now when I finished university it got a bit easier, but still I can’t be arsed to work sometimes when I just don’t feel like it and I’d rather play World of Warcraft or watch a movie. ;)

  4. Jedmond says:

    For me, the hardest part is getting my owner to understand that paying someone 200 bucks for a website screenshot will not produce higher quality work that i do.

    I hate it when i am given no direction for a site, no logo, and told by the client they have no color preference. I am expected to create the best thing ever seen, with nothing to go on. Hell, asking what sites they like, and getting ebay, and amazon as site references really erks me.

  5. Ex-Opesa says:

    I use PhotoShop and Ai, sadly i never come up with concept now. I read, view many inspirational articles etc. Still nothing and that is the thing i hate a lot and maybe that is a reason i have left and give up PhotoShop/Ai. I am sometimes able to do work with Cinema 4D but my PC is not capable to handle it. Before it was so fun, i just bring up some random concept and work it and the result was good, now its just like a empty mind…Maybe in life i have given higher-priority to other things rather then designing.. :|
    Also when i try to design something, i consume so many hours on a simple piece. Other people might be cable to do it in 30 mins to 1 hour. And i, an empty minded person take 4-5 hours on that simple litle piece. I lost my skills because of inactivity in designing. Maybe now, today, tomorrow i will try to make something..


  6. now this is so true. i love design. i love creativity. i focused on graphic design for a better side income to turn into my fulltime work at home income. but everything in this article just made me look at graphic design in a different way. thanks for this article to knock me back to reality. graphic design is not all fun games and excitement. i can imagine it can be very very stressful at times

  7. Ernesto says:

    Great post. I think there’s a bunch of things that makes graphic designers find themselves into a sea of frustration and chaos, a lot of the comments above already said lots of true facts, and I am agreed with all of them.

    So for me the hardest part is to find the PRECIOUS time to learn about new trends (technologies, softwares) and a lot of tools that make our skills so much competitive, and the problem is that when you finally have the chance (free time) to do it, you prefer to rest, relax and have fun, wich is totally OK but it is harsh to find the balance within it.

    And I don’t know you guys but since I’ve just finished university I am like “not in the mood” to work (I’ve been working for 2 years in an agency), I mean, after 5 years working my ass off, somehow I think I deserve a free time to be as lazy as I want… and that is a big problem!

  8. Chad says:

    “too many cooks spoils the broth”

    - its hard when your project manager insist he’s crazy ideas instead of the client’s goals and directions.

    - its hard when you presented your 3 mocks to client’s sales ppl and again will ask for more mocks but in the end will go back to your first 3 mocks.

    - its hard when you thought the sales ppl finalized everything not knowing the IT Manager will put he’s dumbest ideas and change everything.

    - and the hardest part: when they presented whole project to the Chairman/CEO he will just said I dont like it. Its that the best you can show me??

  9. Stacy Cagle says:

    I would have to say the hardest thing about being a graphic designer is staying up to date with the rapid modernization of styles, designs, whats the current fads and program versions and languages.
    Another challenge is creating graphics for a wide range of personalities and companies; from a total color blasted flier to a boring very structured corporate organizational chart.

  10. For me the hardest part is simply to get into the freelance thing in South Africa (Pretoria) since the trend here is to work for companies. That leaves VERY little time for self-study and improvement if you are already studying part time and updating a web site. Nevermind those cool 3D projects you want to complete one day or the new recording of you hammering out licks on the guitar. :-p

  11. Lauren says:

    Right now, I feel like my hardest part is just trying to get myself started and established as a freelance designer. I’m fresh out of college and obviously the economy right now if insane, yet I managed to get a part time job designing at a firm. My struggle is trying to just get my work out there and to get some sort of positive response from other firms to get a potential full time position. To keep myself up to date with designing I am constantly on my computer coming up with new layouts for websites, learning how to code using new things like jQuery, doing random sketches, picking out random companies to redesign for, etc. It is a lot of work but I feel it is worth it in the end.

    In general though, besides my struggles through getting my work out there I think the most difficult thing about being a graphic designer is keeping up with others who have clients they work with, and a portfolio full of work that was actually produced and not just a self-given project. Maybe it wouldn’t be as tough if the economy wasn’t so bad? But again, this is why I am blogging, doing tutorials, and getting a variety of styles under my belt!

  12. [...] Hardest Part Of Being a Graphic Designer [...]

  13. I totally agree with some of the statement
    Boss))))do you know we all work 7-24???? do you know we spend how many hours for the mock thingy???? Sigh sure you don’t know anything cos YOU ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE!!!
    *Back to work…

  14. 3D animation says:

    Being in the Art, Design and Music business, I agree with the statement about a patient not giving the doctor advice… at a party you can say you’re an artist or musician and people will give you their opinions… Made me wish I was a brain surgeon… No one would comment on the Madulla oblingada or whatever it’s called. :-)

  15. Becky Sue says:

    I think it’s all of the above brought together into a giant confounding mesh. You spend your energy and life pursuing design, embracing it, and learning new and improved ways to approach it. You have to compensate for ever-changing technology as well, and for me, that’s an enjoyable part.

    Design seems to be viewed by most as making something look pretty. It has no immediate tangible value. If a mechanic works on your car, you know if he successfully fixed it or not. Many clients do not look at design as a tangible/valuable process. They don’t understand that it can have either a wonderful or terrible result, because those results cannot be recorded or formulated. Therefore you are not viewed as a professional. Your knowledge and passion for it is easily ignored. Much more easily than they would ignore their accountant.

    Chances are, whether you work for yourself, or a company, the client is going to show your idea to everyone. You will find that what really matters is how his/her grandmother feels about it… Again, denoting that your knowledge and skills are of no value. What is 4 years of school, massive student debt and all this time crunching down in the field worth, if grandma is a better designer than you are…

    Which leads to the final stage of difficulty, and that is confidence. Being able to sell your idea is increasingly difficult if you spend 6 years in the field and still haven’t managed to produce anything that the client hasn’t butchered to death. It constantly puts you in a state of confusion. What is design? Is it valuable? Am I even any good at this? Every time I try to help someone succeed, I feel like I have somehow failed… Maybe it doesn’t really matter, or maybe I just suck at this?

    The reality is that many designers would (and do) work for free if they are offered an opportunity to do something fabulous. Design is more than a career, it’s a passion that we spend our lives pursuing, no matter how difficult and draining it is.

  16. Dray says:

    Where do I begin? I have been designing for 20 years now. I’ve worked for corporations, ad agencies and freelanced. I have been freelancing full time for the past 6 years. There’s a huge difference between working for someone and working for yourself. When you work for yourself, you not only have to constantly education yourself on your design projects, you have to were every hat imaginable. (Sales, marketing, taxes, etc…) It can really suck at times. The most frustrating thing for me now never being able to get away from my work. I’m so passionate about what I do, I can’t sleep. I don’t take care of myself like I should. I have experience “BURNOUT” on too many occasions. I’m currently in burnout mode. In order for me to regain my drive, I have to get away from it for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury. I have been very successful in my work, therefore my clients expect a tremendous about out of me all of the time. I find myself working 48 hours straight, without sleep. I feel it’s taking it toll on me mentally and physically. At this point, I don’t know what else I can do, but keep trying.

  17. Yes agree, as a graphic designer you need to keep improving the skills. The learning process never ends up.
    The hardest part for me in graphic design is to be original and to work out some great ideas for clients needs as a loads of ideas have been put to work already.

  18. Stephannie says:

    Think the Little Train that could. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can create something fabulous. Something more fabulous than the last one. I think I can. I will work hard. Study. Learn. Keep trying.

    Thirteen years later. Is there another side to this mountain? Designers are expected to create something brilliant from nothing on a daily basis within budget and on time. Then clients and project managers get involved. They splice it and dice it. Tossing out the very items that make the piece special. It becomes throw-away art.

    Next comes the time interrogation. Why did it take so long? And then the clients says … “well, I could have designed that in Word in half the time.” Of course the client wouldn’t have been able to create something as good, but the kicker is, the client wouldn’t know the difference. The client would be happy with a crappy logo versus even paying $250 for a brilliant one. That’s cheap for a brilliant one. A designer is not necessary. Erased.

    Which figures. When a project goes well and the planets align, the client sends a letter to the firm praising the project manager?!

    At the end of the day I wonder … why I am a designer, and what is it that I offer the world?

  19. danielle says:

    i love graphic design it is the best i design naked people ads to capture the true beauty of the lesbians and gays. ITs not negative at all i love the gays.

  20. Reymar Guia says:

    Wow thanks you for this post. I can relate with this. Designing is not just do it now within an hour or some because conceptualizing is not easy task to do. You have to free your mind from whatever it has and from it you can imagine things that others can not. There should be no time pressure.

  21. Ely Sunglao says:

    It’s a dog eat dog profession. You need to constantly be ahead of the person next to you and to be the one to outshine the competition. At the same time, it can exhausting. Sitting behind a 27″ inch screen from as early as 5 o’clock in the morning till 11:00 at night, really takes a toll on you. Sometimes, you’ll spend an entire day creating something but because something was not right, it’s scrapped and you have to start all over. At times, I’ll sit at my computer screen with a blank art board, not knowing what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. Writer’s block is probably the worst thing that can happen to you. But overall, I love my job. I enjoy working with clients and when I’m working on my own personal stuff, it’s motivating to always innovate and progress with your work. As an ex graffiti writer, I’ve grown accustom to the constant pressure and fast paced environment of getting up before the next man beats you to it. I like the competition but at the same time, savoring back and enjoying the work in it’s essence, is what’s most relaxing.

  22. Mark says:

    For me, the absolutely most frustrating part of being a designer is when I run clear out of ideas. I could punch holes in the walls when this happens — when the creative font runs dry (ha! a pun) …

    It’s challenging because when it’s not there, it simply isn’t there. I’ve taken walks; read books; watch movies; poured through dozens of artbooks and websites and nothing seems to help. It’s a complete engulfing feeling of helplessness and it is the bane of my career!

  23. la dude says:

    hey Brian nice article.

    my list of hardest part.
    • organizing time and using your free time to learn new skills.
    • Keeping up with other designers who are well established.
    • trying to be everything and designing everything because your in love with everything that is graphic design.
    • thinking to much of what you want to do and be like, and not give the first step because your goal is too far away
    • family members think your living the life by referring to sleeping all day playing video games.
    • yup time management time management, bills, invoices, social skills, people skills, financial education, jogging, time for your normal life, boy/girl. insurance, everything is on you. solo for the freelancer.

    • if you stick with 3 professions you will be good at them and clients will look specifically for you and be in high demand, sample: website mockups, retouching, flash banners. as opposed to being and artist, illustrator, graphic designer, web designer, programmers, 3d animator, production designer, learning wordpress,myspace, even sound etc..
    • try to work for corporations and award winning companies, you will gain the skills to be a freelancer.
    • avoid free ads on craigslist and people who don’t know what they expect to pay, headache trying to convince them how much stuff is.
    • I recommend the The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed, amazon.com

    LA dude

  24. Dan says:

    I disagree that it’s a constantly changing profession. Perhaps if your work spills over into development (which a lot of it does, especially if you design websites) then you need to stay on top of new code.

    Graphic design barely changes at all. A good idea is a good idea, and if you execute it right then it’ll last for years. Bodoni was designed 500 years ago and it’s still perfectly fine. All the key principals are the same as they ever were. I really think it’s actually quite slow moving. Typefaces are still basically divided into old-style and modern. Trends come and go, but the main things stay the same.

  25. Working for a busy exhibition contractor in the design and print dept I find quite stressful. Although there is not too much ‘design’ as such, my role does still involve the usual skills required for laying things out. I’m kind of a hands on production manager managing a team of four people including myself. We handle the graphics for a lot of big conferences, often simultaneously and since January 2011 I have already processed nearly three thousand files!
    The most difficult and frustrating thing for me is getting the information and the correct information from my show manager and from the client. I could never imagine leaving my car at the local garage without actually telling them what it is I want doing, yet every single day I’m expected to be a psychic!! When i’m busy and deadlines are creeping up I get quite anxious. Again its a very strange position to be in when your actually more worried than the client is about getting the work done in time for the show.
    I guess the problem is in being at both ends, both concept/design and production because you kind of work against yourself all the time. When your eating into production time you cut corners at the layout and design stage.

  26. Joey says:

    As a student I love what I’m doing, but I have to say I’m still having a hard time with Branding and Experimental/Expressive Typography. Branding is difficult due to the fact that the designer’s vision of a logo has to match exactly that of the client. It’s a long, frustrating process of brainstorming, word-association games, and endless sketching to develop the best image of identity. Exp. Typography is another one. It can be quite difficult to take a literal message and place it in such a way where it both clearly and effectively communicates to the audience, while still looking exciting, dynamic, and not competing with surrounding images and graphics.

  27. I have to admit that freelancing has made me lazy.

    I work a few hours and make a lot of money, I tend to do other stuff not related to design. I could be making much more money working 40+ hours but I don’t. Freelance is solo, you and yourself. It’s very hard, you have to wear many hats, budgeting, planning and marketing are a few. I don’t want to discourage anyone, you just have to love what you do. I love what I do and it’s rewarding, but I want to live life and not just be on a computer so I balance life and work.

    it depends on everyone, how they see life and work. my co workers complains all the time of all receiving many changes but I don’t because that’s what most designers job is, to design something for someone else’s vision not your own.

    you will always have to satisfy other peoples vision of what a good design is. It’s not about you, unless you become an artist with a name and sell your stuff. It’s always about someone else’s vision.


  28. I think one of the hardest parts (besides dealing with the countless trends we must keep up on – i.e. software, hardware, typography, code, etc. – in order to even remained/get hired) is salary discussion/competitive compensation and age discrimination.

    Many business owners have no clue what we do. Heck, many of our own parental units probably have no idea either. All they know is we make concepts “look pretty”. One thing I’ve found in my neck of the woods is if you’re a lower paid designer, that has a sad tendency to say to people that you’re not “qualified” or “not as good” as Joe/Jill Schmoe over here making $50k…even though his/her work may be less than satisfactory.

    I’ve also been told by a recruiter for a top fashion brand that “the managers said two things. 1 – ‘great work’. 2 – ‘needs more retail experience”. Now to me if you have a good, solid design foundation under you, you should be able to take on anything. (and mind you I had at least 7 clients designing apparel/retail products). To me, as a freelance agency business owner myself, I’d rather hire someone with talent and give them the chance for “more retail”. Years of experience doesn’t necessarily equal great work. You can be in this industry for years, doing C-grade work and due to you having more experience, you’ll get a position over someone with more talent. That makes no sense to me. Maybe it’s just me…but I’m doubtful of that.

    Lately I have found when applying for Art Director positions, I get turned down due to looking younger than what I am – and that I’m “only” 28 years old. I’ve held several volunteer art director positions in the past and it’s a matter of being able to have great time management, being able to inspire a team, to execute a concept that will come out with a great design keeping both client (obviously) and agency/designer/director proud of their work.

    So this industry is rewarding however it takes a lot of push and pull and is not always the easiest job.

  29. Tom says:

    I am a Graphic designer all my life.
    I am sick and tire of change hundreds of times on hundreds of things to please everybody. Everybody want to be the designer.

  30. MichelleL says:

    I’m going with all of the above, too. And I whole-heartedly agree with what BeckySue wrote. This field poses challenges from so many angles, that I believe simply BEING a graphic designer is the greatest proof that you either really love to create… or that you’re insane.

    Not sure which of those two categories I fall into, but I’m more than happy to add my list of grievances to those of my fellow graphic artists. Especially whilst I’m facing certain job elimination after 6 years in my position, and scrambling like a madwoman to find a new job in a bad economy. So here are my complaints about the industry:

    The time and energy involved: Designing your own promotional materials (branding/logo, stationery, resume, business card, brochure or other leave-behind, interview folder, online portfolio, hardcopy portfolio); Learning new software, tools, tricks, coding languages, web standards, etc.; Applying to jobs, writing proposals/contracts, doing side-work for little to no compensation so you can have those “WOW” pieces in your portfolio that your regular 9-5 doesn’t give you the creative freedom to produce; Trying to stay motivated/creative under pressure in a highly competitive field; Staying up and working for over 24 hours straight to keep up your momentum on a project that inspires you (or frustrates you)

    The costs involved: All those promotional materials I listed above? Gotta get them all printed! Employers and clients want to see high-quality print on high-quality stock. That’s $$$ right there, all out of pocket. And although times are hard for everyone, and they want you to find cost-effective solutions for THEM, they don’t want to see any cutting-corners from us; Fonts. Gotta buy fonts so you aren’t using the same old tired ones. Even if you create a font, you need the software to do it; Stock art; Camera; Scanner; Computer,; Internet Service; Software; Web-hosting; The work we do for free or chump-change for those “WOW” pieces I mentioned; All the costs of doing business if you’re a freelancer.

    And what really irritates me is that, even with ALL those things we have to do and pay for, recruiters want more. They want you to blog and post status updates regularly on social networking sites. It’s almost like recruiters want you to make graphic design an all-consuming obsession. And though I do love graphic design, I have other interests and hobbies, and don’t mind being able to eat, sleep and relax once in a while like other normal working people.

    I used to dream about being a novelist, but thought it sounded like a lot of work. Now I’d consider it a vacation!

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: