In this guest article, Preston Lee guides new graphic designers with various tips and techniques on how to gain working experience in a ‘tough-to-start-out-in’ field. As a designer, you’ve certainly run into the classical blunder: You can’t get real design experience without a design job, and you can’t get a design job without real-world experience. This article lists several steps you can take to gain real-world experience as a new graphic designer.
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to get experience and show off your work at the same time is to brand yourself. Assemble a portfolio, design a logo, build a web site, and do whatever you can to promote yourself as a designer. Although you may not gain real experience dealing with clients, creating a stunning branding system for yourself and your work will show potential employers that you know how to think through the design process.
Do volunteer work
Although it may seem counterproductive to do design work for no pay, volunteering to design for non-profit organizations or worthy causes can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Many organizations have connections with paying companies and if you do a good job with a logo or a web site they will be more likely to recommend you to others. The pieces you create for these organizations can also be great portfolio builders.
Rework existing logos or ads
One suggestion I received from a mentor when first starting out was to rework logos or advertisements for local companies. Get a hold of the phonebook or any local form of advertising and browse through to find logos or advertisements that you feel need reworked.
This activity has multiple benefits. First, it will provide material for your portfolio. Secondly, you could also approach the business (in a very tactful way of course) and present them with the renovated piece of work. They may want to purchase it from you or offer to hire you for future jobs. Either way, they now know about you and your abilities as a designer.
In the comments below, please share with us the tactful ways you might approach a potential client in this situation.
Apply for an internship
Many companies offer paid and unpaid internships for current students that can be excellent opportunities to grow and learn from experienced professionals that have excelled in the industry. You may be fortunate enough to be paid for your internship, but if not, you can still gain priceless experience working with others in a real-world setting.
Contact friends and family:
Although it is often frowned upon, sometimes family and friends can be a great way of landing your first few design jobs. I know, we all hate it when we hear someone say something like “My brother-in-law designed this. He’s pretty good at stuff like this.” Usually, this type of work is poor quality. Your job should be to achieve the opposite. Don’t fall into the stereotype of the “brother-in-law who designs”.
A few more methods to try
While researching this topic and brainstorming this problem, I also considered the following:
- Contact a design studio and offer to “shadow” (follow employees around, offer to help, and learn)
- If you are a student, try doing ads for the school paper or magazines. Many schools also have a student-promotional team.
- If you hold a job outside of graphic design, offer your services to your boss or fellow employees.
- Offer to design for your local church, schools, and other establishments.
There are plenty of ways new designers can gain real-world experience. Just be creative! After all, that is what you do best right? What other useful techniques have you used to gain real-world experience when just starting out in graphic design? Share below.
Preston Lee is an advertiser and graphic designer who has a passion for unique, problem-solving design. He is also the principal content provider for Graphic Design Blender, a design blog that focuses mainly on helping new designers find their place in the design industry. You can visit Preston’s blog, Graphic Design Blender, or follow him on twitter.