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I am a senior graphic designer for a printing company in North Carolina. I have 17 years of experience in the field. I am in charge of creating a diverse group of documents such as brochures, catalogs, promotional marketing kits and large scale signage for businesses in the area. My work entails first meeting with the client, employing a team of designers, planning and delegating work to my team and then sending the work to production for final output.
I have a very high job satisfaction of about 9-10. I am a senior designer which means that my job involves design and management. I have large campaigns for Fortune 500 companies like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. I love to work both small and large accounts. My goal is to help companies by using my creativity and management skills. I am a very visual, creative person who likes technology, so I think that graphic design is a really good mixture of the things that I love. I also like deadlines and a variety of assignments. Graphic design is a perfect mixture for me.
What makes my situation unique is that I am mainly self-taught. I was really good working with computers from the beginning, and I have always liked art. I actually studied photography but only liked to photograph still life and nature. Although I really loved doing that, I didn’t see how I would make a living from it. I meet a lot of graphic designers who are classically trained at art schools and knew right away to study that way. For me, it was the reverse. I taught myself first and then started to study it formally. My degree is in computer science but I have many courses (enough for a degree) in graphic design and print production.
My first job was as an apprentice for a small print shop in college. It was a work-study job that just happened to be available. I wanted to work in the computer lab and was disappointed. I learned the process of printing with older machines and then learned the design process later. It was interesting for me from day one. I knew that I would work in the field after that job. I wouldn’t change anything about my career.
What was hard at the beginning was the gophering around. At first, I started in the printing end and didn’t get to design as much. At the beginning, my positions were a cross between gopher, print press operator and account executive. I’ve learned that you have to pay your dues by doing different jobs in the shop. Later in my career, I actually got to design and show my talent and ability to manage a project. My biggest lesson in my field is that the working world doesn’t really care about the degree you have and where you went to school. This will get you in the door but so will an awesome, professional-level portfolio. After you have years under your belt, you actually start doing what you really want.
One of the strangest things that happened to me was on one of my first jobs. The company was so small that the boss asked me to report myself as the opposite sex on my employment paperwork. As it turns out, it was slightly cheaper to cover a male employee than a female one! I didn’t really know about the legality of such things back then but I suspected it was wrong at the time.
I go to work every day to help clients realize marketing and business goals. My graphics work has been on billboards, mass produced brochures and in museums. I felt good working on a benefit for a child suffering from a rare form of leukemia. The children’s hospital was the sponsor and the poster design was a real hit. It was seen by all of the guests walking into the event and was quite a hit.
In terms of frustrations in my line of work, production deadlines are a killer in my field. There are some job specifications such as binding or special order paper that just cannot be helped. On my end, my team can always stay up all night to get the files out but it’s the production end that can’t be sped up. Explaining to clients who provide us with files or information late is always frustrating. We have clients that want all the special bells and whistles but don’t adhere to deadlines that we agree with them on. They renege on the deadlines and then get angry when they can’t have every bell and whistle that they ordered.
My jobs can be very stressful but I don’t let it get me down. I work with a really good team of experienced people so we always get the job done. I am not a person that “gets it all from work” so I can balance my work life with my personal life. My work life is about working with a client who can be a pleasure or a horror and that’s just a fact of life. My personal life is full and interesting. I am married for 13 years with one little girl who my husband and I just adore. She and my husband are the loves of my life and that gives my strength at work.
I am at a senior level in a medium company with two other senior persons like me. My salary ranges about $58,000 which is high for my field and my size company. My company has 60 people so it’s small and the area is the South so I don’t really expect to make much more. The next level for me if I wanted to would be to own part of my company or go to a smaller startup company as an owner. I don’t really want to because I want to stay more on the design end. I’m actually satisfied with my salary in that I live practically anyway. My husband and I practice frugal living for years now so my salary is enough for me.
I get five weeks of vacation which is plenty for me. My husband and I take a lot of “stay-at-home vacations” at the local mall / hotel complex or in the city. We have two vacations away from home each year.
You need to have a background in design and technology. Being a graduate of an art school or a college program in graphic arts and design is essential. I was self-taught but in the early days this was okay because everyone was struggling to learn the best ways to do things. Nowadays, competition is fiercer and the talent is high so I think a solid background in design is really good to have. I think people with degrees in printing technologies are very helpful for graphic design. Although, it’s not required, it does help to know what happens to the files after you work on them virtually.
I would tell a friend to go to school and take an internship in a print shop. Even a chain shop like Fedex Kinkos would teach you about basic printing and simple layout. You also can work with customer orders and some design software.
I like my career now. I have worked hard and long to get to here. I still like working directly with clients, designing and running a team. My firm is just the right size to feel my presence in so I’m happy there. I also want to teach design at some point. I feel like I have lots to give to up and coming designers. I have already volunteered to speak at a few schools to female art students and found those experiences very rewarding. My five year goal is to explore some part-time teaching opportunities at the college or continuing education level.