Graphic Designer Profile
Read an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to be a graphic designer.
Graphic Designer/Art Director, Publications International
Over 21 years in the business
How did you become a graphic designer?
I worked as a medical illustrator for a long time, did a couple of surgical textbooks and annual reports, and then got into more editorial work. I started doing work for magazines that were aimed at regular people rather than doctors. I did illustrations for The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and started doing graphic design work as well, because I’d taken classes in college. This was all freelance work, which allowed me to be home with my kids.
After 2001, most of the magazines closed or cut back on their budgets. With that, plus a surge in stock illustrations off the Internet, I was out of a job after 20 years. It was shocking. So I had to get my first full-time job.
What do you most enjoy about the job?
I like the problem-solving aspect of design. My philosophy has always been to first make things smart and then make them pretty. That’s my work mantra, regardless of whether it’s an illustration or the things I’m doing now, such as photo albums, decorative pieces or stationery. Whatever limitations there are on the size, the color, the price point, I still enjoy trying to make it look really nice within those constraints.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
The time constraints are difficult. In a publishing company, the deadlines are extremely tight, and that’s the most challenging, because of the amount of work that we’re expected to generate. I’m glad I have so much experience under my belt, because I’ve been able to work very quickly with a fair degree of success. People who don’t have as much experience need a lot of their work revised.
How do you stay creative under pressure?
I look at graphic annuals, see what other people are doing, see what trends are happening, so I can stay at the forefront of those waves of graphic fashion. I also do a lot of junk shopping, and some of the things that I find in vintage shops help me out. I love looking at paper ephemera, old stuff, old design. I have a gigantic postcard collection. I have a huge collection of old medical textbooks because I really like the drawings in them.
What skills are most important?
It’s important to have a visual sensibility, to understand what works and what doesn’t work visually. You need a type sensibility—what types look good and how to space out the letters right. I’m not sure if they teach that anymore. We used to have to set type by hand, in school. It’s good to do anything that forces you to make things by hand. Manual craftsmanship, which seems to be pretty well gone in the visual arts field today, would be useful. Take a pottery class, a life-drawing class, anything tactile. There’s a difference between seeing something on a screen and actually putting it together by hand.