Design Dilemma: Afraid to Start One’s Career

When I receive a message, asking for help with a dilemma, I try to research the person’s background first. If they have an online portfolio, I check their work samples. If they have a LinkedIn profile, I look at their experience. It’s the best way to offer advice that’s not below their experience level, and avoid coming across as insulting.

Unfortunately, sometimes what I find is disappointing and shocking. It’s the same feeling one gets when you find a 1960s Playboy magazine at a flea market and you realize the centerfold is your grandmother.

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The Dilemma

Aside from being surprised that grandma was quite the “hottie” in her younger days, sometimes surprises reveal something even more shocking. So, join us as we delve into another shocking surprise Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design.

Serita G. responded to my posting a Design Dilemma article link on an AIGA chapter group on Facebook and asked a popular question that graduates often ask; “how do I find clients?”

I answered with a long post on the thread about self promotion and marketing, only to be met with a nasty response, arguing all of the points I had made. I listed some of my experience as a studio owner in NYC and hoped she might stop her rants and listen to my advice. She didn’t.

“She broke down and admitted she was scared to try. I’ve seen this before and tried to give her a pep talk, but she just got angrier and more abusive.”

I knew many people in that chapter as I had spoken there recently and received a private message from a friend, telling me not to get involved in a war of words with this woman as she had graduated six years ago and always showed up on design groups or at design events, arguing with people about the industry and business practices.

Not one to back away from a young designer, looking for help (even with a bad attitude), I asked her why she was being so argumentative with professional advice when she had no experience. She broke down and admitted she was scared to try. I’ve seen this before and tried to give her a pep talk, but she just got angrier and more abusive.

Why would someone go through four years of art school (and pay $40,000+ for it) but not want to actually enter the field? Perhaps the horror stories we tell for fun and sites like Clients From Hell frighten more easily frightened?

How Can Young Designers Learn Business?

Unfortunately, many art schools have become diploma factories, rather than schools of study and dedication to creativity. Online courses and for-profit “institutes” teach software but not actual design skills. Even established art schools shy away from teaching professional practices, turning out the type of freelancers despised by professional designers for lowering rates and soiling respect for other designers (ever meet with a prospective client who complains about how the last designer screwed up a project?).

While Serita’s question was legitimate, her fear made her attack sensible solutions as she was afraid of implementing. If she, as well as other students were trained as to how to survive as a designer, it would build confidence in them, hopefully diminishing their fear of what is a very difficult business.

Why is There so Much Fear?

We are in an unregulated, unprotected and misunderstood profession. Art schools often don’t teach professional practices because most creatives couldn’t tell students how to bumble through as the teachers did. I’ve spoken with some people hired to teach professional practices courses and they are usually not qualified to do so, but school administrators don’t know what requirements one would need to teach such things and most of all, the harder you make the industry sound to students, the more who will drop out and find new careers and ways to spend tuition money.

“Most students think they will sit like honored guests, undisturbed at their computers, designing, “vaping” and listening to music.”

Even after decades of experience, there’s always a new client who will throw us for a loop when it comes to running a professional business. It will never change. Clients come up with new demands, new reasons for not paying and new excuses for immense scope creep. These are the horror stories creatives like to share on the web and at gatherings. Is it any wonder young designers just starting out are terrified? Just reading a few passages on Clients From Hell will wither the life force of the most experienced professional.

When I lived in New York, I would give a two-hour lecture to seniors at art schools in the various schools in the city on entering the profession. Inevitably, three or four students would run in tears to the dean of students, complaining that no teacher had ever told them how hard it would be to work in the field. My talks included not only freelance, but the situations that arise in office power plays. Most students think they will sit like honored guests, undisturbed at their computers, designing, “vaping” and listening to music. I still laugh when a student tells me that’s how it really is at design jobs.

I’ve heard way too many incorrect ideas from students and recent graduates about how easy it will be for them to enter the field and the following three weeks it will take for them to become creative directors.

“Oh, I’ll just get an agent to bring me work,” said one student.

“People will find me through my website,” said another.

“My school has a placement center/job bulletin board,” reply too many students.

Who is to Blame?

Why do young creatives feel that entering the industry is a skip through a field of flowers and free vials of “dub” or become terrified at the prospect of leaving the “easy-to-get-laid,” safe, warm art school rooms for the horror world that lay beyond the doorstep? Because of what we, the seasoned professionals tell them. You want to be encouraging but at the same time, you want them to succeed and not drag down the industry with “pie-in-the-sky-thinking.”

The sad truth is, graduating from any school, in any field is no guarantee of an easy life or even getting a job. If Serita is too afraid to take the first step into her chosen field of study, she will need to find something else or, as my friend told me when he warned me about getting involved in any discussion with her, be happy with her waitressing job… like customer service there is any easier or more pleasant!

Send Us Your Dilemma!

Do you have a design dilemma? Speider Schneider will personally answer your questions — just send your dilemma to [email protected]

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