Recently, a friend of a friend who is a high school teacher told me that he had a lot of students who wanted to be graphic designers when they grow up.
Here, I pause and cannot believe that I'm grown up, but whatever.
I thought it was kind of sweet, because I remember being young and 16 and starting to look at colleges. I remember thinking that I wanted to be a graphic designer one day, and how do I get there? Oh so long ago ;-). To be young again. . .
I was asked if I had any advice for future designers.
Here is what I shared:
As far as getting started in highschool? Hmmm... Well, I took my first graphic desin class in high school, and then later followed it up with two more. The first one was pretty basic and really an introduction to graphic design and getting to know letterforms, I didn't learn much about the job/industry itself, but to this day, I am so happy I took it. I can still look back to my sophomore year of highschool and pinpoint where I really learned the foundation of what I'm doing every day as a career. Luckily I had a great teacher, who really emphasized the elements and pricipals of art and design It's really important to know these things. I think a lot of people forget that graphic design is an art form, at it's core, and it's important to learn about basic art before jumping into it.
When I took my first design class (of many) in college, I was definitely way more prepared than a lot of the students. Sure, a bunch of them were planning to go into design as a career, but they hadn't had any experience with it before that.
Almost all of my highschool design work was done by hand, and this has given me, I think, a better understanding of design. It's important to remind your kids that even though it's really a computer based job, that there's still a ton of designers who do work by hand. In the industry, basic drawing and other fine arts skills are great to have. They really move your resumes to the top of the pile. Even if you want to be a designer, don't forget about your other skills. I've never been a painter, but I still draw fairly often to keep my abilities sharp. I also draw stuff and scan it into the computer, and then use it for work all the time.
I spent a full day at my office writing 'Miley Cyrus' over and over. I wanted it to look hand written, so I wrote it over and over until I had some letter forms I liked and could scan it in. It might sound silly, but if you can start looking at letter forms as an art, then you'll be way ahead of the game!
Obviously the majority of our work is done by computer. Keep in mind that if this is a career you want to pursue, you better be comfortable sitting in front of a computer all day. This doesn't bother me :), but I'm not sure it's right for everyone. Designers spend most of their day using Adobe software, primarily Illustrator. I used Photoshop my first time in my upper level high school graphic design class. I managed to get through it, but I probably only had very basic knowledge of it. Learning the software would be a huge advantage to anyone.
My first time using illustrator, I was a freshman in college and had no idea what I was doing. My design professor spent one class period teaching us how to use the pen tool and that was it; we were on our own. Considering that you'll find yourself living, sleeping, and breathing Illustrator for the rest of your college career (and real career), I say the sooner, the better! If you can get a handle on, or even learn the basics of Photoshop and illustrator (... And I guess Adobe InDesign if you're feeling particularly ambitious), theN you'll find yourself way ahead of the game.
I wish someone had told me, before going to college, that you'll learn about design, not how to use design software. For me, the best way to learn it, was just to sit down and use it: make shapes, change colors, draw pictures. I would've been doing this before college if I would've known! It probably would have saved me some long nights in the ISU computer lab for sure!
Also, my last bit of advice would be to know what kind of designer you want to be. There's a big difference between print design (what I do and absolutely love) and web design. It can get broken down quite a bit from there (for example, I'm a print designer, but specialize in information design), but you don't have to get that specific yet. You just need to decide if you want to work in print (magazines, newspapers, bill boards, band poster, cd cases, etc) or web (websites) because many schools have different programs for these things, and some schools really favor one or the other. I went to ISU, the graphic design program there was print based, so I only have one semester of web design under my belt. I get by making web banners and email banners, but my skills aren't nearly as extensive as someone who was trained doing web design.
Chances are, if you're going into web design, you'll make more money than a print designer, but no promises that you'll be as cool :). You might not know which you want to be, so just make sure your school has both options. You could always just double major!
Hopes this helps a bit! It's a very exciting career to get into!