An Open Letter to Student Designers

Knowville Illustration by Dave Tevenal

Advice for Graphic Design Students

About twice a week I will get a letter from a student or young graphic designer that asks me a variety of questions. Typically they are questions like: “How do I get started in the design industry?”, “What software should I study?”, and “How can I work for Cleveland Design firm, Go Media?”

After writing lots of very long emails, I thought perhaps I should put together an article of my answers and post it here so that everyone can read it.

I want to stress that these are only my opinions (I’m William A. Beachy). These are not necessarily the opinions of everyone at my firm (Go Media Inc). And, they are only that: opinions. There are a great many ways to design, a great many ways to get into the industry and a lot of different pieces of software. I can only give you my recommendations based on my personal experiences. If I say something that does not fit with what you’re doing don’t necessarily stop what you’re doing, Just take my advice and log it in your brain. Over time you will figure out what works for you.

So here goes.

Does Go Media offer internships?

We do have very few limited internships. We are typically looking for designers that are in their junior year of college. Basically, you need to have enough skills to come in and be a productive employee. While you will learn a lot as an intern here we do not have time to teach designers who do not have a solid set of design skills already in place.

If you’re not in your junior year but you think you have enough skills to be a productive designer then send me a resume, cover letter and 5 samples of your very best work (low resolution jpegs are fine.) Please demonstrate MORE than just an ability to draw or paint. Please send samples of real work that has been produced like a tri-fold brochure, cd package, or web page for example. You can e-mail that to: [email protected]

Tree by Oliver BarrettWhat software should I learn to use?

Well, this largely depends on what you want to do. Go Media uses mostly what is considered “industry standard” software. I will list the software we use here and talk a little bit about each one.

Adobe Illustrator:
This is by far the most used piece of software in our office. Learn this program! Master it! It is highly underrated. Once you learn all the features of Illustrator you will want to use it more and more. It is particularly good for laying out posters, flyers, brochures, creating logos, etc. You can place images, but this program is all about vector art. If you’re not familiar with vector art, start learning now. This is a huge part of the future of the design industry.

Adobe Photoshop:
No surprise here right? When you say “graphic design” this is the piece of software most people think of. It IS a very important piece of software. You should also learn this program inside and out. It is your #1 piece of software for editing raster (pixel based) artwork.

When most designers come to me they say they “live” in Photoshop. And that typically means they’re creating designs, laying out text and doing everything in Photoshop. I would highly recommend you NOT use Photoshop for layout. Create your artwork, or edit your images in Photoshop then lay out your copy (text) in Illustrator. (Obviously you can, also create a TON of art in Illustrator as well.) *Just make sure you learn all your software and not just Photoshop. Then use each piece of software for it’s optimal purpose. If you do this, you’ll quickly realize that Photoshop is not the end-all be-all program.

orc illustration by Jeff FinleyAdobe Dreamweaver (formerly by Macromedia)
This is the primary piece of software we use for building websites. Some web designers like to go without a visual editor and use notepad. But we are visual people and that’s why we use Dreamweaver. Now any time you use a visual editor like Dreamweaver, it will generate HTML code for you. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it saves time and keeps us from having to memorize tons of code. It’s bad because it can sometimes generate unnecessary or suboptimal code. That’s why it’s important to really learn HTML and CSS like the back of your hand and use Dreamweaver as a tool not a crutch.

Adobe Flash (formerly by Macromedia)
There is currently a HUGE demand for Flash experts. The internet is definitely moving in this direction. Being an amazing print designer is great, but there are really tons of print designers. If you truly want to make yourself very valuable – study Flash and learn action scripting. The demand right now for Flash web designers and programmers is huge. Plus, it’s cool. Also, now that Adobe has bought Flash, all the more reason to master Illustrator – as these programs will be working hand-in-hand with each other.

For those of you interested in motion graphics and animation, we asked Go Media’s master kick-ass animator Haley Saner and he says there is no better software than the Adobe Creative Suite. Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator have become the industry standard for motion artists across the globe. WIth seamless integration, workflow and upgrades that seem to get better and better these programs were literally made for each other. Knowledge of a 3D program like Cinema4D or Maya never hurt anyone either.

Software for video, broadcast, and film:
If you are more interested in visual effects (VFX) and film compositing, I suggest you check out Autodesk’s product line consisting of Combustion, Inferno, or Flame and 3D Studio Max. Apple’s Shake is also great for high end compositing and VFX. Although some compositing and visual effects can be done with Adobe After Effects it was not created nor intended to be used for high end compositing; it is primarily a motion graphics / broadcast design program. So i suggest if you want to work on feature films and do some serious visual effects to go and check out Autodesk and Apple for your software needs.

Also, be sure to check out for the ultimate list of the best motion graphics and design around.

Xpertise Guitar by Dave TevenalShould I bother learning how to draw by hand?

Yes, Yes and Yes. With the advent of all this new technology it seems that young designers mostly skip right over hand drawing and move to the computer. When new designers come into our firm and we’re all drawing, I can see the frustration in their eyes that they didn’t spend enough time learning this valuable skill. Here are some reasons why learning how to draw by hand is SOOOO important:

1. Skills you learn drawing translate directly into the computer.
2. It’s still faster and easier to create many designs by hand.
3. Drawing by hand teaches your brain how to see three-dimensionally through both your eyes and your limbs.
4. Fewer and fewer artists know how to draw by hand, which means it’s more and more valuable. Anyone can open in image and apply the latest Photoshop filter, but who can draw some original flourishes or a human face?

What’s the fastest way to become a good designer?

I highly recommend that you start finding “real world” projects as soon as possible. Volunteer your services for free. The learning experience will be invaluable. And there are SOOOO many people in need of design services. You can walk into just about any business, ask for the owner and offer up your services for free. They will give you projects. There is no substitute for having a real client. This will put you on a fast-track to learning how the real design world works.

Don’t worry if you feel awkward or strange. You will get used to working with clients. This will also make you more valuable to design firms. They need designers that have experience and an ability to work directly with clients. You need to learn how to communicate well and make clients happy.

Studying and experimenting on your computer is great, but nothing can compare to the learning experience of having real projects. It’s easy to layout a poster if you get to make up how much text goes on it. It is a much greater challenge to have a client say: “Here are three pages of copy I need you to fit on this one poster. And make it all big, and make it look great.”

Ozzfest illustration by William BeachyDo you have any advice on how to find a job?

1. Find the company you want to work for and apply there. Don’t limit yourself to the help wanted ads. Obviously they may not be hiring the moment you apply – but don’t give up. Figure out who does the hiring and make them your friend. Stay in touch with them, ask for feedback on your portfolio, send them new work and never ever, ever give up.

2. Make it easy on the company to hire you. Remember that most design firms are not that big. There is not a “human resources manager” whose full time job is to review your portfolio. The hiring is typically done by someone who has three other jobs. So, you need to make the process of hiring you as simple as possible. Give them exactly what they ask for. Follow up with e-mails and a phone call. *Don’t bother them, just make sure they’re not working to stay in touch with you.

3. Design a nice logo and resume for yourself. I am constantly amazed that graphic designers send me standard Microsoft Word template resumes in Century Gothic font. You are a designer! Design a cool logo for yourself. Design an awesome resume. Design a digital portfolio. Better yet, build yourself an online portfolio. Produce an interactive CD with your resume, cover letter and portfolio all rolled into one. Use your design skills!

What does it take to become a member of Go Media?
Well, in addition to having great design skills, I am looking for people with the right attitude. Check your ego at the door and understand that this is a business. We do need to work. We do need to make money. Everything is not a fun project for your favorite band. You have to learn how to communicate well with customers, collaborate with other designers and handle criticism from your co-workers and clients.

funkrush 3d art by Jeff FinleyGo Media is also a young firm that spends most of its money on growing the company. We also sacrifice larger paying projects in order to work on “cooler” artistic projects. The designers that are here are all making monetary sacrifices for these reasons. If you want a fat cushy salary, you’ll probably be working for a much larger firm designing packaging for lawn fertilizer.

Final thoughts:

This world belongs to hard working nice people. When I first got into business I thought I would have to be mean, cold-hearted and conceited to succeed. Fortunately, I have found that not to be the case at all. The good guys DO win. Being nice is more important than being confident. Working hard is more important than being smart. If you are nice and work hard you will find that you accomplish far more than you ever imagined. Follow through on your promises. Have integrity. Accept responsibility for the things that happen around you.