Ask Ken: December 2009


I’ve been wondering what is the career path of a graphic designer? I have been working for several years as a graphic-designer/web-designer/production -artist/typographer/everything-that-comes-around. But what’s ahead? Up until now, everything looks pretty flat career and salary-wise. What steps should I take to move up and what direction should I move?

Name withheld.

Name withheld,

I  haven’t met a designer that hasn’t struggled with this at one point or another during their career. I have struggled with this myself a few times. Some designers would tell you that it is not about the money it is the love of doing what we do, it is about all the fun we have. I agree to a point but respectfully disagree overall, while we might have fun and most of us love what we do, business has no problem attaching a monetary value to us of what we do and neither should you.

Like just about anything, it has to do with how valuable are you. I know that sounds subjective but you can’t look at it that way. You need to know where in the industry you fit, the region you are operating in and like most find your place in the market. The answer is not the same for everyone. Some choose to stay in the design firm atmosphere and grow along that path (i.e. production artist, designer, senior designer, art director) others choose a corporate in-house path (designer, senior designer, manager, etc.). You also have others that choose third, fourth and fifth routes (i.e. contract freelance work, open your own shop, specialized fields or education). The answer requires some self analysis.

What have you been doing? What do you want to do? What will provide you with the salary you want? And what do you need to do to get there? Graphic designers have a lot of options (print, web, multimedia, video, 3D animation/modeling, illustration, advertising, marketing, games and gaming, etc.) it all depends on what you like to do and what are you willing to do to get there. I have always framed my career from the “I want to have my own firm one day”, with that in mind I have tried to absorb as much as I can about all of the things that touch our industry. Some stuff I have found more interesting than others and have explored those things more than the things I didn’t find interesting. It started from a how do I compete and give my clients what they want and stay competitive but that has grown into my loving taking projects across multiple media and creating integrated campaigns.

The further down the road you go the more you see and the more questions you have. I really don’t think there is a right blanket answer. I think graphic design has a lot of future and depth it just all depends on what route you head out on.


By John Luu
Published December 15, 2009
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