A Designer's Quick Guide to Being a Designer

By Reader Rob Scotcher on at

What I've found is that most people's idea of a graphic designer is someone who pretends to work hard; wears overly skinny jeans, rides a fixed gear bike, and obsesses over Bastille's Dan Smith. In other words, someone who has it very easy and farts around a lot. The truth is, graphic designers are a very diverse bunch and more importantly, designers are constantly being pushed and expected to do more in their roles.

If you're about to start out in a career as a designer, read on for my two cents' worth...

Tools of the trade

Let's start off easy shall we? As this is a tech-facing blog it's only right that we address this section first. The cost of a computer good enough to meet your needs is pretty bloody expensive and as most designers gravitate towards Apple, buying anything other than a Mac will make you feel dirty (cognitive bias at play). Could you do the same job on a PC as you could on an Apple? You certainly can (with just a little more elbow grease than is required on a Mac). Does every designer know this? They sure do. But this does not stop designers up and down the land consuming Apple goods in the pursuit of a better end product.

So what we've gathered so far is that hardware is quite costly, but we haven't even got to the real eye-watering part of your arsenal: software. Ever looked at how much it costs to rent the Adobe Creative Suite? It boggles the mind that Adobe requires £27.34 a month for a collection of programs. That's £328.08 a year, and that's just Adobe. Even with discounts the cost of software is unreal and a real barrier to students wanting to learn the tools of their future trade. Some people may be saying that you don't need the whole creative suite to do your job. True in some cases but to make it in a career as a designer you need to be flexible, which leads us on to...


Being flexible in your position is key to mastering a design job. No longer are designers just required to design. Being a designer now means you've also got to be an illustrator, photographer, web developer, videographer and in direct reference to my job -- business ideas generator, events organiser, general handy-man, and driver. If designers were an animal we'd all be octopuses with tentacles in varying flavours. The huge problem with all of this? It's easy to become good at lots of things but never become great. In terms of keeping up to date with programs, I haven't learned much more since the CS3 days and can still quite confidently take on most projects. But keeping up to date on current design trends is a lot harder.

Now I'm sure you'd imagine with such a large skill set to keep on top of, it'll be difficult to keep up to date and relevant. It is quite honestly a constant struggle, but one I try to steer well clear of. There are designers that immerse themselves in the most up-to-date trends in fashion and music to try and get a grasp of the latest design ideas (even though they are deep into their 30s).

In my opinion it's best to forget all of that and just work from a basic set of fundamentals that that will ultimately get you through the entirety of your design career. Believe it or not, on a weekly basis when collecting adverts for the magazines I'm putting together, it's usually the big London agencies that continue to give me adverts that are either a wrong size, have no bleed or are riddled with RGB images. You can have all the up-to-date knowledge on design trends while sporting your vintage clothes and stroking your beard, but if you can't even complete a very basic requirement of your job you'll quickly become less trusted and your reputation tarnished.

Look around you at what other designers are working on, learn what's hot and what's not but never be afraid to have your own opinion. If you hate something that everyone creams over, congratulations, you've taken an important step in securing your own unique personality in design.

Will there be designers reading this that disagree?

I hope so!

What makes me an expert on this subject?

Not a thing -- in fact, I'm pretty average. But if a bog-standard designer like myself can see the wood for the trees, I'm sure you will carve a path through your career and reach the same conclusion as I have: Don't sit on your arse in an office all your life; for real inspiration you've got to take a walk outside once in a while.

Oxford-based Rob Scotcher is a graphic designer but also photographer, cake-eater, and lover of climbing trees, snowboarding, quad-biking and gadgets. Follow him on Twitter here.

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