Advertising agencies are the cash cows of the visual communications field. But along with the good paycheck come high turnover and rapid-fire deadlines with a healthy (or not so healthy) amount of overtime.
Advertising involves working for multiple clients--from small mom-and-pops to large conglomerates--with numerous print and multimedia needs. One day you might help to design a print ad to go in the new issue of "Fishing" magazine while the next day you're part of a team creating a billboard campaign for a used car dealer.
These agencies do tend to be somewhat regimented both in their approach to job titles as well as duties. As a recent graduate, you'll be a production artist or junior designer with more of a supporting role. Within 5 to 10 years, you can work your way up to Art Director and having your own design staff.
Corporations can provide stable work environments with good pay and excellent benefits. They're good about offering training and trips to conferences, but they might also involve tight deadlines and plenty of overtime.
There are many different company sizes, as well as differences between the services or products they provide. Chances are, if you like the corporation's products, you'll enjoy working for them. But if you're an outdoorsy person who enjoys camping and rolling in mud puddles, a job on the print staff of a bridal wear manufacturer might push you over the edge.
Hallmark® is located in Kansas City and has been known to hire Truman graduates. Other types of corporations that would be likely employers to newbie hires are department stores or product manufacturers.
Your projects could include brochures, in-store displays, or even websites if you were a member of their web team.
Graphic design firms are the hip places to work as a Visual Communicator. They're run and staffed by individuals with design backgrounds and years of business experience rather than by people with marketing, communications and business backgrounds. Design studios cater to a wide variety of clientele.
More often than not, design firms are smaller organizations, with as few as 1 or as many as 50 employees. The majority of these workers will be designers and they will, most likely, be up to speed on current trends in design.
Metropolitan areas are littered with design firms located in hip urban lofts or at trendy street addresses. Likewise, the clients of these firms also tend to be hip or at least open to new ideas.
You could enter such a firm as a print designer, a web designer, or someone responsible for some of both. Expect a lot of variety in the nature of the design work, and expect a lot of work in general.
Freelancing is a popular choice during times of economic downturn. If no one is hiring, get your own work. Being your own boss and the sense of freedom it brings can be empowering, but don't count on regular paychecks initially. Have at least six months of living expenses saved before embarking on a freelance venture
Freelance design can allow a wonderful amount of flexibility, both in your time and the types of projects on which you work. Currently, there are perhaps the most opportunities for freelance web designers. Everyone wants a web site, from your Uncle Bob to that vintage clothing store you like to hang out in.
And while, to some degree, jobs will come to you, you'll also need to be pro-active, a go-getter. You'll want to get your name out, create self-promotional materials, arrange meetings with prospective clients, advertise, etc.
New Media Firms / Web Design
Just like regular graphic design firms, web design firms tend to be hip and casual places with a young staff that's plugged into what's hot in the field.
Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin, Texas are brimming with web design firms that compete for the coolest clients. Many cater to specific areas, like the entertainment industry (music, film, television), hip companies from the corporate sector (cars, fashion, furniture), or the art crowd (museums, architects, galleries). Some will be lucky enough to have clients from the full spectrum.
Don't expect to get a job at one of these firms right out of school (they're ultra-competitive and hard to come by) unless your web portfolio shines like the stars. But it's definitely something to aspire to. And, of course, you can always start your own.
Designing materials for non-profit organizations is another possible avenue. Some designers find it fulfilling because they feel they're making a difference, rather than simply bringing home a paycheck.
Non-profits run the gamut from charities to the Red Cross to the Nature Conservancy. Just because they're not for profit doesn't mean they won't pay you, but don't expect a fortune. At the same time, though, rest assured you'll be needed and appreciated--by both the organization and the people that benefit from it.
Plenty of print work will come your way at a non-profit. But there are also quite a few looking to expand into the web arena. You should be able to find a niche to suit your interests.
Book and magazine publishers offer good pay and excellent print-only experience that focuses both on typesetting (interior pages) and layout design (covers).
Publishing houses vary from small and specific (perhaps focusing on only one type of publication --Christian, for instance) to large and all-encompassing (think Prentice-Hall or any of the New York publishers).
Along that same line, you could have your choice of a casual environment or one that's more corporate.
As a recent graduate, you'll most likely assume a supporting designer role where you're allowed to learn. Over time, your level of responsibility will increase, and you'll be given design jobs of your own.
Universities & Colleges
Almost all universities and colleges have on-campus design departments, which are great for those designers who never want to leave college behind.
These departments tend to be relegated to divisions like publications (print) and technology services (web). After graduation, if you choose a university design avenue, you'll be designing publicity materials for campus events, publications for campus departments and offices, recruiting materials, etc.
Teaching Visual Communications in community colleges, colleges and universities is a further option for an experienced designer. The terminal degree required for most colleges and universities is a Masters of Fine Arts. Experienced professional designers with an M.F.A. are in great demand by these institutions.
Working for three to five years professionally in a corporate environment is beneficial before pursuing a Masters degree.
Reproduction Roman oil lamps provide a warm light for the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. These are burning olive oil, which would have been the oil used in ancient times as well. Photos by Sara Orel (Art History).
Matt Derezinski (Visual Communications), Serenity, digital print, 2013.