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February 3, 2015 | Melanie Chandler

The Best and Worst Advice I Got as a Graphic Design Student

Best and Worst Advice I Got as a Graphic Design Student

Teachers always give advice to their students, but it might not always be the best advice. Yes, they have good intentions, but some advice may just fall a little short of Robin Williams's "Carpe Diem" speech in Dead Poets Society.

Here are the best and worst pieces of advice—along with the life lessons—that I got while I was a graphic design student.

The Good

Become a Collector

In my first-ever design class, the instructor gave us a standing weekly assignment to bring in examples of good design and bad design. This jumpstarted my collection; I started tearing out magazine advertisements, grabbing brochures, and keeping direct-mail pieces. If you keep adding to your collection, it will turn into a great source for inspiration when you need it! Just remember, there's a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I usually clean out my collection once a year.

Make a Sketchbook Your New Best Friend

Don't just make it your new best friend, take around with you everywhere. Use it to take notes, make lists, doodle, and whatever else you can think of. When you see something inspiring, take note of it. I always carry around a giant purse, so a sketchbook fits in it nicely. If carrying a purse isn't your style, or if you're a dude, check out these notebooks by Field Notes. They're little sketchbooks that fit in your pocket, and what makes them even better is that they come in different colors!

The Bad

The Client Is Always Right

Well, there may be some truth to this, but not as much as my teachers said. In school, the teacher always acted as the client, but in the real world clients aren't usually design professionals. Yes, they should have a say in the design, but it's your job as a professional to guide them towards something effective and awesome. If you let the client take the reins entirely, you may end up with something you won't want to put your name on, let alone feature in your portfolio.

You Can Never Price Too High

Wrong! Yes, you can price too high. If you overcharge, you will either get no clients or no repeat clients. Potential clients usually shop around to find a good price, and you definitely don't want to be the highest. My suggestion is to pick up the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. This book will help you come up for the best pricing for your services in your area.

The Life Lessons

Proofing Is Not My Job ... or Is It?

Ha! I wish this was true. When you lay out copy, whether you're typing it out yourself or have copied and pasted from another source, there are tons of things that can go wrong and lead to typos. For example, when I was working in Photoshop in school, I didn't always pay attention to where I clicked before hitting a few keyboard shortcuts... which could leave a random "v" or "t" stuck in the middle of a worvd (that one was a joke).

When you stare at something for a long time, sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes to track down errors. Just remember to take the time to proof, and have other people help you proof. The last thing you want is something you worked hard on getting published online or sent to the printer with mistakes. Trust me, it's not the greatest feeling in the world.

Learn When to Put the Pen Down and Step Away

I had a teacher tell me this, and I didn't believe him. "I'll know when to stop" I thought. Yeah, that wasn't true. I was working on one of my end-of-semester projects, and I think I had invested a total of more than 20 hours in one little poster. I would just keep nudging things back and forth because I didn't see it as perfect.

If you're down to decisions like 2 pixels right or left, put it down and step away! Take a break, then come back to it and see what (if anything) needs to be fixed or improved on. Learning to do this will help prevent wasted time and many headaches.

Teachers can give all the advice in the world, but sometimes the best lessons are ones you learn yourself. It may be troublesome and heartbreaking, but at least it will stick with you and turn into wisdom you can pass on to other designers. Great advice doesn't just come from teachers; you can learn a lot from other students and design professionals as well.

Here's my advice - learn new methods and ways of inspiring yourself. Be open to advice, but be cautious. Bad advice with good intentions often turns into a life lesson!

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Melanie Chandler

Melanie Chandler

As design director, Melanie Chandler leads the design team and works with them to create consistently compelling and engaging website designs, images for digital marketing, and other visual content to communicate corporate identity and drive traffic on websites and social media.

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