(Design) Guns For Hire

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Students from CAT’s Graphic Design program are already dipping their toes into the wonderful world of freelancing.

“To get real work experience, you need a job, and most jobs will require you to have had either real work experience or a graduate degree.” Donald A Norman.

With this quote, Donald A. Norman (director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego and best known for his books on design, including ‘The Design of Everyday Things’) perfectly nails the quandary of all new industry hopefuls – how to get that elusive first job.

We are happy to say that for the Graphic Design students at CAT, not only are they leaving with a diploma, many of them are also leaving with quality industry experience under their belt.

“I’ve had a few freelance jobs, from doing social media to designing cover art for albums. Recently I’ve been building the brand identity for an international film company that’s set to launch September 2020,’ explains GDD student Alyssa Rempel.

Zac Bradshaw and Bryan Lonergan, from the GDWD program, have also been busy.

“I got my first client via the school, which was to animate a coffee shop logo,” says Lonergan. “Since then I have found some of my own clients, making music videos. One of them is named Rev Raps and I just finished making a music video for his latest song ‘Moon & Back’ which released Sept 1.” (You can check out the video at https://youtu.be/_gxOMXVF-hQ )

Bradshaw has also been busy working for a number of clients, including: Title MTB (a mountain bike component company) where he has been doing dynamic Instagram posts/stories, newsletters, catalogues, posters and clothing design; The Bliss Market for whom he has been creating logo design/branding and custom Instagram story filters featuring logos; Lavender & Grace Jewelry :where he has designed a custom Instagram story filter featuring sparkles/logo/frames; and Quince Straw Bags designing their logo and branding.

“True interaction between client and designer is difficult to simulate in a classroom setting. Real work is real experience. So when students take on paid work while still in school, it adds to their education in ways that in-class projects cannot,” says Jon Matlock, Grpahic Designer and CAT instructor.

Real work is real experience. So when students take on paid work while still in school, it adds to their education in ways that in-class projects cannot.”

Jon Matlock, Graphic Designer and CAT Instructor

You can bet all this work is going to look spectacular in their graduate portfolios. But what else has working for live clients taught them?

“Mainly working with their schedules in relation to mine,” laughs Zac. “Planning ahead with getting work done and keeping track of everything has been a huge part working for these clients. – as well as communication and being efficient with discussion time.”

“Be honest! Sometimes clients have ambitious ideas, and it’s hard to say no to a client – but be realistic about the scope of work you can take on,” says Alyssa. “It’s better to be honest from the get-go than to disappoint them in the end. Chances are, they’ll forget the idea and ask what you’d suggest anyway. Also, don’t cave on your price. Artists are already usually quite generous when it comes to pricing their services, especially fresh grads. When you tell a potential client your price, they might try to negotiate, which is fine, but never settle for less than you’re worth.”

“The most important thing I learned from working with live clients is that it’s for them and not for you,” explains Bryan, “but if you enjoy what your doing then that part’s easy. It helped a lot with the music video that I liked the music and was told to do whatever I wanted as long as it wasn’t a lyric video. He liked it so much he wants to continue working together in the future.”

‘I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a contract,” adds Rempel. “Even if it’s a friend, even if it’s just a few terms, write them down and get it signed before you even think about ideas for your design. And steer clear of letting clients have access to your personal phone number or contacting via DM’s. The lines get blurred very easily and before you know it, you’re waking up to texts about revisions while you’re on vacation.”

Rempel, Lonergan and Bradshaw also stressed that there are definitely differences between working on school projects, and working for clients.

“A big difference is the exposure your work gets,” says Zac. “Knowing something will be shown on a big scale has been nerve wracking. Making sure everything is good to go before finishing a project always takes time for sure.”

Rempel admits that for her, it’s “probably, weirdly, the legalities. Designing for yourself is one thing, but knowing what assets you can legally use (fonts, stock images, copy, etc) is SO important when working for clients. Something as simple as designing a logo with an unlicensed font could get both you and your client in legal trouble.”

Recently I’ve been building the brand identity for an international film company that’s set to launch September 2020.”

Alyssa Rempel, CAT Graphic and Digital Design Student

Deadlines are also a different kettle of fish in the real world.

Lonergan says “Deadlines are sometimes less or more strict depending on the client,” while Rempel adds “most of the time, in industry, deadlines are deadlines. In school, you can hand something in late and eat the -5%, but that doesn’t work with live clients.”

“You rarely get to design what you like in the industry. You work with colours you don’t like, ugly display fonts, and the photo assets you’ll be given will be less than ideal,” adds Alyssa. “When you’re designing in college, try your best to venture out and work with some unsightly elements to challenge yourself!”

“Also there’s no one to critique your work,” add Bryan, “especially if it’s an unreleased music video; so you have to make sure everything is perfect for the client on your own.”

Lastly, we asked all three students how their time at CAT has prepared them for taking on clients/freelance work.

“CAT has created a backbone for myself; a code that I follow every time I start or continue on a project,” explains Bradshaw. “Sticking to important characteristics I’ve been taught has helped substantially.”

“My schooling helped with my confidence a lot,” says Lonergan, “and the motion graphics and 3d imagery courses helped a lot with these particular projects. But the basic knowledge from the courses in the Adobe suite is essential to build your confidence because there is so much there you get lost without some training.”

”I learned how to communicate with the people in my industry and sub-industries (printers, web developers, photographers, animators, 3D designers,” explains Rempel. “It’s nice to be able to talk that talk! I think there’s a level of confidence that comes with having a conversation with someone and knowing exactly what you’re talking about. I went into this program doing graphic design as a hobby and will be leaving feeling like a professional.”

Words by Deborah Lampitt-McConnachie

Illustration of designer at computer with his cat sitting on the desk.
Illustration sourced from Breeze.pm

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