Introduction: The Elephant in the (Class)room

I've been teaching graphic design for many years now. Sure, we talk about messaging, composition and process—but there's a question that looms heavy. Surprisingly, it's rarely asked: Will graphic design be a satisfying career? 

What can I say to those who ask? There's a glass half full response and a glass half empty response.

When the glass is half full, I see that most of us really love what we do. We become fast learners and are quite resilient. Our field changes frequently, especially in terms of technology. We keep up because we fear that our work will become stale or our skills outdated. Our civilian (non-designer) friends think we have it made: we get to be creative for a living.

Our civilian friends don't realize that the tough part is being creative for a living. Creativity doesn't always happen on demand. When the glass is half empty, I see that many of us are tormented by procrastination and resent the “business” part of our creativity. We question everything and are rarely sure that we are doing our best work.

Most graphic designers create artifacts for a living. When we reflect back, we see a trail of books, catalogues, brochures, posters and logos. Is that all that represents our endless hours of toil? Has graphic design been our life?

Some of us just crave recognition—validation that what we have done is important. We designers reward each other with more artifacts: certificates, books, plaques and Lucite circles, squares and triangles. Again, is that all that represents our endless hours of toil?

The answer is varied; and the experience, like design itself, can't be limited to one perspective. I decided to ask a few colleagues to share their thoughts about their careers so far. Their contributions are compiled in this series titled: Reflections. Rewards. Regrets. 

Hopefully their experiences can shed some light on what one can expect of a graphic design career. They can help us recognize what's rewarding and reveal what they might change if they could.

Let us know what you think.