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The Real Poop

Almost everything that you see on your computer screen right now started in the head of a graphic designer; unless you're still using MS-DOS, in which case we're not real sure how you're reading this. Graphic designers use photography, software programs, illustration, print layout, animation, and type to deliver a message. ("Buy these sneakers!"—but more subtly than that.) That message could be on a T-shirt, website, book, television show, or even spray-painted on the street. Don't get any ideas though—they usually get permission to do stuff like that. In today's world, design elements are visible nearly everywhere in some form or another, so the range of work that a graphic designer may perform is a pretty wide one. Even governments use graphic designers to create signage for streets. Who are these little creativity gnomes popping up everywhere you look, and how do you get a start in the graphic design field so that you might one day become one of them? Time to make your mark, Mark.

Say hi to your mom for me.

If you have a touch of the artistic bug, but prefer to make more money in your life than those starving half to death on Venice Beach or those desperately hawking their paintings for $10 a pop on eBay, you may have the correct mindset to become a graphic designer. While there is good money in graphic design, that shouldn't be the motivating factor. At the root of it all, you should love art in all its forms. You should live to create, and to be inventive. And the good news is that you can do all your work on a computer, so you don't have to worry about your hands being stained olive green from any oil-based paints.

Having a basic understanding of art history can also help you develop your own unique style. Over the centuries, artists have produced work that reflects their society and culture. Most art is a reaction to a specific ideology. For example, check out the artwork that was used on the cover of hip-hop albums from the 1980s. (Yes, it was around back then.) Graffiti-inspired logos and designs that illustrated the idea that African American youth were fed up with the system. Well, it would be difficult for musicians to get their messages and branding across without the help of graphic designers. Especially those who can b-boy with the best of 'em.

So what do we mean by branding? You're not going to be designing websites and logos from your office at the Circle T ranch, are you? You won't be driving a hot iron into the rear end of any future steaks, right? No, of course not. Every company, business, artist, charity organization, or product uses a particular image, color scheme, or theme that is distinctive from others of its kind. For instance, Coca-Coca uses a recognizable red and white font to help consumers identify their product. When a consumer sees this font in all of its cursive glory, they know that Coca-Cola made the product. If you saw "Subway" written in that font, chances are you'd get more of a hankering for a soda-pop than for a footlong meatball marinara. Graphic designers help a company create their branding or use existing branding when designing print materials, signs, websites, or clothing. Part of the graphic designer's job is to figure out how to design an image that incorporates their client's goals and facilitates sales. For example, if you are a beer company entering the Hungarian market, you might not want your logo to show an invading army. All that from just a little image? Yes siree, Bob.

So why do companies come to you rather than just whipping these things out on their own? They're fairly simple designs, right? Those who think this way are dangerously underestimating the importance of branding, as well as the amount of skill that goes into creating a memorable brand. Much thought goes into the exact selection of font and color, precisely what thought or emotion is to be evoked by seeing it, and what certain images represent to different kinds of people. Does the color brown turn people off from purchasing a food product? Does an italic font provide emphasis or look sloppy or amateurish? These questions and more are best answered by a graphic designer. Not just some shlub who manufactures ballpoint pens but thinks he’s God’s gift to Photoshop.

There is almost nothing more emotional than a company's logo. You could be sitting in a Board of Directors meeting. The CEO says, "Google decided to compete against us. The government charged us with fraud. We are changing our logo." One hundred percent of the questions will be about the logo.

Those artistic types itching to live their lives behind computer screens can major in graphic design—numerous universities, trade schools, art schools, and colleges offer graphic design degrees. Classes teach graphic designers to use such programs as Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. So that, in addition to fostering your design skills, you will also learn how to paste people's heads onto other people's bodies for humorous effect. Or for whatever reason you might be able to think of. While taking classes, budding graphic designers build up a portfolio that helps them get a job once they are out of college. So, you see, it's not just the knowledge you leave with—you also get to take with you a useful, marketable product that will instantly help you get your foot in the door. We're looking at you, philosophy majors.

While graduating with a graphic design degree can't be a bad thing, there are actually ways of becoming a successful graphic designer without stepping a foot inside of a classroom. If you attempt to go this route, however, it is important that you purchase and study up on your Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign so you won't be left behind. (Be warned—they're expensive. Not as expensive as a 4-year college, but still.). People generally begin with the tutorials and complete some of the assignments. If this grabs you, you’re in luck, because there are a ton of books and instructional videos that help graphic designers understand these programs in intricate detail. Many times graphic designers attend workshops to get one-on-one help with programs. Or sometimes they may go to their 7-year-old nephew so he can show them how to use Illustrator. Kids these days.

As soon as you become proficient with the design programs, you can begin to court clients. You know—paint pictures of you batting your eyes, twirling your hair, puckering your lips. Golly, we know our flirting. There are numerous jobs available for new graphic designers. Take a look at job postings or ask around. You never know. Your Aunt Selma might need a website for her knitting group. The pay may not be great, but it helps build a portfolio that you can use for a better paying job down the line. The more work and practice you get, the better off you will be landing that job designing T-shirts for Nike. "Just Wear It."

There are many forms of graphic design but one is probably the most lucrative: web or technology type design. You will have a terrible base salary but you might strike gold in those tech hills. The graffiti artist who painted erotic images at Facebook netted $200 million in stock options. Obviously, that is not a normal event, but fast-growing web firms or companies trying to build awesome apps for your iPad pay a lot better than advertising agencies.

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