Changing Careers to Graphic Design: Part 1

Posted by Sam Osborne on March 05, 2020

Changing careers can be scary. It will surely be stressful. It may even seem crazy. But it might be the right thing for you to do. It definitely was for me when I changed careers from finance to graphic design. Should you also professionally transition (or change majors) to graphic design? That’s a good question, and the best answer I have is, “It depends.” I will try and answer some other questions to help with your big decision.

“I’m studying [insert your non-graphic design major here]. I’m doing well in my classes, but I’m also creative. What should I do?”

I initially studied accounting. I did that because it was the “safe” choice: everyone everywhere needs accountants, right? “Drawing and other creative pursuits could remain hobbies,” I would tell myself. I made good grades in my accounting classes. I assumed based on my academic performance that I would enjoy accounting and finance as a career. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. In my first year as a financial advisor, I was anxious, unhappy, unfulfilled and already counting down the minutes until 5:00. In theory and on paper, accounting and finance appeared to be an ideal career. And for many it is. But it wasn’t an ideal career for me.

The classroom is not the real world. Talk to or shadow professionals who have worked as designers to get an idea of what your day-to-day will be like and to get a truer sense of what the graphic design profession has in store. Talk to a recruiter who can connect you with employers to discuss potential opportunities and requirements.

“I have a great passion for design, and I think I’m very creative. Should I pursue graphic design?”

Not without talent you shouldn’t. In his stand-up special Tambourine, Chris Rock offers an incisive corrective against such trite advice, “Check this out. You can be anything you’re good at. As long as they’re hiring. And even then it helps to know somebody.”

Graphic design isn’t for everyone. Before switching careers or pursuing a job in graphic design, do a personal inventory (if I can borrow an accounting term) of your talents. What are your skills? Do you have the creative chops and aesthetic acumen to cut it as a graphic designer? More importantly, do other people say you do? If not, I would strongly urge you to consider another path.

“No, seriously, I’m legit creative and a good artist. So, I’m thinking graphic design is for me.”

A former boss, a graphic designer himself, told me that design was art on a budget; a budget of money and time. You may be Rembrandt reborn, but if you can’t create on demand, on a schedule and on a budget, you should stick to fine art.

“I would consider graphic design, but I’m too far along in my career (or classes) to change now.”

One concept I learned in business school was sunk costs. Sunk costs cannot be recovered and therefore should not be considered when making decisions about the future. All the time, sweat, tears and dollars you have dedicated to an unfulfilling career path or course of study should not factor into your decision. You must ask yourself and honestly answer the same question I was forced to face: Do I want to be or remain a middling and often miserable [insert your job] or a fulfilled and potentially great graphic designer?

If you chose the latter option, read Part 2 where we discuss steps you need to take to make your graphic design career a reality.

Want some more career insights from creative and marketing professionals? Watch our Career Advice Videos (particularly the one with graphic designer Chad)!

Posted in: Creative, Job Search, Job Seekers

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