The Importance of Learning From Your Peers

HTML chalkboard

I try to learn something new everyday. With the internet and a seemingly endless supply of tutorials out there to teach anything about Photoshop, Illustrator and CSS that you’d every want to know, it’s not hard to fill every corner of your mind with new information. The internet is undoubtedly a great resource for learning new things about graphic and web design, but for me, learning from others in the field is much more powerful than any tutorial I’ve ever completed.

It wasn’t easy for me to head back to the cube, but when I made the decision to do so, I promised myself I would make the most of it and try to learn as much as possible from the team of designers I’d be working with. Luckily, my fellow designers and developers I work with feel the same. We’ve started holding “classes” dealing with HTML/CSS (taught by our developer) and Photoshop (taught by me and two other graphic designers).  So far our adventure has been fruitful and I feel like we’re all building a better foundation of knowledge regarding our topics of interest. Our first class was taught by our developer, dealing with IDs, classes and the general set up of an HTML and CSS document, in turn we taught him about the lovely Photoshop pen tool. The pen tool can be a bear to master for a newbie, so we felt this was a good place to start since it’s one of the harder PS tools to grasp. Another topic we tackled was freelancing and dealing with difficult clients. We’ve all done some level of freelance work, whether it be designing for friends and family or big clients, and we would all like to continue learning from each others experiences and using each other as a resource in this endeavor.


Never stop learning. Never. The day you’ve decided you’ve done it all, quit, leave your graphic design career in the dust. and move on to something else. Deeming yourself an expert in this industry is the day the industry will pass you by. Graphic and web design is always changing and keeping your skills and knowledge in tip top shape is incredibly important, so learn where you can. The internet offers an infinite (and overwhelming) number of resources for designers and developers to learn, but always take the opportunity to learn from your peers and superiors. In my experience, those working and thriving in the design field offer the most valuable knowledge and expertise.

Ways to Get Swindled Right Out of Graphic Design School

Graphic Design Pens and Pencils in a CupIn design school (or even high school for those of you talented enough not to need additional education) the future is bright and you’re certain that you’ll be an instant success right out of school! Right?! Wrong. Way wrong. There are people in the world looking for fresh, naive graphic design talent to take advantage of, especially in the freelance arena. Just log on to your local design listing page and look for those ads looking for a logo for $50, or for businesses looking for free graphic design that will only enhance your portfolio and give your creativity the exposure it deserves! Whatever, these people just want your creative ideas for nothing. You need a finely tuned BS-detector to weed out these types of clients, which you won’t have entering the graphic design field right out of design school.

If you hear these phrases from potential clients, you’re probably going to get swindled:

“I feel uncomfortable signing your contract.”

Red flag numero uno. A contract is a non-negotiable. A contract or design agreement, lays out the ground work for the project and lets your client know up front about payment schedules, how you accept payment, the number of revisions you’ll do before additional payment is required, etc… If a potential client is giving you the run around about signing your contract or down right refuses, run for the hills. Chances are they won’t pay on time (or at all) and will be extremely difficult to work with. The temptation to go forward with a project and work with a new client without a contract will be tempting for a freelance graphic designer right out of school, but resist the temptation! Save yourself the headache and use the time you’ll save stressing about this client to find better clients that will actually pay you.

For help understanding or crafting a design contract or agreement, check out these resources to get you started:

Outlaw Design Blog – Graphic Designer Contracts Agreements Forms and Web Designer Contracts

David Airey – Using Freelance Graphic Design Contracts

Freelance Folder – Do You Need a Contract for Freelance Work?

“You’re quote is a little too high, how about you do it for this (insert measly dollar amount here).”

If your rates are reasonable and your quote is well thought out given the project, don’t budge on price. Do your best to explain how you came up with your quote. I never go into too much detail, but I explain what is included in the quote: research, sketching, designing and X number of revisions. These factors will vary depending on the project.

“I’d do this project myself, but I don’t have time.”

This type of prospective client may have taken a web design class at their local community college 8 years ago, clearly making them an expert on subject of graphic design (in their minds). Clients like this might request a copy of your source files during or after the project is done so they can “tweak” them or make changes down the road. You wouldn’t ask a painter to leave his tools behind after he paints your house so you can touch up spots a few months later. Don’t let clients “tweak” your work.

“Payment upfront? We’ll pay you once we’re satisfied…”

…Or not at all. Many designers require a 50% deposit on all projects upfront, and for good reason. If after rounds and rounds of changes and months of work a client decides they don’t like what you’ve done and goes off the grid, at least you made a little money for your hard work and time. Normally there’s not a lot you can do in this situation, but if the amount they owe is substantial, take legal action (only pursue this option after many e-mails and phone calls to the delinquent client). You’re running a business, not a charity. This is also an instance where having a signed contract in your hands is crucial.

“Do a spec of this project, then we’ll be able to know for sure if you’re the right designer for the job.”

No spec work EVER. There’s a huge movement happening in the graphic design community to eradicate spec work completely. When I first started freelancing, I got roped into doing spec work because I thought that was a standard practice. Veteran freelance designers will be quick to tell you otherwise. Spec work devalues our industry and makes it incredibly easy for potential clients to steal your work and use it for free, or hand it off to another designer willing to work for peanuts to rework what you’ve done and claim it as their own. Yes, unfortunately these type of low life clients and graphic designers exist.

“This project is easy and shouldn’t take you anytime at all!”

I’ve heard this more times than I can count and it makes me cringe each time. There are clients out there that believe you have a magical button on your keyboard that when pressed churns out the exact design your client wants in five seconds. This is an opportunity for you to educate your potential client about you creative process. When I send a potential client a quote, I always include a note that says something like “This quote includes all research, sketching and design work…” to dispel this myth that what we designers do is “easy”.

In Conclusion:

Always be cordial and quick to explain your processes if you ever hear these phrases from a potential client. We’re professionals and sometimes we have to explain what we do in order for our clients to get on the same page, but don’t spend too much time on a client if there’s clearly no way to get through to them. I look at it this way, if I take my car in to get it worked on and the quote on the repairs is too high, I’ll generally go ahead with it after a clear explanation of what’s being done to my car. Our potential clients deserve the same courtesy.