The Journey of a Graphic Designer
In a recent interview, Jonathan Graf gave insight into the journey he has been on that led him to become a graphic designer. He explains the rigors of his profession and how each of his experiences has shaped his life.
Graf is the Art & Web Director at Immotion Studios and is responsible for managing website development, the conceptual design and production of various label programs and the design needs of local clients.
Here is the Q&A of the interview:
How did you come to be a graphic designer?
It’s always been my path. One thing most kids seem to have is an abundance of time. One of my hobbies was drawing and creating artwork. Around the age of 13, I stumbled upon a copy of Photoshop which had been installed on our home computer by a friend. I had never heard of it but after toying around in the software, I was hooked. During my high school years, I was designing, building and managing websites and actually getting paid for it. When it came time to go to college and select a major, there just wasn’t anything else that appealed to me. Not too long ago my mother found an old newspaper clipping where I had won a logo contest in the 2nd grade. I had no recollection of it but I guess it speaks to me being in the right business.
What was your training like?
My training is really a lifelong process. Whether it was drawing in grade school, building websites while in high school, going through the graphic design program at The University of Texas at Arlington or designing a logo or brochure today, I’m always trying to learn and get better. I feel like I made some real advancements in my ability my last year in college. But if I compare the level of work I do today to the work I did then, they’re not in the same ballpark. Nothing beats real-world experience.
Could you tell us what you learned from a mentor or two that has helped to make you the designer you are today?
A professor in my senior year of college was particularly challenging. He wasn’t shy with criticism and fellow students would commonly talk about how difficult his courses were. It turns out it was exactly what I needed. The pressure of not producing quality work in his class and the realization that post-college life was around the corner pushed me to step up my game. During the critique of the first project of my senior year, he said in front of the class “I had no idea you were this good” which not only gave me motivation to keep working hard but showed me he had noticed the improvement.
What is your definition of a graphic designer?
Anyone who produces visual communication, be it for commercial, educational, culture or political purposes.
Can you tell us about the kind of places you’ve worked, how they were different from each other and how they given you valuable experience?
I could be a little unique in that my current employer, Immotion Studios in Fort Worth, Texas, hired me directly out of school. All of my work outside of Immotion has been contract work where I’ve worked directly with and for the client. So I don’t have experience working full-time for other companies or agencies, but I’ve certainly gained a lot of valuable experience working here.
How would you describe the rigors of your profession?
Being able to properly manage time and react appropriately to criticism are definitely important. Whether working in an agency, working on your own as a freelance/contact designer or working for a company as part of an in-house team, graphic designers are inundated with deadlines and projects. Those that can calmly and confidently tackle projects and deadlines as they come while prioritizing their workload are the designers whose clients/employers will see as professional and reliable. You can’t have thin skin either. Art and design, by definition, is a subjective thing. Your work can and will be rejected, be it by internal channels or clients. It happens with such regularity, in fact, that you can’t possibly take it personally. Successful designers learn from the criticism and improve their knowledge and skills with each project.
How would you describe the rewards of your profession?
First and foremost, it’s a fun job. Sure, there are projects that aren’t so much fun. But as they say, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s the most rewarding aspect of it for me is knowing I have a sustainable career and am able to provide for my family all while doing something I enjoy.
What is unique about being a graphic designer in your city (that is specific to your city)?
I like Fort Worth, Texas because it has more of a small town vibe than other cities of its size. It will always be the little brother to Dallas so a lot of the big city annoyances end up on their side of the Metroplex rather than ours. So while I enjoy the culture and feel of living in Fort Worth, we’re close enough to work with Dallas-based clients. In today’s digital age, however, your physical location doesn’t dictate the type or quality of work you do.
Do you have friends who are designers in other American cities that are better or worse off in certain elements of their job because of where they work and live? If so, how?
I have some friends in the business who have worked in various cities, be it Dallas, Seattle, New York City, Austin, etc. Obviously, the pay and cost of living can be higher or lower depending on the city or region. I’d say there are advantages and disadvantages in working for larger agencies. The clients are more high profile and you have larger budgets to work with but the hours can be more demanding and employee turnover greater.
What is the cost of living like in your city?
The cost of living in Fort Worth is lower than the US average and housing is especially affordable.
What is your specialty?
My strengths include brand development, packaging and WordPress website design/development. I particularly enjoy projects where I can build a brand from the ground floor.
Can you tell us about your work now with your current company?
Absolutely. Immotion Studios is a subsidiary of a large private brand marketing company specializing in CPG (consumer packaged goods) so much of the work we do is in that space. Having said that, Immotion has its fair share of local and non-CPG clients as well. I’m currently an Art/Web Director so I help lead the conceptual design and web design/development teams. My daily responsibilities could include brand/logo development, packaging design, website design/development, print design and authoring style guidelines. All in all, I do a variety of different work for a variety of clients so it keeps it interesting.
What else are you up to these days?
I’ve always been a big sports fan so I follow the local team sports (Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers, Stars) closely, as well as Mixed Martial Arts (UFC). Other than that, I live with my wife, Valarie, our daughter, Evelyn, and our dog, Romo (yes, named after the Quarterback). We enjoy watching movies and taking road trips together.
What is your dream job within the graphic design world?
While I do enjoy my current job and appreciate the advantages it presents, I’m similar to Peter in Office Space where, if I had millions of dollars, I would do nothing. But I think my version of “nothing” would still entail design projects. I would just have the luxury of (1) being more selective of the type of work I take on and (2) not being beholden to a standard full-time schedule where you’re in the office 9-to-5.
Can you settle a debate: What is the best product/program/software for graphic designers to use?
The Adobe Creative Suite (CS) essentially has a monopoly stranglehold on the graphic design industry. From Photoshop to Illustrator to InDesign to Premiere, even Dreamweaver and Flash, it’s an indispensible set of software. As far as the specific program I would proclaim the best, it’s a tie between Photoshop and Illustrator. And given the integration between the two with Photoshop’s ability to handle Smart Objects, they play together nicely as well.
Can you tell us something about graphic designers that the rest of us don’t know?
We don’t all wear black rimmed glasses and skinny jeans.