Experienced designers, I need your advice


New Member
Hey gang. Feeling really really torn here and was hoping for some insights, comments and advice from you. I've essentially been leading a double life for 8 years: by day I work in Finance and am a qualified chartered accountant and I work in commercial / corporate finance (NB: I have NOTHING to do with that dang credit crunch :p).

By night, however, I work as a graphic designer for charity and have produced and also lead small teams of volunteers to execute creative projects (consisting of students and hobbiests). Mainly in the field of print media (magazines, banners, exhibitions, backdrops, sponsorship forms, etc) as well a little web work (HTML and CSS).

There's something about this field of 'creating emotion' that gives me a mental "buzz". I can work happily late into the early hours in complete silence, totally absorbed in Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator then off to the office after a few hours sleep.

One of my issues is I love GD too much; virtually every aspect of it and I'm technically quite strong and can 'learn software' easily. I'm reading books and talking to designers to really learn the fundamentals of design too as that I think is far more important than software as they're essentially high powered tools. Nonetheless, I've been dabbling with typography & font creation, 3D (modelling, lighting and texturing only so no animation), vector graphics, pixel based work and I even wonder if there's an innate skill where I can maybe even do copywriting!

I'm now at a cross roads that's really tearing me apart and would love to hear some advice and guidance from "proper" graphic designers:


(a) My creative abilities have only been tested in a voluntary environment where clients will accept anything because it's free. I have uploaded a sample of my work so you can see the calibre I'm at. I'm up against people who have trained in design school etc for years so I'm not sure I stand a chance.

(b) Although not money driven, it's still a factor to consider and I'll be taking a big hit. My understanding is that a designer at the top of their game could command £50k-£60k as a creative director. £60k is the baseline for a standard finance manager so there's a bit of a chasm when it comes to remuneration.

(c) My success will be dependent on getting on with other designers and working collaboratively. Does not being from a designy background hinder that?

(d) I've invested quite many years in Finance and moving into GD would be giving up all that.


(a) I could invest my whole life into this field and would feel very fulfilled. There's also so much scope to help others in terms of raising awareness about those less fortunate and this would be deeply rewarding for me internally.

(b) If my creative streak is good enough, combined with my technical head it could be a very compelling combination as I would have no issue in getting my hands dirty with coding websites, mobile apps, etc. I'd rather spend the time on the creative but here also being able to write scripts to automate my workflow would no doubt be helpful. Also I can be very organised which can be helpful in pulling out templates etc for those time pressured jobs.

(c) With my finance background and with the experience of working with CEOs and CFOs of large corporations; maybe I can one day setup my own agency.

(d) Technically I'm already setup with the latest hardware and software licenses (Adobe CS5, Cinema 4D R12, a hexacore PC with production level graphics card, two external HDDs with a huge capacity and well backed up and protected, a large Wacom Intuos 4 graphics tablet, colour calibration equipment, high end monitor, the pantone colour swatch books). Got all the gear, but useless without the time to really use it bar evenings and weekends.

So anyway. I'll stop there. There's a lot spinning around in my head and I really could do with an external perspective. Apologies for the long post.

PS. To see my artwork I've uploaded it into my album called "Sample". I don't know how to embed pictures onto a post yet so hope that isn't too much trouble.
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Pictures of artwork (1/2)




Hi there. It's a tricky one, especially because of the money to be perfectly honest. From the experience that I have had (and I certainly DONT speak for everyone) is that often design itself is a 'hard sell'. If there is something to attach it to for example printing, then it's easier to give customers a reason to need what you do.

You seem like you are talented and have drive which is essential. Also, I would think, again from my point of view, that the "fulfilment factor' is a lot more important than just money. But there's no denying that bills need to be paid.

I think a good way forward might be to offer your services to similar charities to the one that you already help at. People that dont know you yet. Also approach the charity you already help out at, and demand that they dont just accept whatever you give them, but to be as demanding as if they were paying. It might help give you a taste of some of the feeling you get from other clients. (Unless you do that already.)

Also, if you have the opportunity to branch other services with Graphic Design, then you have a chance at earning good money. I think the high-end jobs really are for high-end guys, and if you are one of them, then great go for them. :) If you are planning to branch out on your own, it could be quite different.

As for software, it's certainly important, but you are right, the mentality is crucial, and (again from my point of view) it's also very important to understand the medium that you will deliver to, for example print. It's always a good idea to get to know what your printer has to do to print, and if you can work with them to understand the things that will make the outcome as great as possible - understanding the pitfalls that can hurt a design from a production point of view, such as 4-colour text as a classic example. I learned a lot of things in my first few years working in reprographics, it has fashioned the way I think about the construction of my designs a lot.

Lastly, I think each of us on this forum will have had quite different experiences and backgrounds... What I've mentioned is applicable from my point of view, but others here might have very different viewpoints. Hope this helps. :)
Thank you. That was helpful. I often think of Design as almost a trained thought process and that I believe is what underlies the “hard sell” as this thinking is at the core of what we’re selling. I spend hours thinking about, sketching out and experimenting with different ideas but once the idea is executed people can really underappreciate the journey to get there. I think people look at a design, deconstruct the outlines, fills and effects in their minds and think “sure, I could make that”. That skill would make a good forger rather than a designer who delivers to a brief LOL.

So with more of a business hat on then, what additional “branch-out” services are an easier sell in people’s experience? Here are some of my thoughts (I do seem to like my lists these days!):

(a) Photography. For some reason, I don’t seem to have come across GDs who also sell photography services. Are the two really disparate? Perhaps you can’t be both because in both fields anyone can buy the kit and software but it takes years to develop “the eye”. I wonder if there are any synergies between the “design eye” and the “photography eye”.

(b) Web design. I could bundle in web development services to code static websites as this might seem more “tangible” to prospective clients. Although it will have to be static websites using HTML, CSS and Javascript and if things get tech heavy with dynamic sites then I would need to partner up with someone.

(c) Type / font creation. This probably is highly synergistic with GD and the business model for font creation is that you literally are selling a defined product at a set price per unit as opposed to selling time. But I suspect that selling fonts might be like selling stock photography, if you sell some units it is a nice supplement but healthy volume sales are hard to come by let alone the piracy risk.

Finance vs Design. Why does this have to be so hard!
You nailed it in a nutshell - people deconstruct and believe that they "could produce that" having no understanding of the decisions we have to make, those which the general public just can't do... The biggest one seems always to be how to start, but there are multitudes of choices that we will take without even thinking too long about them when working.....Aaaaaanyway.

I think websites are a good way forward, also printing. Maybe photo. I also do photography, and it's great when people want it. I tend to do more event photos and stock photos. But you may lean toward portraits or something else....

The key, I think, is tangibility. You will find that people don't always believe in design until they see a bad one. They wont understand that a digital photo is a 'thing' and possibly the same with a website. But they will see that there is value in the brochure that they are holding with their hands.

The trouble with this way of thinking is that it's very easy to get caught into the trap of just becoming a service designer+Printer/photographer/web guy/whatever - because if we only work on what the customer will believe in and pay for - we are aiming at lowest prices and going out of business. There needs to be some kind of area where each of us have something to provide that even though the customer cannot see it or touch it, they will believe in the value of it. Of course that itself can only work if we are 100% convinced of it ourselves. (I hope that makes sense.)

For example - if you are registered and qualified - how could you combine the Financial Advisor with the Designer? "I create 2 types of design to help your business: financial advice and a means to get yourself seen by the public that need your business. It's a winning combination, where your design needs will DEFINITELY fit your budget, and the advice to increase your profitability in the future."

Or something like that?
Not that it makes too huge a difference as long as it’s of reasonable calibre, but what bodies and lenses do you use for your photography work?

That’s quite a deep point actually, each of us to find something which customers believe and see the value in and not to be caught by the trap you mentioned.

Combining finance and design, well you’ve made me think and maybe there are ways to do that as this combination would be quite unique. Maybe becoming something like a “product launch” specialist where I can help with costing, pricing models when going to market and then also website, package design, brochure, logos etc to go with it. That would be nice to do. And my specialism in finance is actually financial modelling so I could leave a digital “thing” being the actual model itself with my clients to play with afterwards.

What do you think?

To curb my out of control passion for all aspects of GD, if you had to specialise in just a couple of areas, which of the following would you say would go well together from a skills point of view and also a customer point of view when hiring these skills:

  • Graphic design
  • Wed development (static content HTML/CSS/Javascript)
  • Photographer
  • 3D (no animation)
  • Illustrator
  • Copywriter
For photos, I use a combination of:

Canon 7d
Canon 40d

Sigma Lenses 17-70mm Macro (v.v. nice)
Sigma 70-300mm
Sigma 10-20mm
Canon 50 'nifty 50'

Be careful with photography equipment. It's very easy to spend ridiculous amounts of money on nice gadgets. :)

I think the combination of general Graphic Design, with web, photo and illustration (I include 3D in that) is a very round, broad coverage. Maybe almost too wide possibly.

Let's say you went for the financial model idea: I think it might be a good idea to think in terms of what skills really enhance that goal more than others. Those are the ones to really concentrate on. Ie; will 3D really be more than just fun for that goal?

It seems to me that the idea for combining those two areas is a strong one IMHO. It's probably quite unique in our arena and would set you apart. And already you've latched onto it and made it your own - so maybe it sits well with you.

Do you have a website? People will want to look at your portfolio. If you don't then let that be a tutorial start point for you.
Some nifty kit there :)

And yes, more than aware of how photography will suck in any budget you throw at it; and it’s oh so much more about the lenses than the body LOL.

Right. Another day and another evening of pondering, calls and research. In terms of next steps I think I need to find a transitionary / part-time finance role to give me some white-space so I can study GD, freelance, etc. That will de-risk the transition a little bit.

I was speaking to a designer yesterday evening and he suggested (1) to look at doing a course and (2) to actually go see a professor at a good college as they’ll be more qualified to advise, although I suspect with a slight bias to actually study GD at their college ;)

What colleges / courses are well renouned and respected in the industry?

I’m thinking that one way to make up for the lack of formal creative education could be to spend some time learning the fundamentals from the best.

And … erm … no portfolio as yet *blush* but totally aware that it’s the portfolio that will make or break my success … promise I will work on it.
That sounds like a reasonable plan to me.

If you were to follow the Financial Design road, then you will still need to have a foot in that arena, in case you get out of date - but I'm sure you know that.

I'm not sure which schools are best as far as reputation goes - I have always been more of a prove by your work guy rather than by certificates. speaking to a lecturer will help in that regard.

It's good if you can find a reliable mentor to help you, but nothing will replace what you can learn for yourself through growth and trial & error... Books are good. Interviews and videos help, but only if they help structure and inform your own creative thinking. I would suppose that they would be more of a technical instruction than theory. Experiment. Don't just stay at the computer. Draw. Paint. Photo. All of that kind of thing helps you to see with different eyes.

Courses are certainly a good thing to pursue, and as far as employment is concerned, I think employers will want a certificate of a degree. Plus portfolio. From my point of view, it is largely about practical "getting things done, nuts and bolts" stuff. But that could just be me.

I believe that a good step forward is to actually makes steps. To strike while the iron is hot. If you are really keen to do this then don't wait for the best time, because there really wont be a best time, you know?

Hope this helps a bit.