College Advice Blog

Feb 25, 2012

African American Graphic Designer

This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect as a graphic designer, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more. This is a true career story as told to
I am a Senior Graphic Designer; the industry I work in is advertising/promotion and also product development. I have about 15 years of experience in this field, and I'd call myself determined, motivated, and engaging.

I am a black male, and it has hurt me some. I have experienced discrimination, and the easiest way to deal with it is not to internalize it. Taking personal and racial insults to heart is very limiting, and makes me question my own self-worth and competence. Once I realized that the only limit to my ability was just that -- my ability, I figured out how to distance myself from it. Also, the companies that would discriminate against me because of my race I'd typically quit immediately and report to the Better Business Bureau. It's very satisfactory knowing that your claims of racial discrimination are going somewhere above the heads of your once superiors.

Day to day work with my job varies. I work for a video gaming company that is very understaffed, and most of the work is out of love and dedication to the project. I handle all of the character models and graphics for the PC version of the game, and also the promotional graphics that we eventually send to industry. Slaving over a computer for hours trying to get the colors 'just right' is very common and very time consuming. People tend to think that working for a video game company will be rainbows and sunshine, but it really isn't. It's hard, trying work, and leads to much insecurity in those that undertake it. Because user reviews are so aplenty on the beta and alpha versions of our build, I've become very conscious of my work. I think it makes me want to do better, so it's probably a good thing.

I'd rate my job satisfaction at an 8. In my mind, that's as good any other job in the graphic design world. Honestly, if I wanted to feel better about the work, I'd like to have more time off to see my family. That's my one complaint.

I can't see myself doing any other job. Since I was a child I wanted to work with art and creative communication, and here I am. Every day I wake up I feel accomplished, like I've made something of myself. It's a very liberating feeling, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Graphic design is a cut and dry industry. I got started in this line of work straight out of college working for independent gaming companies. I would have liked to have taken more classes in college, to vary my career outlook. There are many different subsections and fields of graphic design, and I want to explore them all. It's hard to do that without the proper credentials.

What immediately struck me about my specific job is the stress. So many people leave graphic design jobs due to stress. The stress of advertising firms, the stress of press releases, deadlines. It seems like typical commercial job complaints, but in any creative industry it's magnified ten-fold. I had to learn how to internally manage my stress, always get 8 hours of sleep -- that's important. One small thing was trying to make friends with my superiors -- seeing them as friends that have your back really helps me get through the work day.

I learned about networking and determination. Personal relationships are so often overlooked in business that it's ridiculous. Making friends is a natural social thing, and employers appreciate it when you go the extra mile.

I work in a very limited space and there is always a line for the coffee machine in the morning. One week, three days in a row, the person in front of me inadvertently spilled coffee on my suit. Since then, the coffee has been moved to the break room!

I work because I need to feed my family, but that isn't all of it. I really feel like I've found a career that I love, and that's the motivation I need. I feel like I'm providing a public service, I'm giving people something that makes them happy -- games. One thing that made me feel incredibly proud was our first beta review. The most common comment people had was that the layout of the controls was easy and that the backgrounds were gorgeous. Hearing the word gorgeous in relation to my work was so fulfilling that it's hard to put into words.

I never particularly want to quit, but one unique challenge is meeting deadlines. We had a planned release date of 10/24, and we split that up into 5 sectors. So every step of the way we updated the beta and alpha versions of the game, graphical improvements etc. This, coupled with creative blocking, can be a real nightmare.

My job is considerably stressful, but I'm glad I get to work normal hours at least. I get to come home at the same time every day, which is important to providing family stability to my children.
Graphic designers for large video game companies are looking at salaries 100k-130k. I honestly feel like I'm paid fairly for my abilities, as narcissistic as that sounds.

One drawback of this job is the distinct lack of vacation hours. I only get sick days, so I consider those my vacation days.

Most of my contemporaries hold degrees way out of the field of graphic design, but I went the conventional route. I really enjoy graphic design, so my major was in Advertising with a minor in Graphic Design. Skills in Photoshop are paramount, and I also have very solid illustration skills.
I'd tell that friend good luck, it's a competitive industry. It's considered a 'cool' job, and every twenty-something out of college is gunning for your job.

I'd like to be working for a bigger company, sure, but I'd be happy right where I am! Thanks for the questions.

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