Creative People

5 Things You Need To Know About Becoming A Graphic Designer

Those wishing to enter the design industry have another reason to look to Victoria for their tertiary education, with the Victorian College of Arts (VCA) at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music launching a new specialisation in Graphic Design as part of the Master of Design and Production degree.

But what should hopeful young designers expect from entering the industry?

Well, one of the best ways to learn, is from those who have experienced it all before you, which is why we’ve pulled together some words of wisdom from three design professionals; VCA’s Professor John Warwicker; top Melbourne studio A Friend of Mine‘s founder, Suzy Tuxen; and TDF’s very own, very talented graphic designer, Sarah Hendriks.

Bea Taylor
Supported by the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne

Professor John Warwicker will be leading the new graphic design specialisation at VCA. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

John’s advice for young graphic designers is ‘to be interested!’ Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

John’s work, left: Bespoke lettering and design created for Broached Commissions, Melbourne Design Fair 2023. Photo – Dean Lever. Right: Tokyo Director’s Club annual vol. 31.

Bea Taylor
23rd of October 2023

The design landscape has changed immensely over the past decade. As a result, design as a discipline has also evolved significantly. It’s something the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) has recognised, with its exciting announcement of the launch of a new specialisation in Graphic Design as part of the Master of Design and Production degree.

But what do budding graphic designers need to know before stepping into the industry?

We’ve tapped into three different industry perspectives — a design professor, a design studio founder and an emerging designer — to offer some great advice for budding designers! Meet the panel below:

The design professor: Leading the new specialisation at VCA is Professor John Warwicker. John co-founded the multi award-winning and multidisciplinary creative collective ‘tomato’ and was also selected as a lifetime member of the Royal Designers for Industry (RDi) in 2022.

The design studio founder: Suzy Tuxen is one of Melbourne’s top graphic designers. Her studio, A Friend of Mine, is responsible for cult-favourite croissanterie Lune’s distinctive branding, alongside work for countless other Australian brands. Her studio was also recently featured in NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition!

The emerging designer: Sarah Hendriks is TDF’s very talented graphic designer (responsible for all our branding, graphics and website layouts), who’s just experienced her first year in the industry!

Scroll down to see what these three designers say are five things you need to know about becoming a graphic designer:

Suzy Tuxen’s studio A Friend of Mine is responsible for Lune’s distinctive branding.

Suzy Tuxen, the founder of top Melbourne studio A Friend of Mine. Photo – Eve Wilson.

They’ve also done work for sustainable company, Great Wrap.

1. Don’t expect to just do graphic design

Ask what other areas John has worked in during his decades-long career in graphic design, and you’ll understand just how broad the role of a designer is! In addition to branding, publication design, typography and photography, John has also worked in fashion, product design, furniture design, installation design, video direction, painting, drawing, education and even sound design (AND, the list goes on!).

John says there is an increase in ‘the possibility of multi-tasking over a far greater range of activities than ever before, and with it the exciting possibilities of developing new hybrid skills, to create new forms and ways of thinking.’

It’s something Sarah has also experienced in her first year as a designer at The Design Files. ‘Everyday can look different for a graphic designer,’ she says. ‘Your instinct for design can be applied in so many different ways, but this is what makes the job so exciting!’

So far Sarah has worked on selecting and editing photography assets, creating digital graphics and branding for special projects including our art shows (‘this is probably what I expected to be doing the least!’), styling food shoots and assisting on home shoots.

2. Look for job opportunities in new and fun areas

‘Designers are now sought to solve bigger and more complex, interesting problems,’ Suzy says.  ‘They are brought in earlier in the process, so it’s a really exciting time for our profession. With emerging technologies and great appreciation for the value of design, designers can now play in many new sandpits.’

One of the things that surprised Sarah most about entering the industry was the wide array of jobs graphic designers could have. ‘Pretty much every industry needs graphic designers, I have friends who work for bed sheet companies, not-for-profits, printers and music labels… so be prepared to end up anywhere!’

3. Get to know the design community

In any profession, having a network to lean on is paramount, and it’s no different for graphic design.

Suzy says, ‘Seeking advice and opinions amongst your team and other experts or peers is so helpful — you can never stop learning.’

For Sarah, being a part of the community is a constant stream of inspiration. ‘Some of the most useful things I’ve learnt have come from my fellow designers and I think this is what is going to keep me going in the industry into the future. Every designer comes with their own unique set of skills and interests so there is so much to learn from one another.’

Her advice is to follow studios and designers on social media, not only for inspiration, but for future roles — ‘this seems to be the place where the best jobs are advertised’.

Sarah Hendriks, TDF’s graphic designer! Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Sarah’s branding for ‘Making Space’, a Melbourne Design Week exhibition by Tantri Mustika and Ella Reweti.

Sarah’s university project on branding identity.

4. Be prepared to get technical

It’s easy to get lost in (and love) the creative process, says Sarah, but an invaluable skill she’s discovered is having the technical prowess to get the job done.

‘It has been so valuable to have skills across the three main Adobe Suite programs (Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign) and then accompanying that with skills in typography, composition and colour theory. It has also been exciting to explore the few animation skills I have too and be able to bring something new to the role.’

Suzy’s advice is; ‘one great lesson I’ve learnt is documenting processes can set you free. Knowing your steps and then being able to write it down and communicate it is so important. It’s a bit of a bland exercise for us creatives, but having this transparency is paramount otherwise projects can quickly unravel and misunderstandings abound.’

5. Be interested and open to evolving!

John’s sage advice to every student, irrelevant of the subject, is ‘to be interested.’

‘If you’re interested, you will make interesting work, and if you make interesting work, someone, somewhere in the world will be interested in you and your work,’ he says.

It’s something John says all the great designers he’s known share; ‘they are still interested and interesting, always improving their craft and forever widening their interests.’

Suzy says, ‘We learn so much from our collaborators — it’s fascinating being immersed in different worlds as part of the design process. We are proud of any work that contributes to making the world a better, more interesting and happier place. It’s important to have perspective, empathy and, most importantly, to fail but to learn from it.’

The Master of Design and Production (Graphic Design specialisation) is a new degree at the VCA. Discover and articulate your graphic voice, challenge the conventional and discovering new approaches and visual languages. Find out more here.

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