“To make a living as a graphic designer, one must be good. Really good.”
If there is someone qualified to make such a claim, it would be Michael Waite. Founder, CEO, and employee of Bonefrog Creative Group, Michael has over 30 years of experience in the graphic design field. With so much experience he has seen the industry shift and evolve many times over those years.
In addition to his work as a graphic designer he is also an instructor for Continuing Education/Workforce Training (CEWT) and for ISU’s business technology program. As such, we were able to get his insights into the graphic design industry, what he believes it takes to be an effective designer, and how graphic design can make or break a website.
Can you share a little about yourself?
I was trained in school during the 80s as a graphic designer using traditional design and paste-up tools (pre-desktop publishing). I was also schooled in communication, a critical underpinning to my graphic design education that became incredibly valuable once I hit the real world outside of college.
I’m coming up on 30 years as a freelance creative, which allows me to live where I want and set my own hours and choose the projects and clients I want to work with. I do a bit of teaching as an adjunct professor, as I enjoy teaching and found that I have a talent for it.
What are some key things to keep in mind when considering how to design a website?
Website design begins—always—with a clear understanding of who the primary customers are and what they expect from an online website-based experience. Who is the primary target customer and what matters to them? What is the competition getting right, or wrong? Fuse that understanding with the benefits of the product or service the website is supposed to be selling. Then design for it.
A website is not a printed brochure, limited by size and printing costs. Know what the customers are coming to the website to find and give it to them. Don’t be stingy. Take that stupid chestnut of “people don’t read anymore, so just give them brief bullet points” and crush it under the heel. People self-qualify: they will read and click and follow the information until they get the answers they came to the site to find. The role of a good web developer is to ensure that all that information is wisely presented and parceled so as to not be intimidating or messy. A well-designed, expertly-contented website instills confidence in the site visitor and invites them to engage.
How do graphic design and web design relate to each other? Similarities, differences, etc.
Like any business communications device, a company or product website must convey a sense of professional competence. That’s done by backing sound graphic design with a well-considered user experience, based on the information the website needs to deliver and the results wanted. In the case of a website, the page design must also take in the deeper, interconnected presentation of the information, guided by a strict sense of relevance.
That design—the look, feel, and function of the website user experience—is everything. The wiz-bang of the code itself is secondary—meant to serve the needs of the site design and the purposes behind that design. Good web design is good information design, with the attractive graphical skin providing the visual confirmation to a visitor that they are in good hands.
Advice for someone looking to get into web/graphic design?
Want it bad and be prepared to work hard enough to get really good at it. One must have a good design sense (able to recognize and appreciate good design) as well as a love for thinking creatively and communicating effectively.
To make a living as a graphic designer, one must be good. Really good. One must be fast and one must be more than a one-trick pony—especially if living and working in a smaller market. Know the software tools and stay current. Graphic design and creative thinking is useful in many business communication disciplines, and the more one knows, the more opportunities are there for the taking.
The key to being a better-than-most graphic designer is an education that goes beyond graphic design itself, one that is underpinned with a functional understanding of marketing and communications—which results in design that is both professionally attractive and arresting and relevant to the target customer.
- Website design begins with understanding who the target audience is and what they want.
- The design of a site is everything. Code is secondary and meant to serve the design.
- A good graphic designer today must know the software tools and stay current. The more one knows, the more opportunities there will be.
To hear more about the field of graphic design, check out CEWT’s podcast episode where Michael Waite goes further in-depth. Also, be sure to check back in with CEWT for the graphic design course in the Spring. Information about the course can be found on CEWT’s registration page.
Share in the comments below what your takeaways are. Good luck with your graphic and web design journey!