Lesson Learned: Don’t learn the tricks of the trade: Learn the trade!

I remember back in the 1990’s reading this book that was full of short pearls of wisdom for professionals, a lot like “The Little Black Book Of Design” but more for a broader audience. There was one that stuck out in my head that I think about a lot during my time at Mount Wachusett Community College; “Don’t learn the tricks of the trade – learn the trade.”

Trust me; fewer words are truer than those.

Before attending MWCC to get this degree in this specific field, I was a freelancer with a background in Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD), Multimedia, Document Control, Telcom-Netorking, and I was a semi-professional writer working on a series of websites including my own. I was also making good money doing Graphic Design for other people but there was this thing that held me back.

At the time, I didn’t know what it was that was missing. There was this nebulous cloud of “stuff” that I wanted to clear up, sort out, master, and then move to the next level of my career. I just didn’t know how and where to go to define what this “stuff” was. Not knowing what this stuff was cost me a lot of money.

Back in the spring of 2010 while I was recovering from a broken back (compression fracture of L1) I was cheated out of some credit I was owed. I was allegedly working under a “Director Of Media” at this charitable organization, but I never worked with him at all. I did everything myself while he joked “now you know why I quit.” After a function I saw a handful of people getting envelopes with pay checks inside. I joked and asked, “Where’s mine?”

“Oh, you don’t get one since you’re not officially on the team or on the books.”

After talking to the accountant of this organization I found out that “The Director of Media” was literally getting paid and was being given the credit for the work I was doing. On one of the promotional materials he was literally listed as the “producer” of the podcasts I created for this organization; on a stack of bibles I swear that I never heard from him once while getting this work done. I literally did the work, 6 hours of work each week, alone. The setup, the editing, the uploading on the website, I did everything on my own. When they ran out of space on their server, I even hosted some of their work on my own server. I also paid to burn some CD’s of some of the special events they held. Not only was I not getting paid, doing this work was costing my family money. Insult to injury was not even getting credit for it. As you can imagine, I quit the day after the accountant (who also quit around the same time) showed me in the actual books how this character was getting paid for the work I did.

They say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you; that’s not true. Ignorance of the tools of the trade is expensive and can cost you something in the long run. You have to know the lexicon, the language graphic designers and artists speak to each other.

After talking to someone who experienced something similar, she suggested that I go get a degree at MWCC for Graphic Design; which was the best advice I heard in a long time. The best advice I ever took…

Graphic Designers need to know these principals and how the relate to one another so that when a piece of work doesn’t look right you can discuss the people you’re working with and for how to fix the project. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone about contrast and typography and getting a blank stare back… unless you’re the one giving the blank stare since you don’t know what you’re talking about.

For anyone who wants to get into Graphic Design I can only offer this advice; learn from my mistakes. You can read all the books you want on the subject, you can watch all the free tutorials on the internet, and you can work for hours or weeks at a time for free just to get something on your resume; but you will never go far enough without a degree from some legitimate institution. Nobody will take you seriously without some serious time at a legitimate institution.

Don’t just learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade. In Graphic Design there is no room for such short-cuts.

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One thought on “Lesson Learned: Don’t learn the tricks of the trade: Learn the trade!

  1. You have such passion for your major! I love reading about your lessons and your graphic design escapades. I also think that writing might be a passion of yours. How can you infuse them together??? 🙂

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