Graphic design is a great field to work in; it’s creative, exciting, and if you play your cards right, can potentially be very profitable. However, the best part of a career in graphic design for many is the flexibility; you can choose to work with any industry, in virtually any type of environment. So, whether you’ve just graduated college, completed design school, or opted for a career change, one of the first questions to ask yourself as a new designer is where you’d like to work: at an out of house agency, an in house ad agency, or as a freelancer.
Out of house
- Social environment: ample peers, mentors, and future references
- Learning opportunities: wide range of clients and projects; expert feedback
- High pressure: tight deadlines and long hours; expectation of excellence
- Little credit: executives tend to get credit for a campaign’s success
- Specialization: gain a deeper understanding of the company and its industry
- Traditional Working Environment: steady pay, benefits, and regular hours
- Less Variety: fewer opportunities for creativity and learning
- Fewer Opportunities For Advancement: can be difficult to move up the ranks
- Flexibility: you choose when and where you work
- High Earning Potential: you set your price and how many hours you work
- Inconsistent: pay and workload can vary greatly depending on the day
- Must Wear Many Hats: you manage all aspects of your business yourself
Working At An Out Of House Ad Agency
One of the greatest benefits of working in an out of house agency is that you’re surrounded by other designers. These offices are packed full of creatives; you’ll have ample peers to talk with and a sea of potential mentors who started out exactly where you are. The abundance of designers also opens the door for networking opportunities. Many of your coworkers have likely worked at other creative agencies before starting their current role, making them great connections (and references) if you ever need a change of scenery.
It won’t be hard to expand your range of skills at an ad agency. You’ll get to work on an array of projects for a wide range of clients; in the same day, you could design a logo for a beverage company, a billboard for a SaaS business, and a magazine ad for an athletic apparel store. You’ll also get feedback from other, more experienced creatives on a regular basis. While it can certainly be intimidating to present your work to a room full of professional designers, their feedback can provide an invaluable opportunity to learn.
Agency life can be exciting, interesting, and rewarding – but it isn’t for everyone. Out of house agencies are notorious for tight deadlines and rigorous hours. You aren’t working for a single client, you’re working for multiple, and typically, agencies follow a “the more the merrier” mentality when it comes to taking on new business. Projects cumulate, and when things pick up, creatives are left working far longer than 9-5. Plus, design agencies tend to expect nothing less than excellence when it comes to the work. Everyone’s an expert on the subject, and they may be more particular about the design than supervisors at an in house ad agency.
Little Credit For The Work
When you’re just starting at an out of house agency, you may have to stay later than desired, take on more projects than seems reasonable, and do some grunt work (that’s common anywhere, though) – and for all of that effort, you might not receive much recognition. It’s common for creative directors and other executives overseeing the project to get credit for its success, regardless of how much of the work you actually did.
Working At An In House Ad Agency
You only have one client at an in house ad agency, and that client is the company you work for. This allows you to gain a much deeper understanding of the business and its design needs; you’ll not only have the information they give you, but direct experience with their products and services, insights into their culture, and a more comprehensive knowledge of their internal processes. In addition, you’ll gain a thorough understanding of the industry as a whole by working at an in house ad agency; you’ll get to know all about the competitive landscape, the different niches, and what type of messaging lands with the industry’s audience.
Traditional Working Environment
An in house ad agency will have a more traditional working environment than out of house agencies or freelancers will. Unlike freelancers, in house designers can expect a steady paycheck, typical benefits, and standard vacation time and sick leave. Plus, in contrast to out of house agencies, in house agencies often offer regular hours and a significantly more relaxed atmosphere.
While an in house ad agency is definitely the most stable career option for graphic designers, working in house isn’t without its drawbacks. For many, the greatest is that there’s less room for creativity. You’re always working for the same client with the same brand guidelines, tone, and voice. Not only could this get boring after a while, it also presents an issue for those looking to expand their abilities. While you’ll definitely fine-tune certain skills, you likely won’t have the opportunity to test out others.
Fewer Opportunities For Advancement
Out of house agencies have ample room for career growth; you can start as an intern, and if you prove yourself, potentially work your way up to creative director roles. Depending on the size, an in house agency may not have those same opportunities. At smaller agencies, there may not be many positions to move up to, and often, the people currently in higher roles are very comfortable where they are.
Working As A Freelancer
Working as a freelancer is the most flexible option by far. To start, you set your own hours. If you prefer to wake up at noon and work into the evening, you can, and if you prefer to end the day at two and work weekends, that’s entirely your prerogative. As your own boss, you don’t have to request time off for vacations or doctor’s appointments, and you don’t have to answer to anyone if you oversleep.
In addition to working whenever you want, you can also work wherever you want. Many people have found that they focus better when working from home or cafes, and if you do prefer a more traditional office environment, a coworking space could be a great option. Freelancing is also an excellent choice for those who like to travel; it doesn’t really matter which state (or country) you’re in, so it wouldn’t be difficult to take your business on the road. As long as you have the right project management software, particularly one that offers automated workflows, you can stay on top of projects regardless of where you are.
High Earning Potential
UpWork found that 60% of those who left a full-time job to become freelancers ended up making more money than they did in their previous jobs. Freelancers have the authority to decide which projects they embark on, so if they have the reputation, they can take only those that pay well. Plus, freelancers get to decide how many hours they work, meaning they can choose to take on more projects if they want more money (without having to request overtime).
Both an out of house and an in house ad agency will supply designers with plenty of work, but freelancers are left to their own devices to find clients. Some months you may have more people bidding for your time than you can possibly take on, but other times, the demand for your services may dry up. This inconsistent pay, in addition to a lack of benefits, can make it hard to plan financially – you never know when feast will become famine.
Must Wear Many Hats
Few people are proficient at every aspect of running a business, but doing it all is part of the job of a freelancer. There are no marketers to sell your services, no accountants to manage the finances, and no legal teams to handle payment discrepancies. You are the company and every employee working for it; if you want something done, you’ll have to do it yourself.
Set Yourself Up For Success With Ashore
Whether you’re working at an in house ad agency, an out of house agency, or as a freelancer, graphic design is an excellent career choice. However, it isn’t without its pain points, a huge one being the review cycle. More often than not, the feedback is vague, nothing is put into context, and the designer is left with more questions than answers. Luckily, there is a way to end the endless review cycle. Ashore has all of the tools you need to successfully collaborate with clients. Ashore offers contextual commenting and markup tools to make feedback clear, instant notifications and automatic reminders to keep everyone up to date, and automated workflows so once you find a process that works, you can replicate it. By streamlining the review process, creatives on Ashore get their proofs approved 50% faster. Don’t believe us? Sign up for free today to see it for yourself!