Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ag Jobs A to Z: Graphic Designer

Photo credit: Beck's Hybrids
Life changing. That's the best way to describe last summer's internship with Beck's Hybrids. I learned so much about myself, my work habits, and agriculture. At the same time, I worked next to some of the most talented communicators and marketers in the industry. 

Jenna is a graphic designer at Beck's and is part of the team that made my experience so great. Watching her work ethic, creativity and passion taught me about the type of employee I want to be. I'm so thankful she's sharing her career story for today's Ag Jobs A to Z blog!

1. Where did you go to school?
I attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in animal science and an ag economics minor. After a year and a half in the work force, I went back to school at a private art school in Kettering, Ohio, The School of Advertising Art (saa) for a diploma in advertising art. 

2. What inspired you to go into graphic design?
I’ve always been very artsy, and when I was deciding where to go to college, as a high school junior, I was torn between my passion for agriculture and my passion for art. I ultimately chose agriculture because that’s where I felt led, but I stayed involved with art: drawing on my own, taking a few electives here and there. Then I graduated and went into ag sales, but I found myself more drawn toward the marketing materials I was using to help make sales and that were used to advertise to my customers. Also, while working with dairy farmers, I saw a need for positive public relations and the promotion of agriculture in a positive light to people who don’t understand all of our agricultural practices and why we do them. These large producers didn’t have websites or promotional material, or any real way to promote themselves or their business. But, it wasn’t about promotion in the sense of making more money, it was in the vein of improving public understanding and perception. If your neighbors understand why you do something, and what you’re doing on your farm, when that inevitable manure spill happens, hopefully they might be more understanding. Or if they understand why gestation crates for sows are for the safety of the litter, for example. I was drawn to promoting agriculture, and improving the image and understanding of the industry. 

After a year and a half of not being fulfilled in my sales role, I left the company and with no job lined up, wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was looking for jobs and I ran across a communication position for Select Sires, a reproductive management service for dairy and beef producers, but I didn’t have the graphic design skills to fill the role. I happened across a graduation announcement from a local high school youth in my hometown that was attending saa. I instantly felt led to investigate the school. It seemed to provide the training I would need to fill a role like the one at Select Sires. So I submitted my high school art portfolio and college transcript, and was awarded a scholarship for the combination. Saa is focused on real world, tangible skills, and you are on a computer from day one of classes. It is small and the instructors are design professionals actually working in the industry. 

3. How long have you been working in graphic design?
Just over four years. I graduated from saa in 2011 and immediately started working for the international headquarters of the fraternity Beta Theta Pi in Oxford, Ohio. It wasn’t anything I’d envisioned. I’d planned to find a marketing role for an ag company or start consulting and immediately changing the world, but as all things happen for a reason, and typically not like you plan, the opportunity to work for a non-profit in Higher Ed appeared. I spent three years with the fraternity, and learned SO much, but then, like every opportunity I’ve had, an acquaintance from high school worked for Beck’s Hybrids in Atlanta, Indiana. He kept encouraging me to reach out to the marketing director and share my portfolio. Finally, after about three conversations, I followed through, and I was invited in for an interview and was hired. I am approaching one and a half years at Beck’s, and I consider it my dream job, combining ag and art. I work with amazing people who share a passion for agriculture but also wish to positively influence the public, with campaigns showcasing the hearts and souls of farmers and why they do what is often a thankless job, Beck’s “Why I Farm” campaign. 

4. What skills are necessary for a career in graphic design?
Your basic computer skills and some ability to sketch or draw are givens. Being creative is also a good skill to have, and the desire to learn and explore new technologies and methods and styles, as the world of design is always evolving. But one thing I cannot stress enough is the ability to write. You don’t have to be a novelist or grammar maven, but I remember one instructor saying, “You can have a great eye and design a great ad, but so can many other people. If you can write copy or an engaging headline or tagline, that takes you to the next level.” I enjoy writing, so I put that skill to good use on many of my projects. 

5. How does your job fit into the agricultural industry? (Who do you work with? Who do you help? Who helps you?)
I work for a company that has an in-house design team, so my “clients” are my company and any subsidiaries of my company. But they are clients none-the-less and I still have to meet their needs and know my audience. My audience is farmers. And right now, farmers who are 45-65 years in age, but not forgetting that the next generation is quickly taking over that target audience spot. So we need to be adapting how we market and design, like the platforms we use. I will work with other companies if we’re co-branding or working cooperatively with a partner on a project. I have a creative director who I work with, as well as other designers and video production specialists that all come together to complete a total campaign or provide support on a project, like photography needs. 

6. What career/internship opportunities are there in graphic design?
Career types:
Print focus - graphic design, production artist (Agency, in-house, non-profit, freelance)
Web/digital design (Agency, in-house, non-profit, freelance)
Web backend design (coding, html) 
Print production (working at a printer)
Art Director (agency or in-house) – responsible for managing the designers and over seeing that all projects are being completed 
Creative Director (agency or in-house) responsible for overall creative vision for the company or project

While there are specific internships for design (I completed an externship at a small creative agency in Dayton, Ohio) sales and marketing internships shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Being in sales taught me a lot about marketing, but primarily how to read people and understand their wants/needs. That’s taken me very far in my success as a designer and marketer. Classes and tutorials can teach you how to use the tools and design, but sales and marketing taught me how to work with people, read people, and better use my design skills to influence people.

There are a few options out there when it comes to graphic design industry segments:
1. Agency – High level design. This is long hours and intense work with many different clients who are outsourcing projects to a creative agency. Many designers will start as production artists, where they are given the creative concept by their creative director and will produce it to spec. Also, there are account managers where you will work with the client to understand, meet and convey their project needs, and help keep the project on schedule. You will have the opportunity to work with many different industries and clients and the scope of projects is large, but the hours can be long, and you are expected to work until it’s done, and your work better be great. The rewards you’ll reap, though, are also great. 
2. In-house – The idea of in-house teams is growing and expanding. I work for an in-house team, where a company hires all the components of an agency, from a creative director, to graphic designers and video specialists to copywriters. They eliminate the need to outsource projects to creative agencies, because company paid employees can do all the work. In-house has gotten the wrap of not being as talented or up to par with agencies, but this isn’t true. The quality of work can be just as high as agency, and I personally feel, better, because employees have a personal investment in the company, not just “Another project from another client from a company I don’t know anything about.” At Beck’s, we have many “clients.” From the main brand to departments and entities that fall under the Beck’s umbrella, I feel like I can constantly be challenged with new and different projects. 
3. Freelance – for the designer who wants to control their hours and when they work, whom they work for, how much they make and what they work on, freelance is great. You’ll also likely work from your home or a rented office space, probably won’t have co-workers unless you partner up with someone, and you’ll be responsible for obtaining work, which unless you have a built up list of regular clients and steady work, could be stressful as sometimes there might be dry periods when you don’t have work. 
4. Non-profit – In many cases, a designer working for a non-profit is dealing with a reduced budget, and are forced to be a jack of all trades, because the non-profit cannot afford to outsource work or hire an entire team, so the designer may be writing, designing and handling the printing/execution of the project, as well as the social media. But this allows for greater creativity too! Working within confines of a limiting budget forces you to go outside the box and find alternative solutions that have big bang for the buck. The budget may be smaller, and the restrictions greater, but the reward of having an impact on your audience and helping a non-profit are great. Again, a large budget and fancy tools don’t define a great designer. 
5. Print Production – this is strictly print design - another option would be to work for a printer or in prepress for a printer. You’d be responsible for making sure a project or job were set up correctly to be printed, and then operating the presses/tools, executing the finishing of the projects and communicating with the project lead or designer. 

7. Is there anything else you would like a student audience to know?
Knowing Photoshop and InDesign and having the latest software will not make you a great designer. They are tools to help elevate your work, but they do not make you a designer. 90% of being a successful marketer and designer is knowing your target audience and smart design. Just because something looks great doesn’t mean it will resonate with your audience. I can’t stress enough that every piece you design is meant to influence and affect the viewer on an emotional level. And being able to convey that and understand that will help make you a successful designer.

RESEARCH. Know whom you are marketing to, know who will be reading your ad. You have the ability with words, type, color and imagery to influence a demographic. This all comes from observing your surroundings, other people and how they look at things and take things in, and relying on more than just design skills. Being well rounded as a designer will make you so much more appealing to perspective employers. Don’t dismiss your creative writing class or your gen ed biology, you never know when having that knowledge will come in handy. Learn to read people, learn to observe your surroundings, and most importantly, learn to learn. That skill will take you farther than any class you take.  

Huge thanks to Jenna for her answers and advice. I'm glad she could be a part of Ag Jobs A to Z! It's so great how art and agriculture came together in her career journey. 

Thanks for reading!

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