The many micro-jobs of the small agency designer

When you think of the skills and day-to-day tasks of a graphic designer, much of it is stereotyped: drawing, Adobe Creative Suite, laying text out nicely on a page, brainstorming with post-it notes and giant notice boards whilst sitting on brightly coloured bean bags, making cups of tea… the list goes on. What people don’t always realise, however, is that a creative agency can be an extremely busy and demanding environment to work in, and when you’re part of a small work-force in particular, your job requirements go well beyond the work you do on screen. Some might call it multi-tasking, but I prefer to think of it as having a multitude of ‘micro-jobs,’ as each requires a very different set of skills from the others. Here are a few (that they don’t tell you about in college)…

The Psychologist
Psychology creeps in to every aspect of a designer’s job. From considering the user journey when designing a website to understanding the target audience for a piece of direct mail or a marketing campaign, you’re thinking about people. When you receive a brief that really doesn’t tell you very much at all, you have to draw on all your knowledge of the client to understand what they want. There’s also a degree of counselling involved – reassuring stressed clients that all is in hand, knowing when to step in and help a colleague who’s hit a wall on a project… Understanding the complexities of people is a key part of working as a designer.

The Secretary
In small agencies, everybody helps out. Whilst it’s a good idea to have a designated person or team of people to handle the heavy admin load, you’ll easily find yourself answering the phone, taking messages, contacting printers and suppliers and signing for deliveries. Being organised, responsible and presentable is all part of the job.

The Salesman
Many people assume that the account managers are the salesforce in an agency. They certainly play a huge role in dealing with the client side of things, but as a designer (at any level) you will be expected to come up with concepts, to take part in brainstorms and to see a brief through from start to finish. This is not a silent process, and at each point you will find yourself presenting your ideas to the team, justifying your design decisions and getting your colleagues’ buy-in. You’ll be using sales techniques without even realising it.

The Writer
Portfolios, emails, concepts, headlines, blogs, social media… These are all some of the regular writing tasks that you will undertake as a designer and being able to communicate well in the written word is a valuable and underestimated skill. Carrying out a final check on a proof requires far more than a simple spell-check and when sending emails to clients and suppliers it creates a much better impression if your grammar is correct. If writing isn’t your strongest suit, then find a colleague who will read something through for you, or start off an office debate by asking how to spell something!

The Teacher
Designers come from many different places, with a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties. Everybody you meet has something to teach you and you can guarantee that you’ll know something that somebody else doesn’t. As you become more senior, you’ll find yourself training up juniors and mentoring students on placements. Being able to communicate with others, to explain how to do things or to offer feedback (preferably in a way that isn’t patronising or demeaning) is a difficult skill that you need to use daily.

The Juggler
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a solid week to work on that concept brief, or a couple of months for that website? In reality, designers juggle many different projects for many different clients on a daily basis, and in a small agency you can add all of the above to your daily to-do list. Every job and every client deserves your full attention, so it’s crucial that you learn to manage your own time well and are able to shut out the busy comings and goings of the agency when you’re up against it.

Although any designer in any design environment should expect to take on a number of different roles, small agencies definitely offer up more opportunities to get involved. The result? A more varied and rewarding career than you ever expected, which could take you in a direction that you’d never even considered before!

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