By: Craig Harshman

As a junior in Kent State’s Visual Communication Design program I had no clue what life would be like in the creative workforce and that, of course, was one of my biggest anxieties. In school, you hear a little about the freelance career path, the project work and how freelancing feels like a self-directed/self-driven lifestyle. However, you don’t receive a lot of insight into real design employment until you’re actually there doing it or you’re reading about other people’s experiences, such as in this blog. I’m striving to give you some insight into what it’s like working as a graphic designer for an agency. I have been working at AKHIA, an integrated marketing communications agency, for two and half months now and am learning how life really works as a designer.

Young designers, fresh out of college, are faced with some tough choices.  Choosing their initial career path at what could be called a crossroads in their life – delicately balancing senior level class work, graduation and the fight to secure their first job or internship. At this point, just before commencement, these talented, eager and mostly inexperienced designers are left thinking about what type of job they should be pursuing. In the creative industry designers have three main types of career paths to think about:

  1. Freelance graphic designers are self-employed and handle every aspect of the business from marketing to bookkeeping to client relations and invoicing.
  2. In-house positions that are normally at an established brand or organization which would likely have a team or even just one person that has a broad range of design skills to take on any creative challenge for the company without having to outsource any work.
  3. Lastly, designers can work at agencies that are hired by a number of different organizations to produce creative work usually for specific campaigns.

As I pause to take a deep breath and think about my short tenure here at AKHIA, my experience has already revealed some key characteristics about working in an agency setting as a graphic designer.

Quick Turnaround

This is one thing you hear about before you start that turns out to be one of the things that can keep you up at night—the quick turnaround rate. In school they try to emphasize the critical nature of deadlines but I would suggest that we (as students) don’t take that as seriously as we should.  Believe me, things move and change much faster than you thought possible and the challenge of effectively managing your time will be a lot more important than you ever realized.

Breadth of Work

Similar to freelancing, but without the choice of whom to work for, designers in an agency can be faced with a variety of challenges for a number of clients with different needs. You could be doing work for a hospital one day and then a manufacturing company the next. You will work on a large breadth of projects all with different business objectives and as time goes on you will learn what works for each client. Well, you will actually learn so much about non-design aspects that you will want to start editing Wikipedia. This is because to show good work to a client you have to understand your client, their industry, trends, competitors and their brand. It’s hard sometimes to delve that deep because of the large workloads and fast deadlines but you have to make sure you have a grasp on the client and their industry. No two days will be the same at an agency so stay calm, think quick and don’t be afraid to ask questions.


Day one on the job was a lot of training but day one of the job was more frantic then I ever thought it would be. Sometimes, I actually do wake up with the thought of tight due dates and the number of large and small projects that are “on my plate.” On-the-job learning is literally happening all the time and the wisdom I acquire from my creative director, client leads, and other designers is the best learning opportunity ever. A number of people see my work before the client; a designer, proofer and director all provide me with feedback to better the project and myself. This process helps get the project to where it needs to be and I can see how the eyes of the experts I work with will make me a better designer.

What insights do you have into working with an agency as a graphic designer?