In my career as a designer, I haven’t thought nearly enough about what my graphic design dream job would be or what, specifically, it would look like. If I could design my own job from scratch, what would I want it to look like? For any designer, what should a graphic design dream job look like? Overall, I think a graphic design dream job has great pay, good people, and fun projects with reasonable timelines.
The Designer Salary
The most important part of a graphic design dream job is the salary. Why? Because people get jobs because they need money to survive. We need food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and entertainment. Money is what pays for all that.
Money might not buy happiness, but it can certainly buy you out of a lot of unhappiness.
A good, fair salary and benefits matters, so in a graphic design dream job, the salary better be damn good.
Let’s look at a realistic salary range. For a junior designer, in a city with a high cost of living, you’d be lucky to get a starting salary of $45,000 CAD. This is still much lower than it should be because it’s just above a living wage in these cities. It’s also dramatically far off from the salary you would need to ever think of buying property in many cities in Canada.
I would consider a realistic, good starting salary for a junior designer to be $55,000, with generous yearly bonuses, guaranteed raises based on inflation, opportunities for growth, and internal transparency surrounding all employee salaries. Obviously, for a senior graphic designer or creative director, I would except much more. Since they don’t really pay graphic designers more than six-figures a year, I do have to stay grounded in reality here. So let’s say, for a senior designer with over 15 years in the industry, a good starting salary in a graphic design dream job scenario would be $85,000; with all the same extras I mentioned before.
My graphic design dream job salary (As designer with 15+ years exp): $85,000+ with full benefits, yearly bonuses, guaranteed raises based on inflation, promotion opportunities, and company-wide compensation transparency.
The Work/Life Balance
In any dream job, having a good work/life balance is crucial. Unless you have no family, hobbies, or social life, this is pretty important. The majority of my career has fortunately been spent working 40 hour work weeks with only occasional overtime if there was a big deadline looming; though at one point I did work a solid 72 hours without sleep because of a publishing deadline that was unmovable. That was not fun. Though the main reason it happened was because I was in charge of too many things and there was no one to delegate tasks to. We needed more people.
You’ll sadly often see this happen at creative companies. Either they are short staffed to begin with and expect designers to simply work overtime, or someone leaves and they don’t replace that person, but the workload remains the same. The work gets passed on to the other designers to pick up the slack. This should never happen, but it does because it saves the company money. In the short-term anyway. In the long term, however, it makes for unhappy employees and a high turnover rate.
The biggest part of having a proper work/life balance is the hours you work. If you work 9-5, this means you get there at nine, and leave right at 5. You don’t stay late unless you absolutely need to. You are paid a specific wage for certain hours and you don’t need to come home late for dinner just to show the company you are a good employee. Do employers like it when you stay late? Of course, because they are getting free labor. Don’t work for free. Do your work per your contract, and when it’s absolutely necessary, stay a bit later. If you regularly find yourself staying late because there is too much work, that isn’t your problem, that’s the companies’ problem and they need to hire more people.
To summarize, my graphic design dream job is a job where I work my 8 hours a day, get a paid hour lunch, then go home. If all the priority projects are done, we get to leave early or take a day off. One company I worked at years ago did this and it was really great. This is how you show your employees you value them and their time.
My graphic design dream job work/life balance: 8 hour days with one hour paid lunch and flexible hours with time off as needed. Can work from home. No work or work communication on evenings/weekends.
Let’s talk about the work itself in a graphic design dream job. This is going to look different for every single graphic designer out there because every designer is passionate about doing a different type of design. Some designers might want to do a job that consists entirely of typography, and some might want to work strictly on branding projects. The types of projects you’ll actually do will depend on the company, and if you’re working at an agency or in an in-house position.
One part of the work that makes a huge difference in how the projects are actually dealt with is how they are organized by a creative director, design manager, or project manager. Someone needs to be acting as a filter for you; getting projects, prioritizing them, and distributing them out to the design team. Without someone managing the projects things quickly become chaotic and the entire company suffers.
My graphic design dream job projects: A mix of creative typography projects, page layout design, creative brainstorming sessions, isometric design, writing, and creating project mood boards.
The Company Culture
Design and tech companies love to talk about how great their company culture is because they have a pool table, lounge area, or video games. These things are great to have, but they don’t really determine the culture at all. A companies culture is built around the people; their outlook about the company, how issues are dealt with, how their work effects their personal life and vice versa, and more. A company culture cannot be forced, it occurs naturally through its people, through the actions of everyone involved in the company.
Essentially, everything I’ve already mentioned in this post contributes to a companies culture.
My graphic design dream job company culture: A fun atmosphere where nobody takes things too seriously (Because design is never life or death), work gets done, and hard work is recognized. The CEO and management makes it clear verbally and through their actions that every member of the team is valued. Making mistakes and learning from them is encouraged rather than punished.
The Company Itself
This might be the least important aspect of an ideal graphic design job, but it still matters. You want the company you work for to do good things in the world, have ethical business practices, and have a positive brand perception. It matters that you are proud of the work that you and your company does.
My graphic design dream job company: Either at an innovative creative agency or as an in-house designer at a company whose products/services improve people’s lives.
Your Graphic Design Dream Job – In Summary
So, a great salary, good work/life balance, good projects, and a great company and culture are pretty much the main ingredients for a graphic design dream job. But what else would make it ideal? Maybe a short commute, good cafes and restaurants nearby for lunch break? A snack shelf in the break room? Generous bonuses at the end of the year and a wicked holiday party? There are plenty of extras that can turn a good job into a great job that you will want to stay at until you retire. It just depends on what your priorities are.
Unfortunately, with all the requirements you might have for your graphic design dream job, it actually makes it impossible to know if you’re applying/interviewing for a dream job until you’ve already been working there for awhile. Fortunately, it’s easy to switch jobs until you find your dream job.
What does your graphic design dream job look like? Is it similar to this list or entirely different? Is there a specific company you want to work for? Let me know in the comments below 🙂