Build Your Design Skills
Chicago’s reputation for excellence in graphic design means there are many options if you want to get a degree, learn a new program, or explore a new area of design in an academic setting. Institutions offering programs for Chicago graphic designers include:
• Columbia College Chicago
• Illinois Institute of Art
• Institute of Design (Illinois Institute of Technology)
• Art Institute of Chicago
If you work through a Chicago freelance staffing agency, you may also be able to obtain training through the agency or your employer.
Chicago Freelance Designers
Because of its varied arts scene and strong advertising and media markets, Chicago is home to some of the most creative graphic designers around. Many of them find opportunities at some of the new businesses and design shops that flow out of the innovative universities in the area.
A few Chicago freelance designers will sometimes get together and start their own design shops! If you have the skills, you can start out as a freelancer and end up wherever you want to be.
How can you connect with design opportunities? Start by creating the best portfolio you can. This may mean going back to school to grab a few more advertising-related classes or software skills — as well as building your network through your teachers and fellow students. Get your portfolio out to creative staffing agencies and small advertising and marketing shops, and make connections while you create great work.
Chicago’s Ad Community
The advertising industry is a great source of freelance jobs for Chicago freelance designers. Get in touch with the industry through networking with groups like these:
• Chicago Ad Federation
• Chicago Creative Club
• American Association of Advertising Agencies
• American Marketing Association
• Chicago Association of Direct Marketing
• American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)
Looking Beyond Chicagoland
Because of the number of opportunities available within the Chicago area, it’s sometimes hard for a Chicago graphic design pro to remember that creating world-class work means the whole world is your market.
Chicago graphic design firms have client lists that would be enviable by New York or London standards. Chicago firms have built campaigns for clients ranging from Aon to eBay to FedEx.
When you’re marketing your own services, be sure you give yourself a world-class image.
Next Steps for Graphic Designers
Maybe you’ve been freelance for a while, and work has become pretty steady — you may even have to turn down jobs from time to time. What next? Here are some of your options:
If you are passionate about design, but want someone else to handle the business end, consider starting your own agency in partnership with a marketing or business-development specialist.
If you’d like to make more money (and who wouldn’t?), consider projects that will boost and demonstrate your client-relations skills and your ability to work with copywriters and creative directors. Most art directors started out as designers.
If you enjoy the technical side of web work, consider developing your expertise as a user experience consultant or design director for a web company.
The Chicago Media Market
Chicago is one of the top three media markets in the United States, along with New York and Los Angeles. This means there are many opportunities for freelancers in creative and technical fields.
A Chicago graphic designer can find opportunities in many industries, including advertising, film, and media. The market also includes many agencies targeting African-Americans.
Ad agencies in the metro area bill about $17 billion a year. Leading ad agencies include DDB Chicago, Killian & Company, Leo Burnett, and Foote Cone & Belding.
The Oprah Effect
Perhaps the most successful media brand to come out of Chicago is the name of its owner: Oprah. (Who needs to add “Winfrey” any more?)
Aside from hiring creative professionals for her media empire at Harpo Productions, Winfrey’s organization has helped make Chicago a required stop on celebrity media tours, and Winfrey herself supports local organizations such as the Academy for the Arts with philanthropic gifts.
Artisan was founded in 1988 as a creative haven for Chicago’s top talent. Artisan’s ability to appreciate the demands of businesses while advocating for its A-List talent attracts a strong base of loyal clients and creative talent. By 1993, the company tripled in size and was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing private companies. The company extended its enterprise to Indianapolis, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Today, Artisan serves 2,000 companies along with thousands of creative professionals.