Digital Media

So you want to be a graphic designer?

We talked to one of the best ones in the game – Ian Arunga, who is the Art Director for FCB Sema House, who started off as a graphic designer himself.

1. What did you study to become what you are today?
I studied business, actually. Learnt design on the job. Many years ago, I was working as a children’s book illustrator at Storymoja when my immediate boss, the then graphic designer, left, and I had to hold the fort until a new designer was hired. I spent countless hours mastering design software. I would stay at the office till really late learning new design tricks. Then I ended up taking up the graphic design position and later on, head of creative for the company.
2. What was your starting salary?
I think when I started out, I used to earn between 15,000 and 20,000. A big bump from the 10,000 I earned as an illustrator at the time. In fact, when I got into designing books that I had illustrated, I would earn 30,000 on a good month. 
3. What is your favourite part about design?
Bringing ideas to life has to be it! I would be so elated watching kids go through books I illustrated and designed in utter amazement. Being able to take an idea and make it your own for the world to see. Thought goes into everything we do.

As a designer you get to learn about different industries everyday. For example, I have done designs for beauty products like NIVEA, to money transfer services like MoneyGram, to Banks like Chase Bank. In order to be a successful designer, one has to know about what it is they do in order to increase the client’s revenue. Designing a poster or a few ads isn’t going to get much done unless you know what it is you are talking about for their specific needs.

I love seeing my designs being used. Driving around seeing billboards I have designed makes me happy.

Lastly, I am able to design my own logos, websites, business cards, greeting cards and any other promo stuff my businesses would need. An example is Dapper Monkey, that I did all the designs for. Other people need to pay for that.

4. What do you think are the important elements that one must have, whether learned or in your personality, to be a graphic designer?

– Patience!
As a graphic designer, you will meet clients or colleagues who will throw unreasonable expectations at you. It is still your job to work with them. Those 3am phone calls to ‘make the logo bigger’ and to ‘try a different colour’ will always be there! No matter how crazy your client drives you, at the end of the day, the job needs to get done and the client needs to be happy with the finished product. If you can learn how to please difficult customers patiently… you will be at peace!


– Ability to Take Criticism
Just when I had started design, I submitted a design to my boss for review and the first thing they said was, “I knew I should have hired a professional!” This crushed me completely but toughened my skin as well. Taking criticism is possibly the toughest thing a designer can go through, but you have to be open to taking direction to improve your work.

Think you have the patience and creativity to become a graphic designer? Apply today by clicking on the image below. 


Already taking the course and not sure what you can do after graduation? read more about Where you can work with a graphics diploma.

picture courtesy of Ian Arunga

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