Career Transition: From Journalism to Graphic Design

Published on November 5, 2020

There’s more than one way to become a graphic designer. Some people go to art school. Others study marketing or communications. No matter which path leads you to a career in graphic design or what type of organization you work for, there’s one main principle that always rings true when it comes to our craft: The content drives the design.  

I first heard this mantra when I was in graduate school studying for my master’s in journalism. I gravitated toward the visual side of reporting: infographics, page layout, web design, illustration, video. With a natural appreciation for form in addition to function, the more I learned about journalism, the more I realized how essential design is to the delivery of information, regardless of the medium.  

Everywhere I went, my focus shifted to the visual representation of the messages I saw in magazines, on food packaging, on websites, on junk mail. I began to analyze them and determine what it was about the content that pushed the design one way or another and concluded that the best design always has a specific audience in mind and brings text to life in a way that wouldn’t be possible without it. The best design considers the content first and foremost.  

Over the past 8 years, I’ve worked on newspapers, magazines, digital magazines, websites, software, branding, and all things marketing before becoming associate art director at FORCE. Medical communications may seem a far cry from a fashion magazine (it is!), but at its core, the design process is the same. When I approach a project at FORCE, I ask the same questions I have in all my years as a designer:  

  1. Who is the audience, and why is the content relevant to them?  
  2. What is the designated medium (or, if undetermined, what would be the best medium for the content)? 
  3. What parts of the content would be better communicated through images, illustrations, or other visual elements? 
  4. How can the composition of the design be such that the audience consumes the information as efficiently and accurately as possible? 
  5. What branding/style elements are required or need to be developed? 

At FORCE, we pride ourselves on bringing science to life through the stories we tell, nearly all of which have a foundation in cold, hard data. Our Scientific Innovation team expertly considers the audience and the purpose of the project to determine the confines within which the data story is told. As a former journalism student,  a story is something I can work with.  

At that point, the Creative team determines whether graphs and charts, a custom print layout, iconography, custom illustrations, 2D or 3D video, web graphics, or any other visual element would best represent the story to its intended audience, and we get to work putting it all together. There’s no denying that a video showing a medication working inside the body or a medical device brochure with custom step-by-step illustrations significantly enhances a person’s experience with the product or brand. And that positive experience helps them better absorb it, store it, and use it when needed. 

Perhaps medical communications is one of the most relevant industries to illustrate how important it is to communicate very specific, accurate information. But I like to think that it would be either a) impossible or b) extremely challenging to share this information with a broader audience without the work of a designer. After all, the content drives the design, but the design delivers the content.  


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