Graphic Design Careers & What to Expect

Graphic Design Careers & What to Expect
The graphic designer's motto could be, "If I can see it in my mind, I can create it on the printed page." Yet, as vast of a landscape as that defines, it still falls short of the spetacular potential now afforded to the modern graphic artist. Not only do graphic designers have the latest technologies of the printed media as their pallet, but they also can see their visions displayed on web pages, television and in the cinema.

A career in graphic design is the marrying of art and commerce. Graphic designers use a variety of print, electronic, and film media to create designs that meet their clients' commercial (and in some cases non-commercial) needs. Using computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, QuarkXPress, Illustrator and/or Macromedia Fireworks, Flash and Freehand, they develop the overall layout and design of magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports, and other publications. Much of the work involves the use of vector images that can be manipulated easily. They also produce promotional displays, outdoor advertising, and marketing brochures for products and services, design unique and effective company logos, and develop signs. An increasing number of graphic designers develop material to appear on the world wide web. Indeed web designers represent one of the fastest growing related career fields and in many cases individuals work with the web and with traditional media. Graphic designers bring the talents and creativity of their artistic vision home to our every day world. They inspire and persuade us with their compelling images. They add the color, shape and texture that enriches our work, play and lives in general -- and the world's demand for qualified graphic designers is growing every year.

While it is true that the fundamentals of art and graphic design are as important now as they ever were, it is also true that the field has never been wider for these talents' exploration and expression. The development of new technologies is on the horizon. Other technologies, once thought to be new, not so very long ago, are becoming a part of our everyday landscape. With an ever-increasing appreciation of and demand for graphic imagery by the marketplace and the media, the outlook for creative and innovative designers who can master their art in these new environments has never been brighter.

Careers & Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that the employment growth of designers in general is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2010. In fact, they predict a rise of between 21 to 35 percent over the first decade of the new millennium. In addition to the work that results from employment growth, many job openings in graphic design will arise from the need to replace designers who will be leaving the field due to changing interests, retirement and other factors. Some of this growing demand for graphic designers stems from the opening of careers in computer and web-based graphics and the expansion of the entertainment market, including television, movies, videotape, and interactive internet publications.

In the United States, graphic designers held about 190,000 jobs in the year 2000. They were, by far, the largest single type of design specialty, numbering almost twice as many as in the next category, nearly 39 percent of all design occupations. But in spite of the optimistic outlook for the industry as a whole, individuals interested in a career as a graphic designer must expect to face very tough competition for jobs. Skill, creativity, determination and the ability to work effectively with technology will be the competitive advantages that will most help the aspiring designer to succeed.

Qualifications / Assessement

Individuals in the design field must be able to communicate their ideas in writing, visually, and verbally. Because tastes in style and fashion can change quickly, designers need to be well-read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing trends. In an industry where three out of 10 designers are self-employed (almost five times the number for other professional and related occupations), strong problem-solving abilities and the ability to work independently and under pressure are important traits. Self-discipline is needed to meet deadlines and production schedules. Good business sense and sales ability are important not only for freelancing or running ones own business, but also for understanding clients' needs and how to satisfy them. Graphic designers must be able to combine practical knowledge with artistic ability in order to turn abstract ideas into practical designs for the services we use, the merchandise we buy, the publications we read, and the living and office spaces where we spend our time. Creativity and a good eye for details is necessary in all design-related occupations. People in this field must have a strong sense of the esthetic, an eye for color and detail, a sense of balance and proportion, and an appreciation for beauty. Despite the advancement of computer-aided design, sketching ability remains an important advantage in most types of design. A collection of a graphic designers best work - a portfolio - is the most important consideration for most employers when hiring a designer.

Every company has its own set of criteria for evaluating prospective graphic designers - but most of them look at these things among others:

  • Graphic Design Portfolio
  • Interview Skills
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Academics, Grades or Class Rank

Some of the most-often mentioned qualities that interviewers are looking for are:

  • Motivation / Passion
  • Commitment to your art
  • Openness to new ideas and critiques
  • Ablility to articulate your work

Related Careers

There are many careers and jobs related to graphic design or at least design, including careers in:

  • Advertising
  • ApparelDesign
  • Architecture
  • CAD
  • ComputerArt/Design
  • Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Exhibit Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Floral Design
  • Footwear Design
  • Furniture Design
  • Game Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Illustration
  • Industrial Design
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Design
  • Product Design
  • Toy Design
  • Web Site Design

The Actual Work and What to Expect

When developing or updating a design one must first determine the needs of the client. Designers then prepare sketches, either by hand or with the help computers, to illustrate their vision of the design. The development of a design may require many consultations with several different individuals and groups. The graphic designer/artist may need to regularly communicate with the client, an art or design director, or a product development team. Depending on the scale and complexity of the project, a designer may need create detailed designs, a structural models, computer simulations, or even a full-scale prototype of the finished work.

Graphic design encompasses a large number of different fields of expertise, and while many designers specialize in a particular area of design, others work in a broad range of areas and media. Working conditions and places of employment vary. Designers employed by large corporations or design firms are more likely to work regular hours in well-lighted and comfortable settings, but may work evenings or weekends to meet production schedules. Experienced designers may supervise assistants who carry out their creations. Self-employed designers tend to work longer hours than do employees. Some self-employed graphic artists do freelance work, full time or part time, in addition to working a regular salaried job in another occupation. Designers who work on a job contract basis adjust their schedules to suit their clients' schedules, meeting with them during off-hours when necessary. Designers who runs their own business may find that they must devote a considerable amount of their time simply to developing new business contacts and performing administrative tasks, such as reviewing catalogues, ordering samples and managing personnel. Designers may conduct business in their own offices and studios or in the homes and offices of their clients. They may have to travel to other locations, such as showrooms, design centers, or manufacturing facilities.

The industry can place many life demands on the careerist. In order to maintain a constant income, designers who are paid by the assignment are under pressure to please clients and get new ones. Designers sometimes find it difficult when their ideas are rejected or when they don't feel like they have enough creative control. As new technologies come into play (generally with computers and computer software), graphic designers find themselves challenged to learn new ways of doing things.

Beginning designers can usually expect to receive some kind of Apprenticeship or on-the-job training. They normally need and can expect one to three additional years of training before they can advance to higher-level positions. Experienced designers in large firms may advance to supervisory positions, like chief designer or design department head. Some designers become teachers in design schools and colleges and universities. Many of these faculty members continue to consult privately or operate small design studios to complement their classroom activities. Some experienced designers open their own businesses.

Here is a list of typical tasks:

  • Identifing customer needs and desires and establishing objectives.
  • Determining the target audience of the finished product.
  • Research the subject area of the project.
  • Designing the layout and design by establishing the format, selecting the size and style of type, the color, running spell-check, and proofreading copy.
  • Importing photographic images, clip art and animations from existing applications. Drawing freehand images, and/or scanning existing images.
  • Providing the customer options for the final output including camera-ready copy, email attachments, CD's and/or internet web addresses (URL's) for review.
  • Maintaining documentation regarding the files and directories of the projects.


The earnings for graphic designers can vary as much as the different job experiences they may encounter. According to U.S. government statistics, the median annual earnings for graphic designers for the year 2000 was $34,570. The middle 50 percent of graphic designers earned an annual compensation of between $26,560 and $45,130 annually. The lowest 10 percent earned a compensation less than $20,480, and the top ten percent earned greater than $58,400. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of graphic designers were as follows:

  • Management and public relations - $37,570
  • Advertising - $37,080
  • Mailing, reproduction, and stenographic services - $36,130
  • Commercial printing - $29,730
  • Newspapers - $28,170


A bachelors degree is required for most entry-level design positions, and candidates with a masters degree hold an advantage. Formal training for some design professions also is available in two and three year professional schools that award certificates or associate degrees in design. Graduates of a two year program normally qualify as assistants to designers. The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is granted at four year colleges and universities. The curriculum in these schools generally includes art and art history, principles of design, designing and sketching, and specialized studies, depending on the discipline the student intends to concentrate in. For example one student may focus on photographic techniques, while another student may plan to work with Internet-based media. A liberal arts education, with courses in merchandising, business administration, marketing, and psychology, along with training in art, is recommended for designers who want to freelance or run their own businesses. Because computer-aided design is increasingly common, many employers expect new designers to be familiar with its use as a design tool.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design currently accredits about 200 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design; most of these schools award a degree in art. However, some award degrees specifically in graphic design. Many schools do not allow formal entry into a bachelors degree program until a student has successfully finished a year of basic art training and design courses. Applicants may be required to submit portfolios of sketches and other examples of their artistic ability in order to enter some programs.

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