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Graphic Designer Career Guide

Do you enjoy creating eye-catching work that fits into a broader strategic picture? A position as a graphic designer might be the creative, face-paced role you’re looking for.

Graphic designers use a variety of traditional and digital tools to develop layouts and designs for an array of promotional materials and products. These assets may include magazines, print and digital advertisements, product packaging, corporate messaging, and more. A great graphic designer can communicate big ideas through visual concepts that capture consumers’ attention and compel them to act.

Graphic designers work closely with copywriters and art directors to select the best combination of text and images to convey a piece’s overall message. Graphic designers are often responsible for selecting fonts, colors, and sizes for a job. Other skills in a graphic designer’s toolkit include creating compelling logo designs and other visual elements.

Graphic designers should be able to articulate and defend their design choices in creative and client reviews. It follows that the best graphic designers are also great presenters with strong interpersonal communication skills.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is in search of a graphic designer. This candidate will be responsible for creating aesthetically pleasing images that accompany written text. Duties include meeting with clients to establish needs, using design software to complete projects, and revising projects based on client feedback. Because you will be handling the visual side of our company, you will also be responsible for working with other creative team members to produce quality content. The ideal candidate will create guidelines for how logos and other branding materials should be displayed and used, and help make design choices for all content used by the company. Attention to detail is a must, as well as knowledge of color theory, unique fonts, negative space, and other design elements. This candidate must have mastery of industry standard software, and the ability to clearly communicate their ideas behind design choices. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Attend kickoff meetings with the client or art director to assess project scope
  • Identify the message and objective of the piece
  • Design visual assets that capture the desired product or message
  • Select fonts, colors, photography, and other elements for layout and design
  • Present concepts and assets to the client or art director
  • Receive and implement client feedback

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in digital media, fine art, visual communications, or a similar field
  • Outstanding portfolios and hands-on work experience

Required skills and qualifications

  • Expertise in traditional and digital graphic design tools, such as Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Strong knowledge of visual design principles
  • Robust multitasking and time management skills
  • Ability to thrive under tight deadlines

Preferred qualifications

  • 3+ years of design experience
  • Knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Canva
  • Experience creating both large and small design graphics

Typical work environment

Graphic designers typically work at an office desk with a computer and/or tablet. They will likely spend time working with other departments as well, due to other projects they help design. The graphic designer may have the option to work remotely, while some will need to travel out of town based on their clients and whether they are freelance or contracted with a company. 

Typical hours

The work hours for a graphic designer are typically from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting. However, longer or different hours may, at times, be necessary.

Steps to become a graphic designer

Graphic designers often require college degrees and several years of experience before being eligible and considered for this creative position. By furthering their knowledge and skills through education, training, and certifications, qualified candidates will have an advantage over others when applying for employment.

There are many online classes that you can take to sharpen you design skills. Platforms like Udemy and Skillshare both have excellent libraries of content to get you started on the road to being a graphic designer. There are also certificates available for those who feel they are ready. Here are some popular ones:

  • Graphic Design Specialization (GDS) – A course from CalArts through Coursera, Graphic Design Specialization teaches fundamental skills related to graphic design. With course materials available online, students have the opportunity to complete the GDS at their own pace. 
  • UI/UX Design Specialization – UI/UX Design Specialization is a course from CalArts through Coursera. In this course, students learn many graphic design elements including user research, defining strategy, and developing frameworks for design.
  • Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) – The ACA is an industry-recognized credential showcasing entry-level graphic design skills with Adobe software. To earn this certification, you must pass an exam related to your choice of Adobe software applications. 
  • Graphic and Digital Design Certificate – This program from Parsons School of Design is comprised of 8 courses that give you a thorough understanding of graphic design related topics including color theory, design graphics, digital imaging, typography, communication, and promotional design.

Career path

The road to becoming a graphic designer can take several twists and turns. Many candidates will begin their journey by earning a bachelor’s degree in one of the arts and design majors. These degrees include fine art, visual communications, photography, digital media, and more.

It is also possible to start a career in graphic design without a degree by building an outstanding creative portfolio. Be it spec work designed on your own time, smaller projects for local clients, or pro bono work, a strong portfolio can make all the difference for aspiring graphic designers.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 27-1024

2020 Employment254,100
Projected Employment in 2030261,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 3% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift7,300 increase

Although traditional publishing houses are declining, the rise in digital advertising means graphic designers will remain an integral part of any marketing team.

As creators, marketers, and industry thought leaders connect and share their work online, graphic design trends continue to evolve at a fast pace. Motion, animation, and other rich media-friendly elements will help graphic designers create compelling interactive content. Learning the tools required to produce these assets will be essential for any graphic designer candidate.