For those who love creative pursuits and have an eye for design, the graphic arts industry may be an excellent career option. Graphic designers work for companies, marketing agencies and on their own as freelancers.
Perhaps you’ve always loved to draw but want a steady paycheck while you sell your personal art. Maybe you love being part of a promotional team and coming up with new designs.
Whatever your skill set, graphic design is something almost anyone can learn. How unique your designs are may depend on a bit of natural ability, but anyone can learn to use digital art software and enhancement techniques.
How Much Do Graphic Designers Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates graphic designers make around $50,710 per year in the United States. Depending upon where you live and your experience, you may make more or less.
Keep in mind that many jobs are going remote. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a lot of companies sent their employees home to work. People got used to the convenience of working from home. They saved money and time on commuting to and from the office. They didn’t have to buy a lot of expensive professional clothing. They found a better work/life balance without the long drive to their jobs.
Now that the pandemic restrictions have eased a bit, most white collar workers still want the convenience of working from home at least part of the time. Graphic designers can find remote positions all over the world, which benefits both the employee and the company hiring. Businesses can find any skill set needed by branching out beyond their local community. Designers can find a position that lets them stay home.
What Education Do Graphic Designers Need?
In the past, companies wanted people with a bachelor’s degree in design or some related field. However, the Great Resignation forced companies to branch out and also look at experience in the job rather than only design.
Between April and September 2021, more than 24 million Americans resigned from their jobs. However, the Great Resignation doesn’t just impact the United States. Most developed countries around the world have seen some type of resignation activity since the pandemic lockdowns.
Because of worker shortages in most industries, companies are thinking outside the box and hiring people based on experience as well as education. If you aren’t formally trained as a graphic designer, you may still be able to turn your skills into a hirable position.
What Do Graphic Designers Do on a Daily Basis?
What exactly do graphic designers do each work day? Their tasks can vary, depending on industry and projects. Some things include:
- Designing website visuals
- Creating logos
- Formatting books
- Editing photos
- Making brochures
- Lay out advertisements (digital and print)
If you freelance, your tasks will vary based on your client list. The BLS calculates around 19% of graphic artists as being freelancers. It’s hard to accurately predict the exact number, as some people do gigs on the side and such.
If you work for a company, you may be asked to do regular illustrations, such as for manuals or a set type of work. However, no matter where you work, you’ll need to have some creativity to come up with fresh concepts for clients.
Top Skills Needed to Become a Graphic Designer
Working with visuals requires some tactics you might not need if working in other industries. What are some of the skills that help one become an excellent graphic designer?
Graphic designers must often come up with a concept and then bring it to life. You must have artistic vision and the ability to see how your efforts translate into a finished product. You’ll need to brainstorm with the rest of the team and throw out fresh concepts.
Often, you’ll take someone else’s concept and bring it to life. In order to meet their expectations, you must know how to ask questions and listen carefully to what the client wants. For example, blue comes in many shades. If you’re asked to create a blue logo, you need more details, such as what shade of blue.
You’ll work with fonts to bring designs to life. It’s important to understand each one has a unique personality, how it meshes with the overall design and ways to enhance a typical font into a work of art through color, size and use of glyphs.
You must know how to use common graphic design software, such as Adobe Illustrator and a drawing pad. Find out what type of programs the company of your dreams uses and familiarize yourself with them.
While you don’t have to know how to draw everything, it can be helpful as you’re creating unique concepts. The ability to sketch a mock up is quite helpful to letting clients know what your concept is.
Designers must stay up on latest software updates and trends in the industry. You should have a curious personality. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Study what other designers do. Look at trends from disciplines such as interior design and fashion. Get ideas from what’s trending online.
The best graphic designers keep learning throughout their careers. While it’s okay to specialize in an industry or type of design, you should learn new things constantly. Attend conventions, take online classes and play around with concepts you see that you think are particularly interesting.
Today’s Best Designers
One of the best ways to learn new design skills is by studying top-ranked graphic designers. Spend time on sites such as Dribbble and Behance. You’ll find inspiration in other people’s designs. Try your hand at a new method as you see things you appreciate.
Some of today’s best designers you may want to study include:
The art director for Rolling Stone magazine for a number of years, Fred Woodward developed a reputation for creativity and cutting edge designs. Today, he works for GQ. He’s taught through schools such as Parson’s School of Design and given lectures globally.
Woodward is a great example of a self-taught graphic designer. Although he did study art for a year in college, he then left and finished learning on his own, picking up skills along the way and proving himself through his work.
Sher has worked at Pentagram since 1991, serving clients such as Tiffany & Co. and Citibank. She also has recognizable clients such as Bloomberg, Microsoft, Adobe and Coca-Cola. She’s received hundreds of industry awards, including the AIGA Medal and the National Design Award for Communication Design.
Scher went the traditional route with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art. She’s since earned honorary doctorates based on her body of work.
Alan Fletcher passed away in September 2006, however, his work lives on and is a great example of graphic design to help newer professionals learn techniques. He was a British graphic designer, who merged traditional European art methods with United States’ pop culture of the time.
Fletcher started at the London-based Hammersmith School of Art. He then added to his education over the years, working and learning. He’s an excellent example of how one’s design work changes over time.
If you’re looking for a currently working top graphic designer, don’t overlook Jessica Walsh, part owner of Sagmeister & Walsh. Her trendy designs reach celebrities such as Jay-Z. Note how she takes a retro look, modernizes it for today and showcases her own personal style in all her designs.
Hom is known for brilliant typographical designs. She is a perfect example of how a designer can specialize in an area and excel. She’s worked with clients such as Google, Time and Starbucks.
Types of Graphic Designers
Those just starting out should focus on a particular type of graphic design. Perfect your skills in one area and then move on to others. It’s okay to have some skills across the board. It’s just best to specialize when you can and make sure you’re the best in a certain category before expanding.
Types of graphic designers include:
- User Interface
- Motion Graphics Art and Illustration
- Visual Identity (logos, color palette, etc.)
- Product Packaging
- Mobile Design
- Layout and Print
Of course, there are a lot of other areas in which you can specialize . You might choose to create book covers for publishers and authors, for example. The key is to perfect one area and then move to the next.
Should You Become a Graphic Designer?
Only you know if graphic design work will fulfill your career dreams. If you have a knack for creating digital assets, volunteer your time to a local organization you believe in and see how well you like the tasks. You’ll also gain some valuable clips for your portfolio should you decide to seek a job in design.
Graphic design can be rewarding work that forever refreshes and stays interesting. Each project is a bit unique and matching tone to clients requires creativity and a bit of brilliance. Those who’ve worked in the field love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.