If you’re considering entering the graphic design industry, you may have many questions about the field, its future, and whether it fits your interests. For example, you may have wondered if graphic design is an excellent career to pursue in 2023. What is earning potential like, and what related jobs should you consider exploring? What does a graphic designer do every day, and what skills are needed?
All of those questions will be answered in this overview of graphic design careers. It will also cover important points about the level of education typically required, plus share some tips for getting a foothold in the industry. To learn more about starting your design career, talk to our friendly admissions counselors about applying to the digital media design program at National University.
What is Graphic Design?
There are many myths and misconceptions about what graphic design involves and what graphic designers do — for example, the persistent idea that graphic design is simply about creating logos or sleek branding. In reality, the scope of graphic design is far more comprehensive, covering every form of visual communication, from typography and product packaging to video games and illustrations.
In any of these niches, the fundamental goal of a graphic designer is to artistically communicate a specific concept, message, or idea to “inspire, inform, and captivate consumers,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That could be anything from an infographic, poster, or brochure to a website, mobile app, or digital tool like software.
What Does a Graphic Designer Do?
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) states that graphic design aims to “use typography, photographs, illustrations, and graphic elements to construct messages that attract attention, cause us to think about their meaning, and stay in our memories over time.” But what does that involve at the practical, day-to-day level?
While every workplace and employer is different, some of the typical tasks and duties a graphic designer might be responsible for include the following examples:
- Adjusting designs based on client feedback
- Designing the layout and appearance of posters, brochures, websites, software, product packaging, and more
- Meeting with clients to discuss projects and present concepts
- Reviewing designs for accuracy and quality
Your duties will be impacted by factors like your experience level, the industry you enter, and whether you are a self-employed freelancer or part of an in-house design team. For example, you might be expected to work during evenings and weekends to talk with and update your clients. Therefore, comparing job descriptions carefully and asking thoughtful questions during your interview process is essential.
Seven Graphic Design Jobs and Career Outlook
You can enter multiple careers or begin to explore with a degree in, or related to, graphic design. In addition to becoming a graphic designer, other career paths include architectural drafter, web developer, digital designer, desktop publisher, and art director. Read on to learn more about the demand — and typical salary — for each of these fields.
1. Graphic Designer
According to the most recent available BLS data, graphic designers earned a median annual salary of just over $50,700 as of 2021. However, the top 10% of earners received median salaries above $98,000. The BLS also identified the highest-paying industries or employer types for graphic designers, which were ranked as specialized design services (above $58,600); advertising or PR and related services (above $52,000); and graphic designers who were employed by newspapers, magazines, or publishers (above $44,500).
2. Web Developer or Digital Designer
According to the BLS, web developers and digital designers earn median salaries of $78,300 annually. The top 10% of performers in these fields earn median salaries above $168,000, making web development and digital design two of the most lucrative careers you can pursue with a background in graphic design. It’s important to note that some employers may require web developers to hold a degree related to computing or programming, such as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.
Excitingly for students, the economic future of these careers looks bright, according to BLS projections. Jobs for web developers and digital designers are expected to grow at a rate of 23% in the coming decade — a pace that, the BLS notes, is “much faster” than the national average of 5%.
3. Digital Illustrator
Digital illustrators use tools like Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Vectornator, Inkscape, and ArtRage to create graphics and visual art that meet client specifications. The BLS reports that illustrators earn median salaries of just under $50,000 annually, with the top 10% making over twice that amount at just under $126,000. The demand for illustrators and other artists is expected to grow at a rate of 6% through 2031, which is about as fast as the average rate (5%).
4. UX Designer
UX designers, or user experience designers, work to make products and websites as intuitive, appealing, and navigable as possible for users and consumers. While the BLS does not supply salary data for UX designers, Glassdoor data indicates that the average salary for a UX designer is above $95,500 per year.
5. Art Director
Art directors are typically self-employed and work in various industries and environments, including advertising, film and TV, and public relations. The BLS reports that art directors earn median salaries of over $100,000, with the top 10% earning nearly twice that amount at over $194,000.
6. Desktop Publisher
As the BLS explains, “Desktop publishers use computer software to design page layouts for items that are printed or published online.” Some desktop publishers’ software examples include Adobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher, Canva, Microsoft Publisher, Quark, Visme, and others. BLS data shows desktop publishers earn median salaries of just under $47,000, with the top 10% earning above $79,000.
Drafting merges an aptitude for design with a knowledge of engineering and architectural principles. Drafters are responsible for using computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, CATIA, and Creo, to transform engineering or architectural designs into detailed technical drawings. Drafters earn median salaries of approximately $60,300 annually, with the top 10% earning closer to $93,000.
How to Become a Graphic Designer
If you dream of becoming a graphic designer, you’ll need to take specific steps to achieve your goal. This includes acquiring soft and hard skills that will help you succeed in the industry and completing the minimum education or training requirements. Let’s review some of the standard education requirements for job applicants in the design field, plus a list of crucial graphic designer skills to cultivate.
Education Required to Be a Graphic Designer
Your education requirements will vary depending on the career path you intend to follow. For example, if your goal is to become a freelance designer and work for yourself — or to start your own company — you won’t need to meet employer requirements. Instead, you may be able to secure clients based on your skills and the strength of your portfolio.
If you prefer to join a design firm or become part of a studio, you will likely be required to hold a degree in graphic design or a related discipline, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media Design. Therefore, you should look for an academic program that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). As NASAD explains on its website, accreditation signifies that “an institution or program achieves its own educational objectives” and “has met an external set of basic criteria” for quality.
According to the BLS, “Graphic designers typically need a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related fine arts field.” Additionally, “People who have a bachelor’s degree in another field may complete technical training in graphic design to meet most hiring qualifications.” For example, when combined with graphic design training, a degree in computer science or programming can prepare you for a role as a web developer or digital designer.
Skills Needed for Graphic Design
Like all professionals, graphic designers need to blend hard and soft skills to perform their jobs confidently, efficiently, and easily. Examples of crucial soft skills for designers include time management, creative thinking, and strong verbal and written communication skills. Examples of hard skills that graphic designers need have experience with HTML, typography, and programs a working knowledge of the suite of software applications of like Adobe Illustrator. Read on to learn more about the skills you’ll need for a career as a successful designer.
- Familiarity with as many design tools as possible, such as lSketch and InVision
- Knowledge of design principles, such as pattern, movement, contrast, proportion, and repetition
- Experience with UX and UI design
- A high level of comfort using and learning the Adobe creative suite, including Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop
- Familiarity with HTML
- An incisive understanding of each client’s unique voice, aesthetic, and branding needs, especially when it comes to social media branding
- Knowing how to design for non-digital and print media, such as posters or magazines
- Typography skills and having the ability to make the text more accessible and visually engaging
- Thinking creatively and generating original ideas are fundamental to any design role.
- Graphic designers must communicate clearly with clients and other team members by providing presentations or project updates.
- Design is a field that lives on the cutting edge, so designers must commit to lifelong learning and professional evolution.
- Tight deadlines create the need for solid time management skills.
How to Get into the Graphic Design Field
In the previous section, we discussed how to prepare for a career in graphic design, such as developing typography and Photoshop skills. So what’s next once you complete those steps and are ready to begin looking for jobs? First, let’s take a realistic look at some tips on how to get into graphic design professionally, including strategies like building your portfolio, networking with other designers, and participating in hackathons.
- You can explore internship opportunities locally using the search functions on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, SimplyHired, or Internships.com.
- Participate in “hackathons,” which are intensive, fast-paced events where design teams compete to put forth the best and most innovative new solutions to various industry challenges — usually over the course of just 24 to 72 hours.
- Join professional organizations like AIGA, the International Council of Design (ICoD), or the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD), which will help you network and connect with other graphic designers
- Build and manage your creative portfolio, which you can read AIGA’s tips about here.
- Build your brand, including a personal website featuring your contact information and examples of your work.
- Consider completing freelance work, ideally for a broad mix of clients.
- Become an Adobe Certified Professional
Earn Your Design Degree Online at National University
Learn the skills and the software you need to get off the ground in your graphic design career. Whether your goal is to work independently as a freelancer, launch and build your own agency, or join the team at a prestigious design firm, National University’s Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media Design program can help you get there faster.
Our programs are designed to fit your busy lifestyle with accelerated study options, flexible online courses, and a four-to-eight-week course format. Plus, you can easily transfer credits or even earn credits for past work experience. Ready to take the first step? Apply to National University online, or talk to our admissions officers today
Is Graphic Design a Good Career FAQs
Yes, graphic design is in high demand due to the increasing need for visual communication in various industries, such as advertising, marketing, and media. The demand for skilled graphic designers is expected to grow as businesses continue to invest in their online presence and branding efforts.
The salary of a graphic designer can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and the industry they work in. While entry-level positions may offer lower salaries, experienced graphic designers can earn a higher income. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for graphic designers was $53,380 in May 2020.
The job market for graphic designers can be competitive, especially for entry-level positions. However, by building a strong portfolio, networking, and developing a diverse skill set, job seekers can increase their chances of finding employment in the field.
Graphic design can be a stressful job, especially when working on tight deadlines, managing multiple projects, or dealing with difficult clients. However, managing stress through effective time management, communication, and self-care practices can help mitigate these challenges.
Yes, many graphic designers are able to make a living from their careers. However, income can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and industry. Building a diverse skill set, networking, and maintaining a strong portfolio can help graphic designers establish a successful and sustainable career.
A Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design or a related field, such as Visual Communications, is typically the best major for aspiring graphic designers. These programs provide the foundational knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career in graphic design, covering topics such as typography, color theory, and design principles.