Get Matched With Graphic Design Programs

What is a Graphic Designer?

A graphic designer is a professional who is educated and skilled in using images, colors, font, and text to communicate a message. If you are working to become a graphic designer, once you graduate, you’ll work in a studio, design firm, or in a corporate office.

You’ll discuss client needs, then work on brochures, logos, or even written copy that helps them to give the message they want to send out to the public. You may talk with them during meetings or via phone calls and emails.

Your supervisor will assign several accounts or projects to you. Once you have them, you will be responsible for meeting with each client and learning what they are working on and what you can do to help them. You’ll create designs for posters, email and mail advertisements, and even short videos focused on their products.

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Steps to Becoming a Graphic Designer

When you know you want a career in graphic design, you should start working to get into a community college or four-year university, where you will take the classes in your chosen major.

  • Step 1: Explore the Degree

  • Step 2: Take All Required Classes

  • Step 3: Learn from Your Internship

  • Step 4: Decide Where You Want to Start and Get a Job


Step 1: Explore the Degree

Find out what a graphic design career is all about by finding a graphic design degree. You’ll have to refine your writing skills, as this will be a part of your future work, while “design” is a part of the career title, it isn’t 100% of what you’ll be doing in your future work days. Just about every employer or client will expect you to do some writing.

You’ll still want to explore the design side of this career. You are an artist, so you will be working with color, form, shape, and text fonts (typography). You should also have some knowledge of human psychology, aesthetics in advanced art techniques, and using different techniques. These include web and print, and working in academic, commercial, and artistic environments.

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You’ll work with design software, take studio coursework and begin to create your professional portfolio.

Step 2: Take All Required Classes

Every major requires certain classes, whatever it may be. Graphic design is no different. Depending on the specialization you choose, your classes may vary. You may choose typography, 3D animation and photography, visual communication, layout, identity and branding, or illustration.

While all of these are within graphic design, they all have different areas of focus. This means your required classes will differ from someone who chooses a different specialization. If you are earning your Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in graphic design, you will have to take roughly 120 to 128 credits. Many of these credits are within your graphic design specialization, along with electives and general education classes.

You will be assigned to an advisor (a member of the graphic design faculty who helps students choose their classes). They will help you choose which classes to register for, so that you complete your program on time with all the skills you require.

Step 3: Learn from Your Internship

Your learning won’t take place in just classrooms. You will be required to take an internship, which gives you the opportunity to put theory into practice. You may land your own internship in a design firm, university setting, or within a corporate setting.

Your university may work closely with businesses that employ graphic designers. Together, they work to plan and create an internship experience that gives you exposure to everything that graphic designers do, giving you a good grounding for your first job.

However, you will also spend much of your time in client meetings, learning what the company’s clients need. Then, you will be given a project on which to work, under the guidance of a senior graphic designer. They will know they need to give you a wide range of assignments that will allow you to use what you have learned. In the end, you will receive class credit for your internship which you can list on your resume.

Step 4: Decide Where You Want to Start and Get a Job

Your college or university will likely be able to help you in your job search, from helping you to write your resume and cover letter to brushing up on your interview skills. On your own, you’ll need to curate your portfolio and make certain it showcases the skills and artwork that will help you get the type of job your looking for.

No matter what type of graphic design position you’ve decided to apply for, your university Career Services office should displays all kinds job listings on bulletin boards and online. Browse through these and get the details of each listing you are interested in. If you need it, a Career Services counselor can help you to respond to the ads you find.

Once you receive an interview, you’ll need to decide what to wear and what to take to your interview. Also, make sure you are aware of the questions interviewers are forbidden by law to ask.

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Each day will be driven by client needs and your own planning. As long as you have a daily plan, then you’ll be productive. You’ll meet with existing and new clients to find out what their design and copywriting needs are. (Some companies have in-house employees to do the writing.)

In a typical work day, you’ll work on original designs, sketch out new ideas, and prepare layouts. You will also choose lettering (fonts) and colors for each design. You may write headlines and article copy as well. You’ll figure out a project’s scope and decide on a design to support branding and make requested edits.

Depending on your employer’s client load, you may prepare art for a service bureau. You may prepare and email art to other companies or to your clients. You will review projects to make sure they are what the client is expecting, and order supplies as you need them. On the non-art side of your day, you’ll answer calls and respond to phone messages and emails. You will attend client meetings.

Skills to Acquire

In graphic design, you may be an in-house designer, work for a company that provides graphic design to outside clients, or you may work in freelance graphic design (an independent contractor).

In each of these instances, you need to have strong skills in:

  • Communication. You will be working closely with clients and possibly, a supervisor. You need to be able to communicate well orally and in writing.
  • Negotiation. Along with design ideas, you will be negotiating terms of the work you will be doing - time frames, scope of work, and payments.
  • Critical thinking and creative problem solving. You will be learning to identify problems, research, and analyze solutions. You will also be generating and creating design prototypes and working on user testing and outcome evaluation.
  • Present and defend designs, any key milestones, and deliverables to your peers, stakeholders, executives, and clients.
  • Create and develop a visual response to communications issues.
  • Understand aesthetics, typography, construction of images, and composition.
  • Understand and have the ability to use tools of graphic design and technology when needed.
  • Design products that meet the needs and tastes of several clients and audiences.

Alternative Paths

While you may be self-taught, nothing can replace a college degree in value. A formal education helps you to learn the discipline you need to successfully find and work at your new job.

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Many of the graphic design-related jobs do require classroom experience and actual hand-on experience, guided by your professors. You will be much more credible when you can show proof of having a degree in the design field, self-teaching or not.

Your internship will be custom-designed to teach you everything you need to know. Those non-design classes will also give you knowledge and skills you need.

However, if you are an artist with graphic design skills, and you’re looking to get into graphic design, it may still be possible for you to move into this as a career without attending a full program. You’ll want to look for ways to use your skills so that you can build a portfolio. You might do small jobs for clients through an online system. Some people are able to turn this into a full career, so getting enough work to put together a portfolio may take hard work but will be worth it in the end.

After, or before you have your portfolio completed if you take general design classes online, you’ll want to take graphic design courses that fill any gaps in your ability. At the very least, you should take some courses that teach you how to use any technology you haven’t gotten experience with. This will let you be more versatile when you go looking for work.

Graphic Design Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


As a graphic designer, you’ll have skills that are widely needed. You won’t work only for ad companies or web companies. In fact, you may work for government agencies, both state and federal. These agencies also need graphic design, new websites, and copywriting services.

If you work for a federal agency, you will create visual products that each agency uses in its daily work and, even in its training. You may customize design for mobile devices (infographics, charts, diagrams, visuals, illustrations, cover designs, posters, brochures, and logos).

Your job responsibilities in state government will be similar. If you have enough experience, you may be hired as a shop supervisor to oversee the design processes. You will order and store inventory, work on graphic design production, to include banners, signage, vehicle graphics, and exhibit components.

You may work in-house with an organization. As such, you may be a generalist so you can meet all their design needs. You could work for an agency, being assigned to agency clients. Or you may have chosen to work as an independent consultant (freelancer). You may work from home or the corner coffeeshop, meeting your clients’ design needs.

Potential Career Paths

No matter where you work, you will be producing graphic designs for your clients. You may have already figured out the advantages and drawbacks of each graphic design environment. Working for a graphic design agency, you are able to specialize; however, the work may ebb and flow. As an in-house designer, you have to be good at every aspect of design and the work is steady. If you work for state or federal government, this is similar to working in-house. You will be limited to design choices allowed by the agency. As a freelancer, you are at risk of losing clients.

Website/Graphic Designer (Freelance)
Graphic designers are needed to help refine websites before their launch. Must also be able to help in redesigning other, existing websites. These businesses will be looking for strong website design skills and the ability to create highly polished and coherent layouts and website elements.

Graphic Designer, Large Company with Global Presence
The designer’s eye for excellent typography will be a key element in being hired. You will design high-end catalogs, collaterals, other printed marketing materials, and signage to support a brand. In addition, you will assist the art director and photographer in the photo studio, image editing and coordinating, plus post-production follow up.
In your daily duties, you will assist the team with the production of consumer, wholesale and hospitality materials; catalog design, collateral and marketing materials; design advertisements, collateral, and other printed marketing materials; design, produce, and maintain signage as needed; assist the art director with catalog pre-press, inclusive of image editing and color review; design icons, dot whacks, and font treatments when necessary; resize and maintain all imagery for catalogs, website, and online boutiques.

Graphic Designer, Catalog
Companies need designers with experience designing catalogs for print and digital media. If you can take oral and written direction, then convert them into images, designs, and layouts, you will be the ideal employee. You should have an instinctive understanding about how marketing campaigns work, particularly for retail. These are often fast-paced environments.
Your responsibilities may include assisting with the production of design elements for print publications, website pages, email messages, and retail advertising. You’ll also produce catalog pages with inDesign software along with database publishing tools.

Graphic Designer, Advertising
The chosen candidate will head creative efforts for a company. Within the scope of the position, you’ll perform a wide range of routine and complex duties and responsibilities including conceptualizing, designing, and helping to produce brand-conscious marketing campaigns and its collateral (direct mail pieces, flyers, business cards, signage, brochures promotional items, postcards, T-shirts, posters, and promotional items).
Your duties may include focusing on meeting customer needs and effectively using resources and budget; coordinating the printing production process to ensure quality; managing multiple projects in a fast-paced environment; same-day turnarounds and tight deadlines; coordinating the sales team, service representatives, and other staff to ensure projects are delivered and; work with customers and clients to effectively interpret creative/production needs.

Graphic Designer/Production Artist
A production graphic artist will need to be skilled in Adobe Illustrator. You will create layouts and proofs from existing customer samples and digital files. This is not as much of a creative position—it is closer to CAD/drafting.
You’ll need proficient knowledge of Illustrator (you may be tested); willingness to work and learn; ability to manage time wisely and proficiently; be able to take customer files and manipulate them as needed to meet print requirements; and have the ability to communicate effectively with customers and co-workers.

Graphic Design Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $45,000 $65,000 $68,000
Multimedia Artists and Animators $36,000 $58,000 $83,000
Web Developers $40,000 $60,000 $88,000
Art Directors $51,000 $70,000 $75,000
Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators $40,000 $51,000 $63,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

Graphic design employment is expected to grow about 4% between 2016 and 2026, which is a little slower than average for other occupations. Even so, the work produced by this sector of employees is vital to marketing of products and services in the US. economy.

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This change in employment will vary by the industry in which they are employed. Graphic design employees in computer systems and other services are expected to grow 20% between 2016 and 2026; however, graphic designers in directory, newspaper, book, and periodical publishing will decline 22% during the same time period. Even so, businesses still continue to increase their digital presence, which requires graphic design employees who work to create attractive, eye-catching website layouts.

Graphic designers who specialize in computer systems design and other, related services will have the most plentiful job picture. This field is expected to grow 61%.

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Advancing from Here

You can advance by moving into UX and UI work, where you may begin to manage an engineering and design team. You may get the opportunity to mentor junior designers here. Another option is to become a consultant, working with clients; you may also be able to guide younger designers here and become an artistic or creative designer.

You can always strive to move into a director’s position in advertising, where your experience can aid newer graphic design and you can lead creative efforts.

Lastly, there’s always the option to open your own design business and grow. Especially once you have experience in the field, this might be a relatively simple step to get your own team together and start running your own business.

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