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Unleash your creativity as a graphic designer

CareerBuilder | September 15, 2016

Graphic Designer - Career Spotlight - Start your graphic design career. Responsibilities, Education, skills, and salary information.

What is a graphic designer? This professional creates aesthetically pleasing works of art for individuals or businesses. Many graphic designers specialize in a particular field of design, such as website design or apparel design, while others use their skills far more broadly. Although some designers still work with ink, watercolors, pastels, and other physical tools, most have switched to digital software, which speeds up the artistic process and enables rapid corrections of mistakes.

Generally, graphic designers work with images, photographs, and typography to create their designs. They might put together an album cover for a musician or a movie poster for a film company. Since graphic designers are needed in nearly all industries, they have historically remained in high demand. Additionally, since it's a creative industry, most professionals are passionate about their work, which reflects in their output. Projects can include both digital and print design.

If you're creative, artistic, and talented with a computer, you might excel as a graphic designer. Though there's intense competition, the best artists can find excellent jobs that offer high salary potential.

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

See average salary and best locations for a graphic-designer.

Responsibilities

Your employer will establish your responsibilities based on the company's goals. However, most graphic designer job descriptions incorporate a similar set of duties:

  • Meet with clients or project managers to understand the scope of each project and the client's desires
  • Determine how long each project will take to complete and give clients estimates for deliverables
  • Create design briefs that the client can accept or reject, then work on the concept as long as necessary to please the client
  • Make concept artwork for client approval, sometimes in several stages, and refine the concept art based on client feedback
  • Prepare finalized designs based on the approved concept artwork and present the materials to the client.
  • Coordinate with other project team members, such as photographers and project managers, to ensure cohesion and productivity
  • Maintain hardware and software equipment to ensure high-quality design output
  • Learn new software and hardware as industry standards change
  • Understand and apply artistic concepts, such as color theory, for professional design results
  • Scale designs to fit on different media
  • Design logos and other intellectual property for clients
  • Coordinate with printers, webmasters, and other third-party vendors
  • Explore new design assets, such as fonts and textures, to enhance future work
  • Find creative solutions to problems

Work Environment

Most graphic designers work in offices or cubicles. They often telecommute if their employers permit it because they can work from home or another favorite spot without distraction. However, some companies do not allow remote working. Some offices might have cubicles or bullpens in an open-format space, which can interfere with concentration. Some graphic designers prefer this layout because it inspires and facilitates collaboration.

Since graphic designers are highly creative, they often surround themselves with art and color, even at work. If you take a job with a design agency, you might work in an environment that proves much different from the rest of corporate America. When searching for a graphic design job, decide what type of atmosphere you prefer so you can land the perfect position for your personality and creative process.

Deadlines can make this job stressful, especially for demanding clients. However, graphic designers learn with experience to give flexible job-completion estimates so they don't run into this problem. Some designers experience stress when working collaboratively with other creatives, while others enjoy teamwork in their jobs.

Schedule

Your schedule will vary depending on your employer's preferences, but most graphic designers work typical business hours if they report to a corporate location. Some work overtime, either in the office or at home, while others work reduced hours or offer work to clients on a per-project basis. However, those professionals typically work for themselves as consultants or freelancers.

What Qualifications Are Required to Become a Graphic Designer?

Education

Technically, you don't need any specific educational qualifications to become a graphic designer. If you have artistic skills and you know how to use the tools on the job, you can perform just as well as anyone else. However, many graphic designers find that they increase their salary potential and their job prospects if they graduate from design school.

Graphic design school will teach you not only elements of your craft but also business and administrative skills. You'll begin to create a portfolio, which gives you an advantage during interviews, and you'll network with other creatives who have similar goals. These contacts can prove useful as you venture into the sometimes turbulent job-hunting waters.

Furthermore, graphic design school will help you get feedback on your work. Trained professionals will review your portfolio and offer criticism, which can help you define your style and refine your skills before you wade into the workforce.

If you don't want to attend a graphic design program, you can also study design at a two- or four-year college or university. Most offer some form of graphic design program that can help you succeed.

Experience

Just as you don't need education to become a graphic designer, neither do you need any specific level of experience. A portfolio that showcases your work could prove sufficient to gain an entry-level position with a design firm or other company. However, as in most career fields, experience will open up new opportunities and give you access to higher income possibilities.

Of course, every designer must start somewhere. If you have a portfolio from school, you can show it to potential employers so they can judge your skill and talent. Some employers might also want you to demonstrate your skill in-house so they can see how you work. Proving your competency on specific software programs might become necessary, as well, to secure a job offer.

Graphic Designer Skills

The skill set for a talented graphic designer can be extremely diverse:

  • Adobe programs: Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Adobe products prove indispensable for any graphic designer. You'll use them to manipulate graphics on the screen.
  • CAD programs: Computer-aided design programs, such as AutoCAD, can also become useful for graphic designers in certain industries.
  • Artistic: If you lack artistic skill, you might not become successful as a designer. You must understand perspective, composition, color theory, and other core competencies and have excellent command of your craft.
  • Communication: Graphic designers can only please their clients when they understand the client's vision and render it correctly on paper or the computer. Additionally, working back and forth with clients on a concept will help the designer nail the design on the first try.
  • Collaboration: You'll likely work with other creative professionals, such as illustrators and photographers, so you'll need the ability to collaborate effectively with them and to reach a shared vision for each project.
  • Accuracy: Each project you complete must reflect the client's wishes in every detail.
  • Trends: If you follow the graphic design trends, you'll find yourself more capable of following and even anticipating them, which will make your work more valuable.
  • Time management: Learning to estimate how long a project will take will improve client relations immensely. You must structure your time so you complete the most possible work on any given day.
  • Professionalism: Even though you work in a creative field, you must behave like a professional when interacting with clients and colleagues.

Salary Expectations

How much do graphic designers make? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, graphic designers earn a median pay of $46,900 per year or just over $22 per hour. The top 10 percent of earners in this space bring home $81,320, while entry-level designers might start at less than $27,560. Certain industries pay better than others, according to the BLS, with specialized design services, advertising, and public relations ranking at the top of the list.

Job Outlook for Graphic Designers

Projected Growth

The BLS reports 1 percent job growth for graphic designers between 2014 and 2024, which should encourage potential designers. While the growth rate won't create many new jobs over the next several years, job openings will appear as older graphic designers retire. Additionally, as you get better at your craft, you'll find that your services become more attractive to potential employers.

Career Trajectory

As a graphic designer, you can take your career in several directions. If you prefer to take creative control, for instance, you might pursue a career in project management. Instead of creating the designs based on the client's brief, you will orchestrate each project and become the primary point of contact for the client on each project. Managers can often earn more money and pave new paths to better jobs.

You could also strike out on your own as a freelancer and accept jobs for yourself. While this career move might prove unstable, it's a popular choice among designers. You'll set your own rates and hours, which will give you more freedom.

Graphic designers are integral parts of the creative process for many companies. If you're skilled and professional, you can find a position that meets your needs and adequately uses your skill set.


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