Getting Started As a Graphic Designer
Whether you realize it or not, the work that graphic designers do is all around you. From the commercial you just watched to the logo on your favorite pair of sneakers, chances are a graphic designer had something to do with it.
Read on to learn how to become a graphic designer, what it entails, the different types of projects you could be working on, and where to find the best graphic design jobs.
What is a graphic designer?
Graphic designers are visual communicators. They develop concepts, presentations, marketing strategies, and much more to help businesses, organizations, government entities, and charities non-profits thrive. Graphic design projects could range from a simple logo design to a complete marketing campaign.
Graphic designers perform a variety of tasks, which might include:
- Analyzing a client’s needs and developing visual solutions
- Generating brand guidelines on how to use a client’s branding elements, such as: fonts, color palette, and versions of a logo.
- Producing rough sketches or computer visuals
- Recommending the best materials and style for a project
- Using computer software to generate designs
- Producing final layouts with exact specifications for typefaces, letter size, and colors
- Preparing artwork or digital files for production in online or offline marketing campaigns
- Directing photographers, illustrators, and other creative professionals
- Coordinating the production of print or electronic media
- Providing cost estimates
Graphic designer salary
The average graphic designer salary is $49,504, with the salary range typically falling between $44,723 and $52,625. The salary range can vary widely depending on many factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, location, and the number of years you have spent in the field.1
For example, location alone can have an impact on salary, even across similarly situated graphic designers. On average, graphic designers in San Francisco earned $10,000 more a year than graphic designers in Miami and Dallas 2
Graphic design jobs are not regulated, so education requirements are left up to the individual conducting the hiring. However, many hiring managers prefer a candidate (and might even require one) with a degree or type of formalized education.
An Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design typically takes two years to complete and covers the basic principles of Graphic Design. With an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design, you learn the primary skills needed for an entry-level position. A Bachelor’s Degree program may take longer to complete, but it usually provides a more well-rounded education. Along with the basic principles of graphic design, you are likely to explore related topics and various specializations within this field.
For example, you might decide to take elective courses in illustration, web design, animation, or video game design. Other introductory courses include marketing, advertising, and psychology, which help you understand how specific design techniques impact how people perceive your work. Formal education can introduce you to aspects of graphic design you didn’t know existed, help you decide on a niche, and build up your graphic design portfolio with schoolwork and other related projects.3
Graphic design projects
The field of graphic design can be vast, which is why you need to figure out what kind of graphic design projects you want to work on. Options could include:
- Logo Design
- Website Design
- Stationary, letterhead, and other corporate identity materials
- Packaging and image design for consumer products
- Promotional posters
- Film and video graphics
- Diagrams, maps, and presentations
- Designs for books, magazines, and newspapers
- Flyers, brochures, and promotional literature
- Banners and large-scale printing
- Websites, landing pages, and e-mail newsletters
Let’s dive into five of the most common types of graphic design projects.
1. Logo design
Logo design is a very common graphic design project since almost every company or organization needs a symbol or design to help identify them. It’s how a company stands out next to the competition. This kind of graphic design project might seem simple, but it requires a ton of research, design, and strategy. The logo is only part of a more extensive visual system, and the individual pieces all need to work together.
If you are interested in logo design, you should become very familiar with Adobe Illustrator and other vector graphic editing software. Most logos are created using vector images made up of lines defined by mathematical formulas. Vectors are easier to modify and scale than pixels, so it is the preferred design method for logos. 4
2. Website design
Graphic designers that specialize in website design do a lot more than make a website look pretty. Website graphic design projects could include:
- Designing and laying out page elements
- Editing images for a website by resizing, cropping, or correcting colors
- Collaborating with developers to ensure front-end and back-end elements work as they should
- Testing and deploying websites to check the usability
- Ensure page elements are present and functional when the site goes live
A freelance graphic designer may also work closely with clients to create the design and other aspects of a website.5
3. Print design
Print design is a varied form of commercial art. Graphic design projects under this category are tangible and include:
- Magazine and newspaper layouts
- Book design covers
- Catalogs and print ads
- Greeting or business cards
- Packaging design
- Design and prints on anything from hats to t-shirts to shoes
- And more… Posters, flyers, postcards, products, and anything printed6
4. Brand identity design
Brand identity is the all-encompassing design that sets the tone or paints the picture of the company or organization. Different aspects of a brand’s identity might include typography or font for branding materials, a color palette, and various layouts, forms, or shapes used for logos, handouts, and advertisements.
The specific graphic design project you work on as a brand identity designer varies depending on your client. For example, a graphic designer tasked with creating the brand identity for a restaurant would probably put a lot of thought into the menu and physical space. A graphic designer working on the brand identity for a digital marketing agency might focus more on the website and social media pages.7
5. Flash design
Flash design is a newer graphic design project that uses software to create interactive web content, animation, and videos. As a flash designer, you could work on an animated film or even a video game. Typically, multimedia artists stick to one specialty or format. For example, an artist might focus on background elements, interactive elements, level layouts, or characters within video games.8
Creating a graphic design portfolio
As a freelance graphic designer, your design portfolio is just as important, if not more so, than your resume. A portfolio contains samples of your best work and shows prospective employers exactly what you are capable of.
You can start building your portfolio by including graphic design projects you created for school or taking on small freelance jobs to gain more experience. As you become more experienced, the examples in your portfolio should also change to reflect your skill level.9
Graphic design jobs
If you want to work as a graphic designer in-house for a company or organization, you might be expected to perform all kinds of different graphic design projects. For example, if you work for a non-profit organization, you might design their logo, brand identity, letterhead, website, publications, and any other design materials they need.
On the other hand, if you decide to become a freelance graphic designer or work for a marketing, advertising, or graphic design firm, you should hone in on a specific design area and excel in a niche. Your specialty could fall within a particular industry, style, design category, or even a combination. You could choose to work on graphic design projects within the real estate industry, or you could decide to stick to logo designing.
Once you are ready to start your search for graphic design jobs, make sure you keep your options open. Companies and organizations that commonly need graphic design projects include:
- Advertising agencies
- Graphic design studios
- Film or television studios
- Public relations departments
- Hospitals and other institutions
- Industrial design studies
- Government/communications departments
- Architectural firms
- Newspapers and magazines
- Corporate offices
- Non-profit organizations
- Web and digital agencies
Junior graphic designer
If you recently graduated or just started your career as a freelance graphic designer, you might want to begin your job search by looking for junior graphic designer positions. While still a graphic designer, a junior graphic designer is often an entry-level candidate.
In a junior graphic designer position, your responsibilities and duties may include participation in design team meetings, helping with design projects and social media, conducting client research, and collaborating with team members or other designers. You would report to an experienced designer or manager and focus on tasks and projects within your abilities.10
Becoming a freelance graphic designer
The field of graphic design offers flexibility and opportunities that you can’t find in other industries. You can work in multiple environments, you can choose to be self-employed and work as a freelance graphic designer, you have many specialties to choose from, and you can express yourself through creativity. If this sounds like you, get started on your career path as a graphic designer today! There are several freelancer sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Guru that can help get you started.
Continuing education for graphic designers
As a graphic designer, it is critical to remain updated with the latest trends in your industry. New trends could be updates to software you already use, new types of software, or even new design techniques. There are a ton of valuable resources available online, a few of which are included below.
Lynda is a subsidiary of LinkedIn and an excellent idea for continuing education for freelance graphic designers. The site operates business and marketing courses, which are essential to designers who freelance or run their own business. A monthly subscription gives a designer access to over 16,000 courses to learn from industry experts in business, technology, and creative fields. The site also offers pathways and courses on one particular subject, such as graphic design. These pathways can be certified and work to educate designers on the various aspects of design that influence their work.11
Online courses are also an incredible resource for freelance graphic designers and junior graphic designers. Sites such as Edx, Udemy, and Coursera offer courses from accredited universities worldwide, which often provide courses in graphic design and art. Many of these sites are free and allow students to learn from Ivy League schools and art institutions alike. In some cases, these sites offer specializations in design fields, enabling a student to earn a qualification from an accredited institution, all through online courses.12
Becoming a freelance graphic designer
The field of graphic design offers flexibility and opportunities that you can’t find in other industries. You can work in multiple environments, you can choose to be self-employed and work as a freelance graphic designer, you have many specialties to choose from, and you can express yourself through creativity. If this sounds like you, get started on your career path as a graphic designer today!
- How To Become a Graphic Designer (A Step by Step Guide) (owlguru.com)
- Web Graphic Designer Job Description – JobHero
- So You Want to Be a Print Designer? (tutsplus.com)
- What is brand identity? And how to design and develop a great one. – 99designs
- What is a Flash Designer? (learn.org)
- How To Become a Graphic Designer (A Step by Step Guide) (owlguru.com)
- Learning with Lynda.com