What is Graphic Design?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

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Graphic Designers Convey Messages with Their Art

Think about the activewear company with its signature check mark known the world over, or the technology powerhouse whose logo is a single bitten piece of fruit. There's also the delivery company whose dark colored trucks instantly announce their presence without even displaying their name.

What do they all have in common? Graphic designers created the three distinct looks. They became known for the famous works of art that served their clients so well. But graphic designers do much more than design logos.

Look around you and note any item that promotes a product, service or idea. It could be anything from product packaging to a hospital's quarterly report that came in the mail. Chances are a graphic designer had a hand in creating it. For a working mother, a career in graphic design can offer both flexibility and security.

Job Description

Graphic designers create visual pieces that communicate. Unlike painters, who generally create according to their own vision, graphic designers are paid to create art for clients who want to enhance their name recognition or their image.

Sometimes the assignment is just one brochure, but one whose cover conveys a message so unique that it stands out among the 30 others strewn across a desk. There may be a magazine cover that is so arresting that people hustle across a doctor's waiting room to get that magazine before anyone else. Often, a finished piece contains more than an image or visual of some kind; it also includes words artistically placed to enhance the overall message. Color, or lack of it, adds more to the message and is carefully selected for any number of reasons.

Graphic designers may use computer software to edit a photo or to create an ad layout or design by hand, depending on the situation. They meet with art directors and clients to discuss projects and present designs. They work with words, too, choosing fonts and sizes of headlines and copy. Often, they work with writers to present a unified message. Using numerical data from a financial report, graphic designers can create charts and graphs that break up text with visuals.

Some graphic designers become known for specializing in one area. Their entire careers might revolve around creating album covers, book jackets, film posters or websites.

Education Requirements

Graphic design is a competitive field. To break in, you must have a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field, such as fine arts or advertising, along with additional technical training in graphic design. Accredited programs are offered in colleges and universities as well as independent art institutes.

Some require taking courses in basic art and design before being admitted to the program. Regardless of venue, good programs offer well-rounded coursework in principles of design, studio or commercial art, computer techniques and website design and printing techniques. You'll gain a competitive edge by taking courses in marketing, advertising and business, too, and even a writing course or two to help you see assignments from the writer's viewpoint.

While in school, keep samples of your best work (those that earned you A's or accolades) for your portfolio. Try to get internships at companies that hire graphic designers, and add your best work from these opportunities to your portfolio. This is the "book" you'll bring to interviews when you graduate and are job hunting. In fact, you'll use it throughout your career whenever you're looking to change jobs. Of course, you'll swap in new and better work as you gain experience.

You're not expected to have work experience when you graduate, but internships or co-op jobs are a big plus. You also need a portfolio that shows the design work you're capable of doing. Be ready to explain in interviews your thought process behind each portfolio piece, including any unusual techniques you used and why you chose them.

Graphic designers earned a median salary of $47,640 in May 2016. This means that half earned more than that figure and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned $27,950, while the highest 10 percent earned $82,020.


About one in five graphic designers is self-employed, spending part of her time working in her studio and the rest looking for clients. Different types of advertising environments hire graphic designers on staff, including advertising and marketing agencies, magazines and newspapers, book publishers, companies with their own marketing departments and website design firms. They often work as part of a team, with easy access to computers, drafting tables, light boxes and other technology and software for viewing and editing photos.

The role of graphic designer has evolved along with technology. While once there were print, television and radio media, now there are multimedia environments with technology that can place graphics on buildings and in parks and other outdoor spaces. Graphic designers who work in environmental graphics may create dynamic or animated displays that change or move, interactive displays that change depending on user input and entire systems incorporating multiple elements across a yearlong campaign.

Years of Experience

As a new grad, expect to earn a lower salary that reflects inexperience and the competitive nature of jobs in this field. As you gain experience, client satisfaction, recognition and awards for your work, you can expect pay raises that reflect this experience and achievement. If you also demonstrate the ability to motivate and lead other designers, you may move into leadership and management positions such as Associate Creative Director, Creative Director or Director of Advertising.

Job Growth Trend

The need for graphic designers between 2016 and 2026 is expected to grow five percent, which is about average for all types of jobs. However, while jobs with newspaper, magazine and book publishers are expected to decrease by 20 percent, jobs in website, digital and other technological environments are expected to increase by 20 percent over the same time period. Competition will be strong for all jobs in graphic design.