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Graphic designers craft visual messages using colors, images, and typography.

Design Career Guide

Graphic Designer

Are you obsessed with logos, ads, and layouts? If so, you can thank a graphic designer. Graphic designers are the brains behind the visual communication we see everywhere. These visual ninjas communicate through the use of images, typography, and creative composition. They shape our favorite brands, magazines, Web sites, and more. Every single package on your supermarket shelf was planned by a graphic designer before you grabbed it.

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Graphic Designers: Helping the world communicate visually

Q: WHAT DOES A GRAPHIC DESIGNER DO?

Graphic designers are commercial artists who use visual elements to convey messages and ideas. Depending on the industry or the client, a graphic designer may find herself developing anything from logos, brochures, advertisements, packages, presentations, to Web site layouts and graphics.

While the job can vary immensely by field, some core skills such as an artistic eye, creative composition, and a strong command of typography are essential. The ability to represent the world through drawing is still valued, even in the digital design era, as it’s helpful to brainstorming and creating mockups.

Most graphic designers today are proficient in Adobe design software programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign and are expected to be able to use both PC and Mac operating systems. In the workplace, effective communication skills are at a premium. Graphic designers must be able to brainstorm and present creative ideas to design teams, editors, directors, and clients. So don’t forget to polish your writing and presentation skills.

Q: WHERE CAN I RESEARCH JOBS?

Graphic design jobs can be found in metropolitan areas throughout the United States, with the highest average wages in DC, New York, Connecticut, and California.

There are many great online resources for a graphic design job search. In addition to the resources listed on our Job Boards page, you might try a “graphic designer” search on Indeed.com or Monster.com.

Q: WHAT ARE CAREER AND SALARY EXPECTATIONS?

$45,900 – The 2014 median salary for Graphic Designers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Graphic design is excellent training for design work in many fields, which is why you’ll find graphic designers working in areas of specialization ranging from print design (books and magazines), to identity design (logos and branding), to product design, packaging design, Web design, and more.

Fledgling graphic designers can benefit greatly from the experience of working in a team setting or with an experienced art director at the beginning of their careers. Working in a team setting can give you the chance to see how many different design roles are handled.

If you start out working in-house at a design firm, you’ll find yourself creating designs for a broad range of different companies and services. Alternatively, you may decide to work full time for a single company or organization. Many middle to large-sized companies, like Apple or Nike, have their own design departments. Many graphic designers choose to be self-employed, opting to take on freelance or contract work.

According to the AIGA/Aquent 2014 Survey of Salaries, the median annual salary for a designer (print and Web) in the United States in 2014 was $46,000. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2014 median salary for a graphic designer at $45,900.) The Federal Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts that overall employment for graphic designers will grow by 1 percent from 2014 to 2024. Graphic design remains a highly competitive field.

Q: HOW DO I GET STARTED?

Seize any opportunity to design. Engaging in the process of understanding a client’s visual identity and their communication needs is the first step to becoming a designer. Ultimately, if you’re set on entering a career as a graphic designer, a formal education, such as a Bachelor’s or Associate Degree in Graphic Design (or a related field) is usually required, though a certificate program can be a focused alternative for adult learners.

A good graphic design program will provide you a foundation in color and typography and skills and experience in different media. By the end of your program, your goal as a graphic designer is to build a strong portfolio (print, online, or both) that showcases your strongest original design pieces. At the end of the day, the strength of your portfolio will be more important to landing a job than most qualifications.

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Check out our top 10 Job Boards for Creative Pros: /career-center/job-boards/

Sample Job Description

Do you have what it takes? Here is a typical entry-level job description for a graphic designer:

Graphic Designer
Media Moguls, Inc., San Francisco, CA.

Job Description: Media Moguls, Inc. is seeking a Graphic Designer to join our team. The ideal candidate is a creative self-starter with a love for design, an understanding of business, an eye for consistency, and a flair for client presentations. This is an outstanding opportunity for an emerging designer.

Key Responsibilities:

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Develop marketing/communication materials for proposals, presentations, signage, invitations, and event displays. Manage image assets and turn written concepts/ materials into effective visual presentations.

Experience / Qualifications:

  • A degree in graphic design
  • A well-developed portfolio
  • Expert in Adobe Creative Suite
  • Creative, flexible thinking in time-sensitive situations
  • Self-starter who thrives in a dynamic, fast-paced, passionate work environment
  • Strong project management skills
  • Team player with a positive attitude
  • Comfortable in Keynote, PowerPoint and other presentation software

NOTABLE GRAPHIC DESIGNERS: Check out the work of contemporary graphic designers Daniel Mall, Chip Kidd, and Nicole Martinez.

RELATED JOBS: Print Designer, Packaging Designer, Visual Designer, Graphic Artist, Photo Retoucher.