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Career Guides

How to Become a Graphic Designer

BrainStation’s Graphic Designer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a career in graphic design. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the graphic design skills you should learn, the best training options, career paths in graphic design, how to become a Graphic Designer, and more.

How to Become a Graphic Designer
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Graphic Designers are visual storytellers. Through combining images, words, and graphics, they communicate information and engage audiences. Graphic Designers use design elements, such as shapes, colors, lines, and textures, to produce a range of work. They create everything from posters and product packaging to logos and animations. Graphic design is an essential part of the marketing and advertising efforts of a brand or company. Graphic Designers, also known as Communication Designers, build visually appealing designs that support the brand’s message and evoke emotion from consumers.

How to become a graphic designer in 5 steps:

  1. Learn graphic design principles
  2. Enroll in a graphic design course
  3. Learn key graphic design tools
  4. Work on your own projects to develop your graphic design skills
  5. Develop a portfolio to showcase your graphic design work

1. Learn Graphic Design Principles

To become a Graphic Designer, you first need a solid understanding of the principles of graphic design. Good design is carefully crafted. It involves a lot of planning and requires an expertise in applying design theory and principles. Graphic Designers need to consider elements such as lines, color, shape, space, texture, typography, scale, dominance and emphasis, and harmony. All of these elements impact a design and can shape how an audience feels.

2. Enroll In a Graphic Design Course

A graphic design course teaches you the fundamentals of design and helps you build your skills through working on projects. Graphic design courses will also introduce you to mentors and peers, who will be invaluable as you grow your network. Most graphic design courses will cover topics such as color theory, typography, layout, and graphic design tools and software. Depending on the depth, some courses will also teach you about graphic design history, user experience(UX), and website design principles.

There are a variety of options available, from structured academic courses to online courses that offer more flexibility. Find one that works with your schedule and learning preferences.

3. Learn Key Graphic Design Tools

There are a variety of tools that Graphic Designers use. Most commonly, they work with graphic design software. Adobe Creative Suite is the standard for most Graphic Designers. You will want to become familiar with PhotoShop, Illustrator,and InDesign, as the majority of design work can be created through these tools. There are many user guides and training resources widely available. To get started, you may want to take a look through Adobe’s series of tutorials.

4. Work On Your Own Projects to Develop Your Graphic Design Skills

After you’re equipped with knowledge on graphic design principles and tools, it’s time to practice. The best way to grow your skills and master graphic design software is to work on your own design projects. To get started, you can create mock ads and logos for real or made-up companies. You can also take a company’s existing designs and try creating a new design — this is good practice for identifying and designing for target audiences. Another option is to volunteer with local non-profits or brands. Offer your design skills to these organizations so you get more practice, as well as gain real-world experience.

5. Develop a Portfolio to Showcase Your Graphic Design Work

A strong portfolio is essential for any Graphic Designer. Your portfolio can include projects you completed for a course, as well as personal or work projects. Focus on quality over quantity. Your portfolio is the first impression that potential employers or clients will see, so select work that demonstrates your design skills and interests.

What Are Different Types of Graphic Designers?

Graphic Designers can work in-house, where they create designs for one company or brand; at an agency, where they work with a range of clients and brands; or as a freelancer, where they run their own design business.

In-House Graphic Designers

In-House Graphic Designers are employed by an established brand or company. They tend to have a range of general design skills to suit the various needs of a company. Their tasks will vary, and include everything from designing new marketing campaigns to compiling annual reports. Depending on the size of the creative department, In-House Graphic Designers may work with a team of other designers, or they may be the solo designer within a company.

With in-house graphic design, there is usually a more traditional work environment, with steady paychecks and a regular work schedule. In-House Graphic Designers need an in-depth understanding of the company and brand they work for, including the company’s style and audience. Because they work to build the brand, In-House Graphic Designers think about long-term design ideas and strategies. They continually build and improve upon their previous work.

Agency Graphic Designers

Agency Graphic Designers work with a range of brands and clients. Because agencies are hired by outside clients, the needs of those clients will vary. In general, Agency Graphic Designers work on short-term projects geared towards specific campaigns. Agency work tends to be more fast-paced, and Agency Graphic Designers may be designing for several brands at once.

Typically, there are several Graphic Designers that work within an agency. Each may have a different area of specialization or expertise. Agency Graphic Designers work with colleagues who are very familiar and skilled in design, which means there will be a high expectation for stellar design.

Agencies are a great opportunity to work alongside other designers and get a first-hand look into their design processes. This can be particularly useful for new Designers who are eager to learn from established Designers.

Freelance Graphic Designers

Freelance Graphic Designers are self-employed and run every aspect of their business, from the actual design work to managing clients and issuing invoices. They work with a variety of clients, on a range of projects. Successful Freelance Graphic Designers are self-motivated and business-savvy.

Working as a freelancer offers great flexibility. Freelance Graphic Designers can live and work anywhere, and they create their own schedule. They can be selective about the work they take on, though it is important to grow a strong clientbase when first beginning a freelance business.

In addition to graphic design work, Freelance Graphic Designers need to devote time to marketing themselves and handling administrative tasks. Freelancers always need to seek out new clients and opportunities. At times, they will be competing with other Designers to land projects. The pay can also vary greatly depending on the type and amount of work.

How Do I Become a Freelance Graphic Designer?

To become a Freelance Graphic Designer, you will need to find clients, market yourself and grow your network. You will need strong design skills, as well as an understanding of how to run a business.

  1. Learn and practice graphic design: To begin, you will first need graphic design knowledge and experience applying your skills. You can learn graphic design through taking a design course and developing personal projects.
  2. Brand and market yourself: Come up with a name for your business, which could simply be your name. Create a web presence for yourself and build a portfolio that highlights your best work. Make it easy for potential clients to find and contact you.
  3. Find clients: It’s essential to secure your first clients as soon as possible. This will get your business off the ground and help you build confidence and momentum. To find clients, you can try searching freelance job websites, or turn to your personal network. Ask friends, peers, or relatives if they know anyone who is looking for a Graphic Designer.
  4. Overdeliver on your first projects: The first project you complete for a client should be exceptional. Overdeliver and impress them with your skills. They will then be more likely to hire you again or refer other contacts to you.
  5. Learn the business of design: As a Freelance Graphic Designer, you run every aspect of your business. You will need to perform essential tasks like marketing, sending proposals, and writing invoices.
  6. Accept most incoming work: When you first start your business, you will want to take on the majority of work that comes in. This is essential for building your clientbase. Once you have become more established, you can certainly be more selective about the work you choose.
  7. Build your network: As a freelancer, your network—which includes current clients, past clients, potential clients, peers, friends, and family — is an essential part of your business. You should always be looking for new clients. Freelance work can be unpredictable, which means you may have an influx of projects one month and little work the next month. To increase the chances that you will have a steady stream of work, dedicate time each week to reach out to clients. This may include cold calling, networking, or marketing activities like SEO or social media advertisements.
  8. Ask for referrals: Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best ways for Freelance Graphic Designers to gain more clients. After you have completed a project and impressed a client, ask if they know anyone with graphic design needs. Referrals will likely become more organic over time, but build this into your workflow when you first start out.

Is Graphic Design a Growing Field?

Graphic design is growing, but it varies based on the area of specialization. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there will be an overall decline in graphic design employment through to 2029. However, this is largely based on the declining print industry. There will be fewer opportunities for Graphic Designers in the areas of newspapers, periodicals, book and directory publishers. On the other hand, digital design is becoming increasingly popular, and the career outlook is much more favourable. Graphic Designers with skills in website design, animation, mobile and application design, and multimedia and virtual design are in high demand. Other fields of design, such as UI and UX design, also report a high growth.

How Do I Start a Career in Graphic Design?

There are a few key steps to starting a career in graphic design: learn the principles of design, enroll in a graphic design course, practice graphic design tools, work on projects, and build your portfolio.

The first and most obvious step is to learn about graphic design theory and elements. This can be done through your own research or enrolling in a graphic design course. A graphic design course will equip you with the necessary knowledge and give you a chance to work on different projects.

You will also need to master common graphic design tools, such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. These tools are used by many Graphic Designers in their day-to-day work, so becoming familiar with these tools and their functions is essential.

Whether you want to work in-house, at an agency, or as a freelancer, you will need to build your portfolio first. Create personal projects or volunteer to get some practical experience to add to your portfolio. Employers and potential clients will want to see examples of your work, so create a strong and appealing portfolio that showcases your skills.

Growing your network is also essential. Connect with other designers, join design organizations such as AIGA and reach out to potential mentors or designers you admire. Your network will be a great asset when you are looking for graphic design opportunities.

What Is the Salary for a Graphic Designer?

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for a Graphic Designer is around $46,000 in the United States and $44,000 in Canada. For Senior Graphic Designers in the United States, the average goes up to $62,000 a year.

Salaries also vary depending on areas on specialization. Motion Designers average around $62,000 a year, while a Web Designer salary can range between $45,000 and $53,000. UI and UX Designers can earn around $77,000 and $85,000, respectively.

How Do I Become a Graphic Designer With No Experience?

Even with no experience, you can still become a successful Graphic Designer by practicing and applying your skills and growing your network. Here are a few other tips to get you started:

Intern or Volunteer

Internships and volunteer opportunities are great ways to gain practical experience and make connections. An internship with an agency can give you insight into how these companies function and prepare you for working with a range of clients. You can also offer your design skills to help nonprofits and charities, such as galleries, animal shelters, and community centers. Not only will you give back to the community, but you will also build connections that can help you as you move forward in your design career.

Work on Personal Projects and Build Your Portfolio

While you are applying for jobs or contacting potential clients, work on your own projects. Personal projects are a great way to practice your skills and create additional material for your portfolio. Build an online portfolio to showcase your best work and send it along to potential employers or clients.

Contact Design Agencies

Introduce yourself to your favourite designers or agencies and ask for an informational interview to learn more about their work. Keep up to date with design agencies and send samples of your projects. They may have a future opening, so this is a good way to keep them interested in your work.

Network With Other Designers

Keep in touch with people you meet in your graphic design program or course and create new connections by joining design organizations. Your peers may share future opportunities, recommend you to their colleagues, or pass along work they do not have the capacity for.

Develop Your Specialty

While you will want to have general knowledge of graphic design across all areas, having a speciality can help set you apart when applying for jobs. There are a range of specialities you can explore, such as logo design, web design, typography, and animation.

Gain a Solid Understanding of User Experience

User experience (UX) design focuses on the usability and function of products. To enhance your work and make you stand out as a job candidate, learn the fundamentals of UX. Graphic Designers often work alongside Web Designers or Web Developers, and they will appreciate a designer who can create visuals with UX in mind.

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