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How to Become a Graphic Designer

What Is a Graphic Designer?

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Graphic Designers create visual concepts by hand or by using computer software to entertain, persuade, or captivate consumers through both physical and virtual art forms that include graphics, images, and text.

Ultimately, Graphic Designers use their designs and images to make companies more recognizable and prominent by communicating a particular idea or identity to be used in advertising and promotions. Graphic Designers often collaborate with graphic artists, animators, and other creatives on their images.

Where Education Do You Need to Become a Graphic Designer?

Graphic Designers come with different educational and professional experience, with some possessing a four-year bachelor’s degree in graphic design or communication design and others succeeding despite having no formal training in graphic design.

There are plenty of bachelor’s degree programs and even master’s degree programs in graphic design, digital media design, and communication design. AIGA, the professional association for design, issued a joint statement with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design stating graphic design students should “make informed decisions about the match between their own educational goals and what programs deliver in actual preparation for performance in the field.”

The statement continued that someone who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication design should be qualified – although there are no guarantees – for many entry-level positions in the field of graphic design. However, the statement continued that one with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts or liberal arts would not be considered ready for entry and later upward mobility within graphic design.

There are also plenty of online certificate courses teaching graphic design skills that require varying degrees of commitment to complete. These certificate courses are a great idea even for established Graphic Designers, who would benefit from polishing their skills and learning new graphic design software.

What Are Graphic Designer Duties and Job Responsibilities?

Although the job duties of a graphic design role would vary depending on where they work, most Graphic Designer postings would include the following responsibilities:

  • Studying design briefs and determining requirements

  • Planning concepts and ideas by studying relevant information

  • Illustrating concepts by designing rough drafts of art arrangement, font size and style, and submitting for approval

  • Scheduling projects and defining work budget constraints

  • Developing wide range of graphics and layouts for product illustrations, company logos, websites, and other designs using graphic design software or by hand

  • Selecting and using the appropriate colors and layouts for each graphic

  • Preparing finished art with necessary graphic design software

  • Collaborating with Copywriters and Creative Director to produce final design

  • Coordinating with outside agencies, art services, Web Designers, marketing departments, printers, and colleagues as needed

  • Communicating with clients about design and layout

  • Testing graphics across various media

  • Amending designs based on client and stakeholder feedback

  • Ensuring final graphics and layouts are visually appealing and on-brand

  • Reviewing final layouts and making improvements when necessary

Characteristics of an Effective Graphic Designer

Great Graphic Designers have more in common than a knack for creating compelling visuals. Here are the characteristics that every effective Graphic Designer seems to share.

1. They Know How to Get a Message Across

It’s the job of a Graphic Designer to communicate a client's story and brand identity. It takes a real knack for communication and an understanding of what makes humans tick to be able to create a design that conveys those complex ideas and emotions. That's a skill Graphic Designers need.

Before they can communicate ideas and information through their design, Graphic Designers also have to be talented communicators to secure that work. To present, persuade and negotiate in professional situations, a Graphic Designer must be able to communicate ideas with confidence and authority while listening carefully (and actively) to the needs of the client.

Further, a Graphic Designer creates and works with a wide variety of stakeholders including experts in web design, user experience (UX) design, web development, public relations, sales and marketing, product and information technology and navigating all of those interactions smoothly will again require having a way with words.

2. They Have a Genuine Love of Design

Graphic design is a creative industry, and you need passion to thrive in a creative industry. Great Graphic Designers have a love of art and an interest in beauty wherever it can be found. Graphic Designers take time to gather inspiration from great design whether it’s found on social media, an art gallery, or a subway platform.

That passion sees good Graphic Designers through the trying times, when they might be clocking long hours, trying to pull off a big edit, or working through design elements for a tricky client. A good Graphic Designer will eventually develop the time management skills necessary to carry a balanced workload, but especially early on in a graphic design career, you might rely on that passion to see you through.

That passion should come through in a Graphic Designer’s portfolio. A stellar portfolio will cause employers to potentially overlook a lack of experience or not having exactly the right educational background. Conversely, a portfolio that doesn’t show a Graphic Designer’s versatility and talent could prompt employers to pass on an otherwise strong candidate.

3. Openness to Ideas and Criticism

To be an innovative Graphic Designer capable of crafting fresh and eye-popping designs, you’ve got to be open-minded. This means both that you don’t fall into a rut by repeating the same design ideas because they’ve worked in the past, and it also means trying out different tools, graphic design software, photo editing software, and layout software constantly to see if it’s possible for computer software to take your design game to the next level.

It’s also crucial that Graphic Designers learn how to take criticism, whether it’s constructive or not. It’s easy for a Graphic Designer to feel attacked when people point out flaws in their designs, but it’s a necessary part of life in a graphic design career.

Try to grow a thick skin and learn how to use criticism from colleagues and clients to your advantage. If you can put your pride aside, you’ll likely learn something from the information they provide you with, that will really improve your designs.

4. They Never Stop Learning

Further to the point about learning new computer software, good Graphic Designers understand that thriving in design requires that one become a lifelong student.

That education can come in plenty of different shapes. Most Graphic Designers picked up on design concepts and fundamentals like color theory in school, so as professionals, they make a routine out of making sure their skills are adequately sharp by watching YouTube tutorials, reading graphic design blogs or listening to graphic design podcasts. Other Graphic Designers use online courses to brush up on their graphic design skills. There are plenty of ways to take in new information about graphic design.

Other great Graphic Designers step out of their comfort zone and attend a bootcamp or part-time course in a different but related field – user experience (UX) design or web design, for instance – to make their design skills more well rounded.

Whichever way they pursue it, continuing education is a way of life for a top Graphic Designer.

5. Clients Can Count On Them

Whether Graphic Designers are working or consulting on a self employed, freelance basis, or they work as part of a larger company or design agency, it’s crucial to be consistent, sturdy, and reliable.

Good Graphic Designers must prove themselves to be trustworthy by consistently meeting (and managing) client expectations and delivering quality work on-time and on-budget.

For freelance Graphic Designers who are self employed, this means having the business side of your work in order. It's important that freelance Graphic Designers create a diligent routine that clients can rely on. Making sure that you are billing on-time and managing your schedule so that your workload is manageable will help ensure that you never let any client down.

If you’re considering a career in graphic design but aren’t sure it’s the exact discipline for you, here are some other roles similar to a Graphic Designer:

  • User Experience (UX) Designer: UX Designers are focused on creating the best-possible user experience by ensuring products are usable, intuitive, and accessible. These insights are fueled by the user research UX Designers conduct, as well as the extensive testing UX Designers put every product through. UX Designers might work as part of a full UX design team or they might be the sole UX expert on a larger product team. Ultimately, UX design is about understanding people and putting the user first. UX design and web design roles go hand in hand.

  • User Interface (UI) Designer: UI and UX design are commonly confused. UI design follows many of the same principles and ideas that define UX design – putting people first, in other words – but applies those concepts to a website or product’s interface (a sitemap, layout or menu, to name a few examples). UI Designers are also typically tasked with making sure products are responsive, accessible, and inclusive. A UI Designer tends to work closely with UX Designers and sometimes one role will span both UI and UX design.

  • Web Designer: A Web Designer is also about designing great-looking websites that function well, but web design might be more focused on the eye-catching visual properties of the website or app, and a Web Designer might not be as focused on either the code making the website work or the usability of the site.

  • Front-End Developer: Front-End Web Developers also work on the client side of a website, but with more of a focus on the code. Sometimes, a Front-End Web Developer might simply implement what Web Designers have designed.

  • Art Director: Art Directors lead a creative team producing work to be displayed on TV, billboards, the Internet, or in magazines. These jobs blur the lines between advertising, marketing and graphic design. A creative team usually consists of Graphic Designers, artists, photographers, copywriters, videographers, and production staff. Art Directors lead projects, create visual concepts and make sure work is finished on time and on budget to a client’s satisfaction.

Who Do Graphic Designers Work With?

Graphic Designers work in design teams, alongside photographers, content writers, videographers, and other creative people.

But a Graphic Designer could potentially work with many other levels of an organization. Depending on the company and role, a Graphic Designer could collaborate with experts in web design, user experience (UX) design, public relations, sales, marketing, and information technology -- it all depends on the work environment.

Reasons to Become a Graphic Designer

If you’re trying to decide if a career in graphic design is right for you, here are a few of the best reasons to become a Graphic Designer.

1. Design Will Never Go Out of Style

If you’re looking for a job that’s future-proof in the so-called age of automation, consider that graphic design will always require human creativity.

Visual communication will live on, and there will always be a need for Graphic Designers more broadly. From websites to packaged products to advertisements, there will always be a need for a graphic design expert to captivate consumers and tell stories with images.

2. Never Stop Growing

Good Graphic Designers never stop learning or being inspired. If the idea of a career that promotes constant growth and skill-building, graphic design is for you.

It’s a career where endless examples of good, new ideas that could be relevant to your work are literally everywhere.

3. Exercise Your Creativity

Most people with affinity for design can’t imagine having to put on business attire and sit at a desk doing the same thing every day. Graphic design provides you with the opportunity to work in a unique work environment.

As a Graphic Designer, one has the freedom to lean into your artistic ability and to be creative every single day. For Graphic Designers, no one day looks exactly like another, and getting to express themselves through their work can be a rewarding thing.

4. Opens Up Many Career Paths

Once you start building a career in graphic design, you have so many options. First, there’s the fact that you can work for virtually any company in any industry in any city – everyone needs a Graphic Designer. Maybe you’re interested in professional sports, or the hospitality business, or publishing? There’s no limit to your options.

Then there’s the fact that a graphic design portfolio and resume would put you in a good position to transition into a number of different positions and fields. Many Graphic Designers may go on to work in fields including UX design, web design, web development, product management, and more.

Design skills are valued everywhere.

5. Your Work Might Get a Shot In the Spotlight

It’s definitely exhilarating for any Graphic Designer to see their work displayed prominently.

Imagine a design you created splashed across a billboard or in the glossy pages of your favorite magazine.

Graphic Designers know that there’s no limit to the number of people who could potentially see one of their designs. It motivates and inspires them.

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