Graphic Design Career Guide: Training, Skills, Jobs, Salary



Graphic Design Career Overview

For qualified candidates with a flair for creative visual expression, a graphic design career offers a promising array of ways to work flexibly and express yourself artistically.

Whether working digitally or in print, talented graphic designers are often high performers that work collaboratively to create design logos, brochures, websites, marketing and promotional materials, and much more.

The job outlook for graphic designers is steady, federal projections show.

While there’s an expected decline in hiring prospects for graphic designers who focus on printed materials (books, magazines, etc.) through 2028, there’s an anticipated (and whopping) 24% job increase expected for graphic design professionals who create designs for digital formats.

That said, job seekers on the graphic design career path might increase their prospects by cultivating the versatility to work across a variety of media. Of course, education, training, experience, and an impressive work portfolio play key roles in your chances of getting hired for graphic design jobs.

Training and Qualifications for Graphic Design

Although a degree in graphic design is an excellent qualification to have, it’s not required by many employers. If you do want to pursue a graphic design degree, consider one of the 360 or so schools accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which sets standards for institutions that confer degrees and certifications in art and design courses.

Some employers, however, don’t require a college degree, weighing experience and evidence of talent (via a top-notch design portfolio) in lieu of college education. Knowledge of basic design elements (like composition, use of color, typography) and how to skillfully use them can go a long way toward helping you get a graphic designer job.

Skills Needed for Graphic Designers

Knowledge of graphic design technology is essential. Being well-versed and up to date with design software, computer graphics, and other platforms can help you get your foot in the door, and then to advance once you’ve been hired to work in graphic design.

Which tools you may be required to use in a particular job can depend on the industry and duties. One commonly used graphic design platform is the Adobe Suite of design tools, which includes InDesign, Creative Cloud, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. Other platforms include AutoDesk Sketchbook, Inkscape, and Corel PaintShop Pro, among many others.

Common Work Environments

What’s the work environment for graphic designers? That depends in good part on the job and the employer. You may be required to work in a fairly traditional office environment, or you could be working in an art studio for an ad agency, a PR/marketing firm, a printing company, or a news organization. If you’re working in-house or in a studio environment, that may be to facilitate collaboration and interaction with a design team and other colleagues.

A career design can offer outstanding workplace flexibility and career benefits. Many graphic designers are self-employed, working independently from their home offices as contractors or freelance employers and choosing work that suits their skill set. This type of setup will require communication, being proactive, and seeking out your own clients.

Types of Graphic Design Careers

Digital Design Jobs

Graphic design professionals in this subcategory often work primarily using digital software, which could include platforms for animation and user experience (UX) purposes. Recent job openings in this category include digital design manager, concept artist, and multimedia graphic design and animation assistant.

Interactive Design Jobs

Creating interactive user experiences in industries like entertainment, media, and gaming can be central to interactive design jobs. The category can include jobs in the social media, video, and art creative sectors, among others. A few recent job titles are UI/UX designer, web designer, and senior technical VFX artist.

Print Design Jobs

Print design professionals use their creative eye to design books, magazines, brochures, billboards, pamphlets, and other printed materials. Job opportunities in this subcategory can be found in almost every industry. Some of recent job titles for print graphic designers: packaging production designer, brand designer, instructional designer.

Visual Design Jobs

To be sure, all design is visual, but visual design is a broad, hybrid category that can include work across multiple platforms including film, video, print, digital, interactive, and other types of media. A few recent job openings in visual design: digital product designer, social media designer for Instagram/Snapchat, retail creative window designer.

Graphic Design Salary

PayScale puts the average graphic designer salary at $44,304 a year. A graphic designer’s earning potential can be affected by many factors, including experience level. According to PayScale, a graphic designer with one year of experience earns an average of $38,000 a year.

When it comes to pay, experience matters. Graphic designers with 20 or more years of experience can earn $51,000 a year and upwards, according to PayScale. Separate figures from the federal government found that the pay among the highest 10% was more than $85,760 a year.

For graphic designers working in non-remote jobs, pay can also vary by location. In San Francisco, for example, graphic designers earn 43% more on average than their counterparts nationwide. Industry can have an impact as well: general print designers tend to earn less than graphic designers who work in specialized areas, including public relations and advertising.

Paving Your Graphic Design Career Path

Your career as a graphic designer may begin with an entry-level job and progress as you gain more experience and build a bang-up resume and portfolio of your work. Within the FlexJobs database, graphic design jobs can be found at four different career levels:

Entry-Level

Graphic design jobs at the entry-level may include internships or positions where a fully formed portfolio of your work isn’t required. You’ll likely be working under the direction of any number of more experienced graphic design professionals. A fair amount of studio time may be required, along with either a strong academic background in graphic design, or demonstrable interest in the subject area.

Experienced

You may be required to have three to five years of experience (or more) to qualify for graphic design jobs at this career level. Your job title may have “junior” in it (as in “junior graphic designer”), and you may have more autonomy to design and create as you build your graphic design career.

Manager

Senior digital design manager, senior UX/UI designer, or brand designer might be titles you’d encounter at this career level. Your duties will likely include oversight of junior-level employees and ensuring the integrity and creativity of projects from inception to completion.

Senior-Level Manager

Job titles at this upper-management level may be along the lines of art director, creative director, or senior director of design. Likely qualifications include an extensive track record of creative design at a high level, a stellar portfolio, mastery of various technological platforms, and a continued interest in breaking creative boundaries.

Graphic Design Clubs and Organizations

As in most professions, networking can play a key role in establishing and branding your career. Networking can also help you build a sense of community and connectedness, especially if you work remotely or independently as a freelance or contract worker.

American Institute of Graphic Arts – AIGA

With more than 25,000 members in 70 chapters nationwide, AIGA is the oldest and largest professional membership nonprofit organization for graphic designers.

Art Directors Club

Also known as “The One Club for Creativity,” this nonprofit organization focuses on networking and education for creatives who work across a variety of industry sectors.

Graphic Artists Guild

This nonprofit advocacy organization works to protect and support graphic artists and other design professionals.

International Council of Design

This global nonprofit organization works to promote design excellence across disciplines, cultures, and international borders.

Society of Illustrators

Since 1901, this nonprofit organization has supported illustrators via educational programs, lectures, and a museum dedicated to the art of illustration in America.

Society of Publication Designers

Representing creative professionals in the editorial design community, the Society of Publication Designers supports art directors, designers, photo editors, editors, and graphics professionals.

Boosting Your Graphic Design Career

Using FlexJobs to find your next graphic design job can give you access to flexible jobs. If you want to work remotely, find a freelance gig, work part-time, or have a flexible schedule, all of these roles can be found. We guarantee a safe and scam-free job experience so that you can focus on finding a flexible graphic design job that you love.

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