Graphic Design Careers: A Complete Guide (2024)

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We see graphic design elements on everything from cereal boxes and websites to magazine ads and video games. Nearly all products you purchase and visual media you consume require some form of graphic design. Wherever you see visual images, you see graphic design.

If you’re thinking about a graphic design career, you have quite a few options available. You could work for a publishing house, an advertising agency, a video game production company, a movie production studio, a private business or in many other environments. In this article, we explore graphic design careers so you know what to expect as you consider career paths in graphic design.

What Is Graphic Design?

The graphic design discipline uses art and technology to create images that communicate ideas. It brings context and emotion to text to make messages clearer and more interesting. Graphic designers use design elements to break up blocks of text, choose typefaces and colors that convey a certain feeling or look, and bring ideas to life with drawings, photos, animations and other images.

The goals of graphic design depend on the context and purpose but may include:

  • Making product packages look attractive enough to compel consumers to purchase them
  • Helping businesses build consistent brand identities
  • Creating realistic and engaging animated worlds in video games or films
  • Drawing in new customers using compelling images
  • Making websites more interesting and easier to read
  • Encouraging readers to open the cover of a book to see what’s inside
  • Displaying statistics and other information in easy-to-understand graphics

Education and Training for Careers in Graphic Design

In today’s job market, graphic design careers require both artistic ability and technical knowledge. Even if art comes naturally to you, you still need formal training for a graphic design career.

Many graphic design jobs require a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, fine arts or a related discipline. Your graphic design degree prepares you for a career in the field through courses in design principles, printing techniques, studio art, computerized design and other relevant subjects. It also provides you with opportunities to create a design portfolio, which is essential to landing graphic design jobs.

You may qualify for some jobs if you have a high school diploma with art and design coursework. Since you also need to have a portfolio and knowledge of computer software design programs, you may need additional training to compete for these jobs.

A Day in the Life in Graphic Design

Graphic design is broad and encompasses many careers, so your typical day in the field varies according to your job.

For instance, if you work in a marketing agency, you may collaborate with team members to create images for an advertising campaign. If you work for a corporation, you may be part of a marketing department that handles many types of design projects for the company. If you’re a freelancer, you may work from home and meet with clients through video calls.

Careers in Graphic Design

We sourced the salary data below from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Payscale.

Graphic Designer

Median Annual Salary: $57,990
Minimum Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: Graphic designers are artists who create visual images for businesses and organizations, which use these images for websites, logos, product packaging, advertisem*nts, publications, reports or other printed or digital items. Graphic designers typically use computer software to create designs, but they may also do so by hand. They need to understand the concepts of color theory, design elements, typefaces, digital illustration and photo editing.

Graphic designers play a vital role in marketing because their designs help promote brand identity and inspire consumers to purchase products or services. Learn more with our guide on how to become a graphic designer.

Art Director

Median Annual Salary: $105,180
Minimum Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: Art directors determine the overall visual style and feel of movie and television productions, product packaging, live performances, video games, newspapers, magazines, and other consumer products and publications. They consider how a project’s artistic elements work together to develop a consistent look and feel.

Art directors direct and oversee the work of graphic designers, photographers, exhibit designers and other design staff members involved in creating these projects. They work in various environments, including advertising and public relations agencies, publishing firms, and movie and television production companies.

Web Designer

Median Annual Salary: $83,240
Minimum Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in web design or a related field
Job Overview: Web designers may handle the front or back end of website development. Front-end developers focus on a website’s graphic elements, layout, and look and feel. Some jobs focus on digital interface design, such as working with layout, photos and brand colors, in addition to functionality issues.

Web design positions may require programming knowledge and coding skills in addition to graphic design skills. Web design professionals use graphic design principles to create beautiful, engaging and effective websites that align with a business’s vision. They may work as full-time employees or freelancers.

Special Effects Artist and Animator

Median Annual Salary: $98,950
Minimum Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: Special effects artists and animators often work in the film and video game industries. They use computer animation software programs, illustrations and other technology to create animations, 2-D and 3-D models, and other visual effects that give movement to images, such as scenery, characters or backgrounds.

Illustrator

Average Annual Salary: Around $54,000
Minimum Required Education: Associate or bachelor’s degree
Job Overview: Illustrators create drawings for various physical or digital purposes. They may create book cover art, book illustrations, greeting cards, product packaging or digital media. Illustrators can use traditional mediums, such as watercolors or pencils, or high-tech computer software programs. They may work at publishing houses, advertising agencies, media companies, or other businesses and organizations.

Professional Organizations for Graphic Design

It’s a good idea to check out professional organizations for graphic designers if you’re planning a graphic design career path. These organizations typically provide resources, training, support and services to help graphic designers build successful careers. Below we list a few popular organizations for graphic design and related professions.

American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

AIGA provides opportunities for networking, leadership and professional development. Members access job listings, virtual events and free tools, such as legal guides, designer toolkits and sample contracts. This organization promotes the value of design and its impact on businesses, the media and the government. AIGI also gives awards to design leaders who have made significant achievements in the field of design.

Graphic Artists Guild

The Graphic Artists Guild offers webinars, educational resources, business development support, special events, grievance assistance, contract assistance, access to affordable health insurance, and advocacy for artists at the legislative, judicial and regulatory levels. This organization serves graphic designers, illustrators, animators, web developers and creative professionals in related fields.

Society of Illustrators

The Society of Illustrators supports the art of illustration through educational programs, competitions, awards, scholarships, art exhibitions and access to job listings. Members also receive free admission to more than 600 art museums throughout the United States.

Society for News Design (SND)

SND, an international organization, serves creative news media professionals with careers in print, mobile and web publications. Members include those who design, report, illustrate, edit, write code, and create videos and photos. SND provides education and training opportunities and events, annual workshops, exhibitions, creative competitions, portfolio reviews and networking opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Graphic Design Careers

Is graphic design a good career?

If you have artistic abilities and enjoy working with technology, a career in graphic design may suit you. The graphic design field is large with many different career options.

What kind of work does a graphic designer do?

Graphic designers use a combination of art and technology to create images. These images can be used in marketing and advertising, film or video game production, websites, magazines, newspapers and other types of media.

Are graphic designers in high demand?

The BLS projects demand for graphic designers to increase by 3% from 2021 to 2031. While there may be a decrease in graphic designer jobs at print publications like newspapers and magazines, those who work with digital media, such as websites, will still see demand.

Graphic Design Careers: A Complete Guide (2024)
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