Graphic Designers Overview

Employment growth for graphic designers is expected to increase about as fast as average. Most jobs require a bachelors degree in graphic design. Strong competition is expected for jobseekers and those with Web site design and animation experience should have the best opportunities.

Nature of the Work for Graphic Designers

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers solve communications problems by planning, analyzing and creating visual solutions. They are concerned with the most effective way to deliver a message in electronic media and print by using type, color, photograph, illustration, animation and various print and layout techniques. They design the layout and production design of newspapers, journals and magazines as well as produce packaging, promotional displays and marketing brochures for product services. They also design unique logos for business and products and develop signs for government and business. It is also becoming common for graphic designers to create material for Internet Web pages, multimedia and interactive media projects. Additionally, they may develop credits that appear before and after television programs.

When developing a new design, a graphic designer must first understand the needs of the client, the message they want the design to portray and its appeal to users or customers. They consider physical, cultural, cognitive and social factors in planning and executing designs for the target audience. In order to gather this relevant information, graphic designers will meet with clients, creative or art directors and conduct their own research.

To illustrate their vision for the design, graphic designers prepare sketches or layouts, as well as select colors, artwork, sound, animation, photography and style of type. They also choose the arrangement and size of different elements on the screen or page. Sometimes, they develop charts and graphs from data for use in publications. Once the design is complete, graphic designers present their work to clients or the creative or art director for approval. Graphic designers who work in printing and publishing firms also may assist the printers by selecting the type of ink and paper for the publication. They also review the mock-up design for mistake before the final publication.

Improvements in technology have caused graphic designers to work with specialized computer software packages to aid in the development of layouts and design elements, in addition to programming animated graphics. Thus up-to-date computer equipment is necessary for graphic designers. Graphic designers who work in small design consulting firms or freelance usually work on a contract, or per job, basis, while those who work in large advertising, publishing or design firms typically work a regular 40-hour week in comfortable, well-lit offices.

Graphic designers who work by assignment are under constant pressure to please current clients as well as find new ones in order to maintain a steady income. Frustration often occurs when their work is not creative or when their designs are rejects.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Graphic Designers

Most entry-level positions as a graphic designer usually require a bachelors degree in graphic design or fine arts. Common courses include principals of design, studio art, commercial graphics production, computerized design, Web site design or printing techniques. Courses in psychology, sociology, writing, marketing and cultural studies are also helpful.

Certificates and associate degrees in graphic design are offered at 2-year and 3-year professional schools and usually qualify graduates for graphic designer assistant positions. Those who already hold a bachelors degree in another field, but wish to pursue a career in graphic design may complete a certificate or associate degree program to learn the technical requirements.

Other qualifications for graphic designers include visual, written and oral communication, creativity and problem-solving skills. They may demonstrate these traits by putting together a portfolio, which is usually the deciding factor in landing a job.

Graphic designers also need to be well read, quick to react to evolving trends and open to new ideas and influences because consumer tastes can change fairly rapidly. Desirable qualities for a graphic designer include self-discipline to start projects on their own, time management skills and the ability to meet deadlines and production schedules. Those who freelance or run their own firms should have good sense and sales ability.

Usually 1 to 3 years of working experience is required before graphic designers can advance to a higher position. Larger firms may advance graphic designers to art or creative director, chief designer or other supervisory positions. Some designers may become employed as teachers at design schools or in colleges and universities, though they usually continue to consult privately or operate small design studios. Other experiences graphic designers open their own firms or specialize in one area of graphic design.

Top 10 Most Popular Graphic Design Schools

1. Briarcliffe College (Multiple Campus Locations)
2. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, Georgia)
3. Atlantic College, Guaynabo, PR (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico)
4. The Art Institute of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
5. Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)
6. Platt College, San Diego (San Diego, California)
7. Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, California)
8. Santa Monica College (Santa Monica, California)
9. Robert Morris University Illinois (Chicago, Illinois)
10. California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento, California)

See All Graphic Design Schools

Top 10 Most Popular Online Graphic Design Schools

1. Ashworth College - Online School
2. DeVry University - Online School
3. Penn Foster High School
4. American InterContinental University - Online School
5. Lake Region Technical College - Online School
6. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh - Online Division
7. Bryant & Stratton College
8. Capella University - Online School
9. Savannah College of Art and Design - Online School
10. Jones International University - Online

See All Online Graphic Design Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Graphic Designers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Graphic designers hold about 286,100 jobs and many work in advertising and related services, specialized design services, newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers; or printing and related support activities. A small portion of designers work at computer systems design firms creating computer graphics. In some cases, a graphic designer will have a salaried job in addition to taking on either full-time or part-time freelance work.

Job growth for graphic designers is projected to increase 13 percent, which is as fast as average for all occupations. This is mainly due to the increased need for graphic design from advertisers and computer design firms.

The growth of interactive media through Web sites, mobile phones and other technology has driven a demand for graphic designers with Web site design and animation experience. Advertising firms that create Web and print marketing and promotional materials will also spur a demand for graphic designers. Although Internet advertising is growing and creates a demand for graphic designers, it may be tempered by the reduced demand in print publishing.

Strong competition is expected for available graphic design positions. Because there are large number of talented graphic designers who are attracted to the career, those with animation and Web site design experience should enjoy the best opportunities.

The graphic designers that are best suited for positions creating communication strategies are those with a broad liberal arts education and experience in business management and marketing.

Earnings and Salary for Graphic Designers

The median annual wage for graphic designers is $43,180 and the middle 50 percent earn between $33,130 and $58,140. The highest 10 percent earn more than $76,450, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $26,440. The median annual wages of top employing industries for graphic designers is:

Computer systems design and related services: $47,860
Specialized design services: $45,870
Advertising, public relations and related services: $43,540
Newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers: $36,910
Printing and related support activities: $36,100

The median annual wage for graphic designers varies by level of experience. The median annual wages for each career level for graphic designers is:

Entry-level designers: $35,000
Staff-level graphic designers: $45,000
Senior designers: $60,000
Freelance designers: $57,000
Design directors or in-house corporate design departments: $95,000

Annual Salary for Graphic Designers

On average, Graphic Designers earn $43,180 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $26,440/yr $33,130/yr $58,140/yr $76,450/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook