What’s so attractive about becoming a graphic designer?

If you feel you have the dynamism, drive and imagination required to produce a constant flow of inspirational ideas, then a career in the creative and cultural industries will be an appealing prospect. In particular, if you can combine these qualities with drawing ability, software skills and an abundance of communication skills, you are likely to be attracted to graphic design as a career path.

Graphic design provides a challenging working environment, a wide variety of clientele and an ever changing portfolio of briefs and projects. An experienced graphic designer may never encounter two projects that are exactly the same across their career. If this prospect appeals to you, and you have the appropriate skill set, a career in graphic design presents an exciting opportunity, but before embarking on such a specific path you should be aware of the facts in order to make an informed decision.

What do graphic designers do?

Essentially, graphic designers compose and create a variety of materials in an array of media using lettering and images to communicate information and ideas to a target audience. For example, this might involve for creating memorable branding and product logos, advertising posters, literature and/or packaging designs with a view to raising brand awareness, increasing a company's profile, promoting a particular product or service and ultimately impacting on sales. 

Graphic designers also use their interpersonal skills to pitch, and hopefully, sell their ideas to clients, account managers and company executives.

Although it can be difficult to provide a comprehensive job description, typically the work of a graphic designer would include:

  • Discussing the requirements of the project commonly known as “the brief” with clients and colleagues
  • Providing accurate costs for the entire project
  • Choosing the most appropriate media, materials and style to fulfil the requirements of the brief
  • Communicating with other team members as appropriate
  • Communicating with the client on a regular basis to report on progress
  • Producing rough sketches and/or computer visuals to show the client
  • Using specialist computer software and graphic design tools to prepare designs
  • Producing a final layout with exact specifications for media, typefaces, letter size, composition and colour schematics
  • Negotiating and agreeing strict budgets and staged deadlines
  • Delivering the final product on time, in line with the clients requirements and within the agreed budget

How long would my working day be and what can I expect to earn?

Typically, a graphic designer working within the design team of a large company would be expected a keep standard office hours, working from around 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There may be the expectation that you will be required to work longer hours when there are project deadlines to meet and the pressure is on. In terms of your working environment, you can expect to spend most of your working day in a studio or office with the occasional visit to current clients, prospective clients or subcontractors such as printers.

 If you become a freelance graphic designer, your hours – and your salary - will vary depend entirely on the amount of work you get and the number of clients you have. There is also a balance to be struck between the time you spend sourcing new business through pitching to prospective clients and servicing the needs of existing clients; the former may generate future income but the latter pays the current bills.


In summary, you can assume that a proportion of graphic designers will spend at least part of their career working for companies which specialise in advertising, marketing or corporate communications, or as part of an in-house design team within a larger organisation. Typically, most graphic designers will choose to change jobs frequently – if they can - to build up experience and add to their portfolio and thus increase their chances of progressing through the career structure of senior designer, creative director and then creative manager. Some designers choose to remain freelance, but others combine some periods of freelance work with periods of employment, or undertake freelance projects alongside their ‘day job’.

And my salary?

Current industry rates suggest that starting salaries for graphic designers can range from £14,000 to £17,000 p/a. An experienced designer can anticipate earnings of anywhere between £18,000 to £30,000 p/a, with senior designers commanding annual salaries between £32,000 and £50,000 p/a. These figures are intended as a guideline only and you should always check the trade press for up-to-date information.

What training do I need, how do I get it and where should I look?

Skills, interests and qualities

We’ve established that to be a successful graphic designer, you will need to have the following skills and personal attributes:

• Creativity and imagination
• A range of relevant IT skills
• Drawing ability
• The ability to find practical solutions to problems
• Knowledge of printing techniques and photography
• The ability to manage your time, meet deadlines and work within a budget
• An understanding of current trends and styles within the industry
• Excellent communication skills
• A good knowledge of spelling and grammar

How about software skills?

Industry software is constantly being updated and it will be your responsibility to keep yourself up to date with the current standards in this area and familiarise yourself with the latest graphic design tools. You will need to develop expertise in the use of design software such as Adobe Indesign and Illustrator, as well as in using image editing packages such as Photoshop.

Do I need graphic design qualifications?

There is no doubt that employers and clients expect graphic designers to have relevant qualifications. This gives them confidence in your ability. Most professional graphic designers will have an HND, foundation degree or honours degree in graphic design or other art and design-related discipline. Studying towards a recognised qualification has the added advantage of enabling you to build an individual and professional portfolio of creative work that helps showcase your design skills.

Choosing a course

Take care to choose the type of course and mode of study most appropriate to your needs. Full time study at an attendance based college or university is the norm, but this usually involves relocating, and if you have work or family commitments this may not suit you. You may prefer a flexible, affordable alternative such as an online course which can be studied on a part time basis. You need to be confident that the course you take really does prepare you for the profession, so don’t be afraid to ask questions of the provider.

Research your course options

The internet is a valuable source of information about the huge variety of courses available to prospective graphic designers. Take time to search thoroughly and contact the institution directly should you require advice, guidance or information; their response often provides a good indication of how student friendly and efficient the organization will be.

Stuff to make you stand out…

Unfortunately you will not be alone in being multi-talented and highly qualified. There are, and will be many others with similar attributes. It’s up to you to make your resume/C.V. stand out from the others and there are several ways you can do this:

Be assured that any employer will be as interested in your design skills and creative ideas as they are in your qualifications. Design talent and personal contacts are important elements when seeking work, but you will need to have a current portfolio to show potential employers your skills and abilities. Use some of your talent to produce an impressive portfolio of work, and think about how you will present this to a prospective employer. If you can, consider creating a website to showcase your work or begin to follow and contribute to blogs which specialise in design related matters.

Is work experience important?

If you can, undertake some work experience such as an internship with a design department or creative agency. This type of opportunity may not pay well, or indeed at all, but it will give you an opportunity to develop your portfolio, make contacts and hopefully impress employers with your dedication, attitude and willingness to work. This is perhaps the most effective method for learning about graphic design work and getting into the industry.
Subject knowledge is crucial and you will find that the more effort you put in to finding out about the graphic design industry, the more opportunities will appear. Being ‘in the business’ even if it’s just as an intern, is a great way to acquire this knowledge.
Don’t hesitate to approach companies and design agencies directly; search for design agencies in the design directory of the British Design Innovation website. This will not only increase your knowledge of the industry but of the names of the major and minor players within it. 

During your internet based research, you can find more information about careers in design, case studies and guides to setting up a design business on the Get into Design and Creative Choices websites.

The big picture; where does graphic design fit into the creative and cultural industries?

The creative and cultural industries is a broad based term used to describe a wide range of economic activities associated with the Arts and the generation of knowledge and information. This “creative economy” includes disciplines such as architecture, the visual arts, advertising, craft, cultural heritage, literature and publishing, the performing arts, film music and the television and radio media. 

The design industry is also contained within this grouping and encompasses a sub section of design related disciplines such as communications, product and industrial design, interior design, exhibition and event design, digital design and graphic design.
Design is ubiquitous; it forms an integral part of contemporary life and culture combining functionality, practicality, creativity and aesthetics, to provide solutions that make living simpler and conducting business more effective.

What is the relevance of these industries; how do they contribute to the economy?

Global economies are driven by a combination of competition and market forces and these in turn are determined by the countries, cities, companies and individuals who develop a competitive edge. Even in times of recession, intelligent companies will invest in the creative and innovative solutions that the creative industries can provide; advertising, branding and establishing media presence being prime examples. 

You may be surprised to learn that the creative industries generate as many jobs globally as the financial services: 4% of the total work force. While there has been a 13% growth in employment in all industries over the last 30 years, there has been a staggering 37% growth in the creative industries alone. 

In 2012, design contributed £6.8 billion to the economy of the UK. The creative industries will generate significant numbers of jobs over the next decade and it is predicted that they will overtake the financial services industry in the levels of employment they will provide.

What does this mean in terms of jobs?

In the UK alone, the creative and cultural industries were known to employ 678,480 people working in 74,640 businesses in 2012. Of these, a significant number were employed within the design industry specifically. These included the following discrete disciplines: advertising design, computer game design, costume design, exhibition design, fashion and footwear design, industrial design, interactive design, interior design, product design, textile design and graphic design.

 Breaking the headline statistics down to extract those relative to design alone reveals that in 2012:
There were 193,969 people working in the design industry, of which:

  • 51% are in communications, interior and exhibition design.
  • 42% are in product and industrial design.
  • 7% are in stage and set design.

There were 18,105 individual businesses operating in the UK, of which 94% employed less than 50 people

  • 34% of the design workforce was located in London and the South East of England.
  • 32% of the design workforce was self‐employed.
  • 14% of the work force was working on a part‐time basis.
  • 50% of those working in design have a Level 4 qualification or above.

Men and women are equally likely to have a qualification at level 4 or above.

 Specifically, the statistics reveal that there are currently 40,000 businesses specialising in graphic design within the UK. This information indicates that career opportunities in the design sector are growing and the prospects are excellent, but competition for vacancies can be keen. Professional graphic designers will confirm that it’s important to build a strong, individual portfolio of creative design work that’s relevant to the industry, but crucially employers look for recognised graphic design qualifications as evidence of your ability.

 You will find the following links essential when searching for jobs and information about trends within the industry:
 Design Week, 
Creative Pool, 
Creative Jobs.


Good luck and happy hunting!

How to become a Graphic Designer