How to Become 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 actually do?
- What are the hours like?
- What kind of salary am I likely to earn?
- What skills will I need?
- Choosing to study for a degree qualification
- Stand out from the crowd
- Gaining work experience
- Graphic design within the creative industries
- Check out our handy infographic...
What do graphic designers actually 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
What are the hours like?
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.
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’.
What kind of salary am I likely to earn?
Current industry rates suggest that starting salaries for graphic designers can range from £15,000 to £19,000 p/a. An experienced designer can anticipate earnings of anywhere between £25,000 to £35,000 p/a, with senior designers commanding annual salaries between £35,000 and £55,000 p/a. Creative directors can earn up to £60,000+ p/a. These figures are intended as a guideline only and you should always check the trade press for up-to-date information.
What skills will I need?
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
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.
Choosing to study for a degree qualification
If you decided that furthering your graphic design skills through a degree qualification is for you, 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 more flexible, affordable alternative. Upon graduating from any of our part-time online degree courses here at IDI, you will receive exactly the same degree certificate as attendance-based students:
Research your course options
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: 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 organisation will be.
Stand out from the crowd
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.
Gaining work experience
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.
Graphic design within the creative 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.