How to Become a Graphic Designer

Put your artistic and creative skills to use as a graphic designer.

Graphic designer at work looking at colour swatches

How many of us have wanted to enter a creative field like graphic design, writing and interior decorating when we were growing up? Many of us are artistic individuals, but the demands of the asphalt jungle have stifled that inherent gift, prompting us to find STEM, trade or white-collar desk jobs. But who says you can’t be a graphic designer and still earn a handsome salary?

Thanks to the rise of the Internet and the booming global economy, graphic design is one of the most in-demand fields today. Businesses want to harness that creative edge, while brands want to find someone who can help a marketing campaign go viral. Perhaps you can be that one designer who can take a company to that next step.

Whether you’re searching for a professional purpose or you’re itching to transition to a new career, you may want to leverage your natural gift. You just need to learn how to be a graphic designer.

Let’s explore what this exciting career path would entail.

1. Research the Profession

If your interest has been piqued by this type of work, then it is important to learn the roles, responsibilities and daily working environment in this field. By doing the necessary research, you can determine if you have the human capital required to get the job done and if you have what it takes.

Job Description

A graphic designer’s job has drastically evolved from the days of just paper and pencil. Today, the job requires more than just creating, sketching and designing. Whether you’re a full-time staff member or a freelance extraordinaire, it will entail a mix of technical acumen, superb communication and visual experimentation.

Here are some of the more common tasks that a graphic designer would complete each day:

  • meeting clients, other department figures and colleagues to discuss the order
  • outlining various elements of client projects with team members and management
  • studying general industry trends and learning about various changes in the sector (don’t be old)
  • collaborating with other professionals such as writers and web developers to attain design specs
  • coming up with designs – both your own and the clients’ aims – through creative sketches
  • utilising a diverse array of specialist computer software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator
  • creating office material like business cards, brochures, website images and visual social media content
  • redesigning the company’s legacy portfolio with updates to the look and feel of logos and images
  • studying marketing research to get into the minds of consumers and discover what they want
  • reviewing what you and your fellow staff members have produced – make sure it’s error-free!
  • presenting your art to clients, management and coworkers
  • incorporating any suggestions that your clients have made during the last meeting.

Essential Skills and Qualities

If you wish to become a successful graphic designer, you will need to have more than a university degree. You will need to possess a wide variety of skills and qualities to help you excel at your career. Here are some of them.

  • Attention to detail: As you will be dealing with a large volume of content on a day-to-day basis, you need to be a fastidious professional who can spot and correct any errors with ease.
  • Creative thinking: It may just be common sense, but a graphic designer needs to regularly employ creative thinking. Everything from thinking outside the box to conveying the client’s message through creative means, you need to have this inherent gift.
  • Communication skills: In any office, you need to do more than just communicate through text and image. As a professional graphic designer, you need this soft skill, which consists of making presentations, offering solutions to problems and articulating your art to current and future clients.
  • Graphic design abilities: There’s a lot that goes with graphic design – oftentimes, you can’t get an education without these elements. You need to be able to balance your art with audience appeal, you must be able to think critically and strategically, and you have to listen.
  • Technical proficiencies: There’s a ton of software you likely did not learn at university. Aside from the Adobe suite, you must maintain basic proficiency in GIMP, Inkscape, Keynote and HTML.
  • Time management skills: Knowing how to manage your time wisely is essential for both a staffer and a freelancer. You should be able to balance your schedule that consists of completing tasks, consulting with colleagues and clients, making important decisions and going the extra mile.
  • Typography: It may come with the territory, but typography is a must-have skill. Once you finish your courses or receive your degree, you should be apt with certain fonts and styles.

Working Hours and Conditions

Graphic designers work Monday to Friday and clock in an average of 37 hours per week. You can work at the office, at a studio or in your own home – work from home or live at work, it’s your choice. Because the work can be done remotely, you may need to add in extra hours to your schedule, particularly when you’re trying to meet deadlines for crucial projects – in fact, working overtime is the norm according to AIGA’s Design Census. If you’re a freelancer, then you can create your own flexible schedule.

The working conditions do vary from company to company. If you’re employed by a startup or a small business, then it might not be as physically and mentally taxing. However, if you’re working for a well-known firm, then you will need to adapt to a more stressful environment.

Salary Prospects

Like any other career, the salary expectations do vary from business to business. That said, the average annual starting salary for a graphic designer in the US is $44,531, according to PayScale – in the UK, it is £21,599. For those with at least 10 years of experience and an extensive portfolio often move on to other positions, primarily management which yields higher pay.

2. Get the Qualifications

In order to be employed at a large company as a graphic designer, you will need attend university and receive a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. This is how you can show your potential employer that you have studied the fundamentals, taken elective courses to expand your horizons, learned most of the programs and developed a portfolio. Plus, universities help you land internships to garner real-world experience, which is something that businesses typically complain about with today’s talent pool.

On the other hand, if you’re content being an independent contractor, launching your own business or freelancing for supplemental income, then as long as you know how to use a whole host of design applications and you have an extensive portfolio, then you can be qualified to complete projects.

You can also specialise in numerous areas that can make you more attractive, such as 3D design, visual communication, multimedia, fine art and illustration.

3. Land Your First Job

Without some experience under your belt, then it can be difficult to land a position at a big company or even at a startup that is looking for the best and brightest. So, what are your options?

The first option you can try to pad your CV with some experience is to apply for an internship or volunteer for several organisations. The second step you can take is to create a portfolio that has a lot of samples of your previous work and showcases a list of clients you have done work for. The third alternative is to take any entry-level job you can find that will take a chance on you, no matter the pay.

In today’s environment, the labour market is more competitive than ever before. Remember: you’re competing with several other applicants, so you need to do your best to stand out from the crowd.

4. Develop Your Career

Let’s be honest: graphic design is a popular career choice for many millennials and Generation Z professionals. They want to gain employment at a fast-paced, meaningful and highly rewarding company that can go viral on social media in mere moments or become the next pop culture icon.

In order to become a graphic designer, you will need an education, originality and a stupendous portfolio. At first, you will likely work in entry level, but with some hard work, dedication and superb results, you can move your way up the ladder and start getting larger assignments and a bigger paycheque.

But the opportunities do not end there. You can climb that ladder, from a cubicle and an Apple computer to a corner office and title of Executive Vice President of Marketing. Or you can work from your home office taking on clients all over the world. It’s really your choice.

A quick glance on any social network or a fast search on freelance websites will yield tremendous graphic design samples. While many have learned the tricks of the trade from enrolling in a university and getting internships, many are autodidactic, buoyed by free websites, creativity and natural curiosity.

There are rewarding jobs out there that can lead to numerous other rich opportunities. That said, it is up to you to determine if you have what it takes to not only survive the highly competitive labour market but to also thrive under pressure. Are you up for it? We think you are.

Are you trying to break into the graphic design industry? Let us know in the comments section!