5 Types of Graphic Design Careers
Graphic design is a field bursting with extremely diverse career possibilities. Technologies like the Internet, smart mobile phones and portable computing devices have created opportunities far beyond the traditional realm of print. Today's graphic design courses reflect this new world of visual communications. Talented graphic designers are now limited only by their imaginations.
But when you get past the seemingly endless list of possible job titles—layout artist, creative director, illustrator, production artist, art director, photo editor, brand identity specialist, etc.—there are essentially five broad categories of employment for graphic designers. If you choose to pursue a career in graphic design, you'll likely find yourself working in one or more of the following sectors:
1. Publishing and Entertainment
This is where you'll find most graphic design jobs. Projects and working conditions vary greatly depending on the employer. Designers that have print expertise, experience at creating graphics for the Web, and some skill at producing Flash animations are especially desired.
Publishing includes those companies that put out electronic and print magazines, newspapers, books, and business directories. Graphic design duties typically involve a lot of typesetting, layout work, photo manipulation and advertising creation.
In the entertainment sector, television and film companies employ graphic designers to produce on-screen graphics, including motion graphics for credit and title sequences. Designers are also often responsible for creating printed and Web-based promotional materials.
2. Advertising Agencies
If you want the chance to work with well-known brands, this is generally the sector to be in. Though they are often fun places to work, advertising agencies can also be very demanding due to the high expectations of clients.
Full-service firms provide their clients with complete brand strategy, design, production, and media buying services for every type of media, including print, online, television and radio. Graphic designers at such agencies often get to work on a wide variety of projects for many different clients. Jobs like these can be very fulfilling; however, the hours and pace of work often stray from the normal 9-to-5-weekday routine.
Smaller advertising agencies frequently specialize in just one or a few creative services such as brand development or online marketing. Some still offer full services, but they tend to keep a smaller client base. Regardless of size, being a graphic designer for an advertising agency usually provides the opportunity to do work that will be seen by many people.
3. Design Studios
These firms tend to specialize only in graphic design and visual brand strategies. They vary in size, but are usually small companies with fewer than 100 employees. For graphic designers that love creating logos, brochures and packaging, design studios generally provide such opportunities in abundance. They typically provide clients with creative solutions for both print and the Web. Working conditions differ substantially depending on the employer.
4. Corporate Marketing Departments
Many companies utilize their own in-house marketing communications department. Graphic designers at such companies typically aid in the production of items like brochures, promotional displays, corporate annual reports, catalogs, training materials and, sometimes, advertising campaigns. The upside to working for an in-house art department is that you only have one client, so you will have the opportunity to get to know them very well. But for designers that crave variety, this can also be the downside.
With the freedom to select projects, gather your own clients and set your own schedule, it's easy to understand why so many graphic designers choose to take this route. But the freelance life is not for everyone. It can mean unsteady paychecks, longer work hours and design that may not always reach a very large audience. Self-employed designers also have the expense of keeping their computers and software packages up-to-date, networking to find new clients and handling business administration tasks. It's for these reasons that many graphic designers work for an employer full time—moonlighting as a freelancer when they want some extra variety—or combine their freelance work with a part-time job.
With a killer portfolio and the skills to back it up, you can establish a graphic design career that's perfect for you. Schools offering graphic design courses can be found in practically every major city. So tap your creativity and start designing the life you want!
Graphic Design: Frequently Asked Questions
What is graphic design?
Graphic design is visual communication using text, imagery, photographs, color, space, and much more. It is used for posters, newspapers, books, magazines, web sites, billboards—anywhere people are trying to convey messages.
Do graphic design schools have any prerequisites?
A high school diploma (or its equivalent) is likely your only prerequisite needed to pursue a diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree. However, some schools may require a portfolio, so it's best to check with the individual schools that interest you before beginning the application process. Browse this directory of graphic design schools to learn more.
What is a typical graphic designer salary?
The median salary as of May, 2009 was $43,180.* Incomes ranged from about $26,440 to $76,450. The highest earners were generally creative directors, or those who held ownership in design firms.
Where can I find some of the best graphic design schools near me?
Consult this guide to some of the best graphic design schools.
Do graphic design colleges offer financial aid?
Financial aid may be available to students who qualify through grants, loans, bursaries, or awards. It's best to check with individual schools to learn more.
What are the job prospects for graduates of graphic design schools?
Graduates may find work at advertising agencies, print shops, newspapers, publishers, and web site design companies. You can also work independently on a contract basis, or begin your own graphic design company. Read "Graphic Designer Careers: Using Computers to Create Art" for more information.
How long are the programs at graphic design colleges?
Graphic design colleges and vocational schools generally require one to two years to complete certificates or associate's degrees. The course material will be more technical and hands-on. It can take as many as four years to complete a bachelor's degree in graphic design, which may include general education courses, such as business and psychology, alongside specific design training.
What is the difference between graphic design and graphic art?
There are small, but important, differences between graphic design and graphic art. A designer may focus more on layout and composition of printed work, whereas an artist may create more by hand. However, an artist and a designer share many of the same skills and perform similar job functions.
Do graphic design schools offer online education?
Yes, you can pursue training through distance or web-based training. Consult this directory of online graphic design schools for further details.
What jobs can I perform after graduating from one of the graphic design colleges?
From laying out magazine articles to designing logos for sports teams, your creativity is your only guide after graduating from one of the graphic design colleges. Other opportunities could include designing the poster for a rock concert, business cards for an Internet startup company, web site templates for a new landscape company, spring menus for a local bistro—well, you get the picture. Read "5 Types of Graphic Design Careers" and Graphic Design School & Career Information for greater insight.
The Next Step
Now that some of your questions have been answered, browse this directory of
graphic design schools, and continue your journey towards a brighter future.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employee Statistics, May 2009, web site accessed on Feb. 11, 2011.
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