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.
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 in this field:
1. Publishing and Entertainment
This is where you'll find most 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. 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. They 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. Design work at such agencies often encompasses 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, working 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 individuals 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.
With the freedom to select projects, gather your own clients and set your own schedule, it's easy to understand why so many people 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. Those who are self-employed 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 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!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is graphic design?
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.
Are there 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.
What is a typical 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.
Is financial aid available?
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.
How long are the programs?
Generally, one to two years are required 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, which may include general education courses, such as business and psychology, alongside specific design training.
Are there online training options?
Yes, you can pursue training through distance or web-based training.
What jobs can I perform after graduation?
From laying out magazine articles to conceptualizing logos for sports teams, your creativity is your only guide after graduating college. 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.
The Next Step
Now that some of your questions have been answered, browse this guide, 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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