Many people dream of turning something they love, such as an art form, into a living. Graphic designers are among the few professionals who manage to do just that. And because of the rapid ascent of the Internet into our day-to-day lives, designers who work with web sites are now among the hottest of commodities.
Traditional graphic artists create print products such as packaging, promotional displays, marketing brochures, magazines or books. Many graphic designers work on the visual designs of annual reports and other corporate publications. They also design logos and graphic identities for products and businesses. Increasingly, graphic designers are channeling their artistic talents into the lucrative and fast-evolving profession of web design. Web designers use a combination of technical know-how and a keen eye for design to create the snazzy sites on the Internet. Broadcast/motion designers create animated graphics for film and television, as well as for web sites and electronic devices, like iPods and cell phones.
Free to be
Because they often work on projects that eventually end--such as a seasonal catalog or redesign of a web site--graphic design jobs are often staffed on a freelance basis. About 25 percent of graphic designers are freelancers; they sell their skills and pitch their designs to advertising agencies, retailers, design firms, magazines, newspapers and Internet companies. While freelancing offers many advantages, such as the opportunity to take off large chunks of time and the chance to work in many different environments, working on a project-to-project basis is far from a breeze. Freelancers must be versatile enough to market their skills to a wide variety of businesses and must also be shrewd businesspeople. A freelance artist's ability to meet deadlines and work within a budget is important to a company. Artists who prove themselves earn repeat business and invaluable word-of-mouth advertisement.
In-house graphic designers, who work on salary from one company, often work in the creative departments of advertising agencies and design firms and often are assigned less glamorous tasks to start. After an "apprenticeship" period, they will be able to work on actual designs and layouts.
Although becoming an established graphic designer is difficult, successful freelance artists can make a comfortable living and tend to enjoy their freedom. In-house graphic designers, such as those who become art directors at magazines or ad agencies, can command high salaries.
A strong portfolio is essential for any aspiring graphic designer. The portfolio is a collection of the artist's best work; some graphic artists include new takes on existing ads or logos to demonstrate their ability within a certain industry. In fact, many graphic designers freelance while still in school in order to develop experience and a portfolio of published work.
Although no formal education is required for graphic or web design, a bachelor's degree program in fine art, graphic design or visual communications is valuable training for both traditional graphic designers and web designers. (An associate's degree will also be serviceable for some positions.) For web design, courses in languages such as HTML, CSS and Java add highly sought-after skills. Internships are a good way to acquire hands-on experience and to gain contacts within the industry.
Designers hired into advertising agencies or graphic design studios often start with relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they can hone their skills and learn all aspects of the business first-hand. Many graphic artists work full-time jobs in other industries while working part-time as freelancers to establish themselves.
Graphic designers "love their jobs" but complain of exhaustion as well. The strain of "constantly having to sell [themselves] and their work" "takes a toll on [their] confidence and sense of self-worth." The amount of work that they get is "proportionate to how hard" they pitch their designs. They are "happiest when working on a project." Many graphic designers realize that they "won't be raking in the cash" but seeing their work used in national campaigns and logos fills them with "tremendous pride." Constant rejection is part of the job also. "A lot of people lose faith in themselves or burn out early," according to one veteran designer. But those who "make a reputation for themselves" can look forward to a long career if they are versatile and diligent.
Diversity of tasks; Wide variety of career options; Hot industry
Long hours in front of a computer; Strict deadlines
Artistic; Creative; Energetic
Unassertive; Reserved; Uncreative
Average about 40 to 60 per week
Entry-level: $35,000; Staff-level (one to three years of experience): $45,000; Senior designers with management responsibility: $65,000; Design directors: $98,600; Senior art directors at top magazines: $200,000 to $300,000
Quark, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator; For web designers: knowledge of languages such as HTML, Java and Cold Fusion; For broadcast/motion design: Adobe Flash, Dreamweaver, After Effects and Premiere, as well as Autodesk Maya