How to Become
a Graphic Designer
Education Pathways, Skills, and Certifications
If you’re passionate about creating visual content that can communicate a powerful message, then you might make a good graphic designer. A graphic designer uses pictures, typography, and visual hierarchy techniques to create dynamic designs. They also emphasize the logic behind display elements to improve user experience.
There are different pathways to a graphic design career. You can go down the traditional route, get a four-year degree, and advance to a master’s program Otherwise, some of the best coding boot camps offer online courses in Graphic Design.
Read on to learn more about how to become a graphic designer.
What Is a Graphic Designer?
A graphic designer is a professional artist who translates visual concepts into meaningful information. They choose typefaces and photos to create marketing materials of various kinds, including logos, packaging, billboards, bus wraps, and posters. They also develop layouts for magazines, brochures, and annual reports.
Graphic designers can take on business clients across industries, but you’re most likely to find them working at marketing agencies, advertising firms, and magazines.
What Does a Graphic Designer Do?
Based on the definition above, we’ve broken down the various tasks that a graphic designer usually focuses on. These tasks are as follows.
Makes Meaningful Designs
As a graphic designer, one of your primary roles is to use layout, photo editing, and digital illustration software to make designs. You will also make visual elements like illustrations, original images, and logos that deliver a specific message.
Collaborates with Clients
You will also need to discuss the scope and details of the project with the client. In these meetings, you need to present and justify design concepts to them. If changes are requested, you need to be flexible enough to make adjustments on the fly.
Exercises Creative Control
While you do have to listen to the client, you ultimately get to decide which typefaces, images, and colors to use. You will also decide how text and images should go together, and how to use negative space. When working with a team, you might need to review designs to rectify errors before they go to publish.
Uses Design Software
Most graphic designers nowadays use Adobe design software to convey ideas and messages. These programs increase the design elements at your disposal, making it easier to transform complex information into appealing diagrams and visual graphics.
Graphic Designer Education Pathways
There is no single way to become a graphic designer. It will depend on your goals, resources, and background. If you want to take the traditional approach, you can enroll in a degree program, which will take a minimum of four years.
However, you can also take a shorter path through coding bootcamps or online courses. Whereas bootcamps are great for hands-on and intensive training, online courses provide a flexible, self-paced option. You can also get certified in specific software like Adobe and Autodesk by taking a course and passing a test.
Graphic Designer Degrees
Although this is an expensive option, many employers expect candidates to have a bachelor’s. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design takes about four years if you’re a full-time student. If your university or college doesn’t have a graphic design department, you can earn a Bachelor’s in Advertising and Marketing or Business Administration instead.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience, you can go to graduate school to get your Master’s in Graphic Design. With this degree, you can get in-depth training in a specific area. This will boost your credentials and earning potential.
Graphic Designer Bootcamps
If you are not keen on getting a four-year degree, you can take a visual design course at a coding bootcamp like General Assembly. Here you will be placed under the care of seasoned experts who will get you job-ready in a short period.
Before you graduate, you will have to complete a series of real-world projects to ensure that you’re ready to be a graphic designer. What’s even better is that many companies hire interns fresh out of coding bootcamps.
Graphic Designer Courses
If you’re already working in graphic design and you want to upskill, you can take a massive open online course (MOOC). MOOC platforms like Udemy, edX, and Coursera are reputable, low-cost, and easy to navigate. Whatever your experience level, you should be able to find the right course for you.
How to Become a Graphic Designer A Step-by-Step Guide
Though there is no standard pathway to a career in graphic design, there are some general steps that most aspiring graphic designers follow.
Choose an education pathway
You can either earn a four-year degree in graphic design, enroll in a coding bootcamp, or teach yourself with an online course.
Invest in the required computer software
It’s best to invest in various design software so you can practice with them. These tools are necessary for industry projects, so you should add them to your collection.
Certification means validating your skills. You need more certifications if you want to increase your earning potential. Most graphic design certifications test your proficiency in specific pieces of software, such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Creative Cloud.
Complete and upgrade your portfolio
You can impress prospective employers by showing them your past projects. Make sure to select your best work carefully. You want to impress your client enough to make them want to hire you on the spot.
Top Graphic Designer Skills
As a graphic designer, you’ll need a combination of soft and hard skills. Below are some of the main skills you’ll need to succeed.
Design Software Skills
Since you will be executing designs on the computer, you should be savvy with various software products. To design like a pro, you should become an expert in the full suite of Adobe design products, especially Illustrator, InDesign, and Dreamweaver. It also wouldn’t hurt to learn Inkscape, Photoscape, Sketch, and Xara Designer Pro X.
Digital Marketing Skills
If you’re a graphic designer, you won’t rely only on your creative point of view. You also need to understand your work from the audience’s standpoint. If you were one of the customers, what message would you get from your design?
You don’t need to become a digital marketer to think like your audience, but you should be analytical enough to capture your audience’s attention. Your design elements need to deliver a specific message that convinces your audience to take positive action.
Project Management Skills
Every graphic designer should be able to execute a design idea from start to finish. You will need to collaborate with fellow designers to ensure that the designs reflect the information and message intended by the client.
You also won’t be able to meet deadlines without project management skills, especially if you’re juggling two or more projects at the same time. Despite the pressure, you must stay on top of everything to ensure the smooth execution of each project.
Graphic Designer Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is a projected four percent decline in the number of jobs for graphic designers between 2019 and 2029. This means you can expect intense competition for available jobs. BLS data also pegs the median pay for graphic designers at $53,380 per year.
Salaries in the graphic design profession vary by job title. According to PayScale, for example, senior graphic designers earn about $63,000 per year, art directors make approximately $67,000, and marketing managers take home $56,000.
Entry-Level Graphic Designer Job Requirements
If you just finished your bachelor’s degree or graduated from your boot camp program, you’re eligible to start working for most companies. According to Payscale, the average entry-level salary for graphic designers is about $39,413 in the United States.
How to Prepare for Your Graphic Designer Job Interview
When you find a job description that matches your skills and expertise, you should first study the company and job requirements. Next, craft your resume and portfolio with these in mind. Finally, prepare for the interview by answering the practice interview questions listed below.
Graphic Designer Job Interview Practice Questions
- What are the skills a graphic designer should have?
- How would you resolve a dispute between your design idea and the client’s vision?
- Should graphic designers work on their own or collaborate with a team? Why?
- How do you go about incorporating the changes that a client asks for?
Graphic Designer Certifications
If you want to further hone your craft, below are some of the certifications you should aim for.
Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)
Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) is the most in-demand certification for graphic designers. It has three tiers: Expert, Master, and Professional. To be allowed to take the exam, you need to have one to three years of experience using Adobe products.
Although prior training is not required to take the exam, the experience will work to your advantage. Adobe will also provide you with a study guide to help you ace the exam.
Adobe Captivate Certification
This certification is for graphic designers with at least a year of experience in Adobe Captivate. Adobe offers three levels for this certification as well. The least expensive is $499 and the cost covers the certification exam itself.
If you want to train before the exam, you can opt for the $999 option, which includes a two-day virtual training, an online curriculum, and the exam. The third option is $799 and includes the training program but not the exam.
Adobe Certified Associate (ACA)
This certification validates a graphic designer’s entry-level skills to design, plan, build, and keep efficient communications through various forms of digital media. You can gain ACA certification in web media, rich media, and visual communication through Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Flash, and Dreamweaver.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Graphic Designer?
It will take about four years if you enroll in a university to earn a degree. If you push through and earn a master’s degree, it will take you two additional years. If you’re short on time, you can be job-ready after spending a few weeks or months at a coding bootcamp. It will also take you less time if you teach yourself through online courses.
Why You Should Become a Graphic Designer in 2021
Despite the decline in print media, there is still a steady demand for graphic designers to help businesses in their digital campaigns. The modern marriage of graphic design and digital design is the perfect outlet for people with artistic abilities. And with the right skills and knowledge, you can make influential designs for big companies around the world.
Graphic Designer FAQ
The more art and design skills you equip yourself with, the more you can improve your job prospects and earning potential. And with the proliferation of digital marketing, there is a high demand for creative designers to craft fun and engaging messages.
A proficient graphic designer, an aggressive marketer, and a competent SEO strategist can work together to create viral content that will reach huge audiences. Their combined skills can seamlessly help a company improve its bottom line.
If you don’t have a passion for it, any job can be stressful, even the simplest one. If you want to be a graphic designer but hate working with design software, computers, and colors, you’ll only end up stressing yourself out. But if you love these things, graphic design can be a rewarding career.
Certification means getting a particular skill or proficiency validated. You need more certifications if you want to advance your career.