NOTE: So You Want to be a Graphic Designer was written for a high school career fair.

What does a graphic designer do?

Along with writers, clients, and other creative people who decide on what the content or message should be, graphic designers make the content look appealing to the client’s audience. Graphic designers are the people who design the magazines, product labels, shopping bags, websites, cereal boxes, newspapers, logos, stationery, books, movie posters, billboards, and millions of other things that we see many times every day.

Is graphic design fun?

Absolutely. If you’re good at art, and like working with computers, words, type, illustrations or images, you’ll probably enjoy graphic design.

Graphic design is work, so is it always fun? Not always. The work can be tedious (like when you have to create 45 charts in Adobe Illustrator). Plus, if you are getting paid, you are working for someone else and it’s your job to keep your boss or client happy. That means that most clients and bosses will want to have some say in what the project looks like. Here’s a great video showing a somewhat extreme example. Thanks to YouTube poster, TheMimeographer.

What qualifications do I need to be a graphic designer?

Most graphic designers have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design (BFA/GD). This is a four-year program available at many colleges and universities. There are two-year and certificate programs, but most employers will expect a BFA/GD.

You should enjoy creating things and be good in Art, “have a good eye.” Plus, attention to detail and being good in grammar and spelling are huge assets.

What software do graphic designers use?

Being a good software user is important, but it’s not as important as being a creative thinker. That said, the most common software used in the graphic design industry is listed below. There are applications other than the ones below, but these are the industry standards.

Page Layout – For creating brochures, flyers, books, reports, etc. These two applications are in direct competition with each other. Quark came first but the industry favorite has become InDesign. InDesign is my strong preference.

Illustration – For creating logos, charts, icons, or almost any kind of vector-based illustration.

Photos and Images – For working with any kind of pixel-based image like photos or scanned hand-drawn artwork.

Website Design – For creating and working with websites.

Mac or PC?

Simple answer, Mac.

Who does a graphic designer work for?

Graphic designers usually work one of three ways:

  1. Graphic designers can work for themselves and find their own clients. This is a freelance graphic designer. Freelance graphic designers may rent office space, or most often, work from a room in their home. Many freelance designers specialize in one area such as real estate or health care. Others are generalists and have many different types of clients.
  2. Some graphic designers work for a company that has quite a bit of graphic design needs, but not so much that they would need an army of designers. This is an in-house graphic designer. An in-house designer might work for a company that makes lighting fixtures. So the designer spends all of his or her time designing projects about the company’s lighting fixtures.
  3. Other graphic designers work for a graphic design firm. A graphic design firm may employ just a few designers or many designers. This kind of job is a good place to start out because the environment is usually creative and stimulating, you don’t have to worry about getting your own clients, and you can learn a lot.

Associations and Resources

There are many local, regional and national organizations for graphic designers, many have a level especially for students. Below are three large national associations.

American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) – A wonderful organization with tons of resources ranging from technical to inspirational, student to business owner. The AIGA has 66 chapters and more than 20,000 members and holds annual conferences and competitions around the country. Visit the especially useful section for students on the AIGA website.

Art Directors Club (ADC) – The ADC is the premier organization for integrated media and the first international creative collective of its kind. Founded in New York in 1920, the ADC is a self-funding, not-for-profit membership organization that celebrates and inspires creative excellence, connecting creative visual communications professionals from around the world.

Graphic Artists Guild – The Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of illustrators, designers, web creators, production artists, surface designers and other creatives who have come together to pursue common goals, share their experience, raise industry standards, and improve the ability of visual creators to achieve satisfying and rewarding careers.

Finally, another excellent resource is London-based graphic designer Jason Miller’s article about what a graphic designer actually does.