Graphic Designers


Exploring this Job

If you are interested in a career in graphic design, there are a number of ways to find out whether you have the talent, ambition, and perseverance to succeed in the field. Take as many art and design courses as possible while still in high school and become proficient at using computers and design programs. To get an insider's view of various design occupations, you could enlist the help of art teachers or school counselors to make arrangements to tour design firms and interview designers.

While in school, seek out practical experience by participating in school and community projects that call for design talents. These might include such activities as building sets for plays, setting up exhibits, planning seasonal and holiday displays, and preparing programs and other printed materials. If you are interested in publication design, work on the school newspaper or yearbook is invaluable. If you are interested in Web site design, try to design your own Web site or the Web sites of friends and family. 

Part-time and summer jobs are excellent ways to become familiar with the day-to-day requirements of a design job and gain some basic related experience. Possible places of employment include design studios, design departments in advertising agencies and manufacturing companies, department and furniture stores, flower shops, workshops that produce ornamental items, and museums. Museums also use a number of volunteer workers. Inexperienced people are often employed as sales, clerical, or general assistants; those with a little more education and experience may qualify for jobs in which they have a chance to develop actual design skills and build portfolios of completed design projects.

Finally, check out the AIGA's Student Resources section, https://www.aiga.org/aiga/content/tools-and-resources/student-resources, which answers these and other questions: What is graphic design? What do designers need to know? Who becomes a designer? What do you learn in design school?

The Job

Graphic designers are not primarily fine artists, although they may be highly skilled at drawing or painting. Most designs commissioned to graphic designers involve both artwork and copy (words). Thus, the designer must not only be familiar with the wide range of art media (photography, drawing, painting, collage, etc.) and styles, but he or she must also be familiar with a wide range of typefaces and know how to manipulate them for the right effect. Because design tends to change in a similar way to fashion, designers must keep up-to-date with the latest trends. At the same time, they must be well grounded in more traditional, classic designs.

Graphic designers can work as in-house designers for a particular company, as staff designers for a graphic design firm, or as freelance designers working for themselves. Some designers specialize in designing advertising materials or packaging. Others focus on corporate identity materials such as company stationery and logos. Some work mainly for publishers, designing book and magazine covers and page layouts. Some work in the area of computer graphics, creating still or animated graphics for computer software, videos, or motion pictures. A highly specialized type of graphic designer, the environmental graphic designer, designs large outdoor signs. Depending on the project's requirements, some graphic designers work exclusively on the computer, while others may use both the computer and drawings or paintings created by hand.

Whatever the specialty and whatever their medium, all graphic designers take a similar approach to a project, whether it is for an entirely new design or for a variation on an existing one. Graphic designers begin by determining the needs and preferences of clients and potential users, buyers, or viewers.

For example, if a graphic designer is working on a company logo, he or she will likely meet with company representatives to discuss such points as how and where the company is going to use the logo and what size, color, and shape preferences of the company executives. Project budgets must be respected: A design that may be perfect in every way but that is too costly to reproduce is basically useless. Graphic designers may need to compare their ideas with similar ones from other companies and analyze the image they project. They must have a good knowledge of how various colors, shapes, and layouts affect the viewer psychologically.

After a plan has been conceived and the details worked out, the graphic designer does some preliminary designs (generally two or three) to present to the client for approval. The client may reject the preliminary designs entirely and request a new one, or he or she may ask the designer to make alterations. The designer then goes back to the drawing board to attempt a new design or make the requested changes. This process continues until the client approves the design.

Once a design has been approved, the graphic designer prepares the piece for professional reproduction, or printing. The printer may require what is called a mechanical, in which the artwork and copy are arranged on a white board just as it is to be photographed, or the designer may be asked to submit a digital copy of the design. Either way, designers must have a good understanding of the printing process, including color separation, paper properties, and halftone (photograph) reproduction.

Another common area of specialization for designers is Web site design, which employs designers with a variety of specialties.

Internet advertising designers, also called interactive advertising designers, create advertising features for client Web sites using text, animation, and sound. They design graphic symbols and logos and revise existing designs for Web use. Designers often use animation or music clips on a site, for example, as part of the home page. They work with writers and Web developers to design promotions, such as surveys, quizzes, or other games, to encourage users to revisit the site.

Internet advertising designers not only design and implement traditional advertising techniques on the Web, they are also responsible for making sure the advertising is effective. They constantly check the number of "hits" received by the site, but also find ways to keep users engaged on the site. Engagement is key in getting users to keep coming back to a site. User comments and other responses are monitored by Internet advertising designers and the site’s Webmaster to keep content fresh and exciting.

Many Web sites use interactive animation as a way to grab users’ attention, whether as part of content, games, advertisements, animated menus, banners, pop-up windows, or scrolling text. Flash designers, sometimes known as Flash developers, are skilled at using Adobe Flash to create these animations. Flash is also used to create animations for smartphones, video games, and other digital devices.

For new projects, Flash designers work with members of the creative team or art department to come up with storyboard ideas and design concepts. They use various production tools to design animations, such as those to create shapes, or perhaps a pen tool to create lines or cut or distort shapes. Eraser tools are used in the editing process. Flash designers use scripting language such as HTML or ActionScript to create the final animation.

What is the difference between a poorly designed Web site and a site that is organized and easy to use? A good interface designer. User interface designers, also known as user experience designers, suggest ways to place data and visual images on a Web site and their links in an orderly and attractive way, allowing users to quickly find information and use site features.

User interface designers create icons, symbols, color schemes, and informational layout in a way that is both pleasing and easily downloadable. Interface designers should know how to use software such as PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, QuarkXpress, JavaScript, Flash, and PowerPoint. They should also have a basic understanding of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Interface designers are also responsible for usability testing. After they have designed the features of a Web site, they try out the features to make sure that they are easy to understand and use. This helps to identify and solve potential problems with interfaces, making them more user-friendly.

There are a lot of career paths in design. AIGA, the professional association for design has a name for the various career paths in design—communication design. It categorizes the following design areas under this moniker: graphic design, visual design, visual communication design, advertising design, brand design, information design, interaction design, user experience design, and software design.