Graphic designers hold 290,100 jobs in the United States. They work in many different industries, including the wholesale and retail trade (such as department stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, apparel stores, and florist shops); manufacturing industries (such as machinery, motor vehicles, aircraft, metal products, instruments, apparel, textiles, printing, and publishing); service industries (such as business services, engineering, and architecture); construction firms; animation companies; film and television production companies; computer and video game design companies; and government agencies. Public relations and publicity firms, advertising agencies, and mail-order houses all have graphic design departments. The publishing industry is a primary employer of graphic designers, including book publishers, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters.
Twenty-two percent of all graphic designers are self-employed, a higher proportion than is found in most other occupations. These freelance designers sell their services to multiple clients.
The best way to enter the field of graphic design is to have a strong portfolio. Potential employers rely on portfolios to evaluate talent and how that talent might be used to fit the company's needs. Beginning graphic designers can assemble a portfolio from work completed at school, in traditional art, digital art, Web design, and animation classes, and in part-time or freelance jobs. The portfolio should continually be updated to reflect the designer's growing skills so it will always be ready for possible job changes. Many designers now post their portfolios at their personal Web sites or at social media sites.
Those just starting out can apply directly to companies that employ designers. Many colleges and professional schools have career services offices to help graduates find positions, and sometimes it is possible to get a referral from a previous part-time employer or volunteer coordinator.
As part of their on-the-job training, beginning graphic designers generally are given simpler tasks and work under direct supervision. As they gain experience, they move up to more complex work with increasingly less supervision. Experienced graphic designers, especially those with leadership capabilities, may be promoted to chief designer, design department head, or other supervisory positions (such as art director or new media producer).
Graphic designers with strong computer skills can move into other computer-related positions with additional education. Some may become interested in graphics programming in order to further improve computer design capabilities. Others may want to become involved with multimedia and interactive technology. Video games, touch-screen displays in stores, and even laser light shows are all products of multimedia graphic designers.
When designers develop personal styles that are in high demand in the marketplace, they sometimes go into business for themselves. Freelance design work can be erratic, however, so usually only the most experienced designers with an established client base can count on consistent full-time work.
Tips for Entry
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Join professional associations such as the AIGA, the professional association for design and the Society of Publication Designers to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.
Apply for entry-level design jobs with publishing companies, animation companies, Web development companies, and other employers.
Conduct information interviews with graphic designers and ask them for advice on breaking into the field.