If you have a flair for creativity, artistic skill, and great communication ability, a career in graphic design could be a great and lucrative career.
The field of graphic design is responsible for creating the visual effects and concepts that sell products and inspire consumers.
Examples include logos, websites, signs, book covers, packages — pretty much all visual communication requires design. Even this page that you are reading was created by a designer.
Graphic design work is done by hand in certain industries, but technology over the past 40 years has ushered in a new era of graphic design — one where almost all of the work is done with computers and software.
This creates an excellent opportunity for individuals who have some design skills and want to work from home. With the internet and online design tools at your disposal, you could use Coursera to launch a design career that works around your life.
Here's how to get started:
- What is a graphic designer?
- What kind of tasks do graphic designers do?
- What skills do you need to be a graphic designer?
- How much do graphic designers earn?
- Pros and cons of being a graphic designer
- Learn how to become a graphic designer
- How to get experience in graphic design without a degree
- How do you find graphic design jobs?
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What is a graphic designer?
A graphic designer is an individual who uses their creative skill and energy to produce visual ideas and concepts for brands and companies. These professionals take images, graphics, and designs, and bundle them together to create unique concepts businesses can use in published, print, or electronic media.
Imagine a company wants to create a new ad to sell their product — a travel app. The company’s advertising department or agency hires a graphic designer to create an eye-catching illustration and concept that works with their marketing strategy.
In this case, the graphic designer is part artist, and part marketer. Not only are they charged with coming up with a concept that fits their client’s goal (getting people to sign up for their travel app), but they are also hired to create the visual illustration.
Graphic designers can work in freelance roles or for traditional employers — typically specializing in design services, advertising, marketing, public relations, and print media.
Today, much of graphic design work is in the online media space. This can mean creating visuals and designs for bloggers and online personalities as well as businesses that have an online presence but need help with design and messaging. This might likely include design expertise that you already have, including Pinterest designs, Facebook ads and images, Instagram memes, and websites.
What kind of tasks do graphic designers do?
Graphic designers perform a wide range of creative tasks that can depend on the project they’re working on. They work with clients and businesses to help them create a concept for their project, and then execute the design. Other times, designers follow orders to create what their client knows they already want.
However, different projects require various skills and tasks. A graphic designer who is creating a logo may need to have some experience in marketing to be able to conceptualize a logo that is captivating, but also meets the goal of the business marketing plan.
On the other hand, a graphic designer who works on brochures may need to create images that work alongside written text, or promote a thought or idea their client is trying to explain to their customers.
While graphic designers can do different tasks depending on their area of focus, some job duties these workers take on include:
- Meet with their clients to discuss the project and the desired end result
- Meet with art directors and other creative professionals to brainstorm ideas used to build initiatives
- Design the layout for visual representations
- Design logos and other business-related graphics
- Create visual images for magazines, newspapers, and brochures
- Use computer software programs to enhance and design images or concepts
- Come up with unique ideas that help their final designs stand out
- Present final graphics to clients for feedback
- Implement design changes based on client feedback
If you’re a graphic designer who works for an employer, you’ll spend the bulk of your time designing and using your artistic skill, as well as meeting with clients and other workers on your team. If you’re self-employed, on the other hand, you’ll have another layer of tasks to take care of.
Work-at-home graphic designers tend to have more freedom to design their own schedules and work at home, but they earn that freedom with more responsibility.
Self-employed graphic designers are required to find and retain their own clients, along with negotiating with them for pay and other perks. They also need to spend time tracking payments and invoices and keeping up with their taxes and books. Finally, freelance graphic designers usually need to spend some of their time advertising and marketing their business.
What skills do you need to be a graphic designer?
While many graphic designers get their start by earning a degree in this field, the emergence of online tools and apps has made it easier than ever for people to get started in this career without formal education.
It’s crucial for graphic designers to have a broad understanding of the various computer software programs required to do their job, but experience is often a lot more important than a degree hanging on your wall.
But, what kind of skills do you need exactly? Most importantly, you need to be proficient at designing visuals that are engaging and aesthetically pleasing. You need to have a great eye for detail and a finger on the pulse of current styles and trends.
You need to know what looks good and what doesn’t, and you need to be an expert at using online design tools that can help you throw together designs that appeal to both clients and consumers. At the end of the day, your skills and your experience are the drivers that will get people to hire you.
In addition to experience in design, you should have critical thinking and analytical skills that help you see designs through not only your eyes, but the eyes of your clients and consumers.
You also need excellent communication skills to be able to effectively communicate with clients, employers, and co-workers. But really, it all boils down to design experience and a keen eye for detail.
To market yourself to potential clients, it is important to have attractive social media accounts, as well as a simple website that showcases who you are, and what you offer.
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How much do graphic designers earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 graphic designers earned a median annual wage of $48,700, however, many top-level graphic designers earn $80,000 or $100,000 or more. Many freelance graphic designers charge more than $100 per hour.
It’s also important to note that the industry you work in could play a role in your earnings. The BLS reports that advertising, public relations, and related services paid the most, while graphic designers who worked in print media earned closer to $39,210. Newspapers and magazines are dying!
Graphic designers who are self-employed may earn more — or less —than their peers. At the end of the day, it depends on how much work they can secure and how much they are able to negotiate in terms of pay.
Pros and cons of being a graphic designer
Here are some pros and cons to consider before you move toward getting started in this career:
Advantages of becoming a graphic designer:
- You get to be creative and use your artistic talent
- You may have unlimited income potential if you’re self-employed
- You can choose to work as part of a team or on your own
- Do work you enjoy and find inspiring
- Earn healthy wages in exchange for your skill and expertise
- If you can master online graphic design tools, you can work build your career at home
Disadvantages of becoming a graphic designer:
- You may face steep competition for jobs — especially if you’re self-employed
- Freelance graphic designers must spend time advertising and marketing their services to get new clients, which not everyone loves (though some people do!)
- Clients can be finicky, so customer service skills and patience are required.
Learn how to become a graphic designer
Experience is king when it comes to finding design work. Your work will speak for itself — both your portfolio of work, as well as clients who can refer you to their colleagues and friends, as well as rehire you!
If you don’t have a degree in this field already but wish you had one, you may want to explore local or online schools that can help you get on the right path.
Graphic design degree programs can help you get started on the path toward a profitable career in this field, but you need to choose your school carefully. While some schools may focus on graphic design for conventional industries such as advertising or print media, you’ll want to focus mostly on the online applications of design if you want to work at home — and be marketable.
This likely means focusing on a program with an emphasis on mobile and web design, brand identity and logo design, and perhaps even the creative design of infographics or digital animations.
In addition to a degree or experience, you’ll also need to build up a portfolio of work you can share with potential employers and clients. Many times, new or aspiring graphic designers complete an internship to build up their portfolios and gain applicable experience.
How to get experience in graphic design without a degree
It’s important to remember that you need experience in this field to get started more than anything else. If you can do the work, your educational background won’t matter to the vast majority of people who may hire you for a job.
Fortunately, getting some design experience under your belt is easier than ever. Here are some options to consider:
- Teach yourself online design tools like Canva or Stencil. Canva and Stencil an online design tool that is extremely popular with bloggers, virtual assistants, and digital media — any element that is used on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs or any website. You can use Canva to create anything from infographics to cards, posters, ecards, announcements, and magazine covers. If you can master Canva and Stencil to create awesome images, you can parlay that experience into Fiverr work or create interesting images to use on your own portfolio. Best part — the basic (and excellent) version of Canva and Stencil are free!
- Create an account on Fiverr. If you have some basic design experience and want to try your luck getting some beginner clients, set up an account on Fiverr! This service connects online clients who need design, writing, or other freelance work with designers like yourself. Jobs only pay $5 each at first, but they offer a great way to build up some experience. Once you have a lot of excellent reviews on Fiverr.com, you can use them to build your portfolio and land better, higher-paying clients.
- Seek paid or unpaid “trial jobs.” Do you know anyone who needs design work? Maybe you are friends with a business owner who would love an update to her email template or logo and you would offer your services at a discount (or for free) just to get some work for your portfolio. Remember that experience is the most important factor most people who hire designers consider. If you can get a few jobs to share on a portfolio, you’ll be well on your way to building up your clientele.
- Create your own portfolio website. Also, remember that the internet is a place where you don’t need permission. It’s not that difficult to create a simple website with a very-easy to use, low-cost program like Wix where you can showcase your design work (and your own site will also be its own portfolio piece). Get a domain name now for your freelance business.
How do you find graphic design jobs?
If you’re looking for a job in this field, you should absolutely start with a few of the steps above. Try your luck on Fiverr.com for starters, then ask around to see if anyone you know could use your help. Make sure you spend a lot of time with photo editing software and design tools like Canva as well. That way, you’ll have a good idea of what you’re doing when you start picking up a few beginner jobs.
You can also check out the big job boards such as Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com, ZipRecruiter.com, and CareerBuilder. Make sure to update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new career path, then reach out to contacts there to see if you have any connections that could lead to a job. If you know someone who works in design, reach out to them to ask how they got their start. You never know; they may have a contact who is hiring or have resources they can share with you.
Finally, set up a profile on FlexJobs.com. This website lets professionals who want to work at home search for employers who may be hiring freelance workers in their field. (Use FlexJobs promo code FLEXLIFE to get a discount.)
Since graphic design work is mostly completed by hand or with computer software, this profession is a natural when it comes to remote work. In fact, the BLS notes that, in 2016, 18% of graphic designers were self-employed with the freedom to work from home.
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Holly Johnson is a financial expert, award-winning writer, and Indiana mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting and travel. Her personal finance articles have been published in the U. S. News, Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, and Life Hacker. Holly is founder of of the family finance resource, ClubThrifty.com, and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love. Learn more about Holly here.