So You Want to be a Graphic Designer

NOTE: The following 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 words, type, illustrations and 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.

[youtube width=”590″ height=”344″][/youtube]

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. You should be good in Art and “have a good eye.”

You should be able to pay attention to detail and being good in grammar and spelling is a huge asset.

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. The AIGA holds annual conferences and competitions around the country. There is an especially useful section for students on their 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.


59 thoughts on “So You Want to be a Graphic Designer

  1. This is the fourth posting, of your site I browsed. Yet I love
    this particular one, “So You Want to be a Graphic
    Designer | Graphic Design. Website Design | River Graphics” the very best.
    Regards -Tommie

  2. Hi! I’m currently in grad school studying psychology, but I’m thinking of pursuing graphic design instead. I’m not sure about the level of degree I should pursue. Do employers expect at the very least a BAF in graphic design, or would an associate’s degree in graphic design be adequate?

    I’ve been reading mix opinions online. Some people claim that it really all boils down to the portfolio and the level of degree does not matter as much, though I do understand that learning more in school would bolster one’s portfolio as well.

    It’d be helpful if you could give me your perspective on this matter. Thank you!

    1. Students interested in graphic design programs should take basic art and design courses in high school, if the courses are available. Many bachelor’s degree programs require students to have had a year of basic art and design courses before being admitted to a formal degree program. Some schools require applicants to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

      Graphic designers must keep up with new and updated computer graphics and design software, either on their own or through formal software training programs.

  3. For Graphic Designers, if you want to have an extra income feel free to apply. We urgently need candidates.

    Type: Work from Home, Temporary, Part-time, Independent Contractor, Flexible Work Hours

    Who We Are:

    Appen Butler Hill is a language technology solutions and consulting firm, recognized as a global leader in the quality, range and caliber of its expertise. We are focused on helping our clients reach international markets by leveraging our expertise in over 50 languages and dialects. Our clients are among the world’s top Internet search engine companies, and we are currently seeking Internet-savvy freelance Web Search Evaluators.


    If you are looking for interesting work that fits your lifestyle, you have come to the right place. As a Web Search Evaluator at Appen Butler Hill, you will be rewarded for your ability to improve the Internet search relevance results for everyone. Be part of a rapidly growing global team for the world’s top Internet search engine companies! We offer flexible work schedules, competitive pay and excellent training.

    If you are a fast-thinking, flexible person who embraces new challenges and would enjoy evaluating the quality and relevance of the Internet for our top clients, we want to hear from you. We will provide you with standards and scoring guidelines, personal support and training so you can be successful.

    Depending upon your commitment and skill level, opportunities for new projects and responsibilities that can increase your ability to earn are always there for you. We are moving fast … and so can your career. It’s all up to you.

    Web Search evaluators work 4 hours a day (Monday through Friday) and have the flexibility to choose the hours they wish to work each day. Evaluators commit to 20-22 hours per week. Before a project assignment, evaluators complete a qualification process of 25-40 hours over a 1-3 week period. Once accepted on a project, evaluators meet consistent service levels that measure accuracy of their work.

    to apply:

  4. Hi there, I too am from New Zealand and am currently finishing my last year in high school. Graphic Design is definitely the path way that I want to go down. I have been researching about the pros and cons of it all and have heard that technology universities teach more on the computer side of it (hence the word technology). From that it has been said that if you wanted to get into graphic design, going to an art school would be the better option as they focus more on the creativity side. I think both are important but what would you say about this? I’ve had my mind set on the university for a while but I’m just needing more guidance and reassurance into what would be the better option. Thanks

  5. Hey There..I’m Currently Studying Graphic Designing & Wanted To Know If Logo,Magazine,Label Designs Are Hard To Do On Computers?

    1. Projects like logos are usually done with Adobe Illustrator. Magazines and other text-heavy documents are usually done with Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress. Are they difficult to do? I would say that completely depends on your creative skills as well as your skill level with the applications.

  6. I’m 16 years old with a decent desktop and have taken the time to learn almost all of the Adobe programs and more. I find that Graphic Designing is one of my few passions. The only problem is that I have been in trouble and have been kicked out of school. I’m great at what I do I just don’t know if it is too late? I plan on going back to school but I was wondering if this is going to effect anything in my future?

    1. Eric,

      Clearly not finishing school will affect your future. For young people today, it’s difficult enough to get work with a degree. I’m sure it’s even more difficult without one. My advice, get back to school. Best of luck to you.

    1. Most graphic designers use the Adobe Creative Suite products. I use InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop all day every day. And for web work I mostly use Dreamweaver.

  7. Hi I’m a secondary school student from the UK, looking a careers that I could take on when I’m older. I would like some advice on two things:

    1.) I’m choosing my school options soon and do not know what to take to help me if I want to go into graphic design. Would Media and Photography be useful as well as computing or ICT?

    2.) I am supposed to be getting a laptop for my birthday and a graphics tablet to help me with my creative ideas. I was wonder which software from your own experiences is suitable to help me with creating images and 3D structures.

    Many thanks

    1. Take all of the art classes you can. Computer skills are also very useful. The more comfortable you are with the graphic design software the better.

      The graphic design business mostly use Macs. The new iMacs are wonderful, a big screen is very helpful. One of our clients is a university magazine. They use MacBook laptops attached to big monitors.

      The industry standard software is the Adobe Creative Suite. That’s InDesign for page layout, Illustrator for logos, graphs and illustrations, and Photoshop for images.

      3D is a great thing to learn. I don’t do that so I’m not familiar with the software.

      Best of luck.

  8. Hey,
    I just got accepted into Uni for a Graphic Design double major and I desperately need a new computer, I’ve been looking at the apple iMacs and i’m pretty confident that’s what I need but do you have any idea what size i should be looking for? I don’t really wanna get the best of the best but i also don’t want to have to upgrade at least until i graduate..?

    1. Hi Stacey

      The first thing I would do is check with the Graphic Design program people at the University. They’ll almost certainly recommend a Mac. If they don’t have a recommendation, you might consider a MacBook Pro. You can always add an external monitor if the 13″ or 15″ screen is too small. That way you’ll have something you can carry to class or the coffee shop. Everyone at a magazine we work with, including the graphic designer and web editor, works on MacBook Pros. They plug them into large screens at the office and can take them home or to meetings when they need to. iMacs are great, the bigger the better, but they aren’t portable.

      Good luck and enjoy school!

  9. Hello

    I am from the UK and I am studying in computing field – IT. I was wondering if there is a necessity of a proper qualification for being a GD. I am good at art and I work well with ideas and fusing them together and all, as a designer does.

    The catch is that, I don’t particularly want to study Graphics but I would like to have experience of it by having a job as a GD. I am exploring every possible software a GD could use to get the job done so that it could support me in case I actually get a GD job or at least a junior or volunteer.

    I haven’t done school in the UK because I moved from another country so, would not having taken any art classes at school but having a portfolio make any difference? If so, what are the ways I can fill the gap?

    Thank you in advance :)

    Al Tank

    1. Not having a degree in graphic design could limit your job prospects. However, there are two things that come to mind you could do. One is try to get an entry-level digital production or pre-press job at a printer or other similar business. Of course you’d need to be able to demonstrate good skill in at least Quark, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Secondly, you could strike out on your own part time. Try to build a portfolio by getting a few jobs from friends, family, local business and associations. It always starts with your first job. But don’t quit your day job yet.

  10. hello
    The info that you have gave is useful Thanks. I am in 12 grade and I’m planning on going into graphic design and i don’t really know the step to take and what should i planning on taking in collage and things i should or can look into and learn somethings about graphic design? i have taken a media design class in Bridger-land Applied Technology College and i got a fell of adobe programs and i plan on finishing up there getting a certificate in media design. i have taken Marketing #1, and i’m right now taking Design Visual Communications and Art in high school. so i’m just wandering on what should i do now and in the future to become a good graphic designer?

  11. I was wondering if you have any links to information that I can find that talks about typesetting and design for the print industry. I am working as an in-house graphic artist for a small print shop, and apparently my college didn’t teach us the standards and such that I needed to know for this job. I’m slowly figuring out spot colors and such… but I just need just some basic guides to read over that teach everything about typesetting, margins, color, etc etc so that I can produce better work for our firm.

    Thank you!

  12. Are there any ways to become a graphic designer through an apprenticeship other than a sign/resin maker? If so could you direct me to good websites and sources for obtaining one please. I’m from the UK

    1. Hi,

      I’m no expert but if you live in the uk there are several places that offer skills building courses such as creative studios in Derbyshire, they offer full adobe skill building courses in photoshop, indesign ect. this could be a good place to start if you have no previous experience in this sort of software, in the way of graphic design courses I’ve looked and couldn’t find any.

      thanks James.

  13. Hi,

    I am from India and very much interested in pursuing a career in Graphic designing. The only basic skill I have is being creative and having a good eye!

    I am going to take a two month course for Graphic Designing.

    I did some research work and found that syllabus of many institutes of graphic designing includes Photography as one of the subjects. Whereas institute which I have opted for has not included this, saying its not relevant.

    Please suggest whether Photography is ‘necessary’ or not?

    Secondly the institute is saying to go for two courses simultaneously – Graphic designing + Printing technology. As it would be very much required and helpful.

    Is it so?

    Your reply would be really helpful. Thanks.

  14. I am a freelance content writer by profession. But having a lot of clients from advertisement industry, I regular get inquires regarding brochure design, business card design, logo design and all. Also, I work in close association with many designers and assist them with my ideas. I surely have creative ideas in designing. All I want to know is that, for someone having baby steps in designing, what is the ideal software to start with.. Please do help.

  15. Hello, I have a quick question.

    So I am a traditional artist and a digital artist. My Bachelor’s degree is in Studio Art (emphasizing in oil painting) and I have a Masters of Science Degree in Digital Art. With my Masters degree, I studied graphic design and video editing.

    So my question is, What type of Graphic Designer utilizes both their fine artistic abilities and digital artistic skills? I am more interested in creating promotional materials like; movie posters, flyers, or even logos as a full time staff designer. My portfolio is kind of all over the place, so I was trying to seek help with focusing in on a particular type of Graphic Designer position.

    Thank you so much in advance for your help.

  16. Hi,

    Male, 17, UK.

    I’m currently in an IT Apprentice and want to go into graphic design, I’ve previously studied Art and Media in secondary school and have an above average knowledge in Photoshop, however my skills with indesign and quark and are limited, I make some graphic artwork for the company I’m with now and there happy enough with it, I’m torn however between staying here and trying to become the in house graphic designer or leaving and studying graphic design at uni.

    Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.

    thanks James.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>