Become a Graphic Design Specialist: Career Roadmap

Mar 04, 2020

Learn how to become a graphic design specialist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience you'll need to start a career in the graphic design field.

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Graphic Design Specialists

Graphic designers are creative visual communicators. They arrange images, text, colors, shapes, and space to catch attention and transmit messages. Graphic designers extend their talents across various media outlets, including magazines, billboards, commercials, websites, cell phone applications, and movies. A specialist could refer to someone who focuses on one facet of graphic design, like book and album covers, product design, or website design. Alternatively, specialists could be graphic designers with high-level and wide-ranging skills plus years of experience. Graphic designers can work for design firms, but many are self-employed and must juggle projects with various clients, which can be hectic and stressful.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree may be sufficient; bachelor's degree standard
Degree Fields Graphic design, illustration, fine arts
Experience 1-3 years to advance past entry-level positions; employers commonly look for at least 2 years for specialist roles
Certification Certification typically available from software developers
Key Skills Creativity; artistic; attention to detail; problem-solving, communication, time-management, and computer skills; ability to use illustration and editing software
Median Salary (2018)* $50,370 (for all graphic designers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Become a Graphic Design Specialist

Step 1: Earn a Degree Related to Graphic Design

Though an associate's degree and specialty training in graphic design software can sometimes be sufficient for professional positions, a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a closely related field is the standard qualification for entering this career field. In these programs, students learn traditional art forms and graphic design technology. Courses may cover design principles, studio art, color theory, photography, and website design.

Aspiring graphic design specialists should take elective college courses related to business and communications. Since graphic designers are increasingly working on promotions and sales projects, extra knowledge of business operations and marketing strategies can be advantageous.

Step 2: Prepare for Career Opportunities

Schools may have connections with graphic design employers and professional organizations to help students start networking. Students can also get an edge by participating in extracurricular activities designed to help them become working professionals.

Prospective designers should take steps to work with professors and organize a portfolio, as possessing an up-to-date portfolio that showcases one's breadth of knowledge and level of talent is crucial to getting a graphic design job. A portfolio may also be a requirement for graduation.

Step 3: Seek Professional Employment

With a well-crafted portfolio, one can seek employment with advertisement companies, corporate creative branches, advertising agencies, and design firms. AIGA recommends that designers work in whatever setting is available, since any learning opportunity can help build a designer's credential and career advancement potential. Graphic designers can also work independently, marketing their design skills to build clientele. Constant on-the-job, experiential learning paves the way to a graphic design specialist career.

Step 4: Consider a Graduate Degree for Career Advancement

Graphic design specialists who want to further develop their artistic talents can enroll in a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design program. Programs may provide different track options, which can help these professionals capitalize on a design specialty. Designers may choose between a residency (including low-residency) and non-residency program, although a residency program may offer more rigorous training and opportunity for more studio time.

Graphic design specialists often have a bachelor's degree in graphic design, fine arts, or illustration and at least 2 years of relevant experience.

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