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Graphic Designer job description
A graphic designer is a visual communicator, often employed or contracted by in-house teams or design agencies to give a visual identity to a company’s message. Graphic designers create and influence branding, which can help to sell products and services to thousands – sometimes millions – of customers from all around the world. Read more about this exciting career, find out the duties of a graphic designer and what it takes to succeed in the role.
What is a graphic designer?
To understand a graphic design career or even what a graphic designer does, it’s important to understand the fundamentals, and answer the question, what is graphic design?
“Graphic design visually helps to sell a product or service,” says Tristan King, director of Voodoo Design, a creative studio based in Shropshire. For this purpose, graphic design is also sometimes known as communication design.
Because graphic design is a universal way to communicate, graphic designers are not restricted to where they can work. In fact, you’ll find graphic designers in almost any industry and working for any business that has a message to communicate.
With salaries starting at around £20,000 a year for junior graphic designers and rising to over £60,000 for creative directors, it can be a lucrative career choice for those with artistic talent and a creative temperament, who are able to communicate well.
Read on to learn from industry experts in the field of graphic design. We’ll explore the qualifications, skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful in a graphic design career.
What does a graphic designer do?
A graphic designer role is not just about using the latest software to create a piece of attractive design. It’s about communicating a deeper visual message to a specific audience.
Mandy Barker, founder of Sail Creative, a strategic branding and design agency, explains that graphic design has changed over the last 20 years. Although there are now many different directions that a graphic designer can take in their career, the fundamentals of the role remain the same. “A graphic designer is a communicator; they do communication design,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if the design is digital or illustrative, or whether it’s a branding or packaging project; it’s all about communication.”
Depending on seniority and specialism, a graphic designer job role can span many design projects. These can include developing a logo, designing a piece of corporate literature, getting involved in website design, or creating a new identity — often referred to as branding — to help a company to communicate better with its customers and employees.
“Graphic design can span packaging, identity, branding, and web design, but ultimately it’s about communication,” says Oli Smith, co-founder of Yorkshire-based branding and communications agency, Aye! “Graphic designers can make things look good, but the better designers are problem solvers. We’re here to question our clients; to find out what end result they really want from their design. We solve communications problems and help clients to reach the very best solution.”
“For example,” Smith continues: “We’ve been working with a law firm who specialises in divorce and weren’t winning enough of the right kind of customers. After working with them for a few months, we helped to position them as thought leaders through credible branding and design. This rebranding exercise has allowed them to increase their rates and completely transform the business to double in size within 18 months. We found a solution to their communication problem.”
Freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant works on anything from logo designs to full brand roll-outs. She explains that while some graphic designers will specialise in a particular design skill, others have a well-rounded skill set and can turn their hand to a variety of projects. She says: “As a freelancer, you can work on many different projects, often simultaneously.”
Skip below to assess the different types of graphic designer jobs you can do.
Graphic designer roles and responsibilities
Depending on the industry, type of position, and specialist skills, day-to-day graphic designer duties can vary. For example, as part of an in-house design team, a junior graphic designer might be involved in smaller projects, such as designing graphics for social media posts. Whereas a middleweight graphic designer working for a branding agency might be tasked with the full-scale design of a corporate brochure.
Core duties of a graphic designer could involve things like logo design, marketing literature design, supporting a web developer or web designer with elements of design and illustration, or working as part of a creative team on a large design project.
Voodoo Design director Tristan King explains how the primary task of the graphic designer is to “help get potential customers to the door.” Good design should attract new customers to a business and help them to decide to buy the products and services on offer.
He adds that a graphic designer is responsible for ensuring branding consistency and that the brand “communicates the business message to the customer in a memorable and recognisable way.”
“Graphic designers present the first impression,” King says. “Before anyone talks to a receptionist or walks through the door of a business, graphic design is the first thing a customer will see.”
Graphic designer responsibilities
Using industry software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator to create visual designs.
Understanding and interpreting client briefs.
Attending client meetings to discuss expectations and desired outcomes of design.
Presenting draft designs to clients for feedback.
Supporting clients and/or the business to understand the impact of graphic design.
Working with creative colleagues such as copywriters and social media experts.
Ensuring that design work is aligned with other methods of communication.
Working on a range of design pieces, from social media posts to packaging design and full-scale branding projects.
Solving problems for clients such as helping them to communicate with their customers more efficiently.
Understand the commercial value of graphic design.
The role of a graphic designer is exciting and varied, and it offers excellent opportunities for creative people to showcase their talents.“A good graphic designer should be able to help a client to understand the design and how it will allow a business to interact with its customers,” comments Josh Jackson, lead designer at Chester-based integrated creative and digital agency, eJIGSAW.
However, the graphic design profession is incredibly diverse, and designers should be prepared to hone their craft in a wide variety of practices, including digital design, packaging design, the design of commercial literature and website design.
Some designers can choose to specialise and might transition to more complex areas such as user experience (UX), typography, branding and identity, illustration design, or even graffiti and street art.
Phil Cookson, director at North-West creative recruitment specialists, Creative Resource, explains that the primary role of a graphic designer is “crafting beautiful pieces of design work for commercial advantage.”
Graphic designers should understand the commercial value of design. “I don’t think it’s necessary for graphic designers to come up with the ideas, but they must be able to bring someone else’s ideas to life and elicit an emotional response,” continues Cookson.
An emotional response compels the viewer to do something, such as call a number, book a ticket, click a button, donate money to charity, or fill out a form. Cookson adds that without commercial value, a piece of design has no use in the business sense and is “simply art.”
“Communication with clients, colleagues, and creative directors, and asking lots of questions about the brief are all key elements of the [graphic design] role,” says Sail Creative’s Mandy Barker. “Building relationships and getting out from behind the screen is especially important if you want to progress your [design] career.”
Why become a graphic designer?
If you’re a creative person who enjoys activities such as drawing, illustration or painting, you may be considering a career in the visual arts and are wondering if you should become a graphic designer.
Graphic designers can get involved in the entire design lifecycle. This means they’ll likely get stuck in right from the early stages of fleshing out a design brief. They’ll communicate ideas and talk through the expected outcomes of the design, and then they’ll work on the design and present the final draft.
“I loved art and design at school and did a final design project for my GCSEs,” explains freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant. “I realised then that I wanted to explore how graphic art could be applied to the real world. I went on to take a graphic design degree at university and settled on the traditional graphic design route; it’s like therapy for me. I got my first design job straight from uni, and I’ve never looked back.”
There are many benefits of being a graphic designer, including excellent opportunities to work with a broad range of clients. Many professional graphic designs speak of the satisfaction of creating something visual or building a brand identity that can be seen by thousands, if not millions of people.
Top notch graphic designers are often in high demand. The more experience you have and the further into your career you progress, the more opportunities open up for you. See graphic designer career paths.
There are plenty of opportunities for progression. Jump to what roles can I be promoted to for more information. And some senior graphic designers and creative directors even choose to teach their craft to art and design students at college or university, alongside running their own graphic design studios.
Josh Jackson, lead designer at eJIGSAW, says he always spent his school days “drawing and scribbling on things” and insists he never wanted to do an “office job.” He enjoys showing off his designs and seeing his clients get excited about how they represent their business.
What is the best part of being a graphic designer?
“The best part for me is helping a client to realise their ideas and create something that really supports the client’s business,” says freelancer Emily Merchant. “Getting positive feedback is really worth it for me.”
Voodoo Design director Tristan King explains how the best part of his job is “presenting something that you know is good design.” Seeing his design in-situ and knowing his work will be publicly viewed, gives an enormous sense of satisfaction.
“The most exciting part for me is that you never know what you’re going to be working on,” explains Oli Smith, co-founder of Aye! “I love bringing client ideas to life.”
Graphic designer salary
As with most creative professions, the graphic designer wage can be as varied as the role itself and will largely depend on whether you work in-house, for an agency, or as a freelancer.
The average graphic designer salary is around £29,000 a year. However, graphic designer salaries will fluctuate depending on where in the country you work.
Adam Fennelow, head of services for the Design Business Association (DBA), the collective voice for the design industry, explains: “we’d expect DBA members with between three and eight years of graphic design experience to earn around £25,000 to £30,000. Of course, it depends on the type of agency they work for, and where in the country they are. Larger agencies do tend to pay a premium for the best talent.”
According to the DBA Annual Survey Report, there’s a 24% premium on salaries for designers working with larger agencies in London.Fennelow advises: “Design agencies with a great culture, who really focus on nurturing their staff” tend to pay better salaries and will keep their staff for longer. And, businesses who hire designers in-house will have different concerns to an agency. Because in-house designers are typically working on the same project for more extended periods, companies need to pay more to attract the best staff.
Creative recruitment specialist Phil Cookson confirms that an in-house designer will typically be paid more and receive better corporate benefits than designers working with an agency. However, “there’s a trade-off,” he says. “Agency work can be much more exciting and fast-paced than in-house work.”
Where do graphic designers work?
Graphic designers can work almost anywhere in the UK. They’re typically employed across the creative industry and found in a graphic design studio or as part of an in-house creative team for larger businesses who need to retain a design skill. You’ll find them working for PR and marketing agencies, and advertising agencies, where they’re supporting creative colleagues.
“There are three ways in which you can work as a graphic designer,” says Voodoo Design founder Tristan King. “You can work as a freelancer, or for a graphic design agency (or a director of your own business), or if a company is big enough, then you can work with an in-house design team. The appeal to me of being self-employed is the huge variety of work that I see on a daily basis.”
“Location wise, within the agency world, it’s very London-centric,” says DBA head Adam Fennelow. However, evolving technologies are enabling both businesses and talent to work remotely and therefore “large clients who have previously chosen to only use London-based agencies are now widening their choice.”
“Entry level in-house graphic designers will typically have a lower level of skill and be tasked with things like newsletter layouts and social media graphics,” Fennelow adds. “However, larger businesses such as Waitrose or Diageo, for example, employ talented senior people with extensive communications and branding skills that also fall under the umbrella of graphic design.”
Fennelow adds that graphic designers will also crossover between an agency and an in-house role much more so now than ever before. Whereas, some years ago, a graphic designer would have chosen their desired route and very rarely made the switch.
Additionally, there are now lots of businesses building strong in-house commercial design teams rather than using external agencies. Some of the more technical design disciplines, such as user experience (UX), or service design are now being taken in-house. “Banks, in particular, are really bulking out their in-house design teams,” he says.
Graphic designer jobs
Because graphic design is such a broad and diverse field, there are many levels of seniority and specialisms, and those who work within it can be known by several job titles. Some of these can include:
Head of digital.
“Graphic design is quite an old term now,” explains DBA head of services, Adam Fennelow. “Design is evolving beyond just a logo or just a single piece of design. It’s now about strategy. It’s important for a designer to understand the business context and commercial imperatives, so design helps the business as a whole.” Below are the most common graphic design jobs, together with the responsibility and salary expectations of people in these roles.
Junior graphic designer
What does a junior designer do?
The role of a junior graphic designer can vary depending on whether you’re working for an agency or as an in-house designer for a business.If you’re working for an agency, “the smaller it is, the more responsibilities you’ll have,” says Mandy Barker, founder of Sail Creative. “Junior graphic designers who work with larger studios will have less client contact and would typically work on smaller projects.”Typical tasks of junior graphic design could include:
Project management of your own allocated projects.
Balancing deadlines at each stage of a design project.
A range of design for print, digital design, and research and development work.
Brand development for the studio or for the business you’re working with.
Working as part of a team that could include a design manager, middleweight designer or senior designer, project manager, account manager, copywriter, creative director and social media managers.
“Junior designers are generally at the starting point of their career,” says Becky Simms, managing director of Reflect Digital, a large creative studio in Kent. “Most junior designers have lots of ambition and are excellent at making things look pretty, but may lack the business experience to see their designs out in the real world. Our juniors help out with simpler artwork and would shadow a senior person for more meaty projects. They’d mostly work on things like social media and email campaign graphics.”
Junior graphic designer salary
According to the 2017 DBA Annual Survey Report, the average annual junior graphic designer salary is around £21,900 across the UK and £22,600 in London.
“A junior will probably start at a salary of around £18,000 to £24,000,” suggests Reflect Digital MD Simms.
However, Phil Cookson, who has 13 years experience recruiting in the creative profession, suggests that junior designers straight out of university who are looking for work in the North-West of the UK will start on a lower average salary of around £16,000. “Unfortunately this salary expectation hasn’t really changed in the last ten years,” he explains. “This is because there’s a lot of graphic designers entering the industry, so employers have lots of choice when it comes to junior talent.”
So, if employers can take their pick, how should a junior graphic designer compete for the best jobs?
“My advice would be to keep your portfolio relevant and commercial,” advises Cookson. “Get as much digital work in there as possible. Unfortunately, there are still some graphic design courses at university that don’t teach digital, so it’s critical to get this experience. Go out of your way during your education to engage with your local design community.”
“Start networking early and get feedback from industry professionals as soon as possible, right from your first year at university. Find events within the creative industry, and attend talks and seminars, because there’s often people at these events looking for talent.”
Middleweight graphic designer
What does a middleweight graphic designer do?
Once you have more than three years of graphic design experience, you enter a phase of your career known as a middleweight graphic designer.
Middleweights will “work on larger projects, and they are more client facing,” says Barker, founder of Sail Creative. “They’ll also take on more project management responsibilities with bigger projects and bigger fees.”
Reflect Digital chief Simms says that “middleweights work on simpler websites and create more detailed brochures. They’d also start to be introduced to branding work. Our designers are skilled in a lot of areas, but some middleweights will start to specialise at this stage in the career, for instance, in websites or in branding.”
Middleweight graphic designer responsibilities could include:
Working on a range of design projects, such as banner design, brochures, emails and websites.
Extensively using industry software, such as Adobe Creative Suite.
Working collaboratively with creative colleagues; senior designers, creative directors and copywriters.
Attending client meetings.
Discussing design briefs with clients and managing delivery expectations.
Acting as a mentor to junior designers.
Mid-weight graphic designer salary
“A middleweight graphic designer with three to four years of professional experience should expect to earn around £25,000 annually out of London and around £30,000 in London,” says creative recruitment specialist Cookson. “However, if you choose to specialise in a particular discipline, you can increase your salary quickly.”
According to the DBA 2017 Annual Survey Report, a mid-weight graphic designer salary, on average, is £29,500 across most of the UK and £30,750 in London.
Senior graphic designer
A senior graphic designer is often one of the most senior ‘middle-management’ positions in the creative team. The next step after this role is usually a leadership position, such as creative director, project director, art director or design director. You’re considered to be a senior graphic designer once you’ve had more than eight years of commercial design experience, either in-house, or with a design studio/agency.
Unlike their junior and middleweight design colleagues, a senior graphic designer “may not spend their day designing things,” advises award-winning design and marketing company eJIGSAW’s Josh Jackson. “They get involved in pitches, quote clients, do lots of internal admin, and looking after the team. They also spend time scheduling work and mentoring more junior staff.”
“Our senior [graphic] designers are the creative lead,” says Reflect Digital’s Simms. “Seniors should have strong business knowledge and understand what the client needs to achieve from the design project. They’ll also get involved in the design of big websites, thinking about the user experience, and take the lead on bigger branding projects.”
Senior graphic designer responsibilities could include:
Managing client accounts and ensuring project deadlines are met.
Liaising with existing clients and networking to bring in new business.
Leading and working alongside design and creative teams to deliver design work.
Mentoring and training junior team members.
Conceiving original and creative design concepts.
Strategising and figuring out the best way for design to achieve a desirable outcome.
Senior graphic designer salary
According to the DBA 2017 Annual Survey Report, the average senior graphic designer salary outside of London is around £40,000. This increases to around £44,000 within London.
Freelance graphic designer
What does a freelance graphic designer do?
Freelance graphic designers are self-employed and therefore not typically tied by a contract to either a design studio or a business. However, they can work for both on a project-by-project basis, and they’re paid by submitting an invoice for their work.
Freelance graphic designers are responsible for their own tax and National Insurance contributions and are not entitled to any benefits such as paid holiday, parental leave, or statutory sick pay (SSP).
However, freelancers enjoy an enormous sense of freedom. They can work for the clients they choose and, supported by the rise of technology, can work from anywhere they want. With a flexible schedule, many graphic designers choose to work on a freelance basis to fit their work around their lifestyle choices and family commitments.
Freelance graphic designer responsibilities can include:
Working across print and digital projects, depending on the needs of the client.
Understanding and interpreting client briefs.
Delivering design work on time and within a specified budget.
Acting as a client ‘sounding board’ and advising clients on the best possible outcomes of the design.
Extensively using industry standard software such as Adobe Creative Suite.
Working with other members of a freelance or in-house creative team.
Several freelancers build longer-term relationships with clients, which offers the benefit of regular work. You’ll also find freelancers that are invited to work from a client’s premises as a non-permanent, self-employed member of the creative team.
“Being freelance means that you’ll take on a bit of everything,” explains freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant. “My days consist of meeting and managing deadlines, answering emails, drafting client designs, managing client expectations, and taking care of my own finances, including invoices and tax. I make a lot of lists to keep everything under control.”
Tristan King, founder of Voodoo Design, comments: “As a freelancer, you can either work remotely or on the client’s site. Freelancers can work on a one-off project or as part of a company’s remote creative team with an ongoing commitment. All of my work is done remotely for a variety of clients.”
Freelance graphic designer salary
Because freelancers are self-employed, a freelance graphic designer salary is made up of an hourly rate, a day rate, or a rate per project. This means that freelancers can often earn much more than a permanently employed graphic designer if they have a regular flow of clients.
“A middleweight freelance graphic designer can earn around £200 per day, and a senior freelancer can earn around £300 per day,” explains creative recruitment specialist Cookson. “You can add an extra £50 to £100 per day for freelancers working in London.”
“However, the trade-off is that as a freelancer, you’ll never work 52 weeks a year, so if you’re thinking of going freelance, budget for working around 40 weeks a year,” advises Cookson.
Freelance graphic designer, Merchant, explains that “freelancers tend to charge an hourly rate of between £30 and £60, or a day rate of between £200 and £500 per day. In my experience, freelancers will typically charge less than a professional design agency, which makes them an attractive choice for smaller clients, but your rates will depend on your experience and how in demand you are.”
What roles can I be promoted to after being a graphic designer?
For junior graphic designers or students considering their first role in graphic design, it’s essential to gain as much industry experience as possible across many disciplines. This could include:
Corporate brochure design.
User experience (UX) design.
User interface (UI) design.
Design for smart devices.
Creative app development.
The more experience you can get early in your career, the better your career prospects will be. Once you’ve discovered your favourite discipline, and you’ve gained at least five years experience in graphic design, then you can work towards carving a niche as a specialist.
“I’d advise not to specialise too early in your career,” suggests recruitment director Phil Cookson. “Find out what you really enjoy working on before deciding which path to take.”
On the graphic design career path, there are also opportunities to move into leadership roles within the creative industry, such as creative director, art director, or design director positions. Once you’ve gained necessary experience, there are plenty of opportunities for promotion and progression. Jump below to graphic designer career progression.
“I get involved in UX and UI design, so the term ‘graphic designer’ is quite outdated for me,” says Josh Jackson, lead designer at eJIGSAW. “The word ‘designer’ is a better fit.”
Jackson suggests that “when applying for a role, be aware of where the industry is going and pitch your career choices accordingly. A graphic designer can no longer be just a graphic designer, they also need to have a lot of other skills, such as relationship management and leadership abilities.”
Neil Coleman, agency director at eJIGSAW, confirms that “the role of a print-based graphic designer is probably now defunct in our business. Our designers are very contemporary and representative of modern, flexible creatives with a wide range of design skills.”
Graphic designer career progression
The most common career path for a graphic designer to take is to start as a junior designer and then advance, with experience, to more senior roles.
“Most designers would start as a junior and learn their craft,” suggests Becky Simms, managing director of Reflect Digital. “This grounding will serve you well through your career. Then you’d move on to middleweight and senior roles. Promotion would depend on skills, the ability to work with clients, and how quickly you learn the business and relationship management side of design.”
On the traditional career path, it’s also possible to start as an apprentice or a graphic design intern.
“Interns should demand pay,” says Adam Fennelow, head of services for the DBA. “The DBA and our members support interns getting paid at least the National Minimum Wage.”
Fennelow suggests that from a junior role, you’d work up through designer, senior designer, executive senior, and creative director.
“The bigger the agency or the design team, the more levels there are,” he explains. “Typically, design agencies can be quite small, so it’s easy for designers to hit the ceiling, and therefore common for creatives to set up their own business. This does, however, create a culture of creative businesses being run by creatives who want to remain as designers. I’d advise any design agency to hire someone with business experience to take the lead on the commercial side of things.”
How to become a graphic designer?
If you’re considering a career in graphic design, getting started can be a daunting experience. Because graphic design is a competitive field, it’s important to stand out from the crowd.
Many design studios, agencies and businesses have their own graphic designer requirements. And although a degree isn’t necessary, most employers will look for candidates with a solid art or design education, an impressive portfolio and some previous experience in commercial design.
“Start to build your network while you’re at school, right from the age of 16,” suggests Gwendi Klisa, short courses tutor in graphic design and illustration at Central Saint Martins College in London. “Find an internship, even making coffee at an agency or studio is useful experience.”
“Get your portfolio together, target a college or university to study an art or design-related subject, keep going with internships, and study hard.”
Entry into the world of graphic design is not just for students and university graduates. There’s plenty of options for career changers and adults who want to explore graphic design as a second (or even a third!) career choice.
If you want to get into graphic design as an adult, “find a good graphic design course,” advises Klisa. “A communications background or related degree is useful but not essential. The most important thing is your design skill and your portfolio. You can also start a blog, network, become an authority in an area of design, boost your personal brand, and be prepared to start at the bottom. Or offer your services as a freelancer to your existing network, build a new network, and definitely have a great looking online portfolio.”
Freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant says: “I followed the school and uni route, but I do have friends in the industry that haven’t got a degree or any formal design education. Skill, ability and a great portfolio are more important than a formal design education.”
“My advice would be to take a degree,” suggests Simms, managing director of Reflect Digital. “Anyone can pick up Photoshop and ‘have a go’, but the reality of working on client projects is very different. For example, there’s so much psychology behind how users see design and use things like websites. Design has evolved beyond just putting pretty things on a page. These are things you’ll learn at uni and will give you the solid grounding you need for a successful career.”
What are the skills needed to be a graphic designer?
Graphic designers need a wide range of design skills, relationship management experience and commercial awareness. They also need to be able to handle both negative and positive feedback from clients and colleagues and respond accordingly.
“The main things our clients ask for is digital knowledge and an understanding of designing for the screen rather than print,” says creative recruitment expert Phil Cookson. “The more experience you have in digital design, the better.”
Graphic design skills are built at university or with previous relevant work experience. As a general guide, employers will look for:
Strong software skills, particularly, Adobe Creative Suite (PhotoShop, InDesign and Illustrator).
An understanding of the latest industry trends.
Communication skills, to manage relationships with clients and colleagues.
High level of attention to detail.
A creative outlook and the ability to design from ideas that emotionally connect with audiences.
Commercial awareness and general business knowledge. For example, how a business sells its products and communicates with its customers.
Flexibility, and the ability to adapt to different and changing design concepts.
“Graphic designers must be really organised and able to work autonomously, taking responsibility for their own work,” comments Mandy Barker, founder of Sail Creative. “They also must have a great client manner. Actually, although using design software is important, having client skills, enthusiasm and passion for the work, is crucial.”
What are the most in demand graphic design skills?
Freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant states: “The ability to communicate with people, managing client expectations and deadlines, and a genuine passion to do the work, are essential skills.”
Tristan King, founder of Voodoo Design, believes that designers who can draw well by hand are particularly in demand and will always do well in their careers. “Drawing by hand is a crucial skill for more unusual client requests,” he says. “For example, let’s say you’re working for a chilled haulage company who wants an image of a polar bear on roller skates; drawing it would be far better to satisfy the brief than trying to design it. You can of course always outsource this skill, but it adds to cost of the job and depletes your profits.”
An awareness of the “commercial context of design is crucial,” says Adam Fennelow, head of services for the DBA. “If you’re not doing design with a commercial end result in mind, it’s art.”
“Education doesn’t push the business side of graphic design enough,” says Barker of Sail Creative. “Also, junior designers won’t always fully appreciate how design works across multiple mediums, for example, how a logo works in both small and large formats across digital, print, and signage.”
What qualifications do I need to be a graphic designer?
It’s not unusual to find talented graphic designers building a very successful career without formal graphic designer qualifications. However, a “graphic design degree is the best route,” suggests Saint Martins college graphic design tutor Gwendi Klisa. “It also opens doors to opportunities within the education system, such as peer-to-peer networking and internships.”
Without a degree, there are other routes into the industry, such as graphic design apprenticeships, which could be a great solution for some, as they offer an education route coupled with real-world experience.
But Adam Fennelow, head of services for the DBA feels that a degree is still necessary. He says: “You’ll also need a great portfolio or creative CV to showcase your work. Your CV can open doors, but you’ll still need to be able to talk intelligently and confidently about design, and articulate what you’re trying to achieve with your work.”
However, Tristan King, founder of Voodoo Design, had a different approach to his career. “I was offered one of two university places from a competitive pool of 60 candidates,” he explains. “But, I was also offered a job at the same time, so I took the job. When I left the job two years later, the person that took over from me was the same person who’d been offered — and accepted — the other university place; they were just starting their career. So for me, practical experience pushed me further along than if I’d have chosen to go to university.”
“If you’re lacking in experience and need a more formal grounding, though, I can see how university education is important. I think the downside [of education] is that it sets unrealistic expectations. For example, one project at university can last six weeks, whereas in real life you can sometimes have less than 48 hours to complete a piece of work. Understanding realistic deadlines is important for anyone starting their career in graphic design.”
What are the qualities of a good graphic designer?
As with any profession, what makes someone good at their job is subjective. However, during the hiring process, besides the relevant skills and qualifications, recruiters are on the lookout for several other qualities of a graphic designer. These can include flexibility, passion (for design), creativity, and the ability to take sometimes less favourable feedback on board.
“Graphic designers should be able to listen and read between the lines of what people say,” says Reflect Digital’s Becky Simms. “They should constantly be questioning and have an inquisitive nature. This means understanding client feedback and what people actually want.”
“A good graphic designer works with speed, has great software skills, and isn’t too precious about their ideas,” states Oli Smith, co-founder of Aye! “Someone who understands how to immerse themselves into the client’s world, someone who always questions ‘why’ and digs deep into problems and challenges.”
“Great graphic designers know how to stay current,” says Adam Fennelow, head of services at the DBA. “We’re always encouraging people coming into the industry to try and understand why design exists, and look at the strategies and ideas behind the design concept. Then, their work becomes more than just a logo or a single piece of design, it becomes branding.”
“The danger is if people keep their skills just at the implementation stage – where they draw something and see what it looks on a poster or packaging — these skills will soon be replaced by automation. Those who understand the deeper meaning behind design will be great graphic designers and their work will never be automated.”
Personalities that suit graphic design jobs
Some of the most pioneering graphic designers in history, such as David Carson, Saul Bass, Jan Tschichold and Paul Rand were adventurous in their approach. The also had passion, drive, and were always seeking new inspiration. Many successful graphic designers in the commercial world have very similar personality traits.
“We’ve recently interviewed an eclectic bunch of people for a new role, with a huge range of personality types,” says Josh Jackson, lead designer at eJIGSAW. “Good graphic designer traits for us would be someone who’s comfortable in their own skin. People who are very authentic and not pretentious or unapproachable will do well here. There’s no room for egos.”
Neil Coleman, agency director of eJIGSAW, confirms: “Someone with the confidence in their own design without falling into arrogance, with a willingness to learn. And someone willing to keep up with technologies, trends and techniques, because that’s really important to us.”
How do I get graphic design work experience?
Practical, real-world experience is often an essential component when applying for a job as a graphic designer. Recruiters will look for someone with a varied portfolio of commercial design work as well as a rock-solid education.
Graphic designers usually build their careers with experience. To gain experience, there are several things you can do. For example, seek out graphic design apprenticeships or internships in your area, join business networking groups and approach graphic design agencies and studios with your CV.
When writing your application, always include a link to your digital portfolio and try to express your passion for the industry. It’s also important to try not to take a blanket approach. Tailor each approach to each agency or business with reasons why you want to work for them, specifically.
“Be persistent,” advises creative recruitment expert Phil Cookson. “Most design agencies work really long hours so may not answer queries straight away. You need to push yourself in front of people and be very comfortable with self-promotion.”
“If you’re entering the industry with no experience or qualifications try approaching somewhere like Shillington college. They offer a three-month intensive course designed for people with no experience. You can also enter lots of competitions which is a great way to boost your CV and portfolio.”
“If was starting again, I’d apply for more internships or apprenticeships than I did,” says freelance graphic designer Emily Merchant. “Also, find people in the industry that are doing well and ask questions. Never ever be afraid to ask questions.”
Graphic designer job description summary
Graphic design careers can be incredibly rewarding for those with a creative spirit and a commercial mind. If you’re considering a career as a graphic designer, here’s our top ten takeaways.
Graphic designers can work anywhere in the world, for design studios/agencies, directly for businesses, or on a freelance basis.
Graphic designers need excellent communication skills and an understanding of the business world, as well as superb design skills.
For creative people who like to see their work in print or on screen, graphic design is an excellent career choice.
Salaries for graphic designers can start at around £16,000 a year for juniors and can increase to more than £60,000 for experienced creative directors.
Freelance graphic designers can earn more than permanently employed staff, but they’re not entitled to any of the typical employment benefits.
You don’t need to have a degree to be a graphic designer, but you do need commercial experience and great portfolio.
You can start your graphic design career at any age, as long as you’re prepared to start at the bottom, or gain your own clients as a freelancer.
Some graphic designers choose to specialise in a design discipline such as website design, user experience (UX) or print. Whereas others can build a successful career as a generalist.
Graphic designers can enjoy excellent career prospects and will usually progress well with experience.
Flexibility to work on a number of projects and passion for design are essential for a successful graphic design career.