Graphic Design School and Career Guide

Get the information you need to get educated and start a career in graphic design.

Graphic Design Jobs

Graphic designers influence how we view the world using colors, illustrations, photos and fonts. Look at a book or magazine, go to a coffee shop, or take a drive. When you do, you’ll encounter graphic design. From company logos to road signs to product packaging, design is part of our everyday lives.

Graphic Designer Skills and Traits

These innate traits and skills contribute to a successful graphic design career.

You are … You should have …
Artistic Communication skills
Computer savvy Knowledge of trends
Creative Marketing skills
Detail oriented Problem-solving skills
Organized Technology skills
Visual Originality
What should you look for in a graphic design degree program?

Graphic design school will give you the opportunity to sharpen your skills and build your talent. You’ll learn both technique and technology that you’ll use throughout your career. Art school can also provide a safe environment to give and receive critiques that will improve your work and your ability to think critically about your own designs.

A graphic design degree can also go a long way toward helping you establish credibility in this highly competitive industry. The formal training you will receive in a graphic design degree program will assure both future clients and employers that you have what it takes to produce professional quality designs.

Your Degree Options

Bachelor’s Degrees in Graphic Design: There’s no doubt that a bachelor’s degree in graphic design will look good on your résumé. In addition to graphic design training, you’ll need to complete general studies requirements as part of a bachelor’s-level graphic design degree program. The extra time you spend in school can pay off in the long run. A well-rounded liberal arts background can make you a more attractive job candidate in any career field. It can also provide material for your design work.

Associate’s Degrees in Graphic Design: Associate’s programs in graphic design generally have fewer, if any, general studies requirements. This means that your education will focus more on your area of interest. Generally two years in length, an associate’s degree in graphic design can prepare you for entry-level positions at graphic design firms. It will also prepare you to continue your education in a bachelor’s program.

Graphic Design Certificates and Diplomas: Like associate’s programs, certificate and diploma programs in graphic design are shorter than bachelor’s programs and focus more intensely on graphic design. Certificate and diploma programs vary in length from one semester to two years. These vocational training programs can give you the right tools to start your career; however, you’ll need a strong graphic design portfolio to compete with job candidates with more education.

Online Graphic Design Degrees

You don’t have to rearrange your life to get an education anymore. Online graphic design programs offer the convenience of learning at home on your own schedule. While some online programs do require class participation at scheduled times, others allow you to learn completely on your own time.

If you’re not sure how to balance school with the rest of your life, an online graphic design degree may be an attractive option for you.

Graphic Design School Accreditation

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the primary accrediting body for graphic design schools. Their stamp of approval ensures that your education meets the necessary standards of quality.

While accreditation is a benefit, it may not be essential when choosing a graphic design school. Unlike other design fields, there are no licensing requirements for graphic designers—so choosing a non-accredited school won’t prevent you from starting your career. However, if you want to pursue a master’s degree in graphic design, getting your bachelor’s degree at an accredited school will ensure that your undergraduate credits transfer between schools.

See what you’ll learn in online school.

Is an Online Graphic Art Degree Right for Me?

Since you’ll spend much of your class time on computers anyway, the correspondence aspect of online programs can be as simple as clicking “send” instead of raising your hand. And graphic markup programs make getting peer feedback quick and easy whether it’s from across the room or across the country.

Here are some characteristics that will help you succeed if you want to get an online graphic art degree:

  • Be a self-starter: If you are deadline driven and can stick to a syllabus without being held accountable to consistent class attendance and teacher reminders, you’re on your way to online school success.
  • Get tech-savvy: The more tech-focused your specialty, the more naturally your online education will fit with it.
  • Stay busy: Online programs are perfect for busy folks who need to fit their studies into an already hectic schedule. Many programs are self-paced and some offer classes designed with working professionals in mind.
  • Quit your commute: If you want to enhance your career and increase your earning potential without having to relocate, enrolling in a well-known art degree program in graphic design online might be your answer.

Can I Take My Entire Degree Program Online?

You might wonder if a degree program for a career that is as hands-on as graphic design can be completed entirely online. The good news is yes. More and more colleges and universities are offering fully-online associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs—mainly because as graphic design as an industry moves more and more to website and interactive media, work is completed on computers and graphic tablets anyway, which make this ideal for first-hand online learning.

Courses You’ll Take

Your studies in graphic design school will likely be comprised of traditional art classes, specialized graphic design courses and a variety of technical training. Each school’s program is different, so if you are especially interested in one area of graphic design, you may want to check course lists or speak to school advisors before enrolling to make sure you will have the opportunity to explore your interests.

Some of the courses you’ll take in an online program are the same as you would in a classroom setting and should include the following:

  • 2-D and 3-D design
  • Art direction
  • Branding and identity
  • Building a portfolio
  • Color theory
  • Critical thinking
  • Design theory
  • Digital photography
  • Drawing
  • History of graphic design
  • Illustration
  • Layout
  • Life drawing
  • Motion graphics
  • Packaging
  • Print and editorial design
  • Publishing processes
  • Typography
  • Web design and applications

Software You’ll Use

In your graphic design courses, you will most likely be exposed to graphic design software. Here are a few common programs that you may use:

  • Adobe Illustrator®
  • Adobe InDesign®
  • Adobe PageMaker®
  • Adobe Photoshop®
  • Quark Xpress®

Your Own Online Art Studio

Your school may provide a MacBook Air or Pro or other computer system for you as well as give you the required graphic designer software so you can begin working immediately in the tools of the trade. You’ll network and collaborate with your classmates online, attend video conferences and presentations, have full access to your instructors, and listen to guest lecturers. Most online school programs provide technical support seven days a week, so you can continue to take classes on your schedule without worrying about outages or down time.

Here’s what you can expect to earn once you enter the graphic design field.

If you’re just starting to consider graphic design training, and you’re curious about how much you can actually make, the following table will give you a basic idea of what your graphic designer salary would be like in a variety of jobs:

Job Title Median Annual Salary*
Creative Director $118,322
Production Manager $84,596
Graphical User Interface Designer $74,310
Interface Designer $80,656
Web Designer $63,181
Design Director $154,679

Sources: Salary.com January 2014; Creative Director-Web; Production Manager; Graphical User Interface (GUI) Programmer II; Interface Designer-Web; Designer II-Web; Design Director.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Outlook for Graphic Designers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts a seven percent job growth for graphic designers through 2022. This is slower than the national average for all occupations, which rests at 11 percent for the same time period. More, the change will vary depending upon which industry you are employed within. For example, print publications, such as newspapers and magazines will be hit hardest, with a 16 percent decline in jobs through 2022. But graphic designers in computer systems and website design work will enjoy a 35 percent job growth rate due to increased dependence upon the Internet, mobile apps and tablet usage.

Five Things That Influence Your Salary

Since your salary relies on a variety of factors, accurately calculating what you’ll make as a graphic designer is tricky. Here are some of the biggest influences on your graphic designer salary:

  • Job Title – When you’re starting out in the business, titles such as “manager” may be out of reach, but it’s never to early to think about where you’d like to go in your career and make a plan to get there.
  • Geographic Location – If you work in a city, the odds are good that you’ll earn a larger salary than if you live in a small town because the cost of living is much greater. But your location may also affect the number and type of clients you will attract, which can also play a part in your earnings.
  • Education Level – If you plan to work for yourself, your degree level may not matter much. But education level can play a big part in making you more attractive to employers or putting you in line for a promotion.
  • Years of Experience – As you work in the field, you’ll gain experience and insight that will increase your skill and value to employers.
  • Where You Work – Will you be self-employed, work for a small business or work at a large design firm? Your choice will affect your graphic designer salary.
A graphic designer does many things in the course of a day’s work.

Graphic design is all around us. If you take a moment to notice design in the objects around you, you’ll see that someone put thought into making them both functional and appealing. A quick survey of almost any room, city block or town square will reveal several examples of graphic designers’ work.

Professionals in graphic design jobs influence how we perceive the world using colors, illustrations, photos and fonts.

Look at a book or magazine, go to a coffee shop, or take a drive. When you do, you’ll encounter graphic design. From company logos, to road signs, to product packaging, design is an integral part of modern life.

Common Graphic Designer Job Tasks

Your graphic design job description will likely include the following kinds of tasks:

  • Brainstorming and mocking up design ideas
  • Presenting ideas to clients and art director
  • Projecting budgets and schedules
  • Choosing photos, illustrations, colors, typography and layout
  • Creating illustrations, logos and other graphics for print and online publications
  • Using computer software to execute designs
  • Meeting with clients and adjusting designs to fit their needs or taste
  • Working with art directors, printers, programmers, developers or other technicians to complete the final product
  • Ensuring designs are error-free before final product is printed or published

Skills Needed

Artistic Sensibility – In the last few decades, computer software and technology have drastically changed the graphic design industry. Even so, there is no substitute for artistic sensibility. Knowledge about design elements, such as color and composition, is vital for graphic designers.

Technical Skill – A graphic design job requires the technical skills to use design software programs such as Photoshop or Quark Xpress. You may learn other specific software in graphic design school; however, a general interest in computers and an aptitude for learning new technology will be necessary.

Communication Ability – Sometimes known as visual communication, graphic design requires the ability to effectively present ideas—both verbally and visually. You’ll need to be able to sell your ideas to clients and work with them to achieve the end product they want.

Organization – Graphic designers need to be organized in order to meet deadlines and stay within a budget. General business skills will come in handy, since many graphic designers work on a freelance or contract basis.

Problem Solving Ability – Choosing just the right fonts, colors and lines to create a balanced composition, while simultaneously conveying meaning, is complicated. In order to succeed in a graphic design job, you’ll need to have strong problem solving skills and love a good challenge.

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