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Career: Graphic Designer

A Day in the life of a Graphic Designer

Graphic designers generate the visual presentation and design of goods, including websites, detergent boxes, album covers, and dog food cans. Their work is usually done on a project basis. Designers must be able to work under extreme time constraints and very defined financial and design limits to produce quality material. A graphic designer must be able to synthesize feedback from a number of different sources into a distinctive image; use research prepared by a marketing department and cost specifications determined by a budgeting department; and produce a variety of sketches and models that demonstrate different approaches to the product. This takes a person who can listen to comments and has a good eye for aesthetic design, a flair for color, and a solid understanding of the needs of the corporate world. “Graphic design isn’t one job. It’s 20,” wrote one overworked designer. “Sales[person] skills are very important if you want to see your designs accepted,” wrote another. Nearly all respondents listed communication skills as either second or third in importance for success in this profession. Over time, choosing a specialty is the name of the game, either in website design, product or packaging design, material use, or object arrangement. When projects are under way, graphic designers can expect to work long hours brainstorming and meeting with executives to discuss ideas. The job is highly visible; successes and failures alike are recognized and are put on display. Individuals who are insecure about their skills or their ideas have a hard time accepting the amount of risk and rejection this career entails. A successful graphic designer has an enviable life, choosing clients and earning significant amounts of money. However, be warned: An artist’s style may be very hot one season and turn into a parody the next. People who are unwilling or unable to change could find promising careers declining. Of the nearly 25,000 people who try to enter the field of graphic design each year, only about 60 percent last the first two years, and about 30 percent remain in the field at five years.

Paying Your Dues

The majority of graphic designers have a four-year degree, usually in product design, art, or art history. Graphic designers must have talent and an understanding of the business world, including issues of finance and production, and should be familiar with computer software such as InDesign, Quark XPress, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and other painting and graphic design tools. Graphic designers must be able to work in a variety of media and meet deadlines, sizing limits, and financial restrictions, especially those designers who wish to work as freelance graphic designers rather than in-house salaried designers. Basic pre-professional coursework should include design, drawing, computer artwork, and specific knowledge (for example, anatomy for medical graphics designers) relating to any area of specialization. Professionals must assemble a working portfolio to approach companies for work of any scale. For individuals who wish to pursue further study, more than 100 schools offer accredited graphic design programs, according to the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, and each addresses issues of the working life of the graphic designer along with issues of design.

Associated Careers

Many artists turn to graphic design to make a living during their lean years and then return to art. A number of them become gallery owners and patrons and use the contacts they made as designers to help out new talent in need of remunerative work. The significant number of graphic artists who leave do so because of the scrambling lifestyle: the need to pursue work constantly and the requirement to act as a salesperson for their ideas. Others take inhouse positions as design consultants and as magazine layout editors.

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