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.
Present and Future
Graphic design has been around since shopkeepers started hanging signs to advertise
their wares. In the 1700s, artisans were approached by merchants eager to make their goods
and services recognizable to a largely illiterate population.
Graphic design will become even more significant as computer technology becomes
increasingly available and as more companies realize that a definitive, distinctive logo and
product design can make an enormous difference in product sales. Job opportunities should
increase during the next few years with even more openings seasonally for such projects as
holiday window displays and specialty sales events. Currently, more than a third of all graphic
designers are self-employed. This figure is expected to increase in the coming years.
Quality of Life
PRESENT AND FUTURE
Unproven graphic designers negotiate a difficult road as they try to assemble portfolios,
bid competitively for small jobs, and build their reputations. Those designers
with good connections have an easier time getting a foot in the door, but unfamiliarity
with standard working conditions and standard practices still may make the beginning
rocky. The hours can be long and unrewarding; be prepared to withstand significant rejection.
Forty percent of all graphic designers leave the profession in the first two years.
FIVE YEARS OUT
The field evens out at the five-year mark; only individuals with proven records, solid
connections, and strong references survive. Around a third of those designers who
began in this career stay in it to this point, and around 10 percent remain independent
freelance graphic designers. The majority of graphic designers become in-house consultants,
designers, and producers. For the most part, designers are satisfied with their work,
although the hours are long and salaries are average. Those who have shown good judgment
sometimes choose other graphic designers to produce out-of-house work or recommend
other designers for hire.
TEN YEARS OUT
Ten-year veterans have established sound (and profitable) reputations; their designs
remain fresh, and they should be able to find a number of fairly lucrative in-house
graphic design positions. Many of them spend more time supervising design
departments or “stables” of newer, less expensive designers. People who’ve started their own
businesses begin to reap significant profits if their ventures are successful.