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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


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.


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-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.