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What is Graphic Design?
Graphic Design is the use of various styles and artistic elements to produce images, fonts and logos that capture the attention of consumers and create an easily recognizable identity for the event, production, product or person being advertised.
Graphic design combines various mediums and sensibilities and is used in a variety of fields, including television, magazines, journalism, web layout, book covers, catalogs, newspapers, product packaging, product labels, illustrations, clip-art, reports, apparel design, presentations, flyers, postcards, banners, brochures, logos and letterhead.
Top Graphic Design Degrees
There are a number of options to select from when considering a degree in graphic design. In fact, the options effectively double with the advent of online degrees in addition to the classroom-based counterpart. To help you efficiently sort through the degree programs that are best for you, we have created an overview of each type of degree along with an easy mechanism to connect with accredited colleges and universities. A list of the degrees in graphic design include:
Graphic Design Associate’s Degree Online
The associate degree program in graphic design is a 2-year program for students enrolled full-time. The programs are conferred as an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) depending on the curricular design of the program and the school’s accreditation parameters.
Classes are split between liberal arts education such as communications, philosophy, and sociology with core programs in graphic design. Core classes may include drawing, sculpting, painting, visual literacy, compute design, 3D design, book art, design in motion, design principles, digital photography, advertising, and communications.
Graphic Design Bachelor’s Degree Online
The bachelor’s degree, online or on-site, is a 4-year program conferred as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) as most schools. The program, much like the associate’s degree, is split between general education courses and core classes to help provide a holistic, well-rounded educational experience.
Degree programs will vary from school to school and likely differ within a school as many programs offer sub-disciplines within graphic design that can include 3D design, motion graphics, and graphic design. The core classes will go deeper and wider than the associate’s degree programs with advanced classes in areas of study such as: advertising, editorial design, package graphics, branding, information graphics, design for social change, motion graphics, website design, interactive design, storytelling, and computing for interactive experiences.
Graphic Design Master’s Degrees Online
The master’s degree track in graphic design is a 2-3 year program depending upon the course load, credit requirements, and time a student invests in their thesis project. A master’s degree in graphic design is conferred as a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA).
Classes will vary from college to college and will be a direct correlation to the area of study or concentration chosen within graphic design. Upper-level classes for graduate students in graphic design will often include: editorial design, writing & design, design technology, digital design, visual thinking, aesthetics, design decisions, branding, and rapid prototyping.
In addition to the core classes, student in most programs will be required to invest substantive time in an advisor-approved thesis project designed to extend the body of knowledge in the field and showcase learned skills and aptitude in graphic design.
Graphic Designer Requirements
A degree in graphic design prepares an individual with the skills necessary to become a graphic designer, including the essentials of art and design, the history of art, and the ability to communicate ideas visually. Though associate's degrees are available, most entry level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree to begin working.
A graphic design curriculum will cover multiple areas of study, and require students to become proficient with computers and the various programs used by the industry. Most graphic design programs require a student to have at least one year of general art education prior to admittance (this requirement can be fulfilled through high school courses).
Most programs take between 3 and 4 years to complete based on the curriculum outlined and whether or not the school is on the trimester system. Students are typically encouraged to partake in shows and seek employment or internship opportunities during their time in school, and many congregate together to bring various talents to a single project.
The goal of a graphic design degree is to expose students to a variety of styles and mediums, and train them to view such information and process it commercially, producing aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. Classes that may be offered in a graphic design programs:
- Studio Art
- Art History
- Computerized Design
- Principles of Design
Employment & Graphic Design Careers
Promotions typically require several years of experience, and Graphic designers must be creative and communicative, as dealing with clients is an important part of the work. Some graphic designers may take up teaching positions while continuing consulting work; others may open their own design firms. Most graphic designers will specialize in a particular area of design.
Courses in specific graphic design related programs, such as After Effects, Illustrator, Draw, and others may lead to certification that demonstrates proficiency with that software. As a graphic designer the more demonstrable skills one has, the better ones chances are of finding work.
Graphic design is not limited to two dimensional illustrations, and often requires the use of 3D and other non-traditional forms of design to be incorporated into the complete product. Students and designers both should consider programs that enhance one's knowledge of software and allows them to perform design functions on multiple levels in order to satisfy employer or customer needs.
Additionally, staying abreast of trends in design and technology will also be highly beneficial. The ability to identify and utilize new ideas from various mediums and incorporate them into designs is highly valued, and gives clients the feeling that the graphic designer is capable and creative, two very valuable traits. By looking through periodicals, visiting gallery shows, sifting through art books, and studying advertising, a graphic designer broadens his or her field of knowledge which in turn may allow for longevity in an otherwise highly competitive field.
Top Job Duties of a Graphic Designer
In a recent survey performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, a large number of graphic designers provided key insights into their work day. Instead of listing the hundreds of variations of job responsibilities, we have culled the list to a working size to easily review. The top 5 job duties of a graphic designer include:
- Developing compelling graphics and layouts for product illustrations, company logos, print media, interactive media, and websites
- Determining the overall size, composition, and arrangement of illustrative material & copy utilized to select exact style and size of content
- Utilizing a variety of software applications to generate new images, vectors, and design concepts
- Meeting with clients, peers, and upper management to discuss layout design
- Creating unique designs, concepts, and layouts as a result of customer requests, layout best practices, and aesthetic design
Graphic Designer Salary & Job Growth
Job growth for graphic design is expected to remain steady for the coming years, though there will be higher than average growth for web designers and animators. The sector of graphic design is slated to see an additional 65,800 jobs during the coming decade according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The average salary for a graphic designer is $46,740 per year with the top 10% averaging $82,020 and the bottom ten percent just under twenty-eight thousand dollars a year.
Top 5 Paying Careers for a Graphic Designer
If you are considering a career in graphic design, it is important to have a realistic baseline of the compensation and work after graduation. Students graduating with an undergraduate degree will tend to be paid below the median income average while graduate degree holders will likely be above the average. We have culled a list of the top 5 paying careers in graphic design to help you understand pay ranges in the industry.
1. Marketing Director
A marketing director makes $82,742 on average with the top 10% making $160,269 a year on average and the bottom ten percent making just over forty-one thousand dollars a year. Top skills that affect total compensation include product marketing, strategic planning, strategic marketing, marketing management, and product management. A steep increase in pay occurs for most marketing directors around year 5 netting a pay raise of 60% on average versus entry-level positions.
2. Account Manager
An account manager in the advertising space averages $77,049 a year on average. The top 10% account managers take home $107,196 a year on average while the bottom ten percent average just over fifty-thousand dollars in income. The top paying cities for an account manager include New York City and San Francisco with the more experienced managers making more than the average manager.
3. Graphic Design Manager
Average pay for a graphic design manager is $53,947 a year with the top managers exceeding $80,000 a year of total compensation. Top skills that affect employment stability and pay include mastery of various operating systems, QuarkXPress, desktop publishing software, Adobe In Design, project management, and Illustrator.
4. Graphic Designer
Median annual income $42,289 with the top 10% averaging $60,081 of total compensation and the bottom ten percent making just under twenty-eight thousand dollars a year on average. Variations in compensation are directly correlated to geographic location, work experience, organization type, and skills. The most in-demand skills of a graphic designer include: Adobe After Effects, Project Management, Adobe Acrobat, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Top paying cities for graphic designers are San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.
5. Web Designer
The mean average wage for a web designer is $46,539 with the top ten percent making approximately $70,000 a year and the bottom 10% averaging just under thirty-thousand dollars a year. Based on salary-based surveys from several hundred web designers, compensation increases markedly after ten years of experience in the field increasing by 32% over the ensuing 10 year period.
Top Careers in Graphic Design
For students analyzing the field of graphic design, it is critical to your success to being to understand the job titles and associated roles in the industry. As a means to help you understand jargon, job titles, and variations in the industry, we have assembled career paths for your review. A list of the top careers in graphic design include the following:
- User Interface Designer
- Architectural Drafter
- Multimedia Designer
- Film Editor
- Branding Designer
- Advertising Designer
- Logo Designer
- Photo Editor
- Product Designer
- Marketing Director
- Engineering Drafter
- Creative Art Director
- Layout Artist
- Photoshop Editor
- Package Designer
- Print Designer
- Web Designer
- UI/UX Graphic Designer
Top Employers of Graphic Designers
- Specialized Design Companies 29,040
- Advertising and Public Relations 22,290
- Printing Companies 18,680
- Media and Directory Publishers 16,610
- Computer Design Organizations 9,610
States with the Highest Employment of Graphic Designers
- California 29,750
- New York 21,440
- Florida 12,500
- Texas 12,110
- Illinois 9,630
Top Paying States for Graphic Designers
- District of Columbia $69,940
- New York $62,750
- California $59,210
- Maryland $58,590
- Massachusetts $58,210
Resources for Graphic Designers
Those interested in a career in graphic design may also wish to consider a career in illustration, fashion and apparel design, or interior design. For additional reference, national and regional associations may prove to be beneficial to your career. Top-tier associations include the American Association of Graphic Arts (AAGA), Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), Association of Registered Graphic Designers (ARGD), and the Society of Illustrators (SOI).