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How Do I Become a Graphic Designer?

Graphic designers come from all walks of life, but they generally have three traits in common:

  • They are ‘lookers’—they focus in on visual stimuli, such as colors and textures;
  • They are ‘makers’—they reinvent things from the ground up, using their minds and bodies to put a new twist on an old idea; and
  • They are curiosity-driven—they want to know how things work, why they work, and if they can be made to work better.

If you are a curious, inventive, visually-oriented person, an education based around graphic design may be suitable for you.

What Skills Should Graphic Designers Have?

People who are drawn to artistic expression and would like to make their living in an artistic field are often attracted to graphic design as a career path. But there’s more to graphic design than just being a good artist; you have to be able to fit those skills to a certain work environment. Some skills that designers need include:

  • Designers must be able to visualize how forms are put together to convey meaning to others;
  • Designers must be familiar with various artistic tools and techniques;
  • Designers must be problem-solvers;
  • Designers must be willing to take and incorporate feedback and criticism;
  • Designers must be familiar with the rudiments of design theory, as well as the history of art in the places they plan to work.
  • Designers have to be team players and good communicators, since they will be required to work on projects with writers, marketers, executives, clients and others.

What Kind of Graphic Design Education Is Required?

Colleges and universities offer a number of different design programs, any of which can open up prospects for a job as a graphic designer.

  • A four-year college or university will normally offer graphic design as a concentration in a fine arts degree, or as a separate major altogether in the College of Fine Arts;
  • A community college will sometimes offer design electives in a program leading to an Associate’s Degree; the credits can then be transferred to a four-year college or an art school;
  • A school of design (sometimes called an art school) will offer an intensive design program, leading to a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA).

Companies will generally list which of these qualifications they’re looking for in a placement ad.

While graphic design degrees are not always required in order to work as a graphic designer, there are many benefits to having one. A student will get a broader base of skills in a predetermined curriculum than he or she would get studying alone. They will also have the opportunity of learning from experts in the field, and the connections that come from being part of an art department.

Do Graphic Designers Have to Be Certified?

No. While design certification programs are available, and often encouraged by professional design organizations, one does not need certification to bill oneself as a graphic designer. However, since a great deal of graphic design is done on the computer, it’s a very good idea for a designer to be certified in one or more computer design programs. If a designer has been at his or her craft for a long time, they may have a portfolio of completed projects that they can show to a potential client or employer, but in many cases, employers feel better knowing that their prospective employees have achieved a level of competence that a certification represents.

If a designer is just starting out in the business, it’s a good idea to get any certifications he or she has a chance to get. While they aren’t strictly required in order to obtain employment, they give a less experienced designer another selling point on his or her graphic design resume.

Who Hires Graphic Designers?

Graphic designers are needed in several areas. These include:

  • Web design
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Advertising
  • Retail
  • Public relations
  • Theaters
  • Museums
  • Colleges, universities, and art schools

Any business that needs to tie together words and ideas will need graphic designers. The work of graphic designers will often be the first thing that prospective customers see, so any company that needs branding or needs their ideas presented in a specific way will need a designer to come up with and implement that look.

When looking for a job in graphic design, checking the following sources:

  • School placement office
  • Trade magazines
  • Design annuals
  • Billboards on graphic design organization websites

Graphic design also lends itself to freelancing—working for yourself and taking on work project by project. There’s more and more promise in the freelancing approach to graphic design, since employers can get an equal amount of work from the designer without having to pay taxes or benefits.