Interested in graphic design as a career? This modern art form is more than meets the eye, and for successful designers, is a lucrative and rewarding industry. If you’d like to get started in this ﬁeld, read on for answers to your top four questions about graphic design.
What Is a Graphic Designer?
A graphic designer combines text, images, colors, and other visual elements in a layout or format that’s meant to produce a print or digital product. Although some graphic designers start with hand-rendered designs, the bulk of the work is done on a computer using specialized programs to design and print the completed product.
Let’s take a deep dive into each aspect of a graphic designer’s work:
Typography entails choosing typefaces and font styles, then combining them in a design. Typography includes the headings, body, calls-to-action, pull quotes, and other textual elements of a product.
Photo Manipulation includes cropping, adding ﬁlters to, adjusting the saturation of, or otherwise changing photos to suit the design in which they’re being included.
Document Design involves designing borders, image grids, text blocks, and other sections of the page, then formatting them properly to be printed or delivered digitally.
Graphic designers are not the same role as illustrators, although some people can do both. For example, some creators can straddle the line between illustration (e.g. sketching out a logo) and graphic design (e.g. creating a polished digital version of the logo).
What Does It Take to Become a Graphic Designer?
As you can see, graphic designers need to have a working knowledge of all aspects of design, from color theory to type handling to photo selection and editing. A strong sense of visual storytelling and an eye for detail are both important traits for a graphic designer.
Typically, graphic designers attend specialized schools or academic programs to learn the principles, theory, and technologies needed to become a professional graphic designer. However, many people are self-taught, thanks to the wide availability of online tutorials and other resources.
Graphic design programs are also now more affordable, which helps make this art form accessible to more people. One of the most important characteristics of a graphic designer is their ability to work with clients. It’s crucial that you’re able to take a creative brief and design a product that suits the client’s needs.
Sometimes, that means that you’ll need to work with their typefaces, colors, or assets rather than choosing your own. You’ll also need to make your design appropriate to the look and feel of your client’s brand. Most designers have a preferred style that potential clients can take into consideration when hiring.
When assembling your portfolio, show your versatility, but also that you have an eye for style and aren’t just producing Canva designs.
How Do I Decide My Specialty as a Graphic Designer?
Many graphic designers focus on creating certain types of deliverables, such as brochures, e-books, posters, or website designs, to name a few. Establishing your specialty can help you better market your skills and develop a good reputation for your work.
Here are some specialties to consider:
If you have a background as an illustrator or sketch artist, specializing in logos, album or book cover art, or other artistic designs might be a good choice.
If you’re more interested in typography and document layout, you could specialize in magazine design, e-books, or books.
If you’d prefer a combination of these elements, posters, and ﬂyers are good options to specialize in. If you want to do it all, try specializing in an industry niche rather than trying to cast too wide a net. For example, if you’re able to do logos, brochures, and websites, market yourself to a speciﬁc type of business that could use all of these.
Think about something that your preferred style and aesthetic would suit. A designer who has a whimsical or cartoonish style might do well catering to afterschool programs, entertainment companies, or other designers, while a more formal and elegant style lends itself well to law ﬁrms and universities.
What Tools Do I Need to Be a Graphic Designer?
Even if you don’t go to a fancy graphic design school, you should invest in quality software and equipment. These will raise the professionalism of your work and make you more appealing to clients. Here are some common tools:
Adobe Creative Cloud, formerly the Adobe Creative Suite, includes a range of programs that you’ll need, including Illustrator (for digital illustration), InDesign (for document design), Photoshop (for photo manipulation), and various other useful tools. Adobe also offers a stock image library, fonts, and other assets you can use in your designs.
A tablet, such as the iPad Pro or Wacom One, is very useful for logo designers and other graphic designers who incorporate illustration into their work. A tablet allows you to use a stylus to digitally create designs, then instantly upload them into your preferred graphic design program.
A stock library subscription, such as through Shutterstock, gives you high-quality vectors, photos, and other assets that you can use in your designs. Free clip art or stock photos often look cheap and may not even be high-res enough to use in your design. Play it safe and invest in a stock subscription. While programs such as Canva are convenient and easy, the templates are usually fairly generic, and you’re limited in what you can customize and manipulate.
Professional graphic designers might ﬁnd Canva useful for its library of design assets and fonts, but they should still apply their training and expertise to create custom designs rather than relying upon the native templates.
We’ve gone over what a graphic designer does and how they create their works. The key to success as a graphic designer is to practice and reﬁne your skills, then carve out your place in the market. Whether that’s by offering a unique style or catering to a speciﬁc type of client, consistency is key. Invest in the professional tools you need and regularly study other designers’ work to continue learning and improving. Good luck!