Why Graphic Design Is a Good Career Choice: Salaries, Requirements, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Graphic design can be a rewarding career with a variety of tasks, salary, and job opportunities. This guide outlines why graphic design is a good career choice, determine whether this path is right for you.

[Featured Image] A graphic designer is working on a marketing campaign for a new product.

Graphic designers are visual storytellers who turn ideas into original concepts using computer software or hand illustration. A career in graphic design consists of many projects that require different art skills and techniques, depending on the role. Whether your passion is storytelling or graphic design, learn more about this career and whether it’s the right one for you. 

What is graphic design?

Graphic design uses various software or freehand art to create visual content to communicate messages. A graphic designer aims to influence consumer emotion using different artistic elements and forms like print and digital art. 

Graphic design lets companies connect with audiences by visually promoting their products and services. A graphic designer’s work focuses on conveying a visual message or developing brand identity.

Read more: Graphic Artist vs. Graphic Designer: Understanding the Difference

What does a career in graphic design look like? 

A graphic design career involves working with art and technology to communicate ideas through various design elements. As a graphic designer. you’ll develop the overall layout and production design for advertisements, brochures, posters, and magazines. When you begin a design, you’ll typically start with rough illustrations by hand or using a computer program. 

Many designers create a process book for clients to show a design project’s process from start to finish. The process book can also include a mood board that allows the client to select colors, patterns, textures, typography, and other design elements. Process books help graphic designers establish their approach and techniques later applied to their design strategy in the final product.

As a graphic designer, your job duties might also include:

  • Meeting with clients to discuss projects and present ideas

  • Creating work with software programs, such as Photoshop and Illustrator

  • Revising designs to meet client specifications

  • Testing the final product to ensure it meets graphic specifications 

What do designers typically work on?

As a graphic designer, you might specialize in one type of design or a variety of projects. Some projects you might work on include:

  • Advertising 

  • Marketing 

  • Branding

  • Logos 

  • Packaging 

Read more: What Is Content Marketing?

Reasons to become a graphic designer

If your goal is to work in a creative field, the graphic design field offers opportunities to apply your artistic talents as a remote employee, in an office setting, or as a freelancer. As a graphic designer, you can share your talent and passion for creativity. 

You’ll typically work on various projects to meet a range of client needs. Working with clients in different industries helps you remain inspired and broaden your creative horizons. If you prefer to be your own boss, you can be self-employed and work as a freelancer. Being a freelance graphic designer can help you achieve more creative freedom and enjoy the convenience of working when and where you want. 

When pursuing a graphic design career, you can specialize in your preferred creative field. Whether you love working with typography, illustration, or web design, you’ll find opportunities to match your creative goals.

Read more: 7 Entry-Level Graphic Design Jobs + How to Land Yours

Graphic designers typically work with still imagery. Some related jobs require similar skills, such as proficiency with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator programs. Here are a few examples of related roles. *All salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of January 2023

Animator

Average annual base salary (US): $54,261

Graphic designers create static art, and animators use moving elements. Animators bring objects or characters to life using special effects, animations, and visual images. In this role, you might work in 2-D or 3-D design, character animation, or image editors. You’ll create frames and storyboards as an animator and work out content movement. 

Art director

Average annual base salary (US): $66,122

As an art director, you’d be responsible for image aesthetics typically in newspapers, magazines, product packaging, and cinematography production. Like a graphic designer, you’ll create a design, but you’ll also direct others to develop artwork and layouts. 

Design educator

Average annual base salary (US): $50,547

Graphic design educators are needed in secondary and higher education degree programs. Your teaching would fall under the technical or vocational education umbrella in this role. In this role, you’ll present lectures, develop a curriculum, advise students, and more.   

User experience (UX) designer

Average annual base salary (US): $81,356

The UX designer works to make products and services more user-friendly and accessible. You will work with digital designs for websites and apps as a UX designer. You’d work with static and animated imagery to create a seamless user experience. 

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Google UX Design

This is your path to a career in UX design. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than 6 months. No degree or experience required.

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Read more: What Does a UX Designer Do?

Production artist

Average annual base salary (US): $43,114

A production artist is a conceptual designer. In this role, you’d ensure a design works for the intended format, such as an Instagram post or billboard. This role is typically less involved in design brainstorming and is more focused on executing ideas. 

Book designer

Average annual base salary (US): $51,621

A book designer works to create the entire appearance of a book. As a book designer, you’d typically design covers, fonts, layouts, and exterior designs. You might also select the paper type and other features to make the book visually appealing.

Read more: Graphic Design Jobs: 2023 Guide

Salary and job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a graphic designer’s median annual salary was $50,710 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,260 [1].

The BLS projects the graphic designer field will grow 3 percent from 2021 to 2031 with an average of 23,900 openings. Many openings will be from workers leaving for different occupations or exiting the labor force [2].

Do I need a degree to be a graphic designer?

Many employers seeking graphic designers desire a degree in graphic design or a related field paired with a strong portfolio. According to Zippia, 68 percent of graphic designers have a bachelor’s degree, and 23 percent have an associate.[3] However, a degree isn’t mandatory. Some graphic designers at large companies only have a high school diploma or GED, but they’ve gained the technical skills they need to be successful.

Degrees for graphic designers

According to the BLS, a graphic designer usually has a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a similar study area. Other educational options are available such as the following: 

Associate of Arts in Graphic Design

If you opt to study for an associate degree in graphic design, expect to complete it in two years. You’ll learn and use software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. You can use your class projects to build a portfolio of your creative work.

Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design

Pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design typically takes four years. You’ll start your college career with general education coursework and art courses, such as art history. The career-focused coursework in the bachelor’s degree program will help you build your portfolio.

Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design

Many colleges and universities offer a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, and some offer a visual communication degree focusing on graphic design, UX design, and motion design. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a related field to apply for a fine arts master’s program. 

Read more: Your Guide to Graphic Design Degrees

Certifications for graphic designer

Certifications are a great way to enhance your resume and show that you’ll willing to learn about new topics. Certification programs are available for graphic design in specialized fields, such as Adobe Certified Expert, Autodesk #DS Max Certified, and Adobe Certified Instructor.

Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)

You can take exams for Adobe Certified Expert certifications in Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Flash, and Dreamweaver. There is a fee for each exam, and practice tests are available.

Adobe Certified Professional

The latest Adobe Certified Professional certification demonstrates knowledge of an Adobe Creative Cloud software program. You must have at least 150 hours of instruction and hands-on use of the application to take the exam. You can take the proctored exams in person or online.

Autodesk 3DS Max Certified

This certification demonstrates knowledge of using the Autodesk 3DS Max, a professional 3D computer graphics program used in animation, games, and imaging.

Adobe Certified Instructor (ACI)

To be eligible for the Adobe Certified Instructor certification, you must pass an exam and have teaching credentials or three or more years of employment in education. You may want to consider this if you plan to move into graphic design instruction.  

Is a career in graphic design worth it?

A graphic design career can be fulfilling if you’re passionate about art, being creative, and working with technology and communication. You can explore more about what graphic design entails and the various degree and certificate offerings on Coursera. 

The Graphic Design Specialization from CalArts on Coursera will help you learn the fundamental graphic design skills you need to launch your career. The course materials are available online, and you can complete the work at your own pace. 

Although you won’t need prior graphic design experience for this program, it's helpful to have some knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite programs. 

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Graphic Design

Make Compelling Design. Learn and apply the principles of graphic design towards a comprehensive branding project.

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Ready to take the next step in your career?   

If you’re interested in a career in graphic design, consider learning more with introductory courses such as Fundamentals of Graphic Design offered by Calarts or Graphic Design by the University of Colorado Boulder on Coursera. These courses are a great way to learn about design techniques and principles. 

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Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Graphic Design is all around us! Words and pictures—the building blocks of graphic design—are the elements that carry the majority of the content in both ...

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Graphic Design

Welcome to Graphic Design, the second course in the Effective Communications Specialization. Over 70 different companies have provided this specialization ...

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Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Graphic Designers: Occupational Outlook Handbook, www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm#tab-5.” Accessed January 9, 2023.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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