A Beginner’s Guide to This Creative Career
When you think of graphic design, do you think of artistic advertisements? Eye-grabbing graphics on websites? Stunningly arranged spreads in magazines? While these examples certainly fit under the graphic design definition, the term encompasses a lot: posters, infographics, book covers, product labels, logos, business cards, signs, website layouts, mobile apps, software interfaces—the list goes on.
So what is graphic design, exactly? Listing these graphic design examples is a good start, but it doesn’t paint the full picture. While covering the details and intricacies of the entire graphic design field might not be possible in one article, this high-level overview will help you better understand this creative career field.
If you’re at all interested in becoming a professional graphic designer, keep reading to learn the basics of the field.
First, what is graphic design?
According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), graphic design is defined as “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.” In other terms, graphic design communicates certain ideas or messages in a visual way. These visuals can be as simple as a business logo, or as complex as page layouts on a website.
“Graphic design takes graphical and textual elements and implements them into multiple types of media,” says designer Alexandros Clufetos, when asked to elaborate on the graphic design definition. “It helps the producer connect with the consumer. It conveys the message of the project, event, campaign or product.”
Graphic design can be used by companies to promote and sell products through advertising, by websites to convey complicated information in a digestible way through infographics, or by businesses to develop an identity through branding, among other things.
“Every day, we take many of the subtly artistic things around us for granted. But hidden in every magazine corner, exit sign or textbook lies a set of design ideas that influence our perceptions,” says Jacob Smith, founder of illustration studio ProductViz.
It’s also important to remember that although many graphic design projects have commercial purposes like advertisements and logos, it is also used in other contexts and graphic design work is often created purely as a means for artistic expression.
Graphic design basics
To better understand the meaning of graphic design, it is important to be aware of the elements and principles that make up design. Elements are used in conjunction or opposition with each other to create visually striking and impactful designs.
These graphic design elements include:
Graphic designers also adhere to the principles of design, which are essentially a set of guidelines that help a design achieve effective composition. These basic principles aid in creating balance and stability for the piece of work.
These graphic design principles include:
You’ve heard the old saying that “rules are meant to be broken,” which can certainly ring true in this case. But a good graphic designer must first understand these principles before making the conscious decision to break them.
Types of graphic design
As mentioned earlier, there is no single graphic design meaning. Graphic design is composed of many fields and specializations, ranging from print and web design to animation and motion graphics. Graphic design offers opportunities and options for individuals of almost any interest.
If you’d asked someone 30 years ago to define graphic design, their answer would have likely been focused on print-related examples like magazines, movie posters and advertisements. Now we’re living in the digital age, which has given birth to several new types of graphic design.
Some of the most notable modern-day graphic design examples stem from advancements in technology. Here’s a glimpse of some of these types of graphic design:
- Website design involves creating engaging and intuitive web pages for users. This includes overall layout, color scheme and navigation.
- User experience (UX) design is focused on ensuring a website or application is easy and satisfying to use. These designers emphasize value, usability, adoptability and desirability.
- Motion graphics design—or animation—brings visual elements to life through special effects, TV shows, video games and movies.
Common graphic design jobs
With technological advancements introducing new types of graphic design, there has also been an emergence of new graphic design jobs. This evolution has changed the entire landscape of careers in this field.
Demand for “traditional” graphic designers who work primarily for print publishers has fallen substantially, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Employment of graphic designers in computer systems design services is projected to grow by 24 percent through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 Much of this demand is spurred by business’ and organizations’ increased need for digital graphics and imagery as they aim to increase their digital presence.
So with that said, what are some common graphic design job titles? We analyzed more than 30,000 job postings calling for a graphic design degree over the past year.2 The data helped us determine the most common job titles:
- Graphic designer
- User experience (UX) designer
- Web designer
- Art director
- Creative director
As you can see, once armed with the proper knowledge and training, there are several graphic design job options out there. You have the ability to cater your career to your personal skills and interests.
Popular graphic design tools
Now that you know what type of jobs and specializations are out there, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the graphic design tools that help get the job done. One of the most basic, and least expensive, tools designers use is a sketchbook. Graphic designers will often sketch out ideas or rough drafts on paper before turning to a computer to complete the process.
That being said, computers and design software are essentials in today’s digital climate, even if you are designing for print. The type of computer you need is based on preference, but when it comes to software, Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are mainstays in the graphic design world. If you are just beginning and don’t want to commit to the high price tag Adobe products often carry, similar free open-source software such as GIMP can help you begin to master the basics.
Lastly, ideas and inspiration are what a graphic designer needs most. “You need to have a solid concept serving as the foundation of your design and communication,” explains Chad Birenbaum, co-founder of Duckpin Design. “This concept and idea needs to work on paper first and then the computer should be used as a tool to bring the concept to life.”
Graphic designers gain inspiration from the world around them, so if you are worried you aren’t creative enough, go outside, bounce ideas off your peers or seek ideas from the internet. There plenty of inspiring graphic design blogs that can help get your creative juices flowing.
Create your future in graphic design
What is graphic design, exactly? As you’ve just learned, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition. There are countless ways to use graphic design to solve business problems or evoke inspiration. It’s up to you to determine what graphic design means to you and your future career.
Should I Be a Graphic Designer? 6 Questions to Help You Find Your Answer
Whether it’s the collection of pamphlets you browse through while waiting for your dentist appointment, a fascinating graphic that attracts your attention while scrolling through your social media newsfeed or that billboard promoting the new restaurant in town, you are constantly surrounded by visuals designed to grab your attention and communicate a message that sticks in your mind.
Perhaps you often find yourself evaluating those designs—wondering if a different color combination would have been more appealing or an alternative layout could have better highlighted the most important information. Your innate creativity and eye for detail may have you thinking, “Should I be a graphic designer?”
These natural characteristics could make you a perfect fit for this field. But there are a few more qualities that great graphic designers share. Keep reading to find out if you have the makings of a prolific designer.
Should you become a graphic designer? 6 Questions to ask yourself
When considering something as important as pursuing a career, a little introspection goes a long way. Take the time to consider the following questions.
1. Am I versatile in fiverr graphic design?
Graphic designers are often tasked with juggling many different projects at once. This is especially the case if you choose to work in an agency setting, representing a handful of different clients or brands. Even in-house designers often find themselves working on all sorts of diverse projects—from website banners and social media images to sales sheets and print catalogs.
For those who choose the freelance-designer route, this list of responsibilities goes above and beyond design work. You’ll also need to manage your marketing, accounting, client relations and more. Regardless of which graphic design work environment you end up in, being adaptable and able to multi-task is essential.
2. Do I embrace change?
The world of graphic design is constantly evolving.
New techniques and technologies are introduced every year, which is why a commitment to lifelong learning is key to building a lasting design career.
The exponentially growing and transforming world of technology has an enormous impact on the graphic design field. Are you excited to learn about the latest features in design software? Will you make time to learn about a new technique that will make managing your workload more efficient? If you tend to resist change, you might want to consider a different career path.
3. Am I patient?
Much of a graphic designer’s work comes at the direction of a client or other internal stakeholders. There will rarely be a project where you’re given free creative reign and not encounter any requests for revisions along the way. You can expect to spend time dealing with hard-to-interpret feedback and clients whose priorities may shift mid-project.
While there are ways to maintain positive communication between you and your clients, you will still need to be patient as a designer.
Every client and project is different, and they all can end up requiring multiple revisions and changes before everyone is satisfied.
4. Am I a team player?
It’s true graphic designers spend a good amount of their time working solo as they create new materials, but production time is only a portion of the job. The rest of their work relies heavily on collaboration. It’s import to be able to negotiate ideas and concepts with a client as well as with your own team members.
At any given point in your career, you could find yourself collaborating with various developers, working with another designer on a project or leading a group of fellow designers.
This means you’ll need to balance the desires of your clients and coworkers while asserting your own professional opinion on how a project would be most visually appealing. This can be a challenge considering graphic design is a subjective field. You’ll need a bit of diplomatic tact and a willingness to listen, even if you disagree.
5. Can I handle a little criticism?
Speaking of subjectivity, it’s inevitable you’ll eventually come across an opinion that differs from yours.
As a graphic designer, it’s imperative that you don’t take feedback personally. This can be easier said than done—especially if you’ve poured your heart into a project. But in the end, you ultimately need to respect the client’s wishes and work to reach a compromise.
As a graphic designer, your ideas and designs will always be out there for others to see—and with that comes criticism. This can be both good and bad. Thoughtful, constructive criticism can lead to professional growth if you’re willing to accept it. The key is to keep an open mind and take criticism in stride.