Graphic designer

 13 March 2013

Graphic designers control layouts, images and typography in order to get a message across. They create designs which are visually appealing and perform a specific function.

As well as understanding the client, the designer has to understand the audience. Image: University of the Creative Arts
As well as understanding the client, the designer has to understand the audience. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What does a graphic designer do?

Graphic design combines art and technology, using visual means to convey a message.

Graphic designers use images in different forms:

  • drawn
  • painted
  • computer-generated
  • photographed.

As well as images they use:

  • letterforms and typefaces (known as typography)
  • the white space around the images and lettering, which also forms part of the design.

The graphic designer works with the client to decide on the message. To do this they have to understand the product, which could include:

It is a competitive field to get into, and most graphic designers have a degree.

  • book covers
  • posters
  • maps and signs
  • magazines
  • exhibition materials
  • packaging
  • websites.

The designer then works out how to get that message across using the words and images and how they are laid out. They aim to make something which looks good and performs its function, which could be:

  • information
  • advertising
  • safety
  • branding.

As well as understanding the client, the designer has to understand the audience.

Depending on the brief, they may have to consider how to convey the same message across different formats. For example, a storefront logo would need to be translated to products on the shelf, shopping bags and a website.

Graphic designers may work:

  • for the design department of an organisation
  • for a design company or agency
  • freelance.

What is the work like?

They usually work in an open-plan studio along with other designers. Much of the work involves sitting in front of a computer screen.

There may be some travel to meet clients. In a smaller agency, you are more likely to work directly with clients. In a larger organisation client contact may be through account managers.

Although the work is mainly normal office hours, Monday to Friday, you may have to work longer hours close to deadlines.

How do I become a graphic designer?

It is essential to have an eye for design and an interest in the way things look. It would help also to be interested in how people react to messages and images.

You also need to be able to:

  • pay great attention to detail
  • communicate your ideas
  • come up with creative ideas, but also listen carefully to what the client is asking for
  • work to a brief, within the constraints of a budget and deadline
  • deal with your designs being rejected and be prepared to rework them, sometimes at short notice
  • work as part of a team or on your own, as required.

IT skills are essential. Employers may ask for experience of using software such as Adobe or Photoshop. You need to be interested in keeping up-to-date with IT.

Employers will usually expect you to have a portfolio of your work to show them at interviews.

Training and qualifications

Although there is no set entry route, you need to study Graphic Design. It is a competitive field to get into, and most graphic designers have a degree. This gives you the technical skills you will need and helps you build up a portfolio of your work.

There are Graphic Design degrees at many universities across the UK. Some courses have other, related titles, including:

  • Visual Communication
  • Graphic Communication
  • Multimedia Graphics.

It is important to look at the course content carefully to make sure it is the right course for you. The UCAS website lists all courses. D&Ad also has information about design courses.

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels or equivalent. Some design degree courses may also ask for a Foundation Diploma. This is a one-year course offered by many colleges and some universities.

You can prepare for a degree by studying Graphic Design at different levels. As well as GCSEs and A levels in Art and Design, you could take:

  • Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in Graphic Design
  • HNC or HND in graphic design.

There are also more general, Art and Design courses available. You need to see what’s on offer at colleges in your area.

There are apprenticeships in Graphic Design at Level 2 or 3. Employers will expect GCSEs, usually in English and Maths. They may want Art and Design or IT. Some may ask for one or more A levels.

How much can I earn?

As a trainee, you may start on the minimum or apprentice wage. A junior designer could start around £14,000 to £17,000 rising to £25,000 with experience. A senior designer could earn £30,000 to £45,000.

Freelance designers are paid an hourly or daily rate, which could be from £200 to £300 a day.


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