A graphic designer is a person who specializes in creating and editing visual messages for businesses and other clients, usually for the purposes of making the company or individual better known and increasing sales. This work is very collaborative, and people with this job often team up with others who can contribute to the finished design, such as copywriters or photographers. They usually rely a great deal on modern technology, completing projects with computers and related equipment. Most are very creative, well-organized individuals who are excellent communicators, and who have at least a bachelor's degree.
The main duty of a graphic designer is to come up with a visual way to represent an idea or set of concepts. To do this, they first meet with clients to figure out the details of the project and what the clients want to convey. Then they make some rough sketches by hand or get an initial image using computer programs. Adjusting major elements such as font size or overall layout is part of this process. Over time, they consult with their clients to fine-tune the design.
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It's often necessary for a graphic designer to present his drawings or computer-generated images formally to clients, which sometimes involves speaking in front of entire committees. They might also act as advisers for their clients, providing market information that will help them reach consumers more effectively. Many of these professionals spend a great deal of time proofing their own work, and some in more senior positions serve as editors for those they supervise.
Where They Work
Many different fields provide work for graphic designers, including print design (such as magazines or newspapers), website design, advertising, product development, logo design — even sign-making. They usually work in clean, well-lit office areas with plenty of tables and space to facilitate their projects, but some are able to telecommute, in some cases working with companies or clients in other countries. It's increasingly common for these workers to do this given the widespread use of the Internet.
In-House Versus Freelance
There are two basic kinds of these professionals: in-house or freelance. An in-house graphic designer is an artist that works for and is paid by a specific company on a long-term basis, and who is formally designated as an employee. Steady employment and more predictable income usually is the advantage here, with some businesses providing benefits, such as health insurance. Freelancers operate as independent contractors, so they usually can develop their own contracts and rates, but they have to cover more expenses on their own and typically don't get many perks aside from occasional bonuses. Approximately one third of all professional designers fall into the second category.
Education and Experience Requirements
Graphic design is a very competitive field, and many people who pursue work in this industry go to college to get formal, hands-on training and to network. In most cases, a bachelor's degree is necessary for entry-level positions, but the degree can be in a very closely-related subject, such as art or website design. Several years of experience is an acceptable alternative to a degree for some employers, however. After at least one to three years of work, it is often possible for someone to advance to a higher level, such as artistic supervisor or lead designer. Specialization is very common with advancement.
A portfolio consists of examples of work created either in classes or for clients. These samples show prospective employers that a graphic designer is creative, competent, able to meet the needs of the client and can communicate to different groups of consumers. The portfolio, therefore, is critical to getting work. It is especially important if someone doesn't have a degree, because in this case, employers have to rely much more on the samples to judge whether a job applicant is qualified and experienced enough.
People who work as graphic designers must be well organized and have a good eye for detail. They should be comfortable working with computers, because much of the industry relies on computer-aided design (CAD) systems. The ability to communicate effectively in writing or through speech is also very important, and these individuals should be able to transfer even an intricate message into a clear, visual design. Related to this is being a team player — it is very common for graphic designers to collaborate with marketers, copyeditors and production specialists, just to name a few. Most employers and clients look for creative people who think outside the box and who can come up with entirely fresh images, because standing out from other companies relates directly to an increase in memorability and sales.
With markets constantly fluctuating, these professionals also have to be willing to adjust and change, adapting to current demand even as they try to develop their own artistic style and signature. Some individuals do a significant amount of market research to better understand trends, so it can be very helpful to develop good research and analytical skills. The dependence on technology means that people with this job must be able to shift quickly to new hardware and software systems.
Computer programs such as Adobe®, Photoshop® or QuarkXPress® are fairly standard in the graphic design industry. In some cases, designers use these or other applications together with specially-designed robots or machines to create special effects. Many people still create original designs using tools like charcoal pencils or paints, but these usually eventually get converted into digital images through scanning software and hardware. As technology advances, the quality and styles of the work are getting more and more sophisticated.
Another big area is communications equipment. Simple chat and email platforms, for example, allow people to talk about or deliver project documents in real time over extreme distances. These are essential to freelancers, who often must take projects outside of their immediate area.
Graphic Design Versus Fine Art
Even though many fine artists are involved in graphic design, the industry differs greatly from the realm of traditional art in its commercial aspect and the frequent need to change the work at the request of the client. However, many fine artists have contributed to the evolution of this field, including Andy Warhol, Piet Mondrian and the Russian Constructivist artists of the 1920s. Some of the images created have become so well-recognized that they are iconic and have artistic value for what they represent, and many museums and art institutes are holding exhibits specifically for this type of work.