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How to become a graphic designer

If you’re packed full of creative ideas and want a challenging interesting career where you’ll always be working on different projects, a graphic designer could be the right role for you.

You’ll need strong communication and digital skills, with the artistic flair to back them up. Here we’ll answer what does a graphic designer do, and take a look at how to become a graphic designer.

What is a graphic designer?

In a nutshell, graphic designers create imagery that visually communicates information to a particular audience. Graphic designers use software and digital tools to create designs for everything from posters and packaging to social media graphics and digital logos.

It could be a sign for a shop front or an illustration for a website. The overall goal of the job is to sell different products and services.

What does a graphic designer do every day?

Graphic designers could work in print (brochures, leaflets etc) or online (websites, social media).

The role of a graphic designer combines art and technology

There are broadly two main kinds of employment: agencies (where a graphic designer works for an agency which creates work for lots of different clients) and in-house (where you would work for one organisation and do all their designs, for example publishers, banks, shops, universities and local government have “in-house” designers).

Depending on their exact role, the tasks of a graphic designer include:

  • Meeting with your client (the person or company who wants to buy the image or design), and discussing their needs.
  • Coming up with creative ideas that meet the client’s needs and thinking about the message that the image needs to get across.
  • Figuring out your budget (how much the project will cost) and the deadline.
  • Producing rough drafts of the image using software – selecting colours, images, text style and layout.
  • Presenting your ideas to the client for their feedback and approval.
  • Making a final layout (design) that takes the feedback into account.
  • Explaining ideas to your team (this could be writers, photographers, printers or games developers).
  • Making sure you stay up to date with trends in design and updates in software.

Graphic designers tend to work closely with advertising and marketing staff (because designs are needed to sell products) and writers (because designs are needed in magazines and blogs).

Graphic designers will often specialise in a particular kind of design or type of client – for example they might design the covers of books, or packaging for food.

What do graphic designers earn?

The starting salary for a graphic designer tends to be fairly low – between £16,000 and £18,000. A more experienced designer could earn up to £30,000, and a senior graphic designer could take home up to £50,000.

The salary varies a lot depending on the company you’re working for. Many graphic designers are also freelance, meaning they don’t have one permanent employer.

What skills would I need to become a graphic designer?

The personal qualities and abilities you’ll need to be a great graphic designer include:

  • Artistic flair and imagination; a good eye for a strong image. You need to be able to make images that are appealing to customers/audiences.
  • IT skills and a knack for learning how to use different software.
  • Creativity and able to find practical solutions to problems. You need to be able to come up with new, interesting ways of communicating information.
  • Some drawing ability.
  • Ability to manage your time efficiently and meet deadlines.
  • Passion for creative design and typography.
  • Excellent communication skills – for explaining ideas to your team as well as presenting your work to clients.
  • Very good attention to detail.
  • Able to think critically – you need to be able to look at your work from the audience’s (customer's) point of view and think about how the image will be received.
  • Flexible, adaptable and able to bounce back if an idea is rejected or criticised.

Don’t forget! We have a bunch of articles that show you how to develop transferable skills. You probably already have tons!

How can I become a graphic designer?

You don’t need a degree to become a graphic designer; you could do an apprenticeship, which means you’d work and study at the same time.

Or you could choose to go to university. Many students take a one-year Foundation Diploma in Art and Design before applying for a degree course. This lets you try a variety of art and design subjects, and allows you to build up a portfolio of work.

You will usually need a creative portfolio that showcases your

For the degree course, two A-levels are usually needed, including an art-related subject, as well as five GCSEs. (We explain the difference between higher education courses here.)

At degree level, you could study graphic design, illustration, fine art or another related subject.

You should look for work experience to give yourself the edge when it comes to applying for jobs.

When it comes to jobs in the creative industries, the design sector is growing but there is still a lot of competition for jobs. Employers are based across the UK, though around half of design agencies are in London and the South East.

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