You may have considered a career in graphic design before, especially if you are an expressive artist, creative communicator, visual problem solver. But once you’ve decided to pursue a future in the field, where should you begin? Entry-level graphic design jobs can involve anything from designing packaging to building beautiful websites, and while every graphic designer works with visuals in one form or another, the focus and salaries associated with various design jobs can be wildly different.
Many types of graphic design careers may be well within reach, but they do require research and perseverance. Are you are best suited to join an advertising agency, an organization’s communications department, a publishing house, or work in a more freelance career? To land on the right field for you, you may have asked yourself the following questions.
- What kinds of tools do poster designers use?
- What skills are required of a web designer?
- What is the average salary for a freelance graphic designer?
- Can someone learn what they need from online graphic design courses, or does the job require analog art skills and formal education?
Here, we’ve rounded up a few of the most asked-about graphic design careers. We’ll discuss the way they interact with clients, what kinds of skills they need to be successful, and how much money they make, whether it’s per project or year. Once you understand the many different ways that graphic designers can be successful, you will be better equipped to sort out which entry-level path most interests you—and you’ll have a sense of what to ask a prospective employer, too.
Designing Icons and Logos
A logo is a relatively simple graphic that communicates information about a business or product. It can operate as a first impression for potential new customers and is an important and tangible part of a brand’s identity. Logos must be unique, memorable, and eye-catching enough that customers will be able to remember and identify a brand. Logos are all around you, and they can feature type, abstract graphics, or literal symbols. It doesn’t matter how a logo is styled as long as it speaks to the business or product that a graphic designer is trying to visually represent.
Icons, on the other hand, are graphic symbols or stamps designed to be representational and to communicate a simple message. They are similar to logos, but less defined by a close association with a particular brand.
Logos and icons must convey a lot of information at a glance, so they must be as dynamic and visually communicative as possible. Because the final products must be able to be scaled to any size, the graphic designers that produce them need to be proficient in vector illustration. They should be able to work in Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or other creative software and must have a strong sense of proportion, balance, harmony, composition, and symmetry to create good designs. They should also be natural collaborators with the ability to listen to their client’s needs and communicate their design limitations so that no one is disappointed or confused by their final product.
Graphic designers who work on logos and icons are often hired as freelance consultants, though some work for advertising agencies or in-house communications departments. The cost of their work varies, but depending on a graphic designer’s creative reputation, the size of the client, the potential ubiquity of the logo or icon, and the visibility of the project, a graphic designer can make anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars for a single design. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a logo designer hovers around $60,000 per year.
Icon designers can be freelancers, work for an advertising firm, or make a career in the public sector. Depending on the project, an icon designer will charge by the hour, by the icon, or by both, and can expect to make anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars for a set of icons. Their average salary is also similar to a logo designer: According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an icon designer is about $58,000.
Learn Icon Design in Adobe Illustrator
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Package design is a sales-driven area of graphic design, meant to compel a customer to purchase a product or service. Graphic designers who work in package design are singularly focused on creating straightforward and appealing versions of three-dimensional objects such as chip bags, soap boxes, lotion tubes, beer bottles, candy wrappers, and clothing boxes. The very best package design evokes a mood, conveys a product’s best qualities, or suggests an extra value to the consumer.
Consider, for example, the package designs that different chocolate bars use to communicate messages about their product. Hershey’s uses a simple color scheme with an unadorned wrapper and a large sans serif font to convey that it is an all-purpose candy bar, fit for any budget and useful for any occasion. On the other end of the spectrum, a luxury chocolate company like Mast uses highly decorative wrappers and modern fonts to communicate to a consumer that they are a sophisticated, artisanal chocolate bar meant for those with expensive and discerning taste.
Package design is rendered with vectors to make it as easy as possible for printers to create three-dimensional objects. Graphic designers interested in this field must be able to use Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign. Because they must visualize how a design will translate into the real world, they should also be familiar with software plugins that allow them to render designs in three-dimensions.
Package design requires a strong command of color, texture, typography, and image. Designers will also need to artfully incorporate space for barcodes, sale stickers, recycling icons, or other symbols that are required by law. Finally, they should have a natural sense of salesmanship and the ability to communicate effectively to ensure that their final packaging effectively showcases their product.
Designers who focus on packaging most often work for the companies that create the products they are trying to sell, but they can work for branding agencies and other marketing companies, too. According to ZipRecruiter, they tend to make anywhere from $33,000 a year to more than $90,000 a year, depending on their years of experience and the visibility of their projects.
Learn the Basics of Package Design
Join designer Trina Bentley for her multi-course program on package design by starting with the basics.
When people imagine what graphic designers create, poster design tends to top the list. Graphic designers have worked on some variation poster design for hundreds of years but became popularly linked with the medium during World War I and World War II when the new principles of graphic design and modern printing technologies allowed propaganda and film posters to proliferate around the world. Since that time, poster design (along with brochure design, mailer design, and other forms of printed graphic projects) has remained a viable way for graphic designers to convey information about films, television shows, books, video games, events, and government initiatives.
Graphic designers who focus on creating dynamic posters must be highly proficient with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop, or other creative software. They should have a strong understanding of how to use color, image, type, hierarchy, scale, balance, symmetry, diagonals, composition, and negative space to capture attention. Ideally, graphic designers who are in this field will also have strong illustration and painting skills, with a decent knowledge of art history to reference when they create new works. Finally, poster-focused graphic designers should have strong verbal communication skills, which allows them to easily and skillfully present their work to clients.
Graphic designers who work on posters are often employed by advertising agencies or they work freelance for a range of clients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they can make anywhere from $27,000 to more than $82,000 per year, depending on their clients, their creative reputation, and their years of professional experience.
Book Cover Design
To stand out on shelves, book covers must be visually dynamic and compelling, hinting at the content without giving away too much information. In some ways, designing a book cover is similar to designing packaging: You must be able to convince consumers to buy the product in front of them. The difference between the two fields lies in how much information they offer their audiences. Package design is about being straightforward, while book cover design tends to be more mysterious, puzzling potential readers so as not to spoil any surprises.
Graphic designers who are interested in creating book covers must know Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop. They must be proficient in the principles of graphic design and have a particularly strong understanding of color, type, composition, balance, and symmetry.
Graphic designers who create book covers are often employed with publishing companies or hired as freelance consultants to work on a particular book or series. They can make an hourly wage or a salary, depending on the nature of their work. According to Salary.com, the median salary for a book cover designer is around $47,000 per year, though that depends on their clients, creative reputation, and experience.
Introduction to Book Cover Design
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While some graphic designers focus solely on the looks of a new website, most design professionals who work in the online space have some level of web design experience. Like other graphic designers, web designers are concerned with the visual identity of their projects, striving to convey the right information, create a mood, and capture attention with graphic design principles like type, color, scale, and hierarchy. But unlike other graphic designers, they must also consider the operational side of their website, and work hard to ensure that their products are both creative and technologically savvy. The ultimate goal for a web designer is to create websites that are beautiful, appropriately on-brand, effective, easy to navigate, and ultimately appealing to their audience.
Web designers either work for themselves as freelance consultants or at larger technology and design firms. According to Salary.com, the median salary for a web designer is approximately $65,000 per year.
No matter what their focus, all graphic designers ultimately want to work on dynamic projects that solve a problem, tell a story, evoke a mood, or convey a message. Whether you end up creating chocolate chip cookie bags, designing film posters, or working on a website, graphic design might just be the field to give you creative flexibility, a sustainable salary, and a fulfilling professional life. Get started today with an online course: Immerse yourself in the basics, design a book cover, or have fun with icon design. No matter how you proceed, know that education and practice are your most essential tools in the path to success in graphic design—and the opportunities are right at your fingertips.