Pursuing a career in graphic design without knowing where you want to land is like traveling to a foreign country without knowing what city you’re visiting. Sure, it might work out for you in the end, but you’re bound to burn more time and resources if you don’t at least familiarize yourself with your destination in advance. With hundreds of jobs that fit under the umbrella of graphic design, something is bound to be a perfect fit for your personality and interests. 

Plan your trip ahead of time: Study up on your options, and consider which field might be the right one for you. To help you create an itinerary, we’ve compiled this list of popular and unexpected jobs for graphic designers. If you’re still not sure what your design future holds, consider these often overlooked ideas your jumping-off point. While this overview doesn’t cover everything, it may touch on career opportunities you hadn’t considered. And remember that any salaries listed are median figures: They’ll often be a bit above the field’s usual entry-level salary, and will often be well below the maximum pay that advanced professionals can expect to make in their careers.

3D Graphic Designer

When people think of graphic design, they often think of two-dimensional images, but the future is in three-dimensional design. Many established industries are rapidly shifting to 3D, and many new industries are being built on the foundation of the 3D experience.

Design in Film and Television: 3D graphic designers are in high demand in the entertainment industry. Those with a strong working knowledge of 3D modeling can often find jobs in animation or special effects.

Design of Video Games: Three-dimensional designers in the gaming industry do everything from animating characters to creating realistic backdrops. Some 3D designers even exclusively work on creating realistic textures for surfaces. The majority of video games are now three-dimensional. 

Design in Virtual and Mixed Reality: Virtual reality (VR) is poised to be the next great technological revolution, and it won’t just occur in entertainment. Education, medicine, and defense are all investing in VR technology. Meanwhile, mixed reality (MR) superimposes digital objects over a user’s natural environment—a concept that will likely transform online retail. Soon, consumers will be able to see how a couch looks in their living rooms before they commit to a purchase. Any application of VR or MR needs at least one 3D graphic designer, and most will need multiple designers to create the models with which the digital objects will interact.

Package Design: Graphic designers with 3D design skills shouldn’t overlook a career in package design. Virtual products may be more popular than ever, but real-world products aren’t going anywhere—and those products need packaging. Most packaging is now being designed with the aid of computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D modeling.

Job Prospects and Qualifications

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for 3D designers is slated to grow by about 4% in the next decade or so. Consider pursuing studies and work experience in graphic design, technical drawing, computer graphics, or game design. 

Average Salary for a 3D Designer: 3D designers have a median salary of about $75,000 per year.

Create Your First 3D Design

Bring a design from pen-and-paper sketch to three-dimensional object with designer and technologist Lauren Slowik.

Interaction Designer

When done poorly, interaction design can receive lots of complaints. When done well, it receives little attention at all. That’s because interaction designers have the task of making the interaction between products and their users as simple, intuitive, and natural as possible. Today, those products are typically software-based, like websites and mobile apps. If you find that Amazon’s one-click ordering button makes online shopping a little too easy, for example, you have an interaction designer to thank for it.

The Five Dimensions of Interaction Design

To design the optimal interaction between a product and its user, an interaction designer breaks the user experience down into the five “dimensions” of interaction design:

  • 1D: Words — An interaction designer must make sure that the words they include helpfully steer users through their experience with a product, rather than overwhelm or confuse them.
  • 2D: Visual Representations — An interaction designer uses visual representations to make the product visually appealing and to help the user more easily understand and navigate the product.
  • 3D: Physical Objects or Space — An interaction designer must consider the physical, real-world conditions in which a consumer might use the product. Is he or she using a desktop at work, a laptop in a noisy café, or a smartphone on a crowded commuter train?
  • 4D: Time — An interaction designer also designs all aspects of the product that change over time, including elements like film, music, graphics, security features that log users out after periods of inactivity, or ads that play during set intervals.
  • 5D: Behavior — This term refers to everything the product does for the user. An online shopping app might filter results, show the user similar styles, process payments, send purchase confirmations, save payment info, and post on social media.

Job Prospects and Qualifications

Jobs in interaction design are plentiful, and they will continue to be: Companies are well aware that they must invest in and constantly improve their online presence to be competitive in today’s economy. To be considered for this kind of job, you will want to supplement your knowledge of design with skills in computer programming. If you can also gain background with the five major mobile platforms—iOS, Android, RIM, Symbian, and Windows Mobile—and their core languages, you’ll be even more competitive.

Average Salary for an Interaction Designer: The median pay for an interaction designer is about $80,000 a year.

Mobile app prototype by Skillshare Original teacher Noah Levin
Mobile app prototype by Skillshare Original teacher Noah Levin

User Interface Designer

In many ways, user interface design is quite similar to interaction design, but the job description is more specific. This designer also considers the “five dimensions of interaction design”—but only for digital interfaces, rather than entire products.

This job is perfect for designers with an obsessive eye for detail, strong coding skills, and the patience to fiddle with minor features for hours.

Job Prospects and Qualifications 

UI design is one of the top fields for creatives right now, and in many cases, the demand outpaces the supply. While the field doesn’t require one particular certificate of study, you’ll need a strong portfolio that demonstrates your understanding of interaction design principles, coding, branding, and user research. 

Average Salary of a User Interface Designer: User interface designers make around $63,000 a year.

Product Designer

If you love graphic design, but you’re a more hands-on, tactile kind of person, product design might be just the career for you. A product designer is the creative mind behind the form, function, and aesthetic of the products we use every day. Where our ancestors may have dreamed up the basic shape and function of chairs thousands of years ago, today a product designer decides exactly how a specific new chair will look.

Because an eye for shape and an understanding of color theory are essential for product designers, you must learn graphic design for a solid foundation. But to be truly successful, individuals interested in product design will need to know about materials and build skills in 3D graphic design, too. Most importantly, they should be able to answer questions about consumer behavior. What are a mother’s priorities when purchasing a car seat for her infant? A great product designer knows how to combine scientific research with style sensibilities to create a product that meets customer needs and attracts the eye.

Job Prospects and Qualifications

Product designers work in a wider variety of environments than your average graphic designer. They may work in quiet offices or studio spaces, but they are just as likely to be found in noisy factories or manufacturing spaces. These jobs are often filled by candidates with engineering backgrounds. To make themselves competitive, graphic designers should demonstrate strength in 3D design and assemble portfolios with their own original product designs.

Salary for a Product Designer: The median salary for a product designer is around $84,000 a year.

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Fundamentals of Product Design

How to approach product launch, from the initial ideal to producing it and priming it for sale.

Art Director

In general, an art director is responsible for conceiving, articulating, and producing a clear, cohesive artistic vision for a company or project. But an art director’s job function varies greatly depending on the kind of organization they work for. Art directors work in a wide variety of industries, including publishing, film, television, advertising, and web design. Any company that regularly uses artistic images to reach the public is going to employ an art director to ensure that those images have consistent branding and are visually appealing. 

Some art directors lead large teams of creatives, so they often need strong managerial skills in order to draw the best work out of their artists, meet deadlines, and keep projects within budget. An example of this kind of position would be the art director for a major magazine, who works with graphic designers, writers, and photographers. Other art directors may manage small teams or even produce all of the artwork themselves.

Job Prospects and Qualifications

An art director role is ideal for someone with a strong graphic design background and a passion for a particular industry, such as publishing, theatre, or nonprofits. In many ways, an art director must be a jack of all trades: They often need to motivate other people, stay organized, and understand all of the elements of the design processes that he or she is overseeing. According to Recruiter.com, the career outlook for art directors continues to head in a positive direction, with about a 2% growth each year. 

Salary for an Art Director: The median salary for an art director is around $70,000.

Image by MF Evelyn
Image by MF Evelyn

Exhibit Designer

If you’ve ever been dazzled by a spectacular display at a museum, an art gallery, an amusement park, or even a department store, you’ve appreciated the work of an exhibit designer. To understand the theme and purpose of the exhibit, these designers start by consulting with clients, then analyzing an exhibit space to understand the physical parameters that they need to work within. 

Once the exhibit is conceived and designed, exhibit designers also oversee the construction. While design skills are essential, interpersonal and communication skills are equally important—since an exhibit designer works closely with a construction team, and needs to be able to communicate with the client throughout the process.

Job Prospects and Qualifications

The job market for exhibit designers is expected to largely stay the same over the next few years, according to information on Recruiter.com. States with thriving entertainment industries, like California, often have the largest number of job openings for these types of roles. Most successful exhibit designers start with a bachelor’s degree in design, and many supplement their formal undergraduate training with plenty of hands-on experience and, in some cases, advanced degrees. The field is incredibly competitive, which can lead to lower salaries even if the work is considered more fulfilling and engaging. 

Salary for an Exhibit Designer: Exhibit designers have a median salary of about $50,000.

Build a Solid Portfolio

Snag your dream job with a top-notch online portfolio thanks to the helpful tips from Sarah Rapp.

Other Positions for Graphic Designers

Graphical Illustrator

Graphical illustration is a unique kind of graphic design that uses visuals, such as charts, diagrams, tables, and figures that convey information to the viewer. This kind of design work is often used in academic and technical publishing.

Print Designer

Design work for good, old-fashioned print publications still exists, but designers interested in working exclusively with printed materials (such as books, magazines, and newspapers) must be very knowledgeable about both traditional and digital print methods. 

Conclusion

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that all graphic designers spend their days crafting brand material or making logos. But in reality, there are careers in graphic design for every personality type and nearly every industry. Each position requires a different set of skills and passions.

As you learn graphic design or build on the design skills you already have, take a minute to reflect on your personality. Do you prefer to lead, collaborate, or go it alone? Do you have a passion that you could merge with your design work, such as a love for books or video games? If so, chances are that there is a job out there that’s perfect for a graphic designer like you.