How to Become a Graphic Designer: Education Requirements & Job Description

Those pretty girls in Maxim and those studly boys in GQ didn’t pop onto those pages in perfect fashion themselves! Oh no, they were carefully and meticulously placed there by graphic designers. Graphic designs are responsible for all of the things that catch your eye in print and even on the internet; everything for the images to the font is planned. Today we want to tell you how to become a graphic designer and some of the other interesting facts about the profession.

How to Become a Graphic Designer


The process of becoming a graphic designer is actually fairly easy. There aren’t any mega hoops to jump through here, which is also nice.

For starters you will likely want to earn a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a similarly related field. During your schooling you will be able to learn the ins and out of the job, learn all of the software that is needed to do the job and even build up your portfolio.

While you are in school you will likely take many arts, web design, printing technique and commercial graphics courses. Each of these classes will add to your experience and will help you to be an amazing graphic designer.

You are pretty much ready to hit the job market after you’ve completed your degree. If you’d like to earn some extra certifications for design software if they are available and you would like to fatten up your resume. They are not required by any means, but a little extra knowledge certainly won’t hurt.

It’s really that simple. Now that you know what to do and how to do it, take a look at some of the other interesting and helpful things we found out about being a graphic designer.

Can I Become a Graphic Designer without a Degree?

Sure you can, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to forgo a college education. The main issues are:

  • Most employers want to hire someone with experience
  • You may not be up to date on the latest and greatest software if you aren’t in the industry and round peers
  • You may not be executing your craft properly. Sure things may look good in the program you are working with, but what if they don’t translate appropriately because of a skill that you don’t have that you would have learned in school?

These are just a few things to think about, but if you are down to get your graphic design on without it, then we will give you a few quick tips.

  • You’ll need a pretty decent computer that is fast, has lots of RAM and a stellar software program
  • Read as many books and online tutorials as possible. Check YouTube for videos as well. These tutorials and guides will help you to somewhat navigate the software. A lot of it will be on you though and tons of practice is likely a wise idea
  • Reach out to local design studios, advertising agencies and even small businesses to offer your services as an apprentice. You’ll forgo a paycheck here, but in turn will hopefully beef up your skills and knowledge base
  • Building a solid portfolio will be very important too. If you have some solid work that shows that you have what it takes, the lack of schooling may not be an issue. You can have a portfolio online and even one to carry around with you if you have done print work.
  • Work super hard on your resume and make sure that you add every bit of experience, apprenticeship, special training, professional memberships and any bit of software experience you have. This is especially important when you consider that your resume is the first thing that most companies see and it will have to serve as a representation of you until you can get in there and wow them with your charm…skills and knowhow will be important too, of course

If you happen to want to really boost your resume by getting a degree, here are a few schools you could consider:

Sorry, we could not find any matching schools

Graphic Designer Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is our go to source when we want to check out the cheddar that can be expected from the careers that we write about. They were as reliable as ever and had the most current salary information for graphic designers, so let’s talk about money, Honey!

As of May 2013, the BLS reports that graphic designers earn a median salary of $44,830 annually, which translates into roughly $21.55 an hour. New graphic designers may make a bit less due to experience level, which is somewhat to be expected. New designers may bring in $26,690 a year to start, but with experience and time may earn up to $79,260 a year.


Where Do Graphic Designers Work?

We guess we should probably give you an idea of where you can work once you have slaved over a computer for four years of college, huh? Alrighty, let’s do it.

Advertising Agencies

Graphic design jobs in advertising agencies will allow you to get your feet wet in the industry, learn the ropes and maybe even lay the ground work to snag a few clients of your own in the future. Advertising agencies rely heavily on graphic designers and there usually spots open for interns too.

Print Markets

Newspapers and magazines would be nothing but pages and pages of words if it wasn’t for graphic designers. Graphic designers design each page of the publication and are really the glue that holds the whole thing together. Think about the last time you glanced at an issue of Vogue or Rolling Stone. The very reason it caught your attention was due to the very calculated and hard work of a graphic designer.

In House Graphic Designers

Some companies have in house publications that need the attention of dedicated graphic designers that can ensure that they are produced on time and that they look good. Some of the things that are designed within the capacity of this job are company newsletters, brochures, logos, web sites and various other materials. Many of these things help generate business for companies or organizations, so the better they look the more money they bring in and possibly the more money you will make.


Once you have paid your dues and worked from the ground up, you will have the experience needed to become a graphic design instructor. You can teach graphic design at public schools, universities, community colleges and technical schools. When you think about it, it’s actually pretty perfect to transition to teaching once you are tired of the long hours, deadlines and bossy clients.


A popular option among graphic designers is to embark on a solo career as a freelancer. Having your own business can be great, but it is also hard work and you are going to have to wear many different hats at all times.

Things to Know Before Becoming a Graphic Designer

If you’ve ever had a job we are sure that you’ve thought to yourself “Man, I wish I would have known this being accepting the position”. It’s usually not a huge deal for ordinary jobs, but it’s a bit different when you are selecting a career and investing years of education to. To help you avoid a facepalm, we have a quick little list of things that most graphic designers wish they had known. Consider this our gift to you!

  • This is not a 9 – 5 job: If you are hoping to find a job in this field that allows you to work traditional banking hours – this is not it. Your schedule as a graphic designer will fluctuate and may require you to work odd hours, nights and even weekends in order to make a deadline. The ever changing schedule isn’t a bad thing though! It’s especially appealing for those that would like to work from home around when it will work for them.
  • Don’t be a sensitive Sally and take things personally: The graphic design world known for being cut throat and in order to avoid being chewed up and spit out you’ll have to have a tough skin. Criticism of your work is just par for the course in this profession and it’s important to remember that it’s not personal, it’s business. If you get poor feedback on a project – dust yourself off and start over. Try (as hard as it will be) to use all feedback as a learning tool and an opportunity to do better.
  • You will never stop learning: Just because you are done with school and you score a sweet job doesn’t mean that your learning days are in the past. Oh no, my friends! The graphic design world is fast paced and constantly changing. In order to keep up and stay relevant you will have to say up to date and in the know. This is definitely a career that you get what you give, so to speak. If you want to be the best and get the jobs with the fattest pay checks, then you have to give it your all and be on tippy top of your game.
  • You are a humble servantwell sort of: Don’t let fancy words like “graphic” and “designer” fool you here, folks. You are still providing a service for someone else and this is a service industry. We know that you’re chomping at the bit to show the client all of your creative flair, but sit tight on it and give them what they want. They are the ones that sign your paycheck, after all.
  • Don’t stop at mastering the software: There is so much more to being a graphic designer than clicking a mouse and moving images around within your computer software. Graphic designers pride themselves on having trained hard in technical aspects, theory, history and the many traditions of the industry.
  • Learn all about the business: The business side of your job is just as important as having the creative edge to create a masterpiece. In order to be successful in this field you will have to know how to work within a budget manage your clients and send out invoices for your time so that you can collect the Benjamin’s once your task is completed.
  • Math will still haunt you: Yep, you’ll still have to use math as a graphic designer. Oh joy. Luckily you don’t have to be the next Einstein in order to get the job done, but oil those squeaky math wheels certainly won’t hurt. You’ll be doing a lot of calculating whether it’s in the form of layout, bookkeeping or budgeting. You might want to invest in a good calculator and keep it handy too.
  • If you don’t love it, you should leave it: The overwhelming opinion that is had by most graphic designers is simple: if you don’t have a passion for graphic design, it’s time to find another profession. This is a job that has a high burn out rate, which is due in large part to the long hours, strict deadlines and hard to please clients. Not loving your job will make all of these things harder to swallow.

Gods of the Graphic Design World

If you are seriously serious about entering into the world of graphic design, then you should definitely learn a bit about the folks we are going to tell you about. These peeps have had a significant impact on this field and have paved the way for new comers like yourself. Let’s get to know some of these awesome dudes and one dudette now!

Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser is hands down one of the world’s best and deservedly the most celebrated graphic designer. You have seen his work even if you don’t have a clue who he is. Glaser is responsible for the iconic logo that he designed to promote tourism in New York. His 1977 creation of the “I love New York” logo is one that is much copied and even more adored. His work extends far beyond the logo, however. He has also produced work for Bob Dylan, DC Comics and the Brooklyn Brewery. He was also awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama in 2009.

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister is an Austria born graphic designer that now hangs tough in New York. Sagmeister is making a bit of a comeback after laying low for a while. His resurgence is due in large part to his new venture with talented designer, Jessica Walsh. The two have formed the graphic design company Sagmeister and Walsh. They made a bold statement by creating a naked shot of themselves to announce their new partnership. We are pretty sure that ears all over New York are still buzzing from that one. Sagmeister got his start in a similar fashion over 20 years ago. He is best known for his “cutting” work for AIGA and for the though provokingly awesome album work for Lou Reed.

David Carson

David Carson is thought to be the most influential graphic designer of the 1990’s. He established his solid credibility as the art director of the music and lifestyle magazine Ray Gun. He is the genius behind the creative and definitely unconventional grunge typography style. In 2000, Carson published End of Print, which sold 35,000 in its first run. End of Print is largely considered to be a bible among graphic designers and essential to success.

Neville Brody

Neville Brody is a UK based graphic designer who first rose to success with the cult magazine The Face from 1981 to 1986. After his time at The Face, he moved on to the very well-known art directing magazine Arena. You may already be familiar with his work if you have any Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire records as well since he is the designer of their album covers. Brody founded Research Studios in 2006, which has proven to be rather successful with the help of his work for Times Modern and the BBC website.

Paula Scher

Paula Scher is definitely the single most influential female graphic designer that is alive today. She cemented her place in graphic design history with her work for MOMA, New York City Ballet, Microsoft and NYC Transit. She has recently created the newest logo for Microsoft Window 8. Scher is also an educator at the School of Visual Art (SVA) in New York, so those interested in this career may want to apply there to be taught by one of the very best.

Grab the Popcorn – It’s Movie Time!

We always try to find an interesting video for you to watch that gives some extra information about the career or degree we are talking about. We like all of the videos that we find, but this one takes the cake. We lucked out when we stumbled across this video from Howcast about being a graphic designer. The young lady in the video gives us all of the dirty deets of this profession with honesty and clarity. We are sure that you will find everything that she has to say just as interesting and uber helpful as we did. Give it a watch below or click here to go straight the old YouTube website.

Final Grade

This is one of our favorite sections because we get to tell you once and for all how we really feel. Below we are going to go over what we feel are the important things to consider when trying to decide if a specific career is for you. So buckle up boys and girls because we are going to go full throttle here and tell you what our final grades are.

Degree vs. Debt: B

Lucky for you guys, most companies or clients are satisfied with their graphic designers only have a bachelor’s degree. Four years of college isn’t too bad and for the most part the amount of debt incurred won’t induce any nightmares. The salary expectations are pretty good as well which makes it paying back any students loans totally doable.

Difficulty of Degree: B

The difficulty of this degree will largely depend on each individual student in all honesty, but we definitely get the sense that it is not super hard. There will naturally be a lot of computer classes to complete, some math and art classes too. You’ll have to have a head for details as well since you’ll need to recall all of the skills you learned when you get your first few jobs.

Happiness Quotient: B-

Happiness is in the eye of the beholder…well in this case it’s in the eye of the designer. This is a job that allows you to let your creative juices flow and often work for yourself, so in that sense, it’s awesome. We must also remember that it is demanding as well with time constraints, budgets to maintain and clients to appease. This can be daunting and frustrating. This is a job can bring you a mixed bag of emotions, so be prepared to roll with the mood swings.

Job Outlook: C-

We may or may not have winced as we typed that grade. Ouch! There is a good reason for that low grade though and we have our buds at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to back us up. The BLS reports that graphic design positions are only expected to grow a puny 7% from 2012 to 2022. If the job growth for graphic designers were a kid, it would totally get its lunch money stolen.

Sources and Recommended Reading

We are feeling generous today, so we will share our secrets with you and by secrets we mean sources. We can only take credit for the witty humor here and would have only had jokes for you if it wasn’t for all of the helpful sites linked below. Feel free to peruse them for some extra info!

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