Graphic Design Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

It is not so difficult to choose a degree if you have both technical competency and an eye for art. Having these two skills will allow you to pursue and thrive in graphic design careers. Whether you choose to become an illustrator or a brand designer, you can bring your creative visions to life.

With 81% of business organizations using graphic design in different formats (Piktochart, 2022), there will always be a demand for professionals in the industry. In 2023, there were 174,809 graphic designers in the United States to fill this demand (IBISWorld, 2023). Regardless of how you get your graphic design degree—be it from the best associates degrees, bachelor’s programs, or graduate programs—you can be a part of this booming population of design professionals

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In this career guide, our team has compiled information on the necessary skills, job outlook, graphic design salary, and various careers you can venture into for professional satisfaction.

Graphic Design Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in graphic design?
  2. Graphic Design Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Graphic Design
  4. How to Start Your Career in Graphic Design
  5. How can I advance my career in graphic design?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Graphic Design

Why pursue a career in graphic design?

In a study published in SN Business & Economics titled “Package Design as a Branding Tool in the Cosmetic Industry: Consumers’ Perception vs. Reality,” Srivastava et al. (2022) found that “Design and marketing are two major areas that are inextricably linked to each other. Good design distinguishes brands and makes products stand out from the crowd, instilling a certain perception in consumers’ minds. Brands that meet the criteria for creating a lasting impression may dominate the market on a global scale in reality. The consumer must perceive the quality that the brand has built into the package, which may be accomplished through various design elements.” With a career in graphic design, you can learn the intricacies of these strategies and become a valuable asset to brands today.

Moreover, this career is worth pursuing because of the diversity of the field. As an artist, you can grow in different sectors with a vast pool of opportunities. For example, 12% of graphic designers work in the education sector, while 28% work in the public sector. The majority of graphic designer at 58% work in the private sector while only 1% of them work in the government (Zippia, n.d.). Even as technology develops, the demand for graphic designers will also grow, given the value one holds in businesses and marketing. Additionally, you will never be burned out in this career as the work and life balance rate of a graphic designer is 3.7/5 (Glassdoor, n.d.).

There are also plenty of ways to attain your career goals in graphic design with different educational and professional experiences. Most graphic designer jobs require a bachelor’s degree. However, you can kickstart your career with just an associate degree or a certificate and work as a junior graphic designer. Should you want to land higher level jobs in the future, you can always pursue graduate studies.

Source: Zippia, n.d.

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Graphic Design Career Outlook

As companies expand their digital presence, graphic designers have become critical to creating visual elements and layouts for brand websites and social media. From 2021 to 2031, there is an expected 3% growth in graphic designer employment. On average, over the decade, there will be about 24,800 openings for graphic designers every year (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). These include jobs in business and media as well as freelance opportunities. In fact, there are more than 122,236 freelance graphic designers employed in the United States (Zippia, n.d.).

The wealth of employment opportunities aside, becoming a graphic designer also allows professionals to yield relatively high earnings. As of 2022, the average median salary for graphic designers is $50,710 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Other graphic design careers with specializations can even offer more. For example, special effects artists and animators receive $78,790 while art directors get $100,890 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).

RoleSalaryDemand
Junior Graphic Designers $44,9453%
Desktop Publishers$46,91014%
Craft and Fine Artists$49,9606%
Graphic Designers$50,7103%
Postsecondary Teachers $75,9409%
Industrial Designers$77,030 3%
Web Developers and Digital Designers$78,30023%
Special Effects Artists and Animators$78,7905%
Postsecondary Education Administrators$96,9107%
Art directors$100,8904%
(Source: BLS, 2022)

Required Skills for Graphic Design

In the field of graphic design, you will constantly need to work with text and images. A graphic design career requires one to decide what color, size, or typeface will work best on a print copy, page, and other marketing collateral. That said, a graphic designer will require specific skills that will help him or her transform complex ideas into accessible visual information.

Essential Skills for Graphic Design

  • Familiarity with Digital Design Software – A base requirement for graphic design jobs includes know-how in digital design software. You have to learn which appropriate software will work best to create eye-catching design projects. For instance, you could become more accustomed to programs like Photoshop or InDesign.
  • Interactive Media – Design products can involve text, animation, video, moving images, audio, or video games—this is what interactive media is all about. Be a valuable designer by exposing yourself more to the different media types you can leverage. You can specialize and take related courses. For instance, if you want to work in the gaming industry, you can round up your knowledge and skills by taking courses typically offered by game design degree programs.
  • Basic Coding – A basic understating of HTML is also important for a graphic designer. You have to understand the work that goes behind website creation. A marketable graphic designer knows Java and C++ fundamentals.

General Skills

  • Communication – A graphic designer must be able to voice out design plans as well as understand the client’s expectations. Great communication skill is integral as designs may require a lot of editing and revisions. Additionally, a graphic designer must be efficient in receiving feedback.
  • Creative Thinking – The world of a graphic designer revolves around design and creation. As a graphic designer, one is expected to always develop new design concepts. He or she should think out of the box to come up with unique and unexpected ideas.
  • Problem-Solving – A simple decision of just finding the right images to include in a design can cause a delay in the work of a graphic designer. As such, one must be quick-witted to assess the situation and find the best solution to improve the quality of work.

Source: Zippia, n.d.

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How to Start Your Career in Graphic Design

For those who want to venture into the creative graphic design career path, earning an associate degree in graphic design is the first step. In this degree, you will learn the basic principles of graphic design, digital imaging, page layout techniques, computer graphics, production, and visual arts. You will also have hands-on experience with creative software products.

With an associate degree in graphic design, you can take on projects such as designing business cards, websites, books, t-shirts, and magazine covers. Combining your artistic skills with the technical know-how from an associate degree can help you also become an ideal candidate for entry-level positions in the field. An associate degree in graphic design is also a good foundation if you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future. In fact, 23% of graphic designers hold an associate degree while 68% of graphic designers earned a bachelor’s degree (Zippia, n.d).

Students can also skip right to taking up a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. Compared to associate degrees, programs at this level can give you a comprehensive understanding of both the theoretical and practical applications of graphic design concepts.

Arts and Design Path Gaming Path Marketing PathTeaching Path
Creating visual concepts using computer software or by handCrafting video game plots, settings, and characters Designing collaterals used in marketing businessesTeaching graphic design fundamentals and advanced principles
Entry Level JobsJunior Graphic Designer ($44,945)Assistant Game Designer ($53224)Packaging Designer ($39,229)Teaching Assistant in Photography Graphic Design ($36,519)
Junior Management JobsGraphic Designer ($50,710)Multimedia Designer ($57,645)Production Designer
($39,229)
Graphic Design Instructor ($51,786)
Middle Management JobsSpecial Effects Artists and Animators ($78,790)Video Game Designer ($67451)Marketing Graphic Designer ($45,454)Graphic Design Professor ($52,782)
Senior Management JobsArt Director ($100,890)Senior Game Designer ($83706)Advertising Designer ($62,930)Game Development Instructor ($146,500)
*Values are estimates.

What can I do with an associate’s degree in graphic design?

Junior Graphic Designer

If you want to hone your creative skills, working as a junior graphic designer can help you master image editing and modeling software. As a junior graphic designer, you will work with senior designers in a team that develops content for print media. You will be responsible for creating page layouts, website mockups, and storyboards.

Median Annual Salary: $44,945

Photographer

Another entry-level position suitable after obtaining an associate degree in graphic design is a career in photography. Mastery of applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom can help a photographer market one’s brand to businesses.

Median Annual Salary: $38,950

What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in graphics design?

Graphic Designer

A graphic designer creates visual concepts and overall layouts for brochures, advertisements, magazines, websites, reports, and product packaging. With the use of major design software applications, a job in graphic design helps businesses get more conversions. A graphic designer closely works with professionals in the field of advertising, marketing, and public relations.

Median Annual Salary: $50,710

Special Effects Artist and Animator

Both a computer science degree online and a graphic design degree will allow one to work as a special effects artist and animator who creates 2D and 3D models. He or she also creates images that appear to move, television and movie visual effects, video games, and other media forms. A special effects artist and animator may use computer software or write his or her own computer code to get the job done.

Median Annual Salary: $78,790

Illustrator

If you love to draw and paint, the illustrator job is the right fit for you. In this career, you can exercise your creativity using different mediums to create art for murals, children’s books, and other media types. You can use a stylus from the beginning of the project till the end. Or you can also refine your designs using Photoshop.

Median Annual Salary: $54,795

Can you get a graphic design job with just a certificate?

Traditional and online colleges and universities offer certificate programs in graphic design. Depending on the institutional program, most graphic design certificates can be earned in about six months to a year. With this type of program, you will learn the theories and principles of graphic design, necessary software, and tools, design thinking and theory, and how to apply all this knowledge at work.

Ultimately, you can begin your journey on different graphic design careers with a certificate in graphic design. But for better chances of being hired, you may pair your certificate with a reputable design portfolio.

Every industry leverages graphic design in the digital age. Some of the industries with the highest employment levels for graphics designers are specialized design services with 22,710 or 16.77% of employment, advertising, public relations, and related services with 22,510 or 5.17% of employment, and printing and related support activities with 17,470 or 4.75% of employment (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).

Industry EmploymentPercent of Industry Employment
Specialized Design Services22,71016.77
Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services22,5105.17
Printing and Related Support Activities17,4704.75
Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers12,2004.92
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services10,5500.68
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

How can I advance my career in graphic design?

If your career development plan in graphic design includes landing a high-level position like an art director, graphic specialist, or corporate professional, but do not want to spend a lot of money, then getting affordable online masters programs in graphic design is a good idea. Pursuing higher education like a master’s or a doctorate degree in graphics design is your ticket to a rewarding career that can open roles for you as an educator. With your educational credentials, you have the autonomy to teach and train the next breed of graphic designers.

What can I do with a master’s in graphic design?

Art Director

Just like finishing animation degree programs, gaining a master’s in graphic design can lead to an art director position. An art director oversees the visual brand for companies and organizations. He or she works with graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators to develop content that aligns with the desired message of the client. An art director is in charge of leading content creators and providing constructive criticisms to improve design outputs.

Median Annual Salary: $100,890

Senior Graphic Designer

A senior graphic designer controls the graphic design team. Though one also creates graphic designs, the main task is critiquing the designs of other graphic designers and delegating projects. A senior graphic designer works for an advertising agency or a large corporation.

Median Annual Salary: $65,548

Brand Manager

Overseeing company trademarks is the job of a brand manager. He or communicates with other individuals and organizations to guarantee that the trademark of the company follows the brand guidelines. One works with graphic designers in selecting fonts and colors, establishes a brand, and takes charge of the development of promotional materials.

Median Annual Salary: $75,456

What kind of job can I get with a doctorate in graphic design?

Postsecondary Teacher

A postsecondary teacher empowers graphic designer students by imparting knowledge. He provides lectures, creates a class instructional plan, and grades assignments. He may also conduct research and publish findings in scholarly papers, journals, and books.

Median Annual Salary: $75,940

Senior Researcher

A senior researcher innovates graphic design by finding answers to essential questions. One is tasked to design, study, analyze data, and present findings. Typically, a senior researcher works in research and advertising agencies to learn the psychological processes driving consumer choices.

Median Annual Salary: $106,475

Postsecondary Education Administrator

A postsecondary education administrator oversees college and university operations. As a postsecondary education administrator, he can handle a single department in the educational institution or oversee it entirely.

Median Annual Salary: $96,910

Which certification is best for graphic design?

If you want to supplement your bachelor’s or master’s degree in graphic design, cement your existing skills, and learn new abilities, you can obtain a graphic design certificate. With a postgraduate certificate in graphic design, you can develop a deeper knowledge and gain industry-standard skills to improve your market value.

A graphic design certificate will boost your career growth with training in the latest design software and techniques. You will also gain knowledge in designing fixed and motion graphics, the use of basic web development skills, color theory and the principle of design implementation, and creation and certification access to ePubs and PDFs. Below are some of the postgraduate certificate programs in graphic design:

  • Professional Certificate in Graphic Design
  • Graphic and Web Design Certificate
  • Graphic Design – Advanced Web Design Certificate
  • Graphic and Digital Design Certificate

senior graphic designer salary

Alternative Career Options for Graphic Design

Recent data suggests that 30% of graphic designers enjoy staying at their jobs for one to two years (Zippia, n.d.). If you are having second thoughts about pursuing a graphic design career, there are still a handful of job alternatives you can pursue. A graphic designer can work in different fields and sectors so you can always branch out on a role that you feel will suit you best.

What else can a graphic designer do?

  • Project Manager. As a project manager, you will work behind the scenes while making sure projects still happen. In this job, you will handle a team, budget, and other resources from pre-pitch to post-delivery.
  • Writer. As a writer, you will work with a limited toolkit. While a graphic designer works with limitless colors and typefaces, a writer only uses the 26 letters of the alphabet and basic grammar rules to spawn creativity.
  • Advertising Sales Agents. An advertising sales agent sells advertising spaces to individuals and businesses. One’s main duty is to contact potential clients, create sales presentations, and maintain multiple client accounts.

graphic designer career duration

Let Your Artistic Flair Shine in a Graphic Design Career

Graphic design career paths are worth considering since they help communicate important messages through the use of visuals. Use your design prowess to penetrate the design industry and be a graphic designer to enjoy a career paved with a positive job outlook, great pay, and multiple industries you can be a critical part of.

As the world becomes more virtual and digital and with jobs turning remote, you can let your artistic flair shine by leveraging traditional or online graphic design programs to give you a degree that will empower you to work anywhere in the world.

With the career typically requiring completion of a four-year degree, it is important to know the cost of bachelor’s degree in graphic design. With a graphic design career, you will love the job you have given the broad creative horizon you can penetrate and the ability to enjoy a remarkable work/life balance.

 

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Find The Best Degree Match

Get personalized degree recommendations that will help you find a program that will match your goals and dreams.

The website Research.com is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.