Graphic Design Schools
A Graphic Designer, also known as a Graphic Artist, develops and designs creative, visual solutions based on a client's communications needs. To create a design solution (generally in the form of print, video, or electronic media), the Designer will consider, and may employ, a variety of elements in which they are well versed, such as: color, type, photography, illustration, animation, and print and layout techniques. The Designer works closely with the client, copywriters, and various vendors who will ultimately be involved in the design project (e.g., print vendors, paper reps). In some environments, such as an advertising agency, the Designer will also work with account reps and traffic and production managers. When working with a vendor, the Designer will have a solid understanding of the vendor's services as they pertain to a project. For example, working with a print vendor means that the Designer must have strong knowledge of the print/design process, print production, and the related cost ramifications (e.g., types of paper, ink, how the job is run/produced).
A Graphic Designer will produce the overall layout and design for a wide variety of publications, literature, and business and promotional items such as: magazines, corporate reports, newspapers, product and service brochures and packaging, direct mail, business cards and stationery, signage, advertising, and promotional displays. Additionally, through a careful and thorough analysis of a business and understanding how that business wants to be portrayed, a Designer will develop a brand identity. A Designer also creates unique and distinctive logos for businesses (a graphic symbol or icon that incorporates a company's brand identity elements). Designers may also develop and design artwork for both online and video.
Developing a Design Solution - An Overview
A critical component of a Designer's job is assessing and clearly understanding the various components that make up and impact the outcome of a design. When starting a project, the Designer will work closely with their client to understand and determine their needs, including the message that the design must evoke and the type of appeal it must have. The Designer will consider elements such as culture, demographics, use, purpose, shelf life, and the psychological or emotional impact, as they all relate to the intended audience. Once the Designer has a firm understanding of the client's needs, a design strategy and project timeline will be created (by the Designer or a project manager).
Successful designs come from strong concepts that are developed before any design work can begin. These concepts are typically developed between the copywriter and the Designer, or by the Designer alone. The Designer then begins sketches or layouts (by hand or with design software applications) of their design vision. Several components are considered and selected by the Designer to create their vision: colors, photography, animation, typographic style, sound (if needed), and various other visual components. Often times, a Designer will produce two or more design solutions for their client; the number of solutions to be produced is generally agreed upon between the client and Designer during the project's early stage. During the design stage, an experienced Graphic Designer may parse out various parts of the project to other Designers while supervising and directing their work.
Once all design solutions are ready, the Designer will meet with the client to make their presentation. During this meeting, they will review the work and select one design direction. The client will also provide feedback, which the Designer will incorporate into the next round of edits. Generally, more than one meeting is required before final approval is made.
As appropriate to the project, the Graphic Designer may work with printers to evaluate and select the type of paper, press (offset or digital), and ink to be used. Once the job is on press, the Designer will review the printer proofs and suggest necessary modifications.
Graphic Designers work on a project-by-project basis, and on a standard 40-hour workweek, which often times includes evenings and weekends due to the pressures of client modifications and/or meeting production deadlines (more common in the publishing and printing industries, as schedules are generally tighter). Due to the nature of their work, they will often modify their workday schedule in order to respond to their clients' needs.
The organizations in which a Graphic Designer works include advertising and design agencies, publishing firms, and corporate businesses, all of varying sizes; they typically work in an office or design studio. Designers who are self-employed may work in their own office or studio, or at times, in their client's office, and are generally paid on a project basis, unless other arrangements are made with the client. It is not uncommon for a Designer with a full-time, salaried job to do freelance design work. Designers with their own business not only face the pressures of meeting the expectations and deadlines of their clients, they must simultaneously look for new projects/clients in order to keep business running and maintain a steady income.
Individuals in this profession must possess the following characteristics and attributes:
- the ability to synthesize and apply input from multiple project stakeholders
- effective interpersonal and communications skills
- a keen eye for aesthetic design, color, and typography
- a conceptual thinker
- self-sufficient and able to work independently, yet comfortable and able to work well with a team
- flexible and open to varying and changing opinions and ideas
- the ability to respond and work well under pressure, with extreme time constraints, and within defined budget parameters while producing a high-quality design solution
Most especially for Designers with their own business, strong business acumen and the ability to effectively sell their services are of equal importance.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment for Graphic Designers is "expected to grow 10 percent, about as fast as average for all occupations from 2006 to 2016." While the demand for these professionals will continue to stem from computer design firms, advertising agencies, and publishers, a strong demand is anticipated from the expansion within the video entertainment industry (e.g., TV, video, movies, and "made-for-Internet outlets"). Graphic Designers who possess animation and website design expertise will see an increased demand for their services as projects requiring interactive media will continue to grow. On the flip side, it is anticipated that the trend for overseas outsourcing for basic layout and design work will continue. However, the majority of highly strategic and high-level graphic design jobs are expected to remain in the U.S. Reason being, that these types of projects require a solid understanding and appreciation of the target market and audience profile, needs, and interests in order to create a successful design solution.
Employers of Graphic Designers seek individuals with experience in computer graphics and design software such as Quark XPress, InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and various other graphic and painting design tools. Designers are expected to also keep abreast of new and upgraded software applications.
Graphic Design Schools and Courses
Formal graphic design education is required for the profession. This is most especially pertinent for those seeking entry level or advanced design opportunities (some technical entry-level positions may only require a two-year Associate Degree). Most Designers possess a four-year Bachelor Degree from a college, university, or private graphic design school with a concentration in art, art history, fine arts, graphic design, or product design. Graphic design courses generally include, but are not limited to: principles of design, drawing, computer artwork, website design, commercial graphics production, and printing techniques.
Two-year Associate Degrees and certificates in graphic design are also available. Courses in these programs generally focus on the technical elements of graphic design and include liberal arts courses. Individuals who achieve an Associate Degree will typically secure roles which require technical skills only or as assistants to Graphic Designers. Individuals who already possess a four-year Bachelor Degree in an unrelated field may complete a two- or three-year graphic design program where they will learn the required technical skills.
Approximately 250 post-secondary schools that offer art and design programs are accredited by The National Association of Schools of Art and Design; most offer a degree in graphic design. It is important to note that most schools will not permit formal entry into a Bachelor Degree program until the applicant has completed a one-year study in basic art and design courses. The applicant may also be required to compile and submit sketches and examples of work that reflect their artistic skills and abilities.
New Designers to the field will generally work one-to-three years on the job before advancing to a more senior-level role. The more experienced Designer with several years under their belt will advance to various higher-level positions such as Design Supervisor or Creative or Art Director. After years of experience, a Designer may start their own firm or move into a teaching role at a college, university, or design school, while continuing to freelance or consult.
Resources for Graphic Designers
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
- American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)
- Graphic Artists Guild
- The Art Directors Club
Schools for Graphic Designers are listed in the column to the left.