You have the creative spirit, the drive and maybe even some of the technical skills. But when it comes to graphic design, one major concern keeps haunting you: Will you earn enough to make a decent living?
You’re curious about how much graphic designers make, yes—but there are a lot of other important questions you need answered as well. If you want a well-rounded perspective of the job before you commit to the profession, then you’ll need to know more than just how much graphic designers make.
We compiled a list of common questions (and answers) about the graphic design field to help give you a better idea if it’s right for you.
FAQs about being a graphic designer
Salary is important. But beyond meeting your financial needs, a career should also fit your personality, skills and lifestyle. Take a moment to read up on the answers to some other important questions about working as a graphic designer.
1. How much do graphic designers make?
The career has a broad range of incomes, especially dependent on the industry and title. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2016 median annual wage for graphic designers was $47,640.1
However, there is definitely room to grow, with high-earning positions available and the top 10 percent of designers making over $82,000 annually.1 Designers with extensive experience and specialized skillsets like web development or user experience (UX) design are likely to command higher salaries.
2. What skills do graphic designers need?
This is a key question for any would-be graphic designer. You’ll need to take some time to assess yourself and identify the areas in which you need to improve to align with what employers are seeking.
To help with that, we used real-time job analysis software to identify the top graphic design skills employers are seeking.2 Here’s a sneak peek at five of the top technical skills employers want to see from a candidate:
- Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.)
- Web design
Additionally, the BLS lists the following as key qualities of a graphic designer:
- Analytical skills: A graphic designer should be able to step outside themselves and view the product or service analytically and from different perspectives. That way they can help anticipate how the audience will receive it.
- Communication skills: Graphic designers need to be able to communicate effectively with both team members and clients. They must ensure they know what the expectations are so that their designs will align with their client’s vision.
- Time-management skills: Designers are often faced with the challenge of working on several projects with various deadlines at the same time. Being able to juggle multiple projects and meet deadlines is essential to a successful design career.
3. What are some important qualities of graphic designers?
Visual thinking: We all think with a combination of words and images. But if you’re the type of person who is usually visualizing an event, conversation or idea, then you’re probably more visual than most.
“You will need the ability to think visually, then translate that thinking to clients and patrons who don’t often share your vision,” says David Langton, President at Langton Creative Group.
Creativity: Maybe you weren’t always the best at drawing or the student with the perfect cup out of the kiln, but creativity comes in many forms. In this case, you might want to think of it the way Maitrik Kataria, Director of Design at Simform, describes it: “The ability to come up with creative solutions from various inspiring sources.”
And creativity is also about what you do with what you have. “[Graphic designers] will usually just hear very broad, high-level ideas, and it's their job to turn that into something tangible,” says Marcion Albert, Chief Editor of NewAwning.com
Thick skin: As a graphic designer you’ll have a lot of opinions coming your way, and you need to be able to accept and learn from criticism in order to grow and thrive in the field.
“Initial drafts are often scrapped with executives merely sending short messages about the parts they don't like,” Albert explains. “The designer has to be able to incorporate these suggestions without taking things personally.”
4. What are some common graphic design specialties?
Beyond designing for print or online, graphic designers can specialize in a number of different niches. Some common specialties include:
- User interface (UI) design
- Web design
- Application design
- Animation and motion graphics
- User experience (UX) design
- Information architecture
As you can see, many of these specializations lean toward digital design. Employers are placing a premium on ensuring internet users’ interactions and experiences with their websites or applications are both intuitive and aesthetically pleasing.
5. What education and training do graphic designers need?
For any graphic designer looking to enter the field, there are a few key factors employers consider.
Education level: While it may be tempting to forego a formal education and try to become a self-taught designer, there are some good reasons to be wary of this approach. For one, the BLS reports graphic designers typically need a Bachelor’s degree in design or a related field. Our analysis of graphic design job postings also supports the case for a formal education. The data revealed that 87 percent of employers are seeking candidates with at least an Associate’s degree.2
Internship experience: This is a tried and true approach for job-seekers in all industries. A graphic design internship shows employers you’ve handled yourself well in a professional environment. Often this experience also provides you an opportunity to build your portfolio of work. Not only that, internships offer an excellent networking opportunity—a reference or recommendation from coworkers can certainly help your employment prospects.
Relevant projects and work experience: “Besides certifications and Bachelor‘s degrees, the best form of education for graphic designers is to learn by doing,” Kataria says.
If you’re looking to build your graphic design portfolio, take on as many projects and small jobs as possible. Ideally, you should try to build up a bit of variety in your portfolio. Versatility is valuable, particularly for smaller employers that may not have the resources to hire a full team of specialized designers.
6. Where do graphic designers work?
Graphic designers can work nearly anywhere, but similar to most professional-service jobs, employers tend to be concentrated in areas with larger populations. Most of these jobs can be categorized into three categories: in-house, agency and freelance.
In-house graphic designers work as a part of a standalone company’s internal creative team. Agency graphic designers are employed by a business that provides design services for multiple clients, and freelance designers are self-employed—typically working with multiple clients.
For a more in-depth look at the different work settings, check out our article: Where Do Graphic Designers Work? In-House vs. Agency vs. Freelance.
Before you go…
So how much do graphic designers make? You now have your answer, and the answers to other important questions you should be asking. But there is still a lot you don’t know about being a graphic designer.
Now is your chance to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the position, by hearing from seasoned designers themselves. Hear their insight in our article, “What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Graphic Designer.”
1Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 41,460 graphic design job postings, June 1, 2016 – May 31, 2017)
Advertisement: This article was created by Rasmussen College to promote its graphic design program. Please see www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of the programs we offer. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.