Your creative thinking, technical prowess and artistic passion make you the perfect candidate for a career in graphic design. It’s always been in the back of your mind but somewhere along the way, the real world rudely interrupted your dreams. You became a responsible adult in the blink of an eye; one with bills, a mortgage and a family to support.
Maybe you’re finally revisiting that dream now that life has calmed down a bit. The fact that you’re doing a little research before making a commitment is smart. You already know you’ve got what it takes to be a great graphic designer; you just want to know what your options are once you become one.
First thing’s first: where do graphic designers work? The good news is there are a variety of choices. From working in-house to an agency to your own home, you’ll find the perfect work environment to cultivate your creativity!
This resource will help you understand your options. We surveyed more than 150 graphic design pros to get a behind-the-scenes look at each of these work environments.* Check out the results below and hear what the experts have to say about each opportunity.
Working as an in-house graphic designer
Working in-house refers to being employed with an established organization or brand. You would likely be part of a small team of designers or possibly even the only one. In-house designers tend to be generalists, possessing a broad range of general design skills in order to meet all of the creative needs of the company.
In-house designers have the ability to truly invest themselves in a single brand, taking pride in nurturing it from the start of each project to the finish, according to Andrew Matthews, graphic designer at Sewell Development Corp.
Matthews feels he can better represent the brand because he’s located at the heart of where the work takes place. Being in such close proximity with your client also allows for real-time conversation and on-site critique.
“The pace of work is more bearable, the workload steadier and the hours more conducive to leading a life outside of work,” Matthews says.
On the flip side, Matthews explains that working in-house has the potential to become stale for some designers. “The lack of variation in work opportunity can be a real struggle for some in-house designers,” he warns.
Matthews advises those interested in working as an in-house designer to be sure you have a genuine interest in the company and brand. Every project you are assigned will follow the same creative guidelines and brand messaging, so it will get old fast if it’s something you don’t enjoy.
Survey says …
- 85 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Money & job security are the most important career factors
- 79 percent work a standard 9-to-5 schedule
- 61 percent work directly with a team of five or less people
You're cut out to work in-house if ...
- You want a standard 9-to-5 work schedule
- You consider yourself a jack-of-all-trades
- You’d prefer investing in one brand and watching it grow
Working as an agency graphic designer
Graphic design agencies are hired by outside clients to produce creative work, which means the designers work with an assortment of clients. Agencies usually employ several graphic designers who specialize in different areas in order to staff the various projects they are contracted to do. Accounts tend to be short-term and limited to a specific campaign.
An agency environment is very conducive to collaborating with others, according to Ryan Krail, art director at Miami-based Sparxoo. You put a bunch of designers in a room together and the ideas start flying.
“Although we all have different skill sets and backgrounds, we have a common thread of creativity and passion so it is great bouncing ideas off of each other,” Krail says.
Another benefit is the quantity and diversity of clients results in a variety of work, according to Marie Sonder, graphic designer at EZsolution. It’s not uncommon for designers to work with a new client each week and even multiple clients simultaneously.
“The variety of clients keeps graphic designers on their toes so it’s not the same old thing every day,” Sonder says.
While the constant flux of clients keeps things interesting, the quick turnover can be a negative as well. “The reality is that some [clients] only need our help for a few months,” Krail explains. This short-term relationship doesn’t allow him to witness the brands grow as a result of his creations.
Another drawback is that clients can be demanding and indecisive, according to Sonder. The fact that you’re physically removed from the client can lead to many back-and-forth requests for tweaks and alterations. She also advises aspiring agency designers to be sure they are patient and open to criticism.
Survey says …
- 72.5 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Money & flexibility are the most important career factors
- 50 percent work a standard 9-to-5 schedule
- 75 percent work with a team of five or less
You're cut out to work at an agency if ...
- You can work under pressure and are deadline driven
- You enjoy working on a variety of projects
- You’d consider yourself a specialist
Working as a freelance graphic designer
Freelance graphic designers are self-employed. They are responsible for every aspect of their business, from marketing and client relations to bookkeeping and invoicing. This means freelance designers must possess more than just design skills.
“Hands down, my favorite thing about freelancing is the flexibility,” says Rachel Vane, owner of RC Vane. As a mother of young children, she loves that she has the ability to control her own schedule and workload. She adds that being able to choose who she works with also makes her job more enjoyable.
Not only can you decide when you work and who you work with but you can also choose where you work. Most of a designer’s work is done on a computer, meaning as a freelancer you can work from virtually anywhere!
Being a freelance graphic designer has its perks but there are also some drawbacks. Vane admits the least favorite aspect of her job is the financial ups and downs. While working in-house or in an agency offers consistent work and a steady paycheck, the same isn’t always true for freelancers.
“There can be a big feast or famine aspect to freelancing that is difficult and very stressful,” Vane says.
Freelance designers are also responsible for a lot of duties above and beyond the actual design work. Enlisting new clients, managing finances, tracking hours and collecting payments are just a few of the tedious tasks you take on as a freelance designer.
Survey says …
- 58 percent earned a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Flexibility and job responsibilities are most important career factors
- 79 percent say their work schedule varies by week
- 46 percent work alone
You're cut out to be a freelancer if ...
- You prefer setting your own workload and schedule
- You’d consider yourself business savvy
- You enjoy working solo
Design your own future
Just like any workplace, there are pros and cons to each of these graphic design work environments. Whether you prefer the structure and security of the corporate world, the creativity and collaboration of agency life or the freedom and flexibility of freelancing, there’s a place for you in the world of graphic design.
So where do graphic designers work? The answer is everywhere! The key is finding the perfect work setting for you to flourish.
Ready to take the next step towards launching your dream design career? Check out the three things you need to become a graphic designer!
*Source: SurveyMonkey.com (Results gathered from 150 respondents who identified themselves as working in the graphic design field. Survey conducted Aug. 10, 2014 – Aug. 12, 2014).