Is Graphic Design a Good Major? An Evaluation for 2018 and Beyond
For a visually oriented, creative person like yourself, graphic design has always sounded like an awesome career. Artistic concerns that go back through human history mixed with the tech-savvy shine of this century—who wouldn’t think a graphic design career is cooler than your average 9-to-5 job?
But college is a big investment, and as much as you’d like to experiment, you aren’t interested in wasting time and money on a major that doesn’t lead to a good job. After all, what good is a “cool” job if it isn’t really a feasible way to make a living? Are there lesser-known perks to this field? How well will this degree support your creative ambitions down the line? There’s a lot you need to know.
To help you better understand if a Graphic Design degree is the right fit for you, we’ve asked industry pros to weigh-in on everything you need to know about the value of this area of study.
The must-knows: Graphic design job market, outlook and salary
No matter how interesting a certain college major may seem—you’re likely to be hesitant about enrolling if you don’t think it would lead you to a job on the other side of graduation. This makes certain aspects of a graphic design career very high priority. Before you go any further, you need to know about the job market, the average salary and the projected job outlook.
The graphic design job market
“In my experience I see design jobs at every corner of the industry,” says Crissy Bogusz, graphic designer at Vogue International. “Design is an invaluable tool and will always be necessary for every business—every business needs a logo, business card, website, marketing and social media.”
“I can't speak for some, but I didn't have any issues finding work,” says Scott Samuels, web designer for Vivint Source. “There were plenty of job openings when I graduated and it only took me a month and a half to find my current job.”
That said, anyone entering the graphic design market should consider its particular industry quirks. “I think the job market has changed from being agency-based to brand-based internal hiring and freelance gigs,” says Maura Cottle, creative director of Heat Waves. For this reason, designers who are interested in working for one company or who hope to freelance might have more job opportunities than those who want to work in an agency—especially when just starting out.
“Entry-level design jobs are easier to come by,” Cottle adds. “The freelance life is real.” Cottle says brands always need help executing ideas, and new designers can build a portfolio and network by freelancing.
Average graphic designer salary
“There’s never been a more exciting time to be working in or entering the creative industry,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. “Companies are hiring to fill a range of positions, and because demand is often outpacing supply when it comes to top design talent, salaries are rising.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for graphic designers in 2016 was $47,640.* The salary potential of a graphic designer will certainly vary based on experience, location and work setting. That number can also see fluctuation based on the specific skill sets designers have. Domeyer says their research shows that graphic design positions with digital expertise are often seeing the highest pay.
Projected job outlook for graphic designers
The market looks great right now, and there’s plenty of room for a good salary. But what about the future? According to the BLS, graphic design employment is projected to grow at a rate slower than the average occupation. The BLS explains this figure by saying there has been a decline in design jobs traditionally associated with newspapers, periodicals and hard copy magazines. While the decline of print media doesn’t help, digital design remains a bright spot.
Graphic design professionals themselves see plenty of opportunity on the horizon. “Graphic design is factored in with the credibility of a website,” Samuels explains. “Poor design could mix with the organic search results of a website, which could cost a company millions of dollars.”
Graphics continue to make a big difference in search engine optimization, and organizations will need high-quality imagery to complement their web presence.
“Design is an integral part of new media and emerging media which continue to shape our world today,” Bogusz says.
The nice-to-haves: Benefits of a graphic design degree
If that first level of priorities checks out—you’re probably thinking you would like more from your college major and future career than a paycheck. Would graphic design be fun and engaging for you? Would you enjoy going to work in the morning?
Okay, so no one can truly answer that for you—your preferences are your preferences. But our experts shared about the graphic design terrain and the kinds of people who excel in the career.
Graphic design is useful all over the place. Most any business could use the skills of a great graphic designer, and since so much of the job is digital, remote options are plentiful. This means graphic designers aren’t limited to working in certain locations.
“You will be able to take your skill to any business and it will always be valuable to them,” Bogusz says. As you gain skills and experience, you become more marketable as a designer and can find more niche opportunities like front-end development or user experience (UX) design.
If you like things to keep moving and to keep learning new things on the job, you might be very happy in graphic design. “The industry now asks more of a designer than ever before,” Bogusz says. “A designer role has become a diverse and multi-skilled role.”
Bogusz explains that excellence in graphic design might also mean gaining social media knowledge, interactive knowledge and branding knowledge, along with skills in motion graphics, video, animation, 3D and web.
This means that a desire and aptitude to keep learning new things is pretty essential in graphic design. Multi-skilled roles mean you get to push yourself and refine your skills in different areas, keeping the job interesting and also beneficial for your career options.
“The big trend happening to the workforce generally is the growth of freelancing as a career choice,” says Robert McGuire, publisher of Nation1099. McGuire says freelancing has attracted highly skilled workers away from traditional jobs. “And freelancers are finding that they can make more money on a solo basis than in W-2 roles if they are strategic and thoughtful about it.”
Graphic design lends itself very well to freelancing, for those who like the idea of working independently. It’s not for everyone. McGuire says freelancing involves not only being talented in graphic design, but a host of other skills that help you take command of your career.
“Students should pay special attention when their instructors are talking about communication, teamwork, project-based learning, analysis and lifelong learning,” McGuire says. “Those are the skills that help you separate from the pack and build a thriving independent business.”
The less-obvious benefits of majoring in graphic design
Are all your career hopes and dreams satisfied? Well that’s not the end of it. There are tons of factors that go into a true evaluation of the benefits of a major. You may have never considered a few of these less-prominent perks.
Your artistic aesthetic
Not least in the benefits of majoring in Graphic Design is the chance to pursue an art you love and develop your aesthetic. “Majoring in Graphic Design allows students to explore all different aspects of design, helping them to identify personal taste and style,” Cottle says.
Studying Graphic Design exposes you to important factors of graphic design, such as information architecture in communicating a message visually, Cottle says. “It can be overwhelming choosing which facet of graphic design to plant your flag in as new technologies and needs emerge.” There are more choices to make in every design than most people realize, and as you practice and work with other designers, you’ll see your own style develop.
Collaborating with other artists
“The two most valuable things I learned in school was how to draw inspiration from my peers and how to accept constructive criticism,” Samuels says. “Art is so subjective that it can be difficult for everyone to be on the same creative page, but as long as you're willing to be open-minded and are able to turn to like-minded designers to gain insight, you can create something that everyone can be happy with.”
You might think of graphic design as a field where you spend most of your time working on your own, but there’s actually a ton of collaboration between designers and other stakeholders. For example, as a junior graphic designer, you’ll likely report to an experienced designer who’ll guide your work and offer constructive feedback. Exchanging ideas with other creative thinkers is an excellent way to grow and broaden your design horizons.
Your school peers can also become an important network after you graduate, giving you artists to turn to when you need extra motivation or inspiration—and potentially giving you connections for work as well.
Will you major in graphic design?
As you can see, some of the particulars of graphic design mean certain people will thrive more than others in the field. So the real question is: Is Graphic Design a good major for you?
If you are leaning toward “Yes,” then you could probably use some more information on what being a graphic designer is like. Check out our article, “What I Wish Someone Told Me BEFORE Becoming a Graphic Designer,” to get an even more in-depth look at life as a graphic design professional.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed April 9, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary 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.