What Graphic Designers Wish They Knew Before Joining the Field

by Evan Thompson

Updated May 23, 2023 • 4 min read

From advertising and marketing to street signs and product packaging, graphic design is part of our everyday lives.

Graphic designers use images, symbols, and text in creative and innovative ways to present ideas and influence what people do and how they think. Design is one of society's most potent visual communication tools, which means there's no shortage of industries that need to hire experienced graphic designers.

Graphic design jobs, which have an average salary of $53,380, are among the most versatile for creative professionals. A bachelor's degree in graphic design can lead to entry-level positions in many different industries.

Career Paths for Graphic Design Graduates

Potential Employer Typical Position
Advertising agencies Multimedia designer
Film studios Photo editor
Specialized design services Web designer
Software companies Animator
Publishing companies Layout artist
Tech companies Flash designer

Four-year graphic design programs teach students how to effectively communicate visual ideas, often utilizing a mix of artistic, design, and scientific thinking to reach a wide array of people. Graphic designers work by hand or use computer software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

Graduates can also pursue a master's in graphic design. Master's programs usually teach advanced design and managerial skills. A master's degree leads to various leadership positions such as art director, marketing manager, and product designer, with an average salary of $66,764.

But what's it like to be a graphic designer? We asked graphic designers to tell us about what they wish they knew before joining the field.

Find Your Niche, Then Stick With It

“When I went into design school, I didn't realize there were so many facets of the design industry: printing, illustration, typography, web design, logo design, marketing, UX, packaging design, and so much more. In most schools, they require that you take courses for all of these things, and it can feel like you're expected to know literally everything about graphic design.

What they don't tell you is that in the long run, it's way more beneficial to find a niche you're passionate about and good at and follow that thread. In your first year or so, stay open-minded and really try every type of design out, but choose your specialty early and stick to it. Don't be intimidated by the expansiveness of the education.”

Doug Huegel, Owner, Graphic Designer, and Creative Director at Doug Does Design

Practicing With Design Tools Is Key

“There were many tools that I didn't care to learn while I was in class. But, later, when I needed to use them for work, I had to spend time researching them or ended up using them another way that's not the best.

“For example, the Curve Tool in Adobe Illustrator. I used to struggle a lot getting the perfect curve when I used the pen tool to draw. With the curve tool, I can actually convert a simple shape to anything I want. So future designers, my No. 1 advice is learn and practice how to use the design tools. Honestly, practice is the key.”

June Escalada, Founder of IllustratorHow

Focus on the Basics That Will Land You a Job

“Nowadays, graphic design and web development walk hand in hand. If you want to have a high paying job in the future, make sure to dedicate some time to learn user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design.

Study the basics of coding, master HTML, CSS and Javascript. This way, you will have much higher chances of landing a job with a salary that sits between design and IT — this is the sweet spot where career satisfaction and financial gain are maximized.”

Bruno Santos, Graphic Designer and Web Developer at Drawing Tablet World

Drawing and Illustration Can Make You a Better Graphic Designer

“Technically, you don't have to know how to draw to become a graphic designer, but knowing how to draw always helps a ton in sketching ideas and illustration style design. Starting to sketch now is not a bad idea. Whether you decide to become a brand designer working with logos or want to be a freelance illustrator, it is nice to have drawing skills.”

June Escalada, Founder of IllustratorHow

Research Business Skills Needed in Graphic Design

“Take some time to read up on the most valuable business skills needed in graphic design. Determine which skills you already have and which skills you could improve. Regularly researching and studying business skills can also help to keep your skills up-to-date and allow you to remain abreast of the current and emerging business trends.”

Darren Dean, Founder and Chief Graphic Designer at WipeLock

Portrait of Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

Header Image Credit: Westend61 | Getty Images

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