Beginners Graphic Designers Guide: What is Graphic Design?

What Does A Graphic Designer Do?

A graphic designer communicates different ideas and creates visual concepts through their design projects, like websites, brochures, logos, graphics, and other marketing material, as well as translating visual ideas into digital illustration.

hands on design booklet

If you've been considering pursuing a career as a graphic designer but you still have questions, you've come to the right place. Like most careers, becoming a graphic designer takes time, money, and a certain level of commitment to learning a new craft. With that in mind, we'll be answering some of the most frequently asked questions from people who want to know what it takes to become a professional graphic designer and to build a portfolio website.

We'll get into what a graphic designer actually does, how to build an online portfolio, what skills you need to become one, and how to come up with pricing for your first logo design project. By the end, you'll have all the answers you need in order to make an informed decision about whether you want a career in graphic design.

What Does A Graphic Designer Do?

Before you set out on your journey to becoming a graphic designer, it's important that you understand exactly what you're in for. Graphic designer duties can vary greatly depending on factors like whether you are working as a freelancer or as a contractor with graphic design firms.

However, the common factor is that graphic designers create visual concepts and communicate ideas through their work. This can mean working on design projects like logos, websites, and brochures, and other marketing material, among many other potential job opportunities. A graphic designer combines text and images using an extensive knowledge of design trends and the ability to tell a story through visual elements.

In general, graphic designers will receive a brief which they will then translate into a visual using digital illustration and design software like Adobe Creative Suite. However, in reality, the design process is much more involved than it may seem at first glance. A graphic designer needs to be familiar with business identity design, photo editing software, and layout software, in addition to being able to strategically communicate ideas and emotions, all while marketing their business on their graphic design online portfolio website.

On top of all of the technical knowledge that goes into creating brand elements using a combination of art and technology, graphic designers are often responsible for a number of other duties, including:

  • meeting and communicating with their clients

  • understanding how to create original designs that will attract the client's target audience

  • presenting thoroughly researched concepts for approval and critique

  • incorporating changes from customers or art directors

  • ensuring a lack of error in the designs before they are sent to print

In general, a graphic designer will have a few main areas of expertise or a specific type of customer or work that they take on. That means developing your identity as a designer and determining what kind of projects you are most interested in working on. Once you've decided that, it's all about showcasing relevant work on your online portfolio so that potential clients can clearly understand what you specialize in.

Graphic design is something that every business has a need for when it comes to marketing their business, and that means that there are a ton of different industries that hire graphic designers. Here are some examples of the many different types of projects you may end up working on as a professional graphic designer.

  • product packaging design

  • book cover design

  • corporate branding identity

  • communication designers

  • production design

  • user experience

  • web design

  • art and illustration

 One of the best things about working as a graphic designer is that there are so many opportunities for you to work on such a wide variety of projects. In fact, the more specific you are about what type of project you take on you can get, the easier it will be to stand out and establish yourself as an expert in your niche field.

designs on tablet

What Does Graphic Design Mean?

Graphic design means using visual compositions to solve creative problems, and sharing ideas through the use of color, imagery, words, and form. There are multiple ways to achieve this, which is why there are many different specializations that fall under the greater umbrella term of graphic design — including marketing, advertising, publication, packaging, motion design, environmental design, illustration, and more.

Graphic design is behind just about everything we can get our hands on in today’s world. From the cars we drive, the technologies we use, the webpages we browse, and the brands we wear, there’s most likely been a graphic designer behind a logo, an infographic, or a layout that’s captured our attention. Graphic designers have a huge hand in shaping our future developments, making them key players in a wide range of innovative industries that are constantly transforming.

Technologies and trends are also regularly changing — meaning that the design industry is in a constant state of evolution, and so are the skill sets that are sought by potential employers or clients. As such, having a successful career in graphic design also means being adaptable and willing to learn new skills to keep up with demand.

Is Graphic Design Hard?

Before you start putting a ton of your time and energy into pursuing graphic design, it's a good idea to get a better understanding of what the process of becoming a graphic designer will actually look like. As with any career path, successful graphic designers know that it's not always an easy job. For example, if you're an artist who usually makes art for yourself, working in a client facing role might prove difficult at times. You may find it difficult to have to conform to someone else's style and demands in order to create something that may not line up with your personal art aesthetic. If you're the type of person who can't take constructive criticism, graphic design is probably not going to be the right career for you.

Another challenge with becoming a graphic designer is that you will have to learn a lot about graphic design software and stay up to date with industry trends and new programs in order to stay competitive. This is where you might want to consider attending a graphic design program or engaging in continuing education even after you become established as a graphic designer so that you are always staying on top of advancements in the industry.

Since you will likely be dealing directly with clients as a graphic designer, you also have to be aware that some customers may end up being more difficult to satisfy. Sometimes you may come up against a client who doesn't trust your authority of reasoning for making the design choices you do and will insist on having you follow their feedback, even if it doesn't line up with what you believe will be best for the company. At this point, you will have to decide whether it's better to attempt to educate them on why your choices will be better for them, or if you're just going to take their feedback in spite of believing that it won't ultimately benefit them in the long run.

Graphic design is about bringing a client's vision to life, and that means you need to really be on the same page as them in terms of understanding what exactly they are asking for. If you're not entirely clear what they want, make sure to ask. It's way better to ask for more information upfront than to pretend you know what they mean and end up creating extra work for yourself down the line.

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What Skills Do I Need To Be A Graphic Designer?

Now that you understand some of the hard parts of becoming a graphic designer, what skills do you need to be a graphic designer? We'll take a look at some of the hard and soft skills that are a necessity for any aspiring graphic designer.

Many graphic design jobs require an applicant to have a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field. However, you don't have to go into debt in order to learn about graphic design in school. For example, you could look into certification programs or even free courses online, especially if you just want to dip your toes in before committing to a more focused program of study. While in school, you may be able to get an internship to gain experience with an established design firm, which will often hire graphic design students for work-study programs.

It may look good to a potential employer if you have a bachelor's degree, but keep in mind that it all comes down to your ability to pitch yourself, and that means having a standout online portfolio. You need to showcase not only your technical skills but also your ability to work with a client to deliver a high quality product that they are completely satisfied with.

Here are some of the other skills you will need in order to be successful as a graphic designer.

  • artistic ability, drawing skills, and creativity

  • communication with clients

  • computer skills

  • time management

  • a thorough understanding of theory and fundamentals of graphic design and psychology of colors

  • research skills

  • the ability to adjust your artistic style to create what your customer wants

  • incorporate customer feedback

  • communicate a concept through visual design

 Since you know what abilities are needed to become a graphic designer, it's time to look at how viable a career in graphic design might be.

graphic of city

Is Graphic Design a Dying Career?

The last thing you want to do is invest time, money, and energy into pursuing a career that may not pay off in the long run. You're probably wondering, is graphic design a good career for me, or is the industry in trouble?

Some people may think that design is dying as a career due to the amount of competition in the market. There are always people willing to do a design project for a lower rate, and even websites that automatically create generic business logos for the price of a coffee.

However, the reality is that graphics are an integral part of most businesses, and are used in marketing and public relations across the board. Graphic designers help companies communicate their messages to potential buyers and convert them into paying customers.

Unfortunately, many businesses do end up opting for the cheapest option they can find, because they may not understand the value that a well designed logo can provide to their business. Graphic design is about so much more than just artistic ability, and businesses end up losing when they think they can achieve the same professional results at a much lower cost.

With that in mind, make sure that you always charge what you are worth and have confidence in the value that you are providing to your clients, and you will see that graphic design is still very much a thriving business.

Is Graphic Design in Demand?

The short answer: yes! 

In the past decade, the massive growth of digital platforms and content marketing strategies has made graphic design one of the most effective conveyances of ideas. Visual interpretations tend to capture viewers’ attention much better than other types of content, making graphic designers highly sought-after when it comes to any sort of career in marketing or advertising.

In the US, the graphic design industry currently has a market size of $12 billion. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 281,500 graphic designers are currently employed in the US alone — with many people working in the fields of advertising, specialized design services, publishing, and public relations. Graphic designers who choose jobs in digital fields (such as computer systems design and digital media) are also likely to see a 20% growth rate in these areas of expertise.

When it comes to the marketing of products, graphic designers are key contributors to companies’ successful branding campaigns. This means they will always be important investments for businesses, as well as integral players in driving the economy forward.As opposed to using DIY design software or free online tools, established brands will almost always prefer to hire actual graphic designers to help them with their branding campaigns. Working with a graphic designer is a much better way for companies to produce original design work, achieve their true brand vision and establish a consistent brand identity. Experienced graphic designers will also have the skills to ensure that all materials are interactive and viewable on all devices and platforms.

Of course, as graphic design is a popular career choice, aspiring graphic designers are likely to face steep competition. As such, those who stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and specialized techniques and who are willing to continue updating their skill set are most likely to experience continued success in the field.

digital cat

How Many Hours Do Graphic Designers Typically Work?

Due to the creative nature of graphic design, a designer’s daily schedule and the number of hours worked can vary.

To give you a better sense of how many hours a graphic designer usually works, let’s take a look at the three different environments you’re most likely to find them in:

1. In-house Setting

Graphic designers who work in an in-house setting are employed with an established organization. These types of roles may involve working on a company’s internal marketing initiatives, producing work for clients, or both.

In-house roles typically follow a traditional 9 to 5 schedule, meaning they’re likely to provide graphic designers with at least 40 hours of work per week. In-house roles may also require designers to work extra hours, depending on the needs of their company. Your schedule while working for an established brand is also more likely to include meetings, company events, and additional duties that may lie outside of your creative contributions.

2. Agency Setting

Like in-house graphic designers, those who work in an agency environment are more likely to follow a similar 9 to 5, 40-hour weekly timetable. However, you’re more likely to see your workflow broken down a bit differently in an agency. Agency-based projects involve working with outside clients to produce creative work — meaning they’ll typically be shorter-term in nature.

Agency roles are usually very fast-paced, with projects that often require long hours and tight deadlines. As such, there’s a higher chance you might be logging extra hours or working some late nights to finish a project.

On the flip side, working in an agency also means spending more time working with other designers and creative directors — making it almost guaranteed that your hours will mostly be spent on design work, as opposed to other duties.

3. Freelance Setting

Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 21% of graphic designers in the US are freelance (or self-employed) workers. Instead of working under the guidance of another company, freelance designers contract their services to clients and are responsible for managing every aspect of their operations — including who they choose to work with and the total number of hours they work each week.

While getting to manage your own schedule may offer more creative freedom, most freelance designers aim to work a similar number of weekly hours as in-house or agency professionals. Also, because there are no set rules on how many hours a freelance designer can choose to work, it isn't uncommon to see them working well over 40 hours per week to meet deadlines or financial objectives.

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How Much Do Graphic Designers Charge For A Logo?

When it comes to designing a logo, the rate you charge will depend on a number of factors. If you're working as a freelancer as opposed to on salary for a design firm, you will be in charge of setting your salary.

For people who are unfamiliar with graphic design, it can be difficult to understand why some logos cost $5 and some cost more than $10,000. That's because the quality and scope of the project will vary greatly between those two price points.

When you're just starting out and don't have much professional experience under your belt, it can be tempting to try to compete with generic logo generators by pricing your services on the lower end. Think twice before you do this because often you end up making yourself look like the budget option rather than someone who creates work that is worth paying for. Underpricing your services can also end up attracting low paying clients who have a ton of demands and end up causing more trouble than they're worth.

A $200 logo and a $2000 logo could look similar, but the difference becomes clear when you look at how the design process looks for low end, middle end, and high end logo design. Here are some of the factors that will determine how you price your logo design services.

Level of Experience

Professional designers with a more developed work history will always charge more than someone who is new to the field. In addition to the added experience they bring to the table, there will likely be less back and forth between the customer and the designer, which is a luxury worth paying for. Business owners want to focus on what they do best while leaving the branding to the professionals, and that requires trust between customer and designer.

Simple Logo vs Full Branding Design

The scope of a logo design project can vary from including just a simple logo to a full scale brand overhaul. The specific design elements that the customer will receive should all be clearly outlined in your graphic design contract before you even start sketching out your initial ideas.

A branding package requires research, whereas a simple logo designed based on the customer's vision is more about streamlining the final product than actually engaging in an intentional designing process. Neither option is necessarily better or worse, but the amount you charge will be dependent on the scale of the project.

Industry Research

Logos are much more than a simple image with a business name incorporated. While a lower cost logo will revolve solely around client direction in terms of choosing fonts, colors, and imagery, a mid or high value logo design will include logo variations, brand strategy, brand style guide, and potentially additional brand graphics. They will also involve extensive research around your customer and their competition, the creation of multiple design concepts, and designing brand guidelines to be applied across all company branding.

Who is Your Customer?

If you're used to charging based on how long a project takes you, it may be an adjustment to transition to value based pricing. You should always set your rate based on the value you provide to the company, and that means charging more for a huge corporation than you would for a small business or nonprofit.

Usage Licensing

Another thing to consider when pricing your logo design services is image licensing. Your price should change based on whether your designs will be used locally, nationally, or internationally, as well as whether they will be used in print, online, on products, or on television.

Do You Need a Portfolio for Graphic Design?

For those of you wondering if graphic design is easy to get into — we can tell you that with a great online portfolio, your chances of leveraging your online platform are much higher. 

When it comes to impressing potential clients or employers, having a strong portfolio of your work is vital when it comes to proving your skills as a graphic designer. Your portfolio will serve as a platform for your talents and creative abilities, as well as a place to showcase examples of your work.

If you’re a graphic designer, your portfolio will allow future clients or employers to take a deeper look into your strengths, abilities, and specializations. While your resume will list your past accomplishments and qualifications, your portfolio will provide evidence of your design experience, with links to your past work.

Having a graphic design portfolio will also help you establish a better online presence, which will make you more accessible to clients. It can also serve as one of your strongest networking tools, providing you with a launchpad to connect with potential clients or other industry professionals.

What Should Be Included in a Graphic Design Portfolio?

To ensure that your graphic portfolio stands out from the crowd, it will need to successfully grab your visitors’ attention. Following the right formula will also ensure that your portfolio is clean, engaging, and easy for your visitors to digest.

What should be included in your graphic design portfolio to ensure it highlights your talent and catches the eye of potential hires?

1. Personal Touches

A convincing graphic design portfolio should include a logo, a tagline, updated contact information, a call to action (CTA), and examples of your best work. 

Additional key elements will also help you score extra points and tell your visitors more about your personality. This can include testimonials from your clients, an about page (with a photo and small biography about your personal and professional experience), a blog, or details about a current project you’re working on. While these details shouldn't stray away from informing visitors about your professional goals, they should also provide greater insight into your reputation or creative capabilities.

2. Work That Reflects Your Current Objectives

The type of work you choose to put in your portfolio is the type of work you’re most likely to get hired for, which means it will go a long way towards helping you inch towards projects you’re interested in.

Featuring a defined niche on your portfolio will also heighten your chances of landing the right gigs. Clients looking for a designer specializing in a particular niche will be more likely to choose you for their next project — especially if you’re able to showcase past work with a similar tone or style.

3. The Tight Number of Pieces

How many pieces should be included in your graphic design portfolio? It’s recommended that you feature an average of 10 high-quality pieces, in order of which ones best showcase your skills. 

You'll want to make sure the pieces featured will catch the eye of a future client — so in this case, quality is better than quantity.

4. A Great Visual Experience

When it comes to curating your graphic design portfolio page, simplicity is key. 

Your portfolio should be easy for visitors to navigate and your theme should be clean and minimal, allowing your work to serve as the main focal point. It can only take a few seconds to lose your visitors’ attention, which is why you’ll want them to have a clean and engaging visual experience when they explore your work.

Using an online portfolio template from Format will provide you and your future connections with a sleek, beautiful interface to connect on. Tools such as slideshows, grid layouts, and intuitive design options are a great way to ensure that your platform is interactive, easy to scroll through and that your best work will serve as the focal point of your profile.

Now that you have a thorough understanding of what it takes to become a graphic designer, it's time to start practicing your skills and building up your online portfolio website!

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