How to Become a Graphic Designer

Graphic designers get the thrill of turning a client’s vision into visual reality, and the satisfaction of making a living with art—not something every creative person gets to say. On the other hand, slow job growth in the industry can sometimes make it challenging to break into the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts that this job will grow just 1 percent between 2014 and 2024.

graphic designer
Courtesy of Jenny Grass

Still, if your passion drives you toward a career in graphic design, you can be successful, if you’re willing to work hard and network your way into a role.

To find out how a successful graphic designer built her career, PayScale spoke with Jenny Grass, a Senior Graphic Designer at Kinetic Agency in Billings, Montana, to see how it’s done.

PayScale: Did you always want to be a graphic designer? If not, how did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up, so to speak?

Grass: In short, yes. I grew up obsessed with making my own cards and collages, putting text and images together always intrigued me. It wasn’t until high school when I took a graphic design class that I knew this was the career for me.

PayScale: What are the educational requirements for becoming a graphic designer?

Grass: Usually a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design or Communications. [Grass went to Montana State University, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design.]

PayScale: What’s the best part of your job?

Grass: Seeing a design come into fruition from an idea in your head to the final piece. There is always an internal spark of excitement when you know what you’ve put together is working visually.

PayScale: What’s the toughest part of your job?

Grass: Working with clients who don’t know what they want, or how to communicate what they like or dislike about a piece. There can be a lot of internal spinning when you don’t get clear direction.

PayScale: What surprised you, when you started working in your career?

Grass: How many different hats you end up wearing! I’ve been a copywriter, printer, merchandiser, strategist, taste-tester, product-tester, psychologist, and so much more under the job title “graphic designer.”

PayScale:  What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your career path?

Grass: Network, and know how to sell yourself and what your strengths are. I’ve gotten so many jobs from past coworkers’ or acquaintances’ recommendations. The bigger your network, the more likely you are to land a job. Use creative staffing agencies. My first job was through Aquent and I ended up working in-house for Nike through them for almost three years!

For more information, including graphic designer salaries, see PayScale’s Career Research Center. To find out if you’re being paid appropriately for your work, take PayScale’s free Salary Survey.

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