So you’re interested in becoming a Graphic Designer but aren’t sure what the career involves?
With the advice of an established graphic design professional, this article will walk you through the best pathways into the industry, the roles and responsibilities of a graphic designer, the highlights of the job, its future growth, and much more.
Let’s dive in!
Lauren Babula is a multi-disciplinary designer who specialises in graphic design, and is based in NSW. She works in branding, publication, illustration, and has a client list ranging from boutique brands through to large corporates.
Lauren is regarded for her highly creative and thoughtful approach to her designs, and has previously tutored and lectured at university on the subject!
How did you end up in this role?
Lauren was passionate about art from a young age and studied design at university after graduating from high school. She had the opportunity to engage in a 6-week internship program with Indesign during her degree — one of Australia’s leading design software companies in commercial architecture and design — shortly after which she was offered a full-time role by the company.
Lauren rose to the position of Art Director for Indesign, which she worked in for two years full-time before converting to a more flexible work routine. She now works on various design projects for a range of companies and brands!
Studies and Experience
Lauren studied Object, Interior and Graphic Design at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney (now integrated into UNSW Art and Design faculty), during which time she engaged in her 6-week internship with Indesign.
What made you want to work in this industry?
Additionally, as a practical person, graphic design is a field that allows Lauren to make a living while still enjoying what she does!
What is a Graphic Designer?
A graphic designer plans, designs, develops and prepares information for publication and reproduction using text, symbols, pictures colours and layouts. This is typically done to achieve commercial and communication needs tailored to a particular audience indicated by your client.
Roles and Responsibilities
A graphic designer has various roles and responsibilities, not simply limited to design itself.
Some of the primary roles include formulating design concepts and presenting them to clients through sketches, illustrations and diagrams, and using digital design software (mainly Adobe Creative Suite) to produce commercially suitable designs to fulfil client briefs.
However, other responsibilities of a graphic designer may include:
- Researching and analysing the functional communication requirements of a project
- Negotiating and communicating with clients and stakeholders about their objectives and constraints
- Attending meetings
- Operating one’s professional social media accounts (e.g. Instagram)
- Managing one’s finances (i.e. invoicing, accounting)
Which industries can this career be found in?
Graphic designers are needed in a wide range of industries! Some of the main ones include marketing, advertising, publishing, textiles, commercial interior design, manufacturing, and computer systems design.
What jobs do people sometimes confuse this with?
While both graphic designers and illustrators use visual art to communicate a message for a certain purpose, graphic designers primarily mix and generate digital images, text and layouts using editing and design software, while illustrators work with what they can paint or draw (both digitally and physically).
Because of this, illustrators may find graphic design work more profitable due to the range of growing industries it is highly demanded in (particularly marketing, advertising, publishing, etc).
While a graphic designer is focused on the visual communication of a message, web design emphasises the functional impacts of digital design.
Web design is also a more dynamic medium than graphic design; while a graphic designer may create elements of a website, a web designer’s domain is the way people interact with the site, and how the system flows together (e.g. navigation, menus, buttons, etc).
Characteristics and Qualities
Thinking creatively and communicating your ideas through meaningful design is one of the main skills that a graphic designer develops over their career. Lauren says that educating people on what good graphic design is and how it can be powerful is particularly important today with the multitude of pre-made graphic design templates online.
The technical skills of a graphic designer, such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, are also important, and you can begin learning these at any time through online tutorials.
Graphic designers are well-acquainted with technical design — things like design techniques, tools, and principles used to make detailed technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models. They are also familiar with communications and media, in terms of media production, communication, and dissemination — mostly with visual media.
Other knowledge they have include fine arts and using computers and electronics for computer design and editing softwares.
To be a graphic designer, one would need to have excellent reading comprehension — mainly for reading briefs and effectively shaping designs based on those demands. Critical thinking is an essential too, in order to problem solve.
Designing doesn’t only mean having the technical skills, but also being able to communicate with clients and stakeholders. This entails active listening and learning.
Abilities & Activities
Working within graphic design involves a lot of brainstorming, oral comprehension, oral expression and originality!
You’ll also need to think creatively, keep your knowledge up-to-date (technology and ideas), build good relationships, plan and prioritise work, and communicate with the public.
Steps to Becoming a Graphic Designer
What should you study?
You will usually need a Bachelor’s degree or a Diploma in graphic design to work as a Graphic Designer!
Lauren recommends enrolling in a university course as opposed to a TAFE or private college course if you want to go into graphic design, she says.
A university course will help you develop the thinking skills of design and thus provide you with more longevity and edge in your career, while a TAFE or private college course focuses more so on the mechanical process of ‘doing’ (i.e. the software skills).
You can also check out Visual Communication at WSU here as well as its pros and cons here!
How long does it take to become a Graphic Designer?
Completing a graphic design university course usually takes around 3-4 years, while a Diploma of Graphic Design at TAFE takes around 34 weeks.
You will most likely need to have a solid technical understanding of some or all of the main computer programs used by graphic designers: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
Graphic design exhibits strong future growth. This is likely due to the increased emphasis of social and digital platforms in all industries and our everyday lives.
In particular, demand for graphic designers is growing in advertising and marketing industries.
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
Graphic designers can specialise in a vast array of different industries and areas, as previously mentioned. This can be as specific as graphic design for cookbooks, or car manuals.
The demand for visual communication is only becoming increasingly important as companies move online. Some areas graphic designers might specialise in include:
- Brand graphic design (logos, business cards, etc)
- Marketing and advertising graphic design (posters, infographics, flyers, etc)
- Publication graphic design
- Packaging graphic design
- Environmental graphic design (wall murals, public signage, work spaces)
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$69,000+||Strong over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Graphic design is becoming increasingly accessible for a larger number of people with access to the internet and cheaper versions of professional software available for download.
Although template sites may often distort what ‘good’ graphic design actually is, technologies also expose many young people today with high digital literacy to the possibility of a graphic design career by providing a leaping off point for growth.
The Future of this Industry
For graphic designers, the prominence of online platforms also means a shifting work landscape where graphic design is increasingly being viewed as something ‘anyone can do’.
Lauren states, “It’s such a booming time for marketing and graphic design — visual communication is just evolving so much. I think to cut through there will be more value on meaning. I think to stand out it has to be pretty good, it’s easy for people to use things like Canva these days. To make it good there has to be some sort of deeper thinking about it.”
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
“I really get a kick out of problem solving… it’s not so much the final product to me it’s about working out what the problem is and solving it, which happens to be in a visual way. It’s really satisfying when you feel like you’ve got it, and everything flows easily after that,” says Lauren.
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
“One of the frustrating things about being a graphic designer is that production is a lot more valued than creative time. So your output — what you’re able to do — how many ads you can do or pages you can layout, the mechanical process rather than the higher thinking process. And that’s pretty common in creative industries,” says Lauren.
Advice for Aspiring Graphic Designers
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
Being assertive in communicating your ideas is one of the main skills Lauren wishes she had developed earlier, one of the things that comes with experience “in any career”!
It’s also important to value yourself and your work so other people do as well (even if you aren’t charging a lot for it), a key part of any creative career. “You’ve got to learn not to be exploited, but I still do things for free if I believe in them — as long as it’s valued.”
She adds that she also spends much more time behind a computer than she would have expected.
Why should people consider taking on this career?
Graphic design is an excellent career option if you enjoy problem solving, visual creation and working with other people in a team (whether it’s a client or a creative team).
It also allows you to work within an industry or area that you’re already interested in. For Lauren this has always been architecture, furniture and object design; “There’s sort of more joy than if I was designing a car manual or something.”
Additionally, if you want to have a flexible work-lifestyle that isn’t necessarily confined to an office space or a 9 to 5 working day, graphic design may provide you with flexibility of hours and a constantly changing variety of projects to keep you engaged.
Graphic designers may potentially have a highly flexible lifestyle. “[It is possible] if you show the employee that you can do the role, and as you build up more experience. Most of the graphic designers I know now manage to balance lots of different jobs and family, so it’s great,” says Lauren.
She predominantly works from home, and also has young children. Lauren says she works in four hour chunks on her projects, and typically has a day off a week to fill with other activities.
“There’s a lot of swings and roundabouts when you’re trying to take in new work all the time. It’s hard to keep an even work flow,” she also says. Although consistency of workflow can be difficult to sustain through a project-based job, it is possible to do so by engaging in longer-term projects like magazine publishing design.
What is the workplace culture like?
Like every industry, there are positive and negative sides of the graphic design work culture. Often production can be under-valued, says Lauren, with tough time-frames that don’t provide space for deeper thinking and creativity.
However, it is possible to make some amazing friends and co-creators as well. “I’ve worked with some really lovely people who have gone on to become friends… you’ve got to try and find a workplace that values your contribution, and they’re not [all] equal.”
Zara Zadro is a Content Writer for Art of Smart and a current undergraduate student at the University of Sydney. She studies a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies majoring in Media & Communications and English. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and discovering new parts of Sydney. She has also written for the student publications Honi Soit and Vertigo. After she graduates, Zara hopes to do a Masters in creative writing and live overseas, which she cannot wait for!