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CCC: Graphic Design Profession Guide

With almost 1/4 of The Dots community identifying as Graphic Designers and a vast portion of jobs listed requiring some degree of graphic design skill and experience, it’s no wonder we’re often a destination for questions from lots of aspiring professionals looking to kick start or keep developing their creative design careers.
From the fundamentals of what graphic design roles can entail today to what to study and the potential career trajectories that may follow, we’ve compiled some of our community’s most common inquiries with the hope it may inform and inspire your own foray into the world of graphic design.

What is Graphic Design?
Graphic design is a form of visual communication, which employs - and often combines - imagery, typography and illustrative tools to convey ideas, experiences and/or messages either physically (print) or virtually (digital).

What does a Graphic Designer do?
Graphic designers are creative professionals who are tasked with communicating concepts in a visually informative and engaging way. This can take the shape of adverts, magazines, posters, brochures, websites and many other types of marketing material.

Graphic Designer job description
With graphic design, there’s much variation in daily routines, but to generalise them into the simplest terms, many of the below points can be applied;
  • Communicate in visual means, a product or a message
  • Meet with clients & / or the art director to help decide on project direction & message
  • Consider audience and branding in the project strategy
  • Develop graphics, using digital technology or multimedia, for products, logos, websites & branding
  • Present the designs to the team/clients/art director
  • Listen to any changes recommended in feedback and apply that the the final design

Who do graphic designers work for?
Graphic designers commonly work for advertising, marketing, branding, design or general content agencies who service the creative needs of a variety of clients. Alternatively, they are employed directly by brands across all industries who have ongoing design needs and choose to fulfill them within their internal team as opposed to outsourcing to an agency.
Freelance graphic designers could simultaneously work for both types of companies.

What is an in-house graphic designer?
This term is used to describe a graphic designer who is employed by a business (within almost any industry) to carry out their own internal design-related requirements; rather than in an agency environment, which manage creative deliverables for a number of brands / clients.

Types of graphic design careers

Graphic design career opportunities
Graphic design is a foundational skill that can open doors to a great number of creative based careers - from advertising/marketing services to television/film/media, digital design to product development and much more.

What is the purpose of graphic design?
Graphic design is arguably art WITH a purpose. It is design with an inherent (often commercial) intention. I.e. not just creation for the sake of creation but as a visual solution to a question, problem or proposition.
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What kind of work does a graphic designer do?
Graphic design work manifests in a wide range of ways - from print formats (e.g. newspapers, magazines, posters, brochures, business cards) to digital media (website wireframes, user experience, video production) and sometimes even spatial design. Essentially, bringing a product, service, piece of content, physical or virtual environment / experience to life through visual means. Graphic Design skills
  • Creativity: Graphic designers need to produce ideas and have the ability to execute them.
  • Communication: The essence of a graphic designer’s job is to communicate something effectively through deliberate design.
  • Technology: These days graphic designers are likely to be using digital tools more than hand, paper and pencil. Proficiency with editing software and formatting and illustration programmes is vital part of the job.
  • Time Management: Graphic design is often very deadline driven work, which requires creativity on demand and sometimes with tight turnarounds
  • Collaboration: Graphic design is usually one element of a larger business process, which will involve working alongside an array of stakeholders like marketing managers and copywriters.
  • Commercial sense: Graphic design frequently has a business agenda. Understanding such kinds of specific purposes should inform the design.
  • Emotional / psychological intelligence: If design is being utilised as part of a marketing strategy then a designer will need to work with an awareness of how to influence the response of its given audience.

What qualities and skills should a good graphic designer have?
In terms of raw qualities, curiosity, creativity, communication, passion, problem solving, technical prowess and commercial awareness are all highly desirable skills for a graphic designer to possess and continue to develop.
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What makes a good graphic designer?
A good graphic designer is able to understand the big picture of the project they are a part of, while also having a meticulous eye for detail to ensure the artistic elements are of the highest quality. Their approach to design is a form of creative problem solving - they need to recognise the purpose(s) their work serves and have the ability to produce a suitable concept all the way from idea to execution.
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How to become a graphic designer
There are multiple paths to becoming a graphic designers. Typically most professionals will undertake some form of study - be it a long or short term vocational course, followed by work experience in the field - offering their skills to businesses or agencies who require design talent. Throughout a designer’s education, early career and spare recreational time they should be constantly building, growing and refining their portfolio of work (both real and hypothetical) in order to advance their career in the future.

What qualifications do you need to be a graphic designer?
There is not a one-size-fits-all qualification for graphic designers. Many courses nowadays have become much more narrow to target a specific area of the industry a person wants to pursue. For instance, digital media, branded fashion, digital product design, typography, interface design, printmaking and much more. Each of these are available at a number of levels from short week long courses all the way through to diplomas and bachelor or postgraduate degrees.

Do you need a degree to be a graphic designer?
You do not necessarily need a degree to be a graphic designer. Many top industry professionals may not have one but almost of them will have a qualification of some sort, or such natural / self-taught talent that their impressive portfolio of spec and real life work negates the need for it. It is is advisable to at least begin with a short course of sorts to get a taste for the kind of work to expect in the industry - and whether it suits you - and then build upon your learning (inside a classroom, studio or both!) from there.

How to become a graphic designer with no experience?
One important way of kick starting your graphic design experience is by creating your own briefs so you have projects and case studies to buffer your portfolio with and talk about before any real life work arises. This gives potential collaborators, clients and employers an idea of your reasoning, methods, techniques, style - and even character.
What courses to take to become a graphic designer?
There is an extensive amount of graphic design courses in the market, ranging from intense 3 month course like Shillington’s to 3+ year degrees at universities and short week long upskilling ones at institutions such as Central Saint Martins.
We have a whole article dedicated to graphic design courses here.

What are the opportunities for advancement for a graphic designer?
Graphic design is a foundational skill behind many creative senior professions including UX, Art Director, Creative Director, Design Director, Head of Creative and many more...

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