When people think about the internet, the typical image conjured is of ones and zeroes. The origins of web development were, admittedly, fairly minimalistic and pragmatic. This was fairly sensible back when most internet applications were oriented towards niche industries and tech-savvy early adopters.
As the internet gained wider mainstream appeal, the ability to enhance the communicative ability of a digital interface became increasingly necessary. The typically digital shopper, for example, will quickly bounce from a webpage that seems poorly developed or unintuitive. Indeed, digital consumer trust is largely predicated on the professionalism, aesthetics, and intuitive functionality of a website.
This is all to say that every organization designing a digital experience will see their brand assessed and interpreted primarily through the appeal of their online presence. From a marketing perspective, this is a key fact all the way up to the strategic determination of an organization’s brand. This is why so many digital designers come from a communications or marketing background, and complement these skills with a knack for technological development.
This digital display of a company’s brand resulted in a rise in demand for professionals who understand both the technology and the consumer utilizing it.These professionals span a few key functions. There are graphic designers tasked with crafting professional and aesthetically appealing digital experiences, user experience designers who focus on the flow from page to page, and user interface designers who craft engagement points that drive desirable customer behaviors.
Why Should I Care About Graphic Design?
These professionals listed above are carrying these digital experiences from the tech experts who invented them, to the everyday human user who needs it for their everyday lives. Absolutely central to this process is the aesthetic design of the digital experience. Creating logos, color schemes, styles, and aesthetic touches is no easy task, and aligning all of these digital assets into a coherent user experience is more difficult still.
Without graphic designers, the assets this process relies on wouldn’t be available. Graphic designers need to understand the organization’s vision, and find a way to translate that understanding into graphical units that coalesce into coherent imagery. When you think about it like that, graphic designers have a pretty tall order. After all, an unappealing digital experience will quickly stifle interest in emerging technological innovations, which is to say that without graphic design there will be a huge reduction in technological adoption!
Design in Practice
Here’s a simple example. Have you ever tried to put together IKEA furniture without looking at the directions? Sometimes it’s easy enough, other times it can turn into a frustrating nightmare. Now picture those instructions without any images. It would be a little bit easier, having written instructions, but still probably fairly frustrating. Now envision the actual instruction manual, packed full of labeled images demonstrating how each piece integrates with each other piece. Now the IKEA furniture process is pretty much a piece of cake.
While the example is a little simplistic, the same thing is true with digitally-based technological innovations. Netflix’s user experience, for example, is incredibly intuitive. This is achieved through minimizing the friction of adoption through a combination of ‘show, don’t tell’ imagery and a carefully curated user experience. Each content piece has an image, is mapped by a massive library of organization tabs, and includes a seamless transition to a full description upon hovering over any prospective choice.
It’s easy to take all of that for granted, but each step took a huge team of digital designers collaborating – with graphic design taking a central seat in producing each and every interactable object. If contributing to these tech innovations appeals to you, and you happen to have a knack for the artistic, graphic design is something you should care about very much indeed!
Inroads to a Career in Graphic Design
Let’s assume you are convinced regarding the importance of graphic design work. Where would you start on getting a gig in this field? Do you need an undergraduate degree? A graduate degree? How about building a portfolio?
These are all good questions, which combined reveal quite a few different pathways to a design career. The traditional answer is an undergraduate and/or graduate degree, typically in fields like graphic design, digital media, IT, or marketing. However, many tech-savvy and cost-conscious aspiring careerists are asking the obvious – is there a more affordable and efficient way to acquire these skills? Fortunately, the answer is… Yes!
Graphic Design Programs
The simplest starting point for the digital design newbie is the bootcamp. There are literally countless popular tech bootcamps to choose from, so the objective here is narrowing down these options based on your own experience, know-how, budget, and career aspirations. A great way to start figuring this out is through pursuing low-cost (or even free) massive online open courses (MOOCs). These short-term courses are designed in such a way where you get out whatever it is you put it, with the lower cost allowing people to try out a few different things before committing.
Once you have a clear idea of what skills you’re looking to develop, the next step is selecting highly focused bootcamps to achieve professional-level capabilities. Most highly-reputable university-based bootcamps focus on offering online bootcamps in digital marketing or UX/UI, with plenty of opportunity in web development as well for the more code-savvy aspiring designers. Bootcamps specifically for graphic designers are a bit trickier to find, though many local universities will offer short-term programs depending on where you’re located.
Graphic Design Certifications
Whether you are pursuing an online MOOC or a more intensive bootcamp, a key takeaway is going to be a reputable certification.
Obtaining a certificate that you do indeed have the skills you claim, backed by a reputable institution like a top-tier university, will go a long way in proving to employers you have what it takes to succeed in the role for which you’re applying. If you already are an established and professional digital artist, you can boost your chances significantly with demonstration of expertise in web development, UX/UI, and/or digital marketing.
Of course, better even than certifications will be a rich portfolio that matches an extensive work history. Whether you have a background in marketing, digital media, graphic design, or any other related design career, bringing your reliability and previous work to the forefront via your portfolio is the best practice of all when it comes to getting into a graphic design gig. Employers are always taking a risk with a new hire, and the best way for them to mitigate that risk is by hiring employees with demonstrable success – even if that success is in a related field of work!
Speaking of working in the broader field of design, what are the perks of being a graphical designer? Is it worth investing the time and money to make the career move?
Top 10 Reasons to Launch a Graphic Design Career
Let’s explore some simple perks of the profession of narrative design to help you make your decision:
- Salary – Any job choice has the minimum bar of an adequate salary, and for most of us a graphic design gig is going to make the cut. While salary is going to vary depending on the job location, your experience level, and the value of your deliverables, a good estimate is between $50 to 55k/year. If you’re all about the hustle, you can easily supplement your full time job with gig work in the evenings and weekends.
- Opportunities – While the job market is not always a pleasant place to be, technical capabilities definitely have the edge when it comes to finding work. Graphic designers need to master a number of key software suites if they hope to succeed, which will filter out some of the competition. In terms of macro level numbers, current employment for graphic designers alone is over a quarter million in the US alone. Not too shabby!
- Growth potential – Not every graphic designer dreams of becoming a creative director, but it is a highly attractive career path for the hard-working creative. Graphic design is a skill that bleeds into strategic circles, particularly as it pertains to marketing. Talented designers with a knack for big-picture thinking and leadership can very effectively ascend the ladder (if they so choose).
- Problem-solving – While this perk is definitely not for everyone, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to show off your lateral thinking abilities. Graphic designers are part of the broader digital media team, and this is a domain that benefits from constant innovation, iteration, and improvement. The upside to working in tech is that everything is always evolving!
- Cutting-edge – Speaking of the pros and cons of the tech industry, graphic designers enjoy a front-row seat to the evolution of new technologies and digital products. As a professional in the field, you’ll be a part of building the future of technology. Just don’t let it go to your head, okay?
- Remote work – The 21st century has seen an explosion in remote working positions, and graphic designers are again going to be a part of that in-crowd. Delivering virtual assets frees you from the cubicle, and opens the door to traveling the world while winning your paycheck. Not a bad deal!
- Technical – While we touched on this earlier, it’s important enough to justify its own bullet point. Graphic design is not a soft skill, it’s a technical one. This means that the process of achieving success weeds out a good deal of the competition, and provides the designer with hands-on skills which are very difficult to duplicate, fake, or replace. Technical qualifications are (often) the better option when it comes to job security.
- Creative – In an interesting example of having your cake and eating it too, graphic design allows for technical professionals to exercise their creative muscles. The ability to develop a web page is important, sure, but so too is your ability to bring a creative dream to life (visually, at least).
- Be your own boss – If corporate culture isn’t really your thing, so to speak, graphic designers are often employed on a contract basis. This means providing the work to your clients, which is not quite the same as having a formal boss. You will be assessed and given work based on your skill and ability, which is to say you’ll have the freedom (and accountability) of being your own boss!
- Future-proofed – Last but not least, virtual worlds are clearly a part of the future of civilization. While plumbers and electricians may very well have us all beat in the future-proofing department, effective users of graphic design software will undoubtedly shape the aesthetic of our digital futures.
That last bullet brings us to our conclusion – which is what type of future we can expect for the field of graphic design.
Designing the Future?
Predicting emerging technology is always to be taken with a grain of salt for seasoning, and the field of graphic design is no exception. There are a few useful questions to help us frame our predictions, however, and they all have to do with how people will engage with technology in the future.
In the 1990s, graphic designers were probably pretty sure that web pages would be limited to the PC. Steve Jobs threw an iPhone-shaped wrench into this assumption, and opened a completely new track of design principles for handheld touchscreen devices. The question graphic designers should ask themselves is how will we engage with technology in 2030? 2040?
One answer is immersion. Virtual and augmented realities (XR) are a distinct possibility, as virtual reality has already reached the point of early adoption. Designing not for a two-dimensional digital frame, but for a fully three-dimensional one is going to significantly shape the way graphical interfaces and user experiences will be designed. As a designer, augmenting your tech knowledge through exploring cutting-edge forms of technological engagement may position you for dynamic innovation in the field.
Regardless of how it turns out, humans will always prioritize their visual senses when engaging with just about everything in their lives. Keep a close eye on how this engagement evolves and adapts to technology, and you’ll always know exactly where to position yourself creatively to craft in-demand visual experiences. Good luck out there!