As the modern economy shifts storefronts from physical locations to digital marketplaces, graphic designers are finding themselves increasingly in-demand. The trick to success in this professional path requires developing some key skills in both art and technology, as well as focusing the job hunt on places with a natural demand for digital creatives.
For U.S. natives with the flexibility to move to the right place for the right job, the top three states for designers are California, Texas, and New York (NYC in particular). While there are a few reasons for these areas becoming tech hot-spots, the general idea is that a high percentage of employers are setting up shop in some of the major cities in these states. This creates a rich educational and professional ecosystem for aspiring designers to start out on their journey.
For creative cowboys interested in working in the lone star state, there are some great opportunities to both learn the skills and grab some gigs in graphic design. Texas currently lays claims to nearly 15,000 graphic design professionals, which is not to mention the many related types of work like animation, front-end development, and digital marketing professionals. This number will likely only grow alongside major technology hubs like Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
The first step is assessing what qualifications you already have, and what educational investments might help get you where you want to go. An undergraduate degree that relates to design is going to be the most common employer requirement, and Texas has plenty of undergraduate programs to check that box. For local Texans, selecting a state school can offer serious savings on tuition and fees while still getting a quality education.
Of course, there’s no need to stop at the bachelor level. A Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in digital design is another great option for boosting your career prospects. Graduate degrees typically take around 2 years to complete, and are a great place to meet other tech professionals and build up that local network. Successful graduates may also find work opportunities in the pursuit of a PhD in design, which is a great option for the artists with a knack for academic thinking.
Let’s take a look at the top graduate degree programs for aspiring designers in Texas, and highlight the various concentrations and specializations on offer.
Design Master’s Programs in Texas
Unlike undergraduate degrees, graduate programs are typically a place for professionals with a few years of experience under their belts already. That makes these programs a great place for selecting a specialization, building a professional network, and seeking out high-level internships at local tech companies. These three attributes are a great starting point for assessing which program is the best fit for you.
Starting with a specialization, digital design is an umbrella term which incorporates graphic design, interaction design (UX/UI), game design, and motion design (animation). Knowing how your strengths and weaknesses may help or hinder your success in each field will help aspiring designers make the right call on where to focus. Here’s a brief overview of each one, with a suggested Texas-based program to check out:
- Graphic Design: Professionals with a background in marketing, art, and/or advertising are well-positioned to pursue an MFA in Graphic Design, which is the centerpiece of design work in the digital age. Graphic designers use software tools to craft the digital assets business websites, promotional material, and storefronts use in their marketing. Learning how to master these tools and translate art and marketing skills into a digital production line is a great way to kickstart a career in design. A good starting point is the University of Houston MFA in Graphic Design program.
- Interaction Design (UX/UI): Software engineers, web developers, and tech-savvy marketeers are already well-equipped for success in UX/UI-focused graduate degree. This is because interaction design is something of a cross between building aesthetically pleasing websites (front-end design) and assessing how prospective customers engage with these digital platforms (marketing). If you’ve got an interest in this field, a great starting point is the University of North Texas graduate program in Interaction Design.
- Game Design: Game designers, and the many artistic roles of character design, world-building, animation, and even classic pixel art work, are seeing a huge uptick in demand. As the gaming industry surpasses even Hollywood in economic success, designers with a knack for asset creation and object-oriented coding languages can find serious success in the pursuit of game development. To get you started, scope out this Game Development MFA from the University of Texas (Dallas).
- Motion Design (animation): Last but not least, and often related to game development, is the role of motion designer or asset animator. This professional animator takes static graphic images, and layers them over time in a way that produces an aesthetic of motion. It’s a great role for artists who are comfortable with digital art software programs, and have the eye for detail required to make minute alterations to an image in order to produce that feeling of movement. Texas A&M has a highly ranked graduate-level visualization program that specializes in preparing future animators for success.
Selecting the proper program is not only about picking the program with the best reputation, but also weighing the pros and cons of the location. As a local Texan, it’s well worth looking into community colleges that may offer great programs at affordable prices. A second consideration is taking a hybrid (online and offline) or entirely online program, while still capitalizing on selecting an in-state university to reduce those tuition costs. Let’s take a quick look at online design programs in Texas.
Online Design Programs in Texas
Pursuing a graduate degree online is becoming more and more common, as professionals are often busy balancing career demands, family responsibilities, and their educational pursuits all at once. Online coursework offers the flexibility to attain an MFA without infringing on one’s work and family life.
While most reputable universities in Texas offer onsite MFA programs in design, there are a few options for virtual classrooms available. The best option is going to be Texas State University (TSU), which is currently offering an MFA in Communication Design entirely online. At an incredibly low price of $350 per credit hour with the convenience of an entirely online curriculum, TSU is going to be about as good as it gets for the bargain-seeking online student local to the Texas area.
A key consideration in the online approach is how a student can capitalize on the networking and internship programs of a traditional degree program. As a virtual student, it’s important to take the initiative when it comes to networking and job-seeking, capitalizing on university commercial partnerships and career coaching services. Traditional onsite classrooms are a more natural environment for filling up your phone with contacts, so make sure to offset this by capitalizing on university networking events and career services.
If even an online MFA sounds a little too pricey and time-consuming, many designers with traditional marketing or advertising degrees invest in short term professional boot camps and certification programs. This is a great way to convert a traditional art or marketing degree into a digital design skill set. Often offered by the same universities as the graduate degrees, these programs are reputable proof points for employers that demonstrate how traditional marketing professionals have equipped themselves to meet the demands of digital marketing teams. Let’s outline some boot camp options to consider.
Design Bootcamps in Texas
Certifications, short-term training programs, and boot camps are all relatively new entrants into the education industry, and employers are starting to recognize which of these programs churn out great design professionals. The most common approach is the boot camp.
Boot camps are comparatively shorter-term approaches to development and demonstrating expertise, and fields like graphic design and UX/UI are great candidates for combining the key technical skills with a more traditional marketing or art background. The training you’ll get in these programs would be considered more tactical than theoretical, where the how-to aspect of graphic and interaction design is prioritized over the theoretical questions more common in longer-term academic programs.
Let’s walk through a few Texas-based boot camp choices to get us started:
|Boot camp Provider||Name of Program||Focus Area||Time||Cost|
|University of Texas (Rio Grande)||UX/UI Certificate||UX/UI||3 months||$5,667|
|University of Texas (Austin)||The UX/UI Bootcamp||UX/UI||6 months||$11,995|
|University of Texas (San Antonio)||UTSA UX/UI Bootcamp||UX/UI||6 months||$11,995|
|University of Texas (Austin)||Graphic Design Certificate Program||Graphic Design||3 months||$3,899|
|University of North Texas||Digital Content Management||Digital Design||3 months||$5,500|
There are also plenty of online non-Texas boot camps available via massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as edX, Udemy, and Coursera, but staying local can offer unique advantages in comparison. Boot camps in the local area will offer all of the resources of the host university, including networking and job-seeking perks. The best bet is to pursue a professional certification from where you already live and work, as employers will know the quality of that program and may even recruit directly from participants.
Speaking of getting that all-important job offer, let’s walk through some of the more common employment opportunities in the wide world of design.
Five In-Demand Design Jobs in Texas
Once you’ve racked up all of those degrees, professional certifications, and killer portfolio assets, the next step is finding the right position for your personal career goals. Let’s explore some of the more common organizational roles for designers, with a short overview of the job responsibilities and median salary:
- Graphic Designer: Crafting visual assets is the name of the game, and the typical requirement is simply an undergraduate degree in art, marketing, advertising, or a related field. Getting hired is all about having a great portfolio to show off, packed with your best artistic achievements. Salary expectations come in around $60k/year, with plenty of open jobs available in Texas specifically. This is a particularly great role for the remote worker, as developing assets can be done easily from the comfort of your own home!
- Animator: Animators will typically require both a portfolio and undergraduate degree in fine arts or animation, as the work is quite technical and challenging. Graduate degrees, particularly in motion picture/film, can be hugely useful here as well. Animators make around $62k/year, although Texas salaries do trend towards higher than the national average. For Texas residents particularly, Austin (and Texas more broadly) is home to tons of game studios and even an up-and-coming movie scene.
- Game Designer: Austin is the home of tons of gaming companies, and each one needs a whole lot of static and animated assets to succeed. While many game designers are going to be expert coders, there are plenty of roles more aligned with visual artists, worldbuilders, and animation work. Salaries can be fairly high, coming in at a median rate of $95k/year. Of course, higher salaries tend to accompany higher technical skills. Work on that C++ knowledge to get that top salary!
- Creative Director: The typical job profile is going to require an undergraduate degree, prefer a graduate degree, and likely 5-7 years of experience with a demonstration of the ability to manage small teams. A creative director is tasked with hiring and managing creative teams, including graphic designers. Salary averages at $91k/year, with plenty of Texas-based opportunities to look into.
Austin, Texas in particular is a great spot to start out as a designer, as many entertainment companies are moving out there in recent years. Houston and Dallas are also both known for huge commercial opportunities and a booming economic scene. The key to succeeding is going to be grabbing up all of the relevant skills and qualifications, while building both a robust portfolio and extensive local network. It’s both what you know and who you know, so get out there and get busy!