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Graphic Designer

Graphic designers produce designs that get their clients' messages across with high visual impact. They work on a huge variety of products, including websites, packaging, books and magazines, corporate identity (to give organisations a visual 'brand'), advertising, exhibitions and displays, computer games and TV and film title sequences.

Most graphic design work is now done on computer, using specialised industry- standard graphics and multimedia software packages. Graphic designers have to work closely with other colleagues involved in projects, such as copywriters, photographers and sales staff. They may also work directly with clients.

Graphic designers usually work standard hours from Monday to Friday. Extra hours are common, especially to meet critical project deadlines. Part-time work may be possible.

The work is usually done in an open plan design studio. It involves sitting and working at a computer for long periods.

Salaries range from £15,000 to £65,000 a year.

A graphic designer must have:

  • creative flair
  • a strong visual sense
  • originality
  • strong computer skills
  • an awareness of the competitive business environment in which they work
  • an interest in graphics and typography.

Around 232,000 people in the UK work across the design sector as a whole, with 65,900 operating as freelancers. The main employers of graphic designers are agencies who carry out graphic design work for a range of clients, and large organisations with in-house design teams. Competition for job vacancies can be keen.

Most graphic designers have a degree, foundation degree or BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in graphic design, illustration, fine art or a related subject. Before applying for such a course, most students are expected to study a one-year foundation course, such as the BTEC Level 3 or 4 Foundation Diploma in art and design, or a two-year BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in art and design. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Employers may provide training in specific aspects of the job such as presentation skills. Graphic designers are expected to keep up to date with the latest trends in the industry. Some may study for a postgraduate degree or diploma.

Junior designers can progress to a senior position. With further experience they may take on team management responsibilities, eventually becoming studio manager or creative director in an agency. Many graphic designers become self-employed. Work abroad is possible.

What is the work like?

Graphic designers work to bring many kinds of communication alive. They produce designs that get their clients' messages across with high visual impact. The role demands a keen business sense as well as creative flair.

Graphic design input is required for a huge variety of products and activities including:

  • websites
  • packaging
  • books and magazines
  • corporate identity, to give organisations a visual 'brand'
  • advertising
  • exhibitions and displays
  • computer games
  • TV and film title sequences.

Tasks are likely to include:

  • finding out about the project requirements (taking a 'brief')
  • estimating the time the project will require and providing a cost quotation
  • coming up with design concepts that fit the client's needs
  • presenting options for design treatments
  • creating final designs, working to a deadline and budget
  • amending designs according to the client's final comments
  • proofreading and preparing designs to be sent to print.

Apart from rough sketches, most graphic design work is now done on computers. Graphic designers use specialised industry-standard graphics or multimedia software packages. They may use different media, such as photography and illustration, to achieve the results they want.

Graphic designers may deal directly with their clients. Those working in an agency may take briefs from an account manager who has responsibility for client contact. Designers also have to work closely with other colleagues involved in projects, such as copywriters, photographers and sales staff. In order to bid successfully for work contracts, they may take part in formal presentations to 'pitch' their ideas to potential clients.

Hours and environment

Graphic designers usually work standard hours from Monday to Friday. Extra hours are common, especially to meet critical project deadlines. Part-time work may be possible.

The work is usually done in an open plan design studio. It involves sitting and working at a computer for long periods. Self-employed designers may work from home or share studio space.

There may be some travel to meet clients.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for junior designers may start between £15,000 and £20,000 a year.
  • With experience, earnings may rise to around £30,000.
  • Senior designers in a creative director role may earn up to £65,000.

Skills and personal qualities

A graphic designer must have:

  • creative flair
  • a strong visual sense
  • originality
  • strong computer skills
  • the ability to grasp client needs and consider practical solutions
  • confidence to present and explain ideas to clients and colleagues
  • the ability to pay attention to detail
  • good team working skills
  • the ability to balance work on several projects at a time
  • flexibility
  • an awareness of the competitive business environment in which they work
  • a matter-of-fact approach when ideas or designs are rejected.

Interests

It is important to have an interest in:

  • graphics and typography
  • new developments in design software.

Getting in

Around 232,000 people in the UK work across the design sector as a whole, with 65,900 operating as freelancers.

There are two main types of employer:

  • Agencies who carry out graphic design work for a range of clients. They may specialise in advertising, corporate communications or general graphic design.
  • Large organisations with in-house design teams. These include publishers, banks, retailers, government departments, local authorities, multimedia companies, computer games companies, universities and packaging companies.

Employers are based throughout the UK, although 40 per cent of design businesses are in London and south-east England.

As there are many higher education courses in graphic design, competition for job vacancies can be keen. Gaining early experience and building a portfolio of work can provide an advantage. Some graphic designers create websites to show their work.

Vacancies may be advertised in trade publications, such as Design Week, and national newspapers, such as The Guardian (Mondays). They may also be advertised on the internet by employers and specialist recruitment agencies.

Entry routes

There are no set entry requirements for this work, but most graphic designers have a degree, foundation degree or BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND). This may be in graphic design, illustration, fine art or a related subject. Such courses are offered by universities and colleges throughout the UK. With a strong portfolio of work, it may be possible to enter without formal training, but it can be very difficult to progress.

Before applying for a degree, foundation degree or HND course, most students are expected to study a one-year foundation course, such as the BTEC Level 3 or 4 Foundation Diploma in art and design, or a two-year BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in art and design. These enable students to try a variety of art and design subjects and allow them to build up a portfolio of work.

Entry to a Foundation Diploma is usually with one A level and three GCSEs (A*-C) or the Level 3 Extended Diploma in art and design. Entry to a Level 3 Extended Diploma in art and design is usually with at least four GCSEs (A*-C).

  • degree courses - entry usually requires at least two A levels, including an art-related subject, as well as five GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications
  • foundation degrees - entry requirements vary
  • HND courses - entry is usually with one A level in an art and design subject, or equivalent.

Some people attend an Access or pre-entry course and may then be accepted directly onto a degree, foundation degree or HND course.

Many universities and colleges offer postgraduate degree and diploma courses in specialised areas of graphic design. Entry is with a first degree in a related subject.

Entry requirements for courses vary, so prospective students should check university and college prospectuses. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Training

Employers generally expect new entrants to have learned the essential skills while completing their qualifications.

Employers may provide in-house or external training in specific aspects of the job, such as presentation skills.

Graphic designers are expected to keep up to date with the latest trends in the industry. They may attend courses and demonstrations of new design software. Some may study for a postgraduate degree or diploma.

Getting on

Junior designers can progress to a senior position. With further experience, they may take on team management responsibilities, eventually becoming studio manager or creative director in an agency. Those working for smaller companies may find limited opportunities for advancement. Many designers change employers to progress in their career.

Graphic designers can specialise in a particular field, such as packaging or magazine design. With further training, they may move on to related fields such as animation or television and video graphics.

Many graphic designers become self-employed and offer their services on a freelance basis.

There may be opportunities for experienced designers to work abroad, in Europe and the USA.

Further information

Chartered Society of Designers, 1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard, Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA. 020 7357 8088. Website: www.csd.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Websites: www.ccskills.org.uk and www.creative-choices.co.uk

Design Council, 34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL. 020 7420 5200. Website: www.designcouncil.org.uk

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. 020 7713 9800. Free careers helpline: 0808 0300 900. Website: www.skillset.org

Your Creative Future. Website: www.yourcreativefuture.org.uk

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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