Deciding on a Graphic Design Career Path

Whether you’re deciding if you should to go to school for or have finished your degree in Graphic Design, if you’re just starting your career you probably have a ton of questions about what your career path could look like. It can be a little overwhelming to narrow your focus down to just one area of design, so here is some information to give you a clearer picture of what your design future could hold.

Graphic designer at work. Color swatch samples.


The first thing you should do if you’re thinking about starting a career in graphic design is get educated. There are many design programs at colleges and universities all across the world. If you’re not sure what to look for, go to a local college and talk to a counselor. They’ll be more than happy to steer you in the right direction.

Hint: Sometimes schools have art degrees with an option for a graphic design concentration, so if you’re looking at a specific school and you don’t see graphic design as a program option, make sure you peruse the art degree sections as well!

I know that not everyone can afford to attend a 4-year university, but have no fear – you’re in luck! Design is one of the few fields that will allow you to go far, even if you’re unable to attend an expensive university. Although having a degree in design will make it easier to get your foot in the door, there are endless resources online and in books that you can use to teach yourself how to be a designer. A really great place to take online design classes is Once you start learning some design programs (such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator), assign yourself some projects to start building a portfolio. Redesign some of your favorite company logos, book covers, album art, websites, or anything that interests you. You can even replicate some of your favorite designers’ works for practice (just don’t use those pieces for your portfolio).

Career Types

Once you’ve become an educated design master, it’s time to decide which career type is right for you. Sometimes you may need to take a couple of internships in different industries to figure out which setting would be best for you and what type of work inspires you the most. There are three main career settings for designers: freelance, in house, and agency. Freelance work is exactly what it sounds like. You may work from home, at coffee shops, or in co-working spaces for clients you seek out or who contact you online through your website or social media, or you could pick up short- and long-term contract work at companies working on specific projects. In house designers work in marketing or design departments within companies. Many large corporations, including McDonald’s, Apple, Nike, and Disney, have such departments with many different types of design jobs. Lastly, you can find work at an agency that specializes in creative work, design, marketing, or advertising. There are a lot of huge agencies that take on the work of companies who don’t want to bother with hiring their own creative departments. Some of the most well-known, and my personal favorite, creative agencies are: McCann, Pentagram, and 72andSunny. It’s a good idea to bookmark some of your favorite agencies so you can refer to their work for inspiration on future projects.

Once you’ve decided which career setting is right for you, you’ll have to decide which is your strongest medium, which will inform the design positions you go for. Some creative job titles include: Graphic Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, Digital Designer, Visual Designer, Web Designer, Editorial Designer, Book Cover Designer, Logo Designer, UX Designer, UI Designer, Product Designer, Marketing Designer, Packaging Designer, Mobile/App Designer, and Brand Identity Designer. Of course there are probably a lot more out there, but these are the titles I usually see on job boards and at companies I’ve worked for. The easiest way to decide between career paths is to think about what type of designs you are the most excited about.

Career Advancement

Once you start your career, your top priorities will be: learning something new every day and advancing your career to the next level. Books, YouTube, online courses, and blogs are great ways to make sure you keep learning daily. This in itself will help your career advancement tremendously. Another thing you should do is let it be known to your higher ups that your intent is to move up into a higher position. Here’s an infographic on career advancement and salaries for designers in the US:

graphic designer career path education information and salaries infographic

There are a ton of resources out there with information on graphic design and careers in the creative field. I hope this helps you in your design career. Happy designing!

Here are a few books I would recommend to help you learn more about graphic design and get you started with design:




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