For people who are passionate about visual art, a career in graphic design can feel like a calling. Creative professionals who work as graphic designers are responsible for a wide variety of different projects in industries ranging from fashion to media to advertising.
In fact, most of us will interact with the work of graphic designers several times per day without even realizing it: Television shows, news websites, social media applications, and tech products are all created with the help of people well-versed in graphic design principles.
How much a graphic designer will make per year will depend on a number of factors including experience and location. In places like New York City, for example, many graphic design jobs start at around $45,000 per year and move up to salaries of around $60,000. However, first-rate graphic designers can make far more money if their work is in demand from top agencies and institutions.
Where Graphic Designers Work
As you might expect, many of the best graphic design jobs in the United States can be found in large urban hubs like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. However, graphic designers are needed by businesses and organizations in most cities throughout the United States.
A college education can certainly help a designer boost their skills and gain industry connections. But at the end of the day, the creation of a strong portfolio is a key step towards succeeding in this dynamic industry.
Here are just a few great jobs that require graphic design skills.
1. Web Designer
Over the past 20 years, the need for talented web designers has increased dramatically. Most companies nowadays require a website in order to attract clients and customers, and web designers are tasked with giving the public their first impression of a particular company.
For many design professionals, a web designer gig is a fantastic job option. Hours are often flexible and creative mindsets are valued and highly rewarded.
Good web designers can start at around $35,000 per year in entry-level positions; however, creative directors can easily make six-figure incomes with experience and management skills.
You’ll find web designers working independently or for design firms in most cities. But the highest earners in the field will probably live in big urban areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
2. Product Designer/Manager
For people who design products, a first-rate knowledge of graphic design principles is a must. Product designers work in a variety of different industries ranging from big tech to consumer electronics.
Product designers can be found in cities across the globe; they tend to work in-house with start-ups or with established corporations. But they can also make a good living doing freelance work for different clients, and some top product designers launch their own design firms. These professionals can command very high fees for their work.
Product designers may also have backgrounds related to engineering. For product designers, education is an important component of a career; however, a quality portfolio tends to trump everything else when it comes to succeeding in this industry.
Starter jobs in product design pay around $50,000 per year; however, good product designers can easily make six-figure salaries once they’ve established themselves in their respective fields.
3. Book Cover Designer
Fans of literature with a talent for visual art might enjoy working as book cover designers. These professionals often work for both small independent publishers and “big five” publishing houses like Penguin Books and Harper Collins.
Book cover designers are partially responsible for drumming up reader interest in books by creating compelling cover art. They might attend art school to hone their skills as graphic designers; however, most book cover designers establish themselves with employers by creating striking portfolios.
Although top book cover artists can earn high salaries, many in-house book cover designers earn relatively modest pay for their work. However, talented professionals will always stick out and command higher salaries.
4. Video Game Designer
As you might expect, video game designers are often very passionate about their work. They tend to be big gamers themselves and know how important it is to create a satisfying product for customers.
Salaries for video game designers can vary depending on the region and experience levels of workers; however, most video game designers should expect to make between $30,000 to $80,000 per year. As with many design jobs, the very best designers will earn substantially more.
Competition for positions in this industry is fierce and working hours may be long when deadlines are looming. Many video game design positions are located in “big tech” hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley; however, independent game companies are located in a variety of different cities throughout the country.
5. Advertising Creative Director
Advertising creative directors tend to wear a lot of hats in the business world. They may use graphic design to create compelling advertisements on websites or edit commercials for broadcast television.
Through it all, these professionals will require a lot of knowledge of graphic design and a strong work ethic. But the rewards can certainly make all the effort worth it: Experienced creative directors can easily command six-figure salaries.
Many creative directors can also boost their career prospects by learning about management via undergraduate degree programs in business or through MBA programs.
6. Photo Editor
As you might expect, there is a large overlap between photo editors and graphic designers. Professionals in both fields often use Adobe programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to achieve striking results for independent clients and agencies.
Photo editors are very often photographers themselves. They may have studied photography in college; like many visual design professionals, however, photo editors tend to be judged first and foremost on the quality of their portfolios rather than on their degree results.
Clients and employers will also want to know that photo editors can handle tight deadlines and achieve stunning results with their work on short notice.
The road to becoming a photo editor isn’t always easy. Competition within this industry is steep. However, talent and a good attitude will always help aspiring editors to stand out from the competition.
Like most of the jobs on this list, you’ll find the best positions for this field in media-savvy cities like New York and San Francisco.
7. UX Designer
UX or “user experience” designers have their work cut out for them in this day and age: In order to make sure that customers from a wide variety of demographics are happy with their purchases, for example, UX professionals will rely heavily on graphic design principles to create visually compelling products and websites.
Many UX professionals use skills from previous graphic design and marketing jobs to help keep customers happy. Degrees in marketing are helpful but by no means necessary to succeed in this field. Currently, UX designers are in high demand in big tech regions such as Silicon Valley and Seattle.
8. Video Editor
Video editors work closely with film directors and scriptwriters to achieve compelling results that speak to audiences from a wide variety of backgrounds. These professionals often rely on graphic design principles to make a film or television program look great; when it comes to films and television shows, moreover, video editors often have the final say over graphic design and text overlays.
This is a great job for people who are passionate about filmmaking. Most cities have their fair share of companies creating film and video projects, so video editing freelancers can get a start in this career almost anywhere.
9. Clothing Designer
Clothing designers are often remarkably passionate about their chosen field. At present, these professionals spend a lot of their time using computer programs to get clothing designs just right; in today’s world, clothes often feature compelling graphics and slogans to appeal to consumers.
Clothing designers often study at art schools; however, a good portfolio is the most important component of a would-be clothing designer’s job search. Salaries in this industry can range anywhere from $30,000 a year for entry-level work to many millions of dollars per year for top design contracts. New York City is the fashion capital of the United States, and many designers also work abroad in cities like Paris and Milan.
Most architects will need to be familiar with a variety of different design programs to excel in their careers in the 21st Century. Many architects get their start by studying for bachelor’s degrees in architecture; however, master’s and doctorate-level degrees are also seen as desirable qualifications within the field.
Architects tend to make around $30,000 to $40,000 at the beginning of their careers; however, salaries can go way up if an architect’s work is in demand. Top architects are often internationally famous and can earn many millions of dollars per year.
Architects are employed in all urban areas throughout the United States. They are responsible for everything from designing apartment complexes to designing office buildings.
11. Record Label Artistic Director
For people who are passionate about music, running a small record label is often a dream come true. To save on expenses, many small record label owners will either design artist album covers themselves or work with friends or freelancers to create stunning album cover designs.
As you might expect, industry pay increases substantially for album designers who work with major labels like Universal Music or Sony. These design gurus can also form their own creative agencies and design firms. Expect to find these professionals in big music cities like Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, and London.
12. Publication Layout Editor
While there has been a titanic shift in publishing circles away from the use of print media, it is also true that print newspapers and magazines still need layout editors to get the right look for their publications.
Every newspaper and magazine has its own distinctive “house style”; layout editors are responsible for the overall appearance of publications such as The New York Times and Time Magazine. You’re most likely to find these professionals in cities traditionally associated with the publishing industry such as New York or London. The best layout editors usually serve apprenticeships with smaller newspapers before moving on to big publications.
Top layout editors earn good salaries commensurate with their experience. They should expect to start at around $30,000 to $40,000 per year for entry-level work; in many areas, however, yearly pay can reach six figures with the right amount of experience.
13. Catalog and Pamphlet Designer
Catalog designers can work with a variety of different clients ranging from philanthropic organizations to art auction houses. These designers are in demand in most urban areas and can earn good salaries: Entry level positions start at around $35,000 per year but can increase substantially with experience. As with many design-based jobs, a quality portfolio is an absolute must!
14. Museum Exhibit Curator
At most museums, curators will be responsible for some of the most important parts of a museum’s interactions with the general public. Indeed, curating a show that strongly appeals to the public can provide a museum with some of its most important funding sources.
But to get the public into the museum in the first place, exhibit curators must first make exhibits seem compelling. To do so, curators may use graphic design principles to create compelling catalogs or advertisements.
Museum curators have salaries that vary substantially according to their location and level of responsibility. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, curators can command hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in compensation. But most curators get into their line of work for a love of art rather than for a high salary.
Many curators study art in college and many top curators hold doctoral degrees in art history; however, a love of and appreciation for art tends to matter more than a degree in many cases. Interning with a museum and gaining experience working in art galleries can also boost a would-be curator’s career trajectory.
15. Broadcast Designer
Have you ever wondered who does the graphics on your favorite television shows? Oftentimes, graphic designers for television programs are responsible for setting the tone of an entire series.
Often referred to as broadcast designers, these professionals tend to work in cities where big studios have their headquarters. Expect to find the best broadcast designers in the business in places like Los Angeles, New York, and London. Earnings can vary substantially between different projects.
Schooling in graphic design can certainly help broadcast designers hone their craft. But the most important part of a broadcast design career is the work itself: As is the case in many design career paths, someone with passion and talent will consistently tend to stand out from the crowd.