According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for graphic designers from 2012-2022 is expected to grow by 7% - which is slower than the average of other occupations. Does that mean that the profession is declining?
It means the industry faces tough competition. That isn’t an excuse for you to not pursue a career in design. Instead, this is an opportunity for you to learn the skills and insights to become a leading designer that clients and companies will want to hire.
If that sounds like something you want to explore, then check out this handy guide on becoming a designer. We’ll show you where to learn to become a designer and freelancing secrets that while give you a competitive advantage.
A graphic designer is someone who visually communicates the intended message of a project. Designers achieve this task by arranging type, symbols, color, and imagery to create a brand “feel” that is associated with a business.
One of the more common projects that graphic designers typically work on is visual brand identity. This includes the creation of logos, business cards, brochures, flyers, folders, print advertisements, postcards, company letterheadand envelopes, booklets, catalogs, packaging design, greeting cards, and invitations.
Even social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, as well as web advertisements, and web graphic elements are a part of this job responsibility. Some clients will ask designers if they can create websites in Adobe Muse or customize a WordPress website template.
However, most graphic designers specialize in just one or two areas of area, such web design or corporate identity. While some companies have an in-house designer to assist with the development of promotional materials, there are also plenty of freelance designers who work on a per-project basis.
Still interested in pursuing a career in graphic design? You’ll first have to learn the technical skills required to become a talented designer. To help get your started on your journey as a designer, here are the best places to learn graphic design.
While a college degree isn’t required to become a graphic designer, a college classroom is one the best ways to become a designer. According to Graphic Design USA here are the top educational institutions to learn design.
If you don’t have the time, finances or believe in attending a higher institution, you can learn design on your own through the following online and offline ways.
Lynda - This LinkedIn company features 596 courses and 27,968 video tutorials on design.
Digital Tutors - Provides online video training that is taught by professional artists and designers; new training sessions are added daily.
Treehouse - For either $25 or $49 per month students can learn how to build apps, games or websites; there’s also an opportunity to interact with fellow students and industry leaders through exclusive forums.
Designlab - While working with an experienced mentor and through hand-ons projects, students can learn UI/ UX skills.
SkillShare - This large size community has thousands of courses and you’ll receive feedback from members.
Tuts+ - More than 5 million have participated in the more than 580 courses and 20,110 free tutorials; there are also over 180 eBooks to help with the learning process.
Udemy - Offers a variety of free or affordable graphic design courses to join.
Adobe - Most designers will have to learn some form of the Adobe, so why not go right to the source and learn the basics?
Codecademy - An excellent site to learn code for designing websites.
If you’re more of a reader, or just want a little extra knowledge, check out the following books:
While college courses, online tutorials, and books are all great ways to learn design, you also want to keep a lookout for non-traditional examples of graphic design - such as in architecture, fashion websites, or even the labels of your favorite food and drink products.
You’ve taken a couple of courses or read several books and now you confident enough to get your design career off the ground. Here are some of the best ways for you to get started.
If you have a specialization it’s easier for you to narrow down your job search. For example, if you see an ad for a UX web designer, but only have the skills to be a logo designer, then you wouldn’t want to apply for the position. A specialization also makes it more convenient for you to explain your services to prospective clients and justify your rates.
This doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to only a couple of fields - you can always learn new skills along the way. In fact, being skilled in a number of design fields can open up more job opportunities. It just means instead of being average in multiple design areas, you excel in one or two.
Whether you’re working from home or in an office-setting, you’ll be required to have the proper amount of workspace to set up your computer. Depending on your specific area of concentration, some designers also need to have a drafting table. If that’s the case, then converting your walk-in closet into your office may not be ideal.
Besides having the proper amount of space to work, you need to have an area that is conducive to your style and work ethic. If you can only work in a quiet location, then maybe work in your local library or in a room in the back of your house away from the noise. If you like to blast music, then maybe your home office could be in the basement where you’re not disturbing others.
A chef can not prepare an amazing meal without cooking utensils and ingredients, right? The same can be said of graphic designers who need the proper hardware and software to do their job. The most obvious tool that designers need is a computer.
If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to go out and purchase a brand new Apple iMac. You can use what you currently have (as long as it has the adequate amount of RAM, which is around 1Gb) and upgrade to a more efficient machine once you start earning income.
Besides having a computer, you’ll need to have the right software. This will most likely be the Adobe Creative Suite, which is a bit on the pricey side. Fortunately, there are a number of free or open-source alternatives like Gimp, Scribus, Inkscape, and Pixlr that you can use until you can afford the Adobe software.
You also need to build a website that you can use to showcase your work and have contact information for when a client wants to get in touch with regarding a job. As freelance graphic Brent Galloway states, “Treat yourself like a client and really plan out the content of your website. Build yourself a brand and be consistent with it throughout all of your online accounts. (Photos, backgrounds, bios, etc.).”
To start designing your website, Galloway suggests that you draw a sitemap and describe the purpose of each page, as well as the content that will appear on the various pages. Your website should always contain your photo, the best way to get in touch with you, and samples of your work through a portfolio.
When creating your portfolio, keep the following tips in minds:
Whether you place your resume onto your website, LinkedIn profile, or go old-school and print it out, it should always contain the following components, according to Freelancers Union:
You have the skills, tools, workplace, and your portfolio all completed and now want the world to know how awesome of a designer you are. And the best way to accomplish that is by promoting your talents through the following ways:
Since there are a number of different areas involved with graphic design, you need to be aware of which industry and field your skills will work best - which you’ve probably already decided upon when you learned a specification. For example, if your skills are geared to advertising and publishing, you wouldn’t want to market yourself as a front end web designer. This is important because when you’ve narrowed down your niche, you can begin to target online forums, websites, and influencers in your specialization to help spread your name.
Speaking of networking, you want to make the use of social media platforms, forums, and even participate in question and answer site like Quora. When you engage and interact with others online you’re building a relationship with influencers and potential clients.
For example, you can show off your latest piece of creative on social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to give others a glimpse of your talents. You could use LinkedIn to share your resume and converse with clients.
When you first start out, you’ll want to email all of your contacts to let them know that you’re a designer and you’re available for work - we’ll go more into this in a minute. You could also cold email clients by searching for the businesses you would like to work. You may not always get a response, but it is a simple way in getting your name out.
You’ll also want to have website visitors leave their email addresses so that you can begin to build an extensive email list - you could also add to the list by entering the email addresses of people you meet offline as well. By using a tool like MailChimp you can quickly send out a monthly newsletter that keeps people updated on your latest projects.
Referrals are more than just informing your current contacts, like friends and family, that you’re a designer and are willing to help them with an upcoming projects, referrals could mean having previous clients spread the world about your awesome work to their network.
Maybe that law firm who just hired you to design their website loved your work so much that they let their accountants know about you.
Besides networking online, you also need to get out there and so some networking in the real-word. You could start by attending networking events hosted by industry events like the Ad Club, AIGA, or How To Design Live . You should also attend events through your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Association to network with clients in your area who could use your services. And, you could always leave your card behind no matter where you go - maybe that restaurant owner always wanted a new logo and they now have your business card.
No matter where you network, always remember to follow-up with your new contact to keep the conversation alive.
Whether it’s writing a daily blog on your website, guest blogging on an established site, answering questions on Quora, or hosting a webinar/workshop, one of the most effective ways in getting you name out there is to prove to others that you have the knowledge and skills to be a successful designer.
For a designer who just launched their own business, one of the best ways to gain recognize is by giving away your talents for free. Let’s say that you’re a web designer. You could design the website for your friend’s online bar supply shop for nothing. You could even do some good and offer your services to a local non-profit.
Besides reaching a new audience and gaining referrals, these projects can add to your portfolio.
You’ve been busy networking and promoting yourself in order to attract clients to your service. But, you also need to be proactive and find design gigs on your own. Here are some suggested online locations for you to secure a paying job opportunity.
AIGA Job Board - Since 1914, the American Institute of Graphic Arts has been a professional membership organization designers. The organization has a job board with more than 300 job listings.
UpWork - One of the leading freelance employment sites where web developers and designers can connect with a client.
Etsy - This popular marketplace helps creatives sell their goods, such as an original poster.
Elance - This is another popular freelance site where more than 25,000 new jobs are posted weekly.
Freelancer - Not only can clients search for designers, you can bid for jobs that interest you the most.
Behance - If you recall, Behance was mentioned as a great place to showcase your work. You can use visit the site’s job listings to find a gig either remotely or by location.
Design Observer - Clients use this publication to target qualified designers.
Glassdoor - While you can browse job listings on Glassdoor, the real advantage of using this site is that you’ll be able to view salary details and company details.
Authentic Jobs - Companies like Apple, HBO, and Facebook have used this site to find freelance, part-time, and even full-time help.
Krop - Krop is another leading site for creatives to search openings.
As mentioned earlier, you can use reach out to businesses or current contacts who believe could use your services.
When searching for a job, make sure you get all the details (compensation, timeline), compare with other clients, and actually want to work for the specific client or company.
Every freelancer has to deal with clients. Sometimes this isn’t all stressful because you and the client have a solid working relationship. Other times, you have clients who frequently interrupt your work, constantly add items to the projects, or refuse to pay after you completed a project.
No matter your specific relationship with a client, here are some useful pieces of advice to make working with your clients run more smoothly and efficiently.
If you’re working with a client for the first time, then you may want to conduct a little research on them prior to working with them. Ask fellow freelancers in your network or search online for any complaints. If there are any red flags, then you probably want to avoid them, no matter how much they’re offering to pay you.
It’s just not worth the headache and it will take you away from quality clients.
When you first discuss a project with a client you need to know exactly what they are looking for and they should be aware of what you can and cannot do. Additionally, both parties should agree on a deadline and payment details, such as your rate and how you’ll be paid. By addressing any questions or concerns from the beginning can make the entire process run more smoothly because it avoids any misunderstandings that can delay completing a project or getting paid.
Even after you begin working for a client you should be in frequent contact with the client during the creative process. For example, you should keep the client updated on the progress of the project, show them concept sketches and mockups, and be willing to share any ideas or suggestions that you feel could make the design stronger.
There will be times when a client makes suggestions to your design. Don’t take this personally. After all, it’s the client design when all’s said and done. To avoid spending too much time on a project only to have it rejected, leave some room for changes so if your client does want to make any adjustments it won’t be that difficult to add.
At the same time, you don’t want to come across as a pushover. Your client needs to be aware from the get-go on either your limitations or the limitations of your software. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to say no sometimes.
Don’t take constructive criticism personally. Believe it or not, this will make you a stronger designer because a client may have picked up on a skill that you need to strengthen.
Also, if a client rejects your idea, that doesn’t mean that they think you’re untalented. Sometimes your idea doesn’t fit with the client’s needs. Instead of getting offended, compromise with the client until you are both satisfied.
Always be proud of your work and deliver the quality design you know you’re capable of on a timely manner. Not only will this show the client that you’re a professional, it will also encourage the client to hire you again or refer you to their contacts.
Even if you believe you and the client are on the same page, you should still have everything in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. When you accept a project from a client, you should both have the following agreements clearly written out:
While you don’t always have to have a formal contract - an email with this information could work - it’s in your best interest to have a contract made up. Smashing Magazine has a legal guide and a number of templates specifically for freelance designers.
According to PayScale, the national average for graphic designers in the United State is $40,473 per year. However, salaries can vary depending on your location, experience, and area of specialization.
For example, if you were able to get a graphic design position for the federal government, you could make a salary of $75,570 per year, or $36.33 per hour.
For freelance graphic designers, however,it isn’t guaranteed that you will make an annual salary of $40,000. In fact, most designers have to set their own prices. While there isn’t an exact figure on how much you should clients for your work, here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind when establishing your prices.
Finally, it’s industry norm for designers to offer discounts to recurring clients, friends or family, or anyone who have supported you from the beginning.
It’s an effective way in keeping the relationship between you and your loyal clients strong. And, when it’s time to raise your rates, they shouldn’t have a problem with paying you a little more because you’re proven you’re worth it.
Now that you have everything else in order it’s time to come to one of the most important parts of being a freelance designers; getting paid and managing your money efficiently. After all, if you don’t get paid for your services and budget your income, how can you expect to maintain a positive cash flow?
You’ve determined how much to charge and they’ve agreed to the rate, now you have to submit a clear proposal to the client - which should have also been shared in the contract.
Not only will the proposal include your rate, it will also contain the following elements:
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to stay in frequent contact with your client. You have to make changes on the agreed terms, such as the deadline because your computer crashed. If they are aware of this information, they won’t hesitate to pay you when they receive the invoice because they were aware of the delay in advance.
Prior to sending out your invoice, you should be aware of the most important components of an invoice so that all of the required information is clearly in front of the client. By doing so, you’ll prevent any delays in the payment process.
Date - This will be the date of when the invoice was sent. You should also include the due date at the bottom which is typically 30, 60, or 90 days after receiving the invoice.
Amount - Although your client already knows how much money the project is going to cost, this could change if you’re billing hourly or if there was any additional work or charges, the invoice also needs to include the final project price.
Invoice Number - When you include an invoice number it makes it easier to track and organize your invoices. Also, an invoice number could be used when it’s time to file your taxes or if you get audited.
Contact Details - Always include the name, address, and contact information (phone number, email address) for both you and your client. This not only adds a sense of professionalism, it also helps your client easily find your contact information in case there are any questions regarding your invoice.
Description of Work - You can avoid any misunderstandings or surprises by detailing the exact work that you did for the client. For example, you could have an itemized breakdown of the services that you performed for the client throughout the project. Instead of simply billing a client for “Building a Website,” you would write “Built 10 Pages of HTML Design”.
Instead of spending time on creating an invoice from scratch, you can use software like Due.com. After creating an account, you can enter your information and your client’s information so that you can create a bill in just a matter of minutes. Not only will you save time, these invoices have a professional appearance and come with customized features that allow you to add things like your logo.
Another benefit of using invoicing software is that it will integrate with popular third-party payment gateways like PayPal.
And, if you have recurring clients, you can automate your billing. So if you have a client who pays who $500 per month, the software will automatically charge that client’s credit card or bank account. This is a great way to guarantee payments and budget accordingly.
Unless you’ve agreed to a term like automatic payments, you’ll need to send out your invoice immediately after the completion of project. Why? Because the sooner you send out an invoice to a client, the sooner you’ll get paid. This also prevents you from forgetting to send out an invoice while getting consumed by a new product.
Don’t hesitate to send out a polite reminder to a client if the invoice date is approaching. This will avoid you from hunting the client down if they haven’t paid or hitting them with late fee because the invoice is now past due. Maybe the client was out of town and couldn’t pay the invoice, so they appreciated the fact that you reached out to them before they went away.
You’re a graphic designer, which means that you possess the skills to create a one-of-a-kind invoice. This is a great way to also showcase your skills and establish your brand’s voice. For example, you could create an invoice that has a binary code. This reminds that client how talented you are and makes it stand out from all of the other invoices they receive. If you don’t have the time to create an invoice you could use invoicing software that was already mentioned, like Due.com. You should be able to find a template that fits your brand while adding a personalized touch by including your logo or name in a cool font.
Invoicing is just one part of maintaining a positive cash flow. You also need to manage your income by doing the following:
You can have a successful career in design if you learn the proper skills, set-up the workplace that helps your productivity, market yourself both online and offline, have a strong rapport with your clients, know your rates, and invoice and manage your income effectively.