When faced with the ever-popular question "What do you do?" My answer, " I'm a graphic designer," is often met with a blank expression, a confused look, or a feigned understanding. Often a partially-correct response "oh, so you're into computers," or "so you're in advertising" comes next.
Not everybody is confused on the subject and I certainly don't expect everyone to completely understand the ins-and-outs of my chosen profession. However, I offer here a clear and concise layman's definition and explanation of what graphic designers, such as myself, do.
Let's start with the basics by breaking the words apart, graphic and design. A graphic is a pictorial representation. To design is the act of formulating a specific plan with an intended purpose or effect. Thus, we can conclude that a graphic designer is one who formulates specific pictorial representations to meet an intended purpose or effect. Or in the simplest possible terms, a graphic designer creates images for a defined purpose.
SKILLS AND TOOLS
Graphic designers use simple items like pen & paper to complex technologies like computers to aid in the creation of their work. It is important that graphic designers are skilled with such tools. It is also important that they have a working understanding of color, type, space, form & content. Most graphic designers have at least some formal art education. While artistic ability is a primary concern in a graphic designers skill-set it is also crucial that they understand marketing and communications. Problem solving ability is a key ingredient to a great graphic designer.
Sometimes graphic designers work for big corporations (referred to as in-house), often they gather together and form firms to collectively sell their services, they can also be found in the art department at marketing, branding, public relation, or advertising firms, in many cases graphic designers will work on their own in a one-person business. In fact according to the US Department of Labor around 25% of graphic designers are self-employed.
NATURE OF THE WORK
Graphic designers are communicators of messages. Their primary responsibility is to visually communicate a client's message to a specific demographic. This involves a process of understanding the clients message, understanding the demographic's receptiveness, and bridging the gap between the two by creating imagery that fit both criteria.
Graphic designers work on many different types of projects. They create logos and develop signage. Graphic designers layout magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports, and other publications. They also design promotional displays, packaging, and marketing brochures for products and services. If it's on a screen or printed chances are at some point it was touched by a graphic designer.
WHERE THEY FIT IN THE WORK FORCE
Graphic designers are not print producers, nor are they writers of computer code. They do however need to have an understanding of both. Much like an architect is not a builder yet must understand how the construction process works. Both architects and graphic designers prepare specific plans for something to be produced.
In addition to working with coders and printers, graphic designers will also commonly work with writers, editors, art directors, photographers, and project managers.
Competition is tough in the field of graphic design. An excellent portfolio is a necessity in the field as it will be the number one hiring requirement.
Salary for a graphic designer may vary dramatically depending on skill and experience level. It can range from $25,000 to $125,000 per year. The median income hovers around $40,000.