Choosing a Creative Career: How to Become a Graphic DesignerChoosing a Creative Career: How to Become a Graphic DesignerChoosing a Creative Career: How to Become a Graphic Designer

The Nike swoosh may be one of the most famous logos on the planet. The simple, curved checkmark, wide at the bottom and pointed at both ends, was inspired by the wings of the Greek goddess Nike — the company’s namesake. It’s the brand symbol of a business worth billions of dollars and recognized around the globe, adorning the jerseys, headbands, and gear of athletes in nearly every sport imaginable. A graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson designed the logo in 1971 for $35.

When the company went public a decade later, Davidson received more than a million dollars’ worth of Nike stock — proof that founder Phil Knight recognized the logo’s importance to the company’s ability to succeed in a highly competitive market. Davidson’s story is one example of the crucial role graphic designers play in modern-day business. If you’re wondering how to become a graphic designer, know that you’ll need to be strong in several areas, including creativity, technology, and interpersonal relations.

Graphic designers working on an image.

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Whether working for a graphic design company, in-house for a corporation, or as a freelancer, graphic designers create visual art to enhance brands and designs. Their work touches everything from logos to business cards, websites, multimedia presentations, advertisements, magazine layouts, and more. While graphic designers of the past worked with paper and pens or brushes, like the artists in Mad Men, graphic design has become a digital art form. These designers need competency in software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to produce the quality and variety of content that’s expected of them.

Because graphic designers typically serve brands with specific requirements and tastes, it’s important that their skills not stop with raw creativity and software prowess. In addition, graphic designers must be able to communicate with their clients to understand their needs, stay patient through rounds of revisions, and be open to critique about their work throughout the process.

Steps to Follow: How to Become a Graphic Designer

While some talented artists may find employment without a formal education, that’s becoming increasingly rare with the rise in technical know-how needed to reach the top of the profession. If you want to learn how to become a graphic designer, there are several recommended steps for pursuing this career path.

Get the Right Education

The most common starting point for graphic designers is a bachelor’s degree, but education can start even earlier. Many high schools offer visual design or digital art classes, allowing students to get their hands on some of the technology and skills they need from a young age. They can then continue their education by earning a degree in a related field, such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in digital media, which includes courses in digital illustration, web design, graphic design history, motion graphics, and photography.

Build a Portfolio

Even before college, students interested in graphic design can start working on their portfolios. A portfolio displays and organizes the designer’s talent and biography and is typically shared on a website also designed by the artist. It allows a graphic designer to make an instant impression on a hiring manager and showcases the artist’s variety of styles and personal brand.

Gain Experience

Graphic design students may choose to strengthen their qualifications further by gaining experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, freelance work, or other means. These opportunities teach graphic designers not only how to apply their skills in real-world settings but also how to collaborate with colleagues and meet clients’ needs.

Graphic Designer Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the graphic design industry is projected to experience slightly slower-than-average growth between 2016 and 2026. However, pockets of the industry will grow much faster. For example, graphic designer jobs in computer and related fields are expected to grow 20% in the next few years. The median salary for graphic designers is around $48,000, with the highest earners reporting $83,140 in salary.

Employment Outlook for Graphic Designers

The BLS predicts that 11,100 new jobs will join a market of 266,300 positions in the period from 2016 to 2026 — a 4% growth rate. Industry greatly impacts employment outlook. For example, the BLS expects graphic design job opportunities with newspapers and book publishers to decline but projects a 20% increase in computer systems design jobs. About 18% of graphic designers are self-employed freelancers, while the rest find employment in a variety of industries, such as professional services (30%), manufacturing (15%), and information/media (11%).

Learn More About Becoming a Graphic Designer

The next designer of a logo with the resonance of the Nike swoosh is out there, waiting for the right opportunity to make a major impact on a business through visual creativity and design — and it could be you. Check out Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in digital media to see how you can turn your creativity into productivity and profitability.


CNBC, “Here’s How Much Nike’s Billionaire Founder Paid for the Infamous Swoosh Logo in 1971”

Houston Chronicle, “Graphic Artist vs. Graphic Designer”

Houston Chronicle, “What Does It Take To Become a Graphic Designer?”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s in Digital Media

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Graphic Designers

Be Brave

Bring us your ambition and we’ll guide you along a personalized path to a quality education that’s designed to change your life.