Graphic Communications Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in graphic communications? Get real job descriptions and education requirements to see if a career in graphic communications is right for you.
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Career Information At a Glance

The field of graphic communications includes many creative, technical and leadership careers, three of which are graphic designer, photographer and art director. To determine whether one of these career paths is right for you, take a closer look at the information listed below.

Graphic DesignerPhotographerArt Director
Career Overview Conveys messages using visual mediaTakes pictures and edits imagesOversees artwork creation and layout for print and digital forums
Education Requirements Bachelor's degreeNo formal education requiredBachelor's degree
Program Length Four years, full-timeN/AFour years, full-time
Additional TrainingN/AOn-the-job training as a photographer's assistantN/A
Experience Requirement Entry-level job with no experience; advanced positions may require 1-5 years of experienceEntry-level positions are available; some employers may require 1-5 years of experience3-8 years of industry experience typically required
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Average growth (7%) compared to all occupations*Slower-than-average growth (4%) compared to all occupations* Slower-than-average growth (3%) compared to all occupations*
Mean Salary (2014) $50,670*$38,350* $97,850*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers use computer software and traditional artistic methods to convey themes and messages. In this career, you could create logos, design websites and compose brand-related illustrations. You'll meet with clients and perform research, select colors and text for designs and set up compositions for publication or printing. You may specialize in a certain field of design, such as Web or print, or work with a variety of mediums. Graphic designers are employed at specialized design studios as well as advertising, publishing and computer-systems design firms.

Requirements

Most employers seek graphic designers with bachelor's degrees. Majors in graphic design include drawing, design history, typography and studio courses. Your coursework should provide sufficient material for you to create a graphic design portfolio. Employers generally request to see a portfolio of work before hiring applicants.

In December 2012, employers of graphic designers sought the following:

  • In Chicago, a senior graphic designer was needed to help with marketing strategies, prepare print layouts and work on packaging, videos, interactive interfaces and more. An associate's degree in graphic design or a similar field was required, though a bachelor's degree was preferred. In addition, three to five years of senior design experience and proficiency with design software, like Adobe Creative Suite, were necessary.
  • A Georgia automotive group advertised for a graphic designer to create Web and print designs. Candidates needed skills in design software and a portfolio that showcases offline and online projects. Applicants with Web programming, video production and copywriting skills were preferred.
  • In South Carolina, a graphic designer was needed to create websites, advertisements, catalogs and displays. A bachelor's degree, two years of graphic design experience, a strong portfolio, software and video production proficiency, communication skills and the ability to multi-task were required.

Standing Out

As a graphic designer, a strong portfolio is key to standing out. You can build your portfolio by completing an internship, entering student design competitions and working with your instructors to select and improve your assignments. You can also learn complementary skills by taking courses in marketing, advertising and writing.

Photographer

Photographers take pictures and edit images. In this career, you may work in a portrait studio or out in the field taking scientific, commercial or news photographs. Most photographers use digital cameras and spend time editing their photos. Many photographers run their own businesses or work as freelancers for other organizations. If you pursue this route, you'll need to market your services, oversee finances and manage other business-related tasks.

Requirements

For most photographers, formal education is not required. You will, however, need a portfolio to attract clients or employers. You can build your portfolio and learn skills by assisting a professional photographer and taking personal photos. Some photographers, including scientific photographers and photojournalists, need a bachelor's degree.

In December 2012, employers advertised for the following:

  • A broadcasting company in Arizona sought a photographer and editor to produce videos, create graphics and oversee others. Candidates needed the ability to work flexible hours, travel and operate designated equipment and software. Two to five years of experience was also requested.
  • In Vermont, a photographer was needed at a portrait studio to work with children and families and sell portrait packages. Applicants needed one to two years of experience plus customer service experience.
  • A Missouri car rental company sought a photographer to take pictures of its inventory, edit images and post photos to its website. Candidates needed to be familiar with Adobe Photoshop.

Standing Out

Since formal education is not required for most photographer jobs, you can stand out in this field by taking courses or earning a degree. Many community colleges and universities offer certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs that can teach you how to improve your photographic skills and build your portfolio. You can also stand out by developing complementary skills, such as journalistic writing if you plan to work as a photojournalist, or digital video skills.

Art Director

Art directors work for publications, production companies, design studios and advertising firms. In this career, you'll convey visual messages by designing page layouts, selecting graphics and making decisions about the overall look of products. You'll meet with clients to discuss goals, oversee design staff members, create budgets and ensure that deadlines are met.

Requirements

To become an art director, you'll need a bachelor's degree and about three to eight years of experience in the graphic communications field. You may gain experience as a graphic designer, fine artist or copy editor. You should choose a bachelor's degree program that prepares you for an entry-level creative career. Courses in management, business, fine arts and design can prepare you for advancement into an art director position. You'll also need a portfolio of your work to attract clients and employers.

In December 2012, employers of art directors sought the following:

  • In New York City, an art director was needed to design marketing materials, research trends, formulate layouts and work with other creative team members on projects for the healthcare industry. Proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite software, a portfolio and two to five years of experience were required.
  • A creative agency in Philadelphia sought a senior creative director with three or more years of interactive design experience to work on a freelance basis managing overflow projects, directing others and ensuring that projects meet their deadlines.
  • In San Francisco, an art director was needed to oversee video game development. Candidates needed a bachelor's degree in graphic arts or a similar field, six to eight years of experience, familiarity with game development and the ability to lead others.

Standing Out

One way to stand out as an art director is to join a professional organization, such as the Art Directors Guild or the Art Directors Club. Membership can help you network in the industry and stay abreast of changes in your field. You may also consider pursuing a master's degree in business administration or fine arts. In some settings, an advanced degree can replace experience and help you advance in your career.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Campus Locations:
    3. Universal Technical Institute

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Collision Repair and Refinish Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Rhetoric and Public Culture
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Strategic Communication
      • Bachelor of Arts in English - Communication
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Communication Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Communication
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. The Art Institutes

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Design & Media Management (MA)
      • Computer Animation (MFA)
    Bachelor's
      • Design & Technical Graphics (BS)
      • Graphic Design (BFA)
      • Graphic Design (BS)
      • Design & Technical Graphics (BA)
      • Advertising Design (BFA)
      • Computer Animation (BFA)
    Associate's
      • Graphic Design (AAS)
      • Graphic Design (AS)
      • Graphic Design (AAA)
      • Graphic & Web Design (AAS)
      • Graphic & Web Design (AA)
      • Graphic & Web Design: Graphic Design (AA)
    Certificate
      • Digital Image Management (C)
      • Web Design & Interactive Communications (C)
    High School Diploma
      • Digital Image Management (D)
      • Web Design & Development (D)
      • Web Design & Interactive Communications (D)
      • Web Design (D)
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication - General
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Universal Technical Institute

  • Collision Repair and Refinish Technology

What is your education level?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

The Art Institutes

  • Design & Media Management (MA)
  • Design & Technical Graphics (BS)
  • Graphic Design (AAS)
  • Digital Image Management (C)
  • Digital Image Management (D)

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Communication - General
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided

What is your highest level of education completed?