Becoming a Visual Communication Designer: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career in visual communication design? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a visual communication designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Visual Communication Designer

In visual communication design, a creative field that includes graphic design, digital media and environmental graphics, designers work to create design layouts, Web pages and multimedia designs. Check out the pros and cons of a career as a visual communication designer to find out if it's right for you.

Pros of a Career in Visual Communication Design
Highly creative field*
Freelance opportunities available*
Opportunity to work with new and emerging technology*
Job growth projected with demand for animation and visual effects in video games, movies and TV*

Cons of a Career in Visual Communication Design
Success based on client input*
Evening and weekend hours possible due to production schedules*
Need to update computer equipment and software on a regular basis*
Keen competition in the field*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Visual communication designers are creative, highly trained and technologically savvy visual messengers who use combinations of images and type to inform, sell, persuade or even provoke. The titles they hold usually refer to their area of specialization, including graphic designer, multimedia artist or Web designer. Some designers choose to focus on print, and their work can be found in advertisements, books, magazines and newspapers or on the packages of your favorite products. Multimedia artists and Web designers work on a digital level to create animated features, films, video games and websites. Visual communication designers who specialize in environmental graphics produce large-scale projects, like signage and exhibition displays.

As a visual designer, you are usually employed on either a staff or a freelance basis by advertising agencies, design firms and product developers. You use traditional and contemporary tools like pencils, paper and computer graphic software to plan and execute designs for both print and electronic media. Be it an advertisement, a publication layout or a storyboard for an animated feature, you'll begin with a simple sketch. However, this is not a leisurely profession - most visual designers work according to production schedules and tight deadlines.

Employment Prospects and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 2012 to 2022, employment opportunities for multimedia artists and animators and graphic designers are expected to increase by 6% and 7%, respectively. This is slower than the average growth rate for all other professions. As of May 2014, multimedia artists and animators earned a median annual salary of $64,000, while graphic designers earned a median annual salary of $46,000. Industries with the highest levels of employment for multimedia artists and animators include motion picture and video, computer systems design, advertising, software publishing industries and information services. Major employers of graphic designers include motion picture and video, publishing companies, advertising agencies and specialized design services.

What are the Education Requirements?

A bachelor's degree is usually required to enter the field of graphic design, according to the BLS. While several bachelor's degree programs are available, the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) considers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) to be a more suitable degree for serious design students who want to become professional artists or designers. Two-thirds of the coursework in a BFA program is concentrated in the visual arts, while only one-third of the B.A. program is focused on visual arts.

In this major, you'll be able to prepare for the field by studying drawing, color, typography and computer graphics, as well as digital, exhibition and publication design. Some community and 4-year colleges also offer an Associate of Applied Science in Visual Communication with training in graphic, multimedia and Web design. A degree from one of these programs may qualify you to work as a technical or design assistant. Some of the software programs you'll need training in to work in the field include:

  • Adobe Illustrator: illustration and drawing
  • Adobe Photoshop: image editing and graphic design
  • Adobe InDesign: publication design
  • Adobe Flash: animations, video games and interactive websites

Job Postings from Real Employers

In addition to software skills and creativity, you must have the business skills necessary to produce work in different types of media that will appeal to different types of audiences. You must be culturally aware, open to new ideas and quick to respond to commercial and consumer trends. Here are some real-life sample job postings from March 2012:

  • A technology company in Bloomington, IL, is advertising for a visual designer with 'Jedi-style' computer software skills and a strong background in print design. While the job description does not specify the need for a degree, candidates should have the communication, persuasive and organizational abilities necessary to sell their ideas to the company's clients and bring projects in on time and within budget.
  • An international staffing leader in San Jose, CA, is looking for a visual designer with three years experience or a relevant degree and in-depth knowledge of standard graphic design software. This person will be responsible for producing interactive media for the Web, PC applications and interactive television.
  • A college in Danville, KY, has an opportunity for a visual and Web designer to create advertisements, billboards, magazines and promotional videos. A bachelor's degree and five years of experience in the field is required, preferably in higher education or the nonprofit environment.
  • A start-up computer software company in San Francisco, CA, needs a senior visual designer with a minimum of five years of experience to work directly with the founder and chief executive officer. Candidates should have the ability to manage multiple design projects, including Web applications, creative collateral materials and displays.

How to Stand Out in the Field

What are designers and creative directors really looking for in a candidate? According to the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA), you may not find them in a stereotypical job posting ( The AIGA points out that these skills are not always acquired in a design program or school, but through mentoring, repetition and experience. These include the following personal attributes and strengths:

  • Strong conceptual thinking and the capacity to execute an idea in a timely and well-crafted manner
  • A willingness to share your ideas in a collaborative environment
  • Skill with a simple pencil - technology should not replace your ability to express your ideas orally and by way of a sketch
  • Flexibility and the ability to survive and grow under pressure

Create a Portfolio

If experience and talent are what you need to stand out in the field, how do you get into the field in the first place? The BLS states that a high-quality portfolio is often the make or break factor in getting a job. In addition to undergraduate studio projects, some schools have publications departments that design internal and external materials. These projects would give you the opportunity to include published work in your portfolio. As you become more technically proficient, you might also want to consider approaching a company for freelance work. With the increased use of digital technology, you can make your portfolio more assessable and demonstrate your design skills by creating an online portfolio.

Other Fields to Consider


Illustrators use pencils, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolors or even computer software to produce fine and commercial artwork. They can work with art directors, editors and writers. According to, painters and illustrators can expect to earn a median annual salary of $38,000 as of March 2012. While an art education or degree is not always required to work as an illustrator, it is difficult to acquire these skills without some formal instruction and training, as reported by the BLS.

Industrial Designer

Industrial designers conceptualize and plan the products we all use everyday like appliances, cars, furniture, household items, toys and technology goods. Their ideas, just like those of visual communication designers, often begin with a sketch. In May 2011, the median annual salary of an industrial designer was $61,000, stated the BLS. To enter the field, most candidates need to have earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design, engineering or architecture.

Interior Designer

Interior designers plan the interior spaces of houses, offices, schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and airport terminals. Like graphic artists, they also use aesthetics, color and space to execute their designs. In May 2011, the median annual salary of an interior designer was $48,000. A degree from a 2-year or 4-year program in interior design is the minimum requirement for entering the field, as reported by the BLS.

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