While it was once common for designers to stick entirely to designing books and other printed materials, web design skills are becoming more and more important. To be a graphic designer, you'll probably need at least a bachelor's degree, though an associate's degree and appropriate experience can be sufficient. The more training and experience you have, generally the better your income will be. However, the competition for graphic design jobs is extremely stiff.
Skills that people will need to learn in order to get into web or graphic design include visual arts skills such as composition and color use, page layout, interface design, printing typography, and knowledge of computer programs including Flash and others. It takes between two to six years to get a degree in graphic design, depending on the type of degree being pursued and the difficulty of the course of study.
On top of skills learned at school, a successful candidate needs to be creative, excellent at communication—written, verbal, and graphical—able to work independently, have good customer service skills, and have a good head for business. Graphic designers may work from home as freelancers or independent contractors or as part of a larger company.
Each of these types of work has its own problems and benefits. For instance, independent contractors set their own hours, rates, and workload, but have no guarantee of work in the long run and don't enjoy the protections that come from having an employer. They pay more in taxes, have less opportunity for benefits or insurance, and may go for long periods without work. They are responsible for providing all their own tools, such as a computer; purchasing expensive programs including InDesign, Flash, Photoshop, and others; and for delivering files to the appropriate person or organization. They can work from almost anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, however.
People in a company have much less freedom in their schedule, the kind of work they do, and the end product, as their work is often heavily influenced by outside factors. They also must adhere to dress codes and live in the area of their employer, unlike freelancers, who can do work from anywhere in the world. They may have to deal with more work politics than people working from home and do not control their own tools in most cases. However, all their tools are provided for them, and they can expect steady guaranteed work with benefits. For many people, this kind of certainty wins out over the freedom offered by freelancing positions, but the market is moving more towards use of independent contractors, who are less expensive for companies to work with on a general basis.
Many young designers are not aware of the state of the market when they enter it. They expect high salaries and extensive benefits, which the market cannot now support, if it was ever able to. Companies continue to demand more experience and higher skill levels for the same rate of pay, which can lead to many people just getting into the web and graphic design field to be extremely disappointed. Many people enter the field improperly prepared, believing that a basic grasp of Flash and a few other programs, or a little bit of a background in web design, is enough to land them a good position. They are frequently surprised.
Whether they work at home or for a large company, graphic designers can expect to work long hours on short notice and to be in relatively high-stress positions. Job specifications may change frequently as new duties are added and taken away, and they may have to redo large portions of their work due to changes from customers or supervisors. Pay is not high for a professional job, though it is significantly higher than in some other fields. New designers who don't know what to expect may struggle with bills from student loans. This does not mean that design is an unviable field, however. It's a way for many people to engage their creative urges and use them in their careers, and that can be extremely rewarding. It's just important to realize that no Flash, web, or print design is likely to make a particular worker famous. It is extremely difficult for designers to start at the top—most must work their way up from lower positions and obtain a higher salary through seniority. With increased economic uncertainty, this can be a lot more difficult than it used to be, which has caused many beginning designers to lose hope. Still, for the right person, the design field is an incredibly emotionally and creatively rewarding one. The right training and the willingness to deal with this fast-paced job can make a big difference.