8 Career Path Options for New Graphic Designers

After graduation, graphic design students may wonder what options they have

There are many jobs in the marketplace the employ the talents and skills of graphic designers and artists. The purpose of this article is to give a high-level overview of some of the job roles within the graphic design industry for students about to enter the work force.

Production designers (print): deal mostly with prepping artwork for press. Production designers may design the art themselves but depending on the job description actual design time may be limited. This role may require more technical knowledge of printing processes. Responsibilities may include making sure traps, bleeds, dielines, and coatings are all up to vendor specs for a successful print job. Examples: pre-press departments, print-houses.

3D model artists: may use 3D rending software similar to Modo to build anything from character design to realistic products that can be used in print ads or television spots. Highly specialized skill.

UX Designers/ Front-End Web Design: graphic designers that work in app or web-based design applications—but not all the time. These can be graphic artists who storyboard concepts and then hand-off their layouts to UI designers to adapt them to a user-friendly app form. The designs can cross multiple digital platforms—all online and mobile focused. A specialized skill.

Packaging designer: designers with a full range of skills, but also specialized for the industry. This role can also be broken into subcategories. Roles may include anything from conceptual artist to production artist. Projects are mainly consumer and marketing driven. Works can be found in retail stores or online.

Illustrators: a graphic designer with specialized skills- Illustrators can create their work entirely in the digital space or on tactile media and transfer those illustrations to their digital workspace. Storyboard artist may fall in this category.

Motion & Animation designer: Includes designers that might have been formally trained for this role or they may have migrating from digital or print to the video world. Tools of the trade can include Apple Motion and Adobe After Effects- This role may occasionally cross over into video editing as well. This can be a very specialized skill.

Page-layout designer: also referred to as desktop publishers. The designers work mostly in software like Adobe InDesign. Work may include single one-page ads to large publications, catalogues. This is probably one of the oldest commercial forms of graphic design. Positions may include magazine publishers, newspapers.

Typographer/designer: YES! typography is considered part of graphic design and an area of expertise. Many graphic designers have had very successful careers with this highly specialized skill. Many designs consist of only fonts and font treatments. The words and symbols themselves become the graphic elements. A lot can be visually communicated through the artistic use of fonts. A very specialized skill.


When first starting out as a graphic designer and you meet someone—they may ask you what you do for a living—and you may say something like…“I’m a graphic designer”. Their response is usually something like – “Oh you design T-Shirts or business cards”? Personally, I always hated that response because it over-simplifies what you do for a living as a graphic designer/artist.

Would you ever say to a carpenter- “Oh, you hit nails with a hammer”? Absolutely not because most people realize that carpentry is a specialized skill that not everyone can do, or even has the right tools to be successful at it.

When most people hear graphic design, they think T-shirts, brochures, business cards, posters and other collateral pieces or swag. Items they might see hanging in the window of local cupcake shop, a menu in a diner or a request from the newest local hipster coffee shop to develop a logo. (logo development itself is a specialized skill and can take lots of iterations and concepts)

All of these things are pieces that any good graphic designer can do and items that we all have in our portfolio. And they may be the bread and butter of a lot of successful agencies, both boutique and large, but there are so many more options within the industry. Nowadays any average Joe could go to a website click on some canned clip art that everyone else has access to and knock out a business card or T-Shirt within 5 minutes.

The field of graphic design is not that simple and clear cut. It is much broader and encompasses more job functions than one would think. Advances in technology and social media has opened up new avenues for an artist’s work to be on prominent display and across many channels. Even a fine artist such as painter or Illustrator can cross over into graphic design, especially if they start to photograph or scan their work to edit within software programs such as Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom.

As previously mentioned, these are just a few examples, but as of this writing, are some of the most sought-after graphic design roles in the industry.

Even though there are many different areas of expertise within the industry, they all share one common goal – Communication through visual artistic expression. Some are glamorous—some are not, but all are needed and valued.

So, whether you are designing that T-shirt, creating a menu for the local greasy spoon, creating a consumer facing package for retail, or building the next  greatest app for a mobile device—your goal as a graphic designer is to communicate a message visually to your target audience and have them connect to it.

 As a new student graduating from a graphic design course, it is up to you to find your niche—what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and what gives you pride in your work. If designing T-shirts is what you like to do, then be the best at it! I love a good T-shirt design. But don’t be afraid to explore the playing field. There are many opportunities in graphic design (much more than when I started out) and many of the roles eventually cross paths somewhere along the way.

Oh- and by the way, when just starting out you may find yourself with a portfolio without a lot of range. To help build you portfolio and your reputation, there is nothing wrong with taking some “pro-bono” jobs to help build a portfolio….But that is a blog for another day.