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What Does a Career in Graphic Design Look Like?

Graphic design is a wonderful career and vocation. If you like coming up with creative ideas, problem-solving, helping businesses and people, collaborating with a team, and creating beautiful graphics, then a career in graphic design might be right up your street.

The graphic design career path is one of continuous learning, trial and error and plenty of creativity. Even though it’s always jokingly referred to as just “colouring in pictures” and “making things looks pretty”, graphic design actually entails so much more.

Before you jump in – what is a graphic designer?

The very first step to starting your career in graphic design is understanding what it is. The basic definition of graphic design is the skill of combining text and pictures for branding or advertising purposes. But it holds so much more of an ambiguous definition. Being a graphic designer means communicating an idea or concept to an intended audience, using elements that convey the right messaging such as colours, typography and illustrations.

The beauty about graphic design is that every business needs some sort of graphic design materials, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to gain exposure to all kinds of sectors and industries, all with different needs and requirements.

Typical graphic design tasks will include:

How to get started in graphic design

Next is tackling the question of how do you get into graphic design? Well, most graphic designers start out along the art path, either taking it as part of GCSE or A-level at school. Thanks to the digital evolution of the past few decades, tools like Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator have meant designers have gone from paper to computer. Perhaps creating a few logos and image tweaks, and before they know it, they fall in love with graphic design.

But the most common pathway into a career in graphic design is through a University course, which the majority of UK Universities offer nowadays. Another solid choice if you decide to pass on University is to go down the apprenticeship route, which we would say is just as valuable and prosperous, if not more, than a uni degree. Don’t believe us? Well one of our designers, Sam Jones, came straight from college to Milk & Tweed as an apprentice and has been with us ever since.

What are the skills every graphic designer needs?

You’ll likely see a lot of the same skills in many job vacancies, such as the ability to work in a team, time-management skills and attention to detail, but what about the specific skills a graphic designer needs?

Creativity – Generating fresh ideas for branding and advertising projects for a wide range of clients and industries

Flexibility – Adapting to client requests, feedback (and deadlines!)

Adaptability – The work of a designer can vary considerably from day to day. Depending on the needs of your clients, you might be designing a logo in the morning, and editing a video in the afternoon. The varied workload means you’re always trying new things, and learning new software and processes.

Teamwork – Designers thrive when surrounded by other creatives. It’s so valuable being able to collaborate with one another. When working in a design agency, it’s rare that you’ll carry a project on your own from the initial idea to completion. Designers will often work in groups or pick up jobs that other colleagues have started, so being able to work as part of a team is key.

Artistic – An eye for colour and composition is important, regardless of the creative brief. The end result has to look good!

Resilience – Bad feedback is as useful as good feedback. You won’t always create the perfect piece of design first time round, but you can’t take bad feedback personally. Design is subjective and sometimes however nice a piece of design looks, it might not fit the brief.

Attention to detail – Poor alignment, double spaces in text, typos. The best piece of design can be devalued by the smallest of errors so attention to detail is a key skill for all budding designers (especially if your design work is going to be printed!)

Communication – Whether talking to a client or a colleague, good communication is so important to ensure design work fits the brief and is delivered on time.

Time management – It’s rare that you’ll work on one project at a time so it’s important to be able to juggle numerous design jobs and manage your time for multiple deadlines.

Proficiency in software such as Adobe suite – When looking for a job as a graphic designer, there’s an assumption that you already know the key pieces of software. Often these won’t be taught at College or University, but if you’re eager to pursue a career in graphic design, make sure to brush up on Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign skills. (Adobe XD and After Effects come in handy too!) There’s an endless amount of resources and tutorials available on Youtube.

Different types of graphic design career paths

Whilst there are many types of graphic design career paths, the most prominent three include, agency, in-house or freelance. All are favourable pathways and have their own positives and negatives…

Agency life

You get to work on a really wide range of customers from all different sectors, and of all different shapes and sizes – so the work is really interesting and varied. Typically you will also be working with a creative team full of inspirational and creative designers that you can bounce ideas off and learn from and improve your own skills.

Agency life is fast-paced. Lots of different tasks to be completed quickly for lots of different clients, every customer wants it done yesterday… So it can get a little frantic and stressful from time to time.


You can also work as a designer for a brand or business, so you only work on their design tasks. Typically it will only be you or a very small team as the rest of the staff will be working on other aspects of the business. This does give you a sense of control and ownership of the business and brand.

In-house life is usually a little slower-paced, and working continually on the same brand can get repetitive and boring. Working on your own or as part of a very small team can get lonely from a design point of view, and your skills and development as a designer can suffer. That being said, when working in a small team, there are often opportunities to try your hand at something a little different than your usual day-to-day tasks. If you don’t have a photographer or website developer on your team, as an in-house designer you might be called upon to learn on the fly, and you’ll likely expand your skillset in the process.


Gives you the freedom to work when, where and how you want. Most freelancers will have a pool of clients and agencies that they work with here and there. But working as a freelancer is all about the freedom to decide what you want to do, where and when, giving you lots of different experiences in different agencies, meeting other designers, and working on different projects.

The negative side to being a freelancer is no guaranteed income, you will be constantly chasing projects and work to get booked in for yourself. As well as chasing invoices, can all be a bit daunting for some.

The different stages of a design career

With any of the above design careers, the journey in graphic design will usually always follow the same path…Starting out as a junior designer, then into a middleweight designer, following onto a senior designer. Then depending on your preference, you can then look to become a Creative Director, Studio Manager, Art Director or the Head of Design.

As with any role where the progression path follows a hierarchical structure, there will be an increase in responsibilities and priorities as you go up the ladder.

Graphic design jobs and salary

The great thing about graphic design is there are so many roles and opportunities. If you end up landing a job and find that it doesn’t suit you or doesn’t match your expectations, there are lots of different options/careers within that often people end up following or pursuing. The software skills and experience that you pick up as a designer are often transferable to different design roles. A UI or UX designer, illustrator, artwork, motion designer, you can even make a start in the world of marketing… the list goes on.

In terms of salary, there is really no way of determining whether agency or in-house designer is the best paid role. There are just too many factors to consider, such as experience level, location, type of business etc. With that being said, the below roles are roughly what you’ll expect to come across on job boards and their average salaries:

  • Junior: £18,000 – £23,000
  • Middleweight: £25,000 – £38,000
  • Senior: £35,000 – £55,000
  • Creative Director – £60,000

(Sourced from Prospect Graphic Designer Job Profile)

So what’s next?

As we’ve expressed, a career in graphic design is an absolutely brilliant vocation to pursue. It allows you to creatively express yourself, create beautiful graphics that get shown to the world and collaborate alongside some truly unique and brilliant people.

But what happens once you’ve understood graphic design, studies the concepts, taken the courses, landed your job and worked your way up the ranks? Well, that’s a bit of a trick question because there is no ‘what happens afterwards’ simply because there is no end to this truly magnificent career. There is no end, no final destination, no finish line. Being a graphic designer means you’ll always be learning, adapting and growing.

You may find yourself as the Creative Director of a design agency in 5 years’ time but that won’t mean it’s the end of your graphic design career journey. As times change, trends change, aesthetics change and styles will come in and out of popularity. Even when sitting in the role of a director or head of design, you’ll forever be learning and growing, often from the newest members of your team. Hence, the role of graphic design will never bore you, there’s always going to be something new and exciting to work on.

If you’re keen to get some exposure to the world of graphic design, have a little browse of our work page to view some examples of projects we’ve completed.

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