July 7, 2016
From the moment you wake up each morning, you're bombarded by images striving to capture your attention. Bright colors flash at you from a morning talk show. On your commute to work, you see enormous photographs of beautiful people staring down at you from billboards. Every time you glance at your phone, there's a new, funny video of a kitten or a toddler.
For any business trying to reach customers, one enormous challenge is trying to cut through all this visual information. That means companies need to find talented, creative people with strong graphic design skills. If you're an artistic person looking for a solid career where you can put your passion to good use, you might wonder if a graphic design career path is for you.
"People who tend to want to be in the arts or graphic design are people who really are aware of the visual and textual things around them at all times," said Sloan W. Kelly, associate dean of faculty for Southern New Hampshire University's Graphic Design and Communications program.
The online graphic design program offer three different tracks toward a career.
There's the bachelor's degree in graphic design, which provides both the theory and the hands-on skills necessary to design everything from magazines and websites to produce packaging and advertisements. You'll learn how to use the principles of color design and typography to create balanced images and convey feeling. You'll also develop the ability to use powerful tools like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign - skills that are in great demand in the business world.
A concentration in web design can supplement a core graphic design program with courses specifically focused on creating online experiences. If you're specifically interested in doing work for the web, this concentration can help you learn to create modern sites that function smoothly for visitors on smartphones and tablets, as well as desktop computers. You'll also learn to make interactive animated designs, creating a richer experience for users.
Finally, you might prefer to choose a concentration in 3D modeling and animation, which helps you learn state-of-the-art techniques for creating video game and movie visual effects.
You can learn everything from sketching concepts by hand to using sophisticated software to make 3D models and complex interactive animations. By the time you receive your bachelor's degree through the graphic design online program, you'll have full digital and print portfolios to share with potential clients. Many designers choose to do freelance work, either as full-time job or in addition to another job, and having a complete, attractive online portfolio can be an important tool for attracting clients.
Kelly said a bachelor's degree is a good way to begin your career graphic design career because it goes beyond only technical skills. Employers are also looking for candidates with strong "soft skills" - and for good reason. Many employers want to make sure new hires are just as competent working with clients and understanding the needs of the business as they are at their specialized skills.
"It's important for them to have a well-rounded background for any sort of business," Kelly said.
A graphic design online curriculum includes English courses, which can help with everything from writing copy for your own website to communicating with co-workers and clients. While artistically-minded people are sometimes reluctant to study mathematics, Kelly said it's a subject that's crucial for designers. Programmers in particular need to have a solid grounding in mathematics, and 3D modeling also demands some of the same skills. Kelly said understanding mathematics helps students to be comfortable with the way information on three-dimensional models must be entered in a design program.
"3D modeling is not like drawing in Photoshop and Illustrator where you're creating flat characters," Kelly said. "You need to be putting in x, y, and z parameters."
An online graphic design program is a great option for people who want to advance their education without putting the rest of their lives on hold. You can complete your coursework whenever they have time, whether that's late at night, early in the morning, or at random times each day when the opportunity arises.
Aimee Norman, who earned her bachelor's in graphic design and media arts in 2014, had previously struggled in college.
"I didn't know what I wanted to study or which career path I wanted to take, and I lost interest quickly," she said. But once she was out in the working world, Norman found that she'd be able to move forward in her career more easily with a bachelor's degree in graphic design. "Once I made that decision, there was no looking back."
For Norman and others like her, getting a graphic design online degree offers a way to learn new, useful skills without missing a step in their work and personal lives.
If your interests run toward artistic pursuits, you may have heard from friends or relatives who say it's impossible to make a living doing creative work. That's far from true. The typical graphic designer responsible for creating advertisements, brochures, magazines and corporate reports made a median salary of $47,640 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Art directors - a role that can involve creating the visual style of a magazine, movie, or ad campaign while overseeing other designers - earned a median salary of $89,280 in 2016.
For those in the digital side of the design world, multimedia artists and animators who design animation and visual effects for TV, movies, and video games typically make about $65,300. Meanwhile, web developers, who are responsible for the appearance, function and sometimes content of websites, typically make nearly $66,130. Web development is also a particularly fast-growing field. The BLS predicts that these jobs will grow by 13%, much faster than the average occupation, through 2026*
One example of the possibilities opening up to graduates of graphic design programs is the growth of Designer Fund, a San Francisco firm dedicated specifically to investing in new startups founded by designers. Designer Fund was inspired by the success of Airbnb, a Silicon Valley poster child created by two designers. In the four years since it was founded, the fund has raised $20 million and backed a range of companies that give a sense of the fields where designers can thrive. Examples include Stripe, a web and mobile online payment tool, The Noun Project, a library of downloadable icons created by users all over the world, and Omada, which offers an interactive, technology-based wellness program that companies can offer as a benefit to their employees.
For Michael Allsop '13, who earned a bachelor's in graphic design and media arts from SNHU, coursework gave him insight into the variety of jobs he could consider. He initially planned to pursue video game design, but he quickly found himself expanding his horizons.
"The professors definitely know the industry in and out," he said.
Allsop added that the graphic design degree has allowed him to acquire skills that could help him succeed in advertising, marketing, web design and other fields.
Allsop took an internship at Intellisoft Group, a medical credentialing software company in Nashua, N.H.
"I did anything visual for the company," he said. "I created a trade-show booth, a client log-in screen, brochures and pamphlets. I also did some logo work and helped them solidify their brand."
Ultimately, Allsop got his degree in graphic design with minors in game design, information technology, art history, and applied mathematics. He now sees a variety of potential paths open to him, including handling advertising and promotions for a commercial radio station, as well as returning to his original plan to work in the world of video games.
Kelly said experiences like Allsop's aren't unusual. She said many students enlarge their understanding of the sorts of jobs available while studying for their degree. Those who arrive after spending time working in the field often see ways that they can seek new opportunities in digital designs. In some cases, they're even sent by their companies to learn new skills.
There are also students who enroll immediately after high school with a strong understanding of the emerging opportunities in social media and gaming. "Those students are definitely drawn to the program because they want to utilize their creativity, but also many have programming skills that they come in with as well," Kelly said.
While it's valuable for new graphic designers to have that kind of background knowledge, Kelly said, a bachelor's degree program can help students find ways they may not have considered to use their talents.
Even for people with plenty of experience in graphic design, there are good reasons to return to college. For one thing, some employers prefer not to hire applicants without a bachelor's degree, limiting the options for good jobs. More importantly, returning to school means getting the chance to train on the full gamut of tools used in cutting-edge design work today. A designer with the versatility to build a newsletter one day and create an animated interface for smartphones the next has all kinds of options for building a career.
Hillary Torchia, had worked in graphic design for 10 years before returning to school. She'd found work in print shops, textiles, publications and marketing despite having no formal post-high school training. But eventually she found that it was tough to compete without a bachelor's degree. As a working mom, an online university was key.
"Now I can balance my career and be a mom and wife all at the same time without worrying about how long it will take for me to complete my graphic design degree," she said.
Torchia said she found that studying graphic design online was flexible enough to accommodate her busy life. At the same time, she said, being able to communicate with instructors and staff meant she didn't feel like she was on her own even though she wasn't physically on campus.
"The structure of the online classroom has made it simple, and knowing I have a great network of support from the advisor staff as well as my family helps make my success happen," she said.
George Devaney is a marketing and communications professional in higher education.
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