Graphic design careers are increasingly popular with students and graduates despite their competitive nature. Discover which qualification will help you stand out from the crowd
The UK design sector (the largest in Europe) is helping to drive the continued growth of the creative industries and the number of design jobs is increasing - great news for aspiring graphic designers.
But what is graphic design? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as 'the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines or books'.
To successfully secure a job as a graphic designer you'll need the right training and qualifications. Take a look at some examples of the types of graphic design courses on offer.
Graphic design degrees
A lucky few may be able to secure work as a graphic designer through relevant work experience and an excellent portfolio, but generally the design industry is made up of professionals educated to degree level. Therefore, employers expect you to hold at least an undergraduate qualification.
A career in graphic design is open to graduates of any design-related discipline, for example 3D design, communication design, photography, illustration or visual art, but a specific graphic design degree will be the most useful.
A variety of institutions offer graphic design courses, such as Leeds Arts University. During your first year of this three-year programme you'll focus on the fundamentals of visual language and explore research methods and design practice. You'll work with typography, print, drawing processes, photography and screen-based media. Moving into the second year you'll take part in workshops, critical assessments and seminars. You'll learn about audience, context, distribution and ethical issues. In your final year you're supported to build a portfolio, while discovering more about professional practice, business and marketing and project management. You'll exhibit your work at the end of year show. To be admitted onto this graphic design course you'll need 112 UCAS points or BBC grades at A-level.
Alternatively, how about the three-year Graphic Design BA at the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol? To get onto the programme you must have 112 UCAS points or at least two A-levels. In year one you'll study modules such as introduction to words and images, communicating with words and images, critical perspectives and professional practice and work experience 1. In year two you'll learn about exploring graphic design process, creative analysis and professional practice and work experience 2. You'll also be able to choose one optional module. In your third and final year you'll conduct extended study in graphic design, an independent research project and complete the professional practice and work experience 3 module. You'll learn through a series of lectures, projects, seminars and tutorials. All students on the course have the opportunity to join the student-run Graphic Design Society.
Masters in graphic design
Securing a graphic design job is tough, especially when you're fighting it out with other talented graduates, so while a pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a prerequisite, a Masters can help you develop industry contacts and make you stand out from the competition.
The one-year Graphic Design MA at the University of Huddersfield encourages you to push the boundaries of graphic practice with the development of innovative and imaginative concepts and ideas. For entry onto this graphic design course you'll need at least a 2:2 in a relevant subject. You'll be instructed by industry professionals in modules such as research method and project proposal, graphic design concepts, creative innovation and entrepreneurship and graphic design processes. The study of these modules leads on to a major project before completing the course.
At the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) you can study a one-year Graphic Design MA. The course is taught by academics and industry professionals and you'll have the use of graphics, printmaking, photography and digital media studios. The programme is split into four units - practice and process, research methods, professional practice and a major project. You'll benefit from well-established industry links and guest lectures. You'll need a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject or extensive, relevant work experience that demonstrates your ability to study at postgraduate level.
Short design courses
Intensive graphic design courses are available at all levels, from beginner to advanced, and are perfect for those trying to fit their learning around a full or part-time job.
Shillington College, with campuses in both London and Manchester, offers a three-month (full time) or nine-month (part time) portfolio-based graphic design course for students with little to no design experience. You'll learn relevant industry skills from practising graphic designers and graduate with a polished portfolio of work. The programme takes you through the design process from beginning to end and covers design theory (design principles, typography, colour, design thinking) and industry-standard software programmes such as Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat and Sketch. There are no specific entry requirements and no previous experience is required.
Online graphic design courses are also available at beginner and professional level. Central Saint Martins, a college of the University of the Arts London, runs an online graphic design short course for beginners over a six-week period. The programme includes eight topics beginning with techniques to form and develop creative ideas, typography and logotypes and kerning, tracking and leading - before moving on to scale, spacing and positioning, poster design, magazine layout and using grids to enhance your work. The final unit is bookmaking and bookbinding, while the project requires you to make a small book and build your portfolio.
The Graphic Design School also runs intensive online graphic design courses at foundation and masterclass level.
Aspiring graphic designers at beginner and intermediate level can study short, ten-week evening courses at Nottingham Trent University. At beginner level the course combines theoretical and practical content and focuses on the development of ideas, the creative process and gaining an understanding of visual language, layout and typography. The intermediate programme is suitable for those wishing to expand their creative skills with a focus on ideas, creative thinking and visual problem solving.
How to get essential technical skills
Competence in Adobe software programmes such as InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat and Dreamweaver is essential for graphic designers. If you need to brush up on these technical skills an assortment of short, stand-alone evening and weekend courses are available.
London training provider City Lit offers intensive one-day courses in InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop for design professionals, while the London College of Communication (LCC) offers a range of training programmes for Adobe packages.
Many universities, such as Nottingham Trent University, and art colleges also provide additional short courses in useful graphic design software.
Certitec, an Adobe authorised training centre operating in Bristol, Cardiff and London provide an array of one to five-day courses in a variety of Adobe programmes including Acrobat, Dreamweaver, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.
No matter which graphic design course is right for you, all aim to equip you with the qualifications, skills and confidence to succeed.
Graphic design apprenticeships
Graphic design apprenticeships are available and are easy enough to find with a quick Google search. They're more commonly offered by large and medium-sized businesses, so do your research to find opportunities in your area.
Apprenticeships enable you to earn while you learn and offer a viable alternative to university study. According to the government's apprenticeship standards there are two types of graphic design apprenticeships:
- intermediate graphic design apprenticeships can lead to roles such as design assistant or trainee technical graphic design assistant
- advanced graphic design apprenticeships can lead to junior graphic designer roles.
Find out more
- See what the creative arts and design sector has to offer.
- Gain relevant industry work experience and internships to boost your prospects.
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