I love print products, and I always have. My intention was always to work for a traditional magazine, writing about social issues and interviewing celebrities. I wanted to be Miranda Priestly, but, you know… nicer. So, this idealized career path was stuck in my head for years and it brought me to UT’s journalism school. But even after falling in love with news and figuring out that print media was clearly on life support, I made the mistake of not shifting my goals. All my concentrations revolved around print. My classmates were building apps, and I was placing headlines in InDesign templates. I thought I could hold out and still land my dream job, and my budding career has suffered as a result.
Now, I don’t want to make the same mistake and focus too heavily on graphic design for print, as tempting as it is. I want to pursue a career in visual design, because it’s a happy medium between traditional graphic design and web design. You don’t need to do any coding, and it uses many of the same elements of design like color theory or typography. There is a healthy balance of business and art, which summarizes exactly what I want in my career.
Working conditions for a visual designer can vary widely; the most common themes I’ve seen in job postings are “fast-paced” and “team-oriented.” Visual design is often a general phrase for those who do any digital design work, according to Robert Half, an international staffing firm. The group lists the following as common aspects of the role:
• Establish the look and feel for various interfaces, including websites, mobile devices, apps, kiosks, games and wearables
• Work within brand guidelines to create layouts that reinforce a brand’s style or voice through its visual touchpoints
• Design user-centered interaction models, wireframes or screen mockups
• Design logos, icons and infographics
• Closely collaborate with IT and business teams to solve complex issues, like interaction models and data visualization
• Have basic coding knowledge so they can work hand-in-hand with coders
• Create and organize production assets
• Resize assets for different devices — tablet, mobile and web
• Source images (stock photos and video footage)
• Work with a component library
• Work on email marketing items, presentation materials and interactive event materials
• Juggle multiple projects while effectively managing timelines and expectations
Skillcrush estimates that about 25% of visual designers are self-employed. Otherwise, visual designers can work in a multitude of places, including corporations, small businesses, start-ups, studios, advertising agencies, media companies — you name it. If they have a logo and a website, they more than likely have a similar role in-house, or they outsource it. Visual designers often work in tandem with web developers, or user experience/interface designers.
A bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience is typically required — usually a degree in graphic design, art, communication, marketing or similar is preferred. Advanced proficiency with Adobe CC programs is a definite must, mostly Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. Basic coding skills are a bonus but not frequently required, thank goodness, as visual designers are the go-between for the graphic designers and the UI/UX designers. You really get the best of both worlds and need to have a basic working knowledge of their roles in order to be an effective visual designer.
Skillcrush lists $87,000 as the national average salary for visual designers, but this figure isn’t dated. According to Glassdoor, the national average base pay is $74,070 with an average of $5,377 in additional compensation. Nationally, base salaries range from $42,000 to $108,000 depending on the size of the company and years of experience. In Houston, the average base salary is $59,882, which is 19% below the national average.
Some related positions include: graphic designer, web designer, UX designer, UI designer, brand manager, product designer, product manager, digital designer, art director, desktop publisher, and animator. UX/UI and graphic design are very closely related to visual design, and the three roles usually make up a team within a company, according to General Assembly. The terms “visual communication” and “visual design” are often used interchangeably.
There is definitely room for advancement in a visual design job — however, because this role is relatively new, despite my research it’s unclear to me exactly what that path looks like. Visual design is often a mid- to senior-level position. I think it would be a good stepping-stone for someone learning how to code with the goal of pursuing upper-level UX design. Art direction seems like a natural step up from visual design as well because it uses many of the same skills and requires similar knowledge while being a definite position of leadership.
According to Skillcrush, this field has an annual job growth rate of 35% — twice the national average. Skillcrush also notes that there are about 198,000 visual design jobs open in the U.S. As of March 20, a Glassdoor search yields 1,069 open visual design jobs in Texas — including listings from companies like Dell, McAfee, IBM, PayPal, and Capital One.
If visual design roles require travel, it’s likely very little. I have yet to see a job post or informational article mention travel. But I think this would depend on the size of the company, the number of offices the company has, and where your clients are located. On the other hand, this is a position that is conducive to remote work, especially as a sole proprietor. This is a job that can be performed just about anywhere.
But for the self-employed visual designers, traditional benefits would not be typical unless they are essentially able to give them to their self via their own company. A freelance visual designer is usually going to be in the same boat as the rest of the freelance crowd. As for the visual designers working in-house for any kind of business, benefits are very typical. Obviously, the quality of benefits ranges widely, but while sorting through Glassdoor listings I noticed the majority of employers offered basic benefits.
In a Skillcrush article, visual designer Maya Sariahmed said, “I studied Communication Design at Parsons in New York. I’ve always been a bit of a bleeding heart. Ultimately, my line of work is to communicate and clarify a message, so I need to believe in that message in order to do my job well. This has led me to working mostly in-house with non-profits.”
Sariahmed’s advice to aspiring visual designers is this: “You’re telling a story with the work that you do; make sure it’s one that you want to be heard!”