Graphic design is a growing and popular field – and it is true that graphic designers are in high demand. However, because it is such a popular field, there is also a high degree of competition – there are a lot of jobs, but also a lot of people trained in graphic design. So, while it is possible for the best graphic designers to make a good living in the field, it’s no cakewalk.
The best and most coveted graphic design jobs (and also the hardest to get) are with large design firms or companies, where the graphic designer works on salary and is feed a steady stream of work. While this type of position does not appeal to everyone, the upside is indisputable: a regular paycheck, benefits such as health insurance, regulated hours, and no unpaid time spent pitching for business. That said, this type of position is difficult to obtain, and so many graphic designers, even those who are highly qualified or who have gone through an accredited online PhD program (or even a traditional one!) end up working independently.
Starting out as a freelancer can be extremely difficult. Not only do you have no set up clients, but you have little in the way of experience to demonstrate to potential clients that you would be able to take on their project.
If you are freelancing, make sure to save all of your projects from school and consider making a very polished website for yourself, in order to demonstrate your abilities. An online portfolio is invaluable. Also, consider doing some pro-bono or low-paying work for a local nonprofit to air your name and enlarge your portfolio. Remember to network as much as possible – your first clients will likely be people acquainted with you, or have few degrees of separation from you. Also, consider joining a trade organization, which can give you networking opportunities, job postings and status. One of the most highly regarded graphic design associations is the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), which has over 20,000 members and 66 chapters across the country.
Once you’ve started to get jobs, you’ll find that the frequency of work ebbs and flows – some months you have too much work and you’ll be pulling long days, while other months are mostly dry. This is normal. The key is to keep an even keel, both emotionally and financially – don’t get too excited or spend too much money in boom times, and then you’ll be able to take care of yourself during busts. Remember, the more established you get, the more regular work you’ll receive.
As for how much a freelance graphic designer can expect to make, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median pay for a graphic designer is $20.92 per hour, or $43,500 per year. Keep in mind, however, that established graphic designers can make far, far more, while graphic designers just starting out may need to supplement their income by another position to make ends meet. But, if you’re dedicated to the craft and continue to hone your skills, graphic design is unquestionably a field where you can succeed.