How to Become a Graphics Designer or Digital Animator

Designer Robin Mathew once said, "Design is where science and art break even." Good graphic design uses imagery to convey messages and ideas, a process that requires a great deal of technical skill as well as creativity. It is this mix of analytic and artistic talent that makes graphics and digital design such a popular discipline among students, and such a valuable skill to employers.

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    What do graphic designers do?

    Graphic designers work with companies to develop the visual components of marketing and communication initiatives, including advertisements, logos, packaging, brochures and websites. In order to be successful, graphic designers must be able to communicate with clients, collaborate with other design professionals and deliver unique, effective designs. This job role requires a mix of business savvy and technical design skills. On a given day, a graphic designer might meet with a client, create a communication strategy, design the layout of a Web page and make changes to an existing publication.

    Graphic designers use color, typography, photography, artwork, layout and occasionally animation to convey a client's message to its target audience. Most of today's design work is done on the computer, so graphic designers must have a solid understanding of design software like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Acrobat and Flash.

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    What does a UX designer do?

    The role of a user experience (UX) designer may seem obvious, but the job requires a wide and varied skill set, from technical expertise with specific tools, to soft PR abilities such as active listening and strong communication skills. UX designers may also be called user experience architects, experience consultants, or even information architects. The reason is that users, experience and information are all critical parts of the design effort.

    A UX designer's overall goal is to ensure a digital product or service provides users with the best experience possible. UX designers must take a multidisciplinary approach, as the role melds interaction design and industrial design, as well as user-assistance and centered design elements. UX designers are responsible for crafting, developing and creating a comfortable user-interface for a product, app, service, or website.

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    What does a computer animator do?

    Computer animators bring characters, images, logos, and text to life. By combining static images, these artists create the illusion of movement for everything from animated feature films to online advertisements. Animation used to be done with pen and paper, but today computer technology is central to all animated media.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most multimedia artists and animators work in television, film, advertising, or computer systems design. Computer animators work with larger teams to develop storyboards and create the animation seen in commercials, films and video games. Computer animators must be skilled at manipulating color, texture, light and shadow to simulate realistic movement.

    While computer technology is central to computer animation, animators still often sketch by hand during the early planning stages. Many animated characters are drawn by hand before they are digitized into the computer. The computer animator then uses powerful PC or Mac workstations to transform the character into a moving two- or three-dimensional figure.

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    Animation and Design Degrees and Education

    Animation and design degree programs can take many different forms. The following examples illustrate the range of possibilities for a student interested in graphics and digital design as a degree path:

        • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology - Multimedia Communications
        • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science - Digital Design
        • Bachelor of Science - Web Design
        • Bachelor of Fine Arts - Graphic Design
        • Bachelor of Arts - Digital Media Production

    Depending on a student's interests in multimedia design, there are programs with greater technical emphasis, or with greater emphasis on arts. A multimedia design degree program can also be made to be more flexible depending on the needs of a particular student. Some students may decide to take advantage of the flexibility offered within an online degree program.

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    What training is necessary to become a graphic designer?

    Anyone who wants to work in the graphic arts can benefit from graphic design training. The best candidates, however, tend to be visual, creative, well-organized and computer-savvy. Professional designers must also be able to work well with others, taking direction from clients and design directors while maintaining productive working relationships with fellow designers and developers. They must also be able and willing to spend long hours in the design studio, particularly in the earlier stages of their careers.

    A bachelor's degree in graphic design is generally required to become a graphic designer. According to the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, there are approximately 300 accredited art and design institutions in the United States, many of which offer a bachelor's in graphic design. The bachelor's degree generally requires four years of full-time study and includes a range of coursework in the following disciplines:

        • Color theory
        • Composition
        • History of design
        • Typography
        • Basic Web design
        • Symbology
        • Computer-assisted design
        • Print technology
        • Business fundamentals

    According to The College Board, graphic design majors master the computer and design skills necessary to create the look of product packaging, magazines, logos, websites and more. Students learn the basics and best practices of good design, a process that requires a solid understanding of how typography, images and page layout can transmit ideas to and affect the viewer in an emotional way. In today's job market, designers must be well-acquainted with cutting-edge graphics software like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress.

    Many design colleges also offer associate degrees and certificates in graphic design, which take between two and three years to complete. An associate's degree is sufficient for many assistant or purely technical graphic design positions. Those who already have a bachelor's degree can often transition into a graphic design career through a two- to three-year certificate program.

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    What training is necessary to become a UX designer?

    Because UX designers require a wide range of skills, from technical to business to project management, the education and training requirements run the gamut from understanding website development to graphic and visual arts tools. A four-year degree program that's heavy on both design and visual graphics can serve as a good starting point.

    Depending on the degree program, there will be varying types of general education classes. Those pursuing an education at a technical institute receive intensive technical training in drafting, with fewer requirements in other subject areas. Individuals at a community college will typically receive similar instruction, but there will likely be added curriculum elements like drafting theory. Students who attend a four-year college or university for their education will not necessarily learn the technique of drafting, but they will focus their training in engineering, math, or architectural disciplines.

    UX designers often specialize in a niche field, such as website development or software app development. Business skills and courses are just as important, however, as UX designers often serve on the project management team and interact with the client.

    UX designers often need knowledge of common industry software tools including Microsoft Visio, Axure RP and OmniGraffle by The Omni Group. Other core skills include:

        • User testing
        • Interaction design
        • User-centered design
        • Search engine optimization
        • Accessibility

    Some advanced UX designer job roles call for human-computer interaction knowledge, and even advanced studies in psychology and cognitive science.

    In addition to formal education, AutoCAD drafters must learn the Autodesk software toolset. AutoCAD training can take the form of third-party vendor training or using one of the many resources available from the Autodesk website. Those drafters who seek professional certification in AutoCAD software will give themselves a strong competitive edge. Autodesk certs are industry-recognized credentials that signal to an employer a thorough understanding of the software as well as the drafting discipline.

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    Computer animator training

    Computer animation requires technical expertise in addition to artistic talent, so a bachelor's degree in animation, media arts, or a related field is usually required. In addition to general liberal arts courses, students pursuing a bachelor's degree in animation often take courses in the following subjects:

        • Drawing
        • Principles of animation
        • Cinematic storytelling
        • 2D animation
        • 3D animation
        • Computer modeling
        • Web animation
        • Digital editing and effects

    Some art schools also offer certificate programs for those who already have a bachelor's degree, but want to begin a career in computer animation. Certificate programs generally focus closely on studio work and prepare students for the technical aspects of an animation career. In addition to formal training, computer animators should have natural artistic talent, be able to communicate effectively with others, and have excellent time management skills.

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    Adobe Acrobat training

    When it comes to sharing information, most professionals today want something quick, easy and portable. Adobe Acrobat is a software suite that allows users to communicate faster, easier and better with PDF files containing images, documents, 3D and geospatial data and audio and video. Adobe Acrobat training can help users explore all the features of the program, working in almost any enterprise situation.

    What Adobe Acrobat courses will likely cover

    Though no two training programs are identical, a thorough Adobe Acrobat training program should cover the basics to help users get the most out of the software package. Programs will likely teach participants how to do the following:

        • Produce a PDF from multiple files, including Microsoft Word .doc files
        • Insert, delete and rotate pages within a PDF
        • Edit and manipulate PDF text
        • Create links and bookmarks on a shareable file
        • Insert images, video clips and multimedia files into a document

    Additionally, professionals can learn how to use PDF files within other software programs, including other Adobe graphics programs such as InDesign and Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint, email applications, web browsers and other industry-specific software programs.

    What kinds of Adobe Acrobat courses are available?

    Most facilities or institutions that offer Adobe Acrobat courses allow students to train in a self-paced virtual environment as well as a more traditional classroom setting. Technical institutes, universities and colleges have Adobe Acrobat training. Web-based virtual training companies, such as Lynda.com, may provide Adobe Acrobat courses for streaming or download and also on DVD.

    The vendor's own Adobe Certified Expert or ACE exam includes Acrobat and other products. Acrobat Dynamics training is also available. Because of the diverse applications of this software, Adobe Acrobat training and Adobe certifications could be relevant across the board.


    Adobe Illustrator training

    Vector-based graphical elements are highly useful in all manner of design professions. Unlike pixel-based raster design, the mathematical modeling techniques taught in Adobe Illustrator courses allow students to create graphics based on lines, shapes and color fields. These vector illustrations can be scaled to any size without loss in quality, making them very useful for Web design and other digital media.

    Entry-level Adobe Illustrator courses will teach students the basics of this point-and-line design system, including such elements as artboard control, zooming and scrolling, using and customizing keyboard shortcuts and fine-tuning image transformations. More advanced Adobe Illustrator training consists of building custom shapes, modifying the artboard grid, adding and manipulating text, creating animations and taking advantage of the raster-conversion feature known as Live Trace.

    Some Adobe Illustrator training programs are geared toward a particular type of drawing, such as fashion design, cartography, cartooning or architectural drafting. Since the vector design system is so flexible, Adobe Illustrator courses can be helpful to creative professionals in nearly any visual discipline.

    What types of Adobe Illustrator courses are available?

    Most facilities that offer Adobe Illustrator courses allow students the option to train in a self-paced virtual environment as well as a traditional classroom. The American Graphics Institute provides online instructor-led courses as well as video tutorials, downloadable digital classroom packages and real-world training in several physical locations.

    Virtual training company Lynda.com also offers Adobe Illustrator courses available for streaming, for download and on DVD. Adobe's own Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) program includes both Illustrator exams and Illustrator as an elective in several multi-program curricula.


    Adobe Photoshop training

    Adobe Photoshop training sessions are formal, instructor-led classes that teach users to use the range of image-editing tools that define Photoshop.

    Photoshop courses are offered at both beginning and advanced levels. Beginning workshops can typically be completed in two to four days and cover the following topics:

        • Correcting saturation, hue and contrast
        • Retouching minor imperfections within images
        • Creating layers
        • Adding text and vector art
        • Using the magic wand, lasso and color selection tools
        • Preparing images for publication
        • Working with videos

    Photoshop training courses are offered by authorized Adobe training centers around the world. Many courses are also available online. Both online and in-person training sessions feature qualified instructors who work with students one on one to answer questions and ensure understanding of the course material. This degree of personalized instruction cannot be matched through books and video tutorials alone.


    Autodesk Training Courses

    Autodesk, best known for its flagship product AutoCAD, is a leading provider of 3D design software. Engineers, manufacturers and architects use Autodesk solutions to breathe life into their design ideas, digitally designing and visualizing or simulating everything from electrical wiring diagrams to complete skyscrapers or sports cars. Product development teams seeking to enhance their design and collaboration abilities can greatly benefit from training.

    The Autodesk website offers a wealth of resources for getting started with any of the Autodesk product suites. A range of training courses and materials are available from video tutorials to official training guides and certification exam preparation. So what exactly do students learn in training? Autodesk training not only teaches students how to use 3D design software, but it helps students learn how to use these tools and best practices to improve their designs.

    There are hundreds of different Autodesk course offerings. Here are a few examples found on the website:

        • 3D Design from Concept to Completion in AutoCAD
        • Secrets to Passing the AutoCAD Certification Exams -- Revealed!
        • Introduction to Autodesk Revit Structure
        • Making Amazing Concepts and Illustrations with Autodesk Alias Design, Sketch and Showcase
        • AutoCAD MEP Piping/Plumbing: The Power of the Basics

    Depending on the product, different topics are covered in class. Here is a sampling of what an AutoCAD class might cover:

        • Creating and manipulating objects and their properties
        • Creating basic drawings and drawing objects
        • Various Draw commands within the software
        • Creating dimensions and working with dimension styles


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    What is the job outlook for graphic designers?

    Graphic design is an evolving field that continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects overall employment of graphic designers to continue to grow from 2008 to 2018. Increased demand from advertising and computer design firms will contribute to this growth.

    Job prospects, according to the BLS, are expected to be especially strong for graphic designers with animation and website design experience. As print media gives way to interactive sources, it's expected that more and more graphic designers will be responsible for online marketing campaigns. Increased demand for online graphic design will create jobs, though other graphic design jobs will be lost by slowdown in the print publishing industry.

    There are many talented individuals vying for jobs in graphic design, but those with interactive media experience and business acumen will have the best prospects, the BLS says. Additionally, the most recent survey of design leaders from AIGA, the professional association for design, showed the highest confidence levels since 2005, which many in the industry believe will lead to increases in hiring.

        Job TitleProjected 2012-2022 Growth
        Graphic Designers-U.S.6.7
        *This data is sourced from the 2013 BLS employment report (BLS.gov)

    What is the salary for graphic designers?

    Salaries of graphic designers vary based on experience, industry and location. Graphic design firms employed the largest number of designers in 2009, according to BLS data, and the publishing and advertising industries followed close behind. Of these industries, graphic designers working in publishing earned the least. Although they employ fewer graphic designers, niche design positions within the federal government and computer manufacturing firms yielded the highest average salaries in 2009.

    Location also plays a role in how much graphic designers earn. According to the BLS, Washington, D.C., New York and California had the highest average graphic design salaries in 2010.

        *This data is sourced from the 2013 BLS employment report (BLS.gov)

    What is the job outlook for UX designers?

    While the formal title of UX designer is not part of its database, the BLS reported that employment projections in all but one of the identified information communications technology (ICT) job categories reflect double-digit percentage increases in the years ahead. 2013 BLS data anticipates a stable and expanding tech job market in this field.

    What is the salary for UX developers?

    The BLS does not have a separate job category for UX designers, but the category for "graphic designers" can prove useful here, as the two job roles share many similarities.

    What is the job outlook for computer animators?

    Computer animators are in demand in a variety of fields, including film, television, advertising and video game design. Even non-animated movies and television shows still rely on computer-generated imaging to create backgrounds and special effects.

    Gaming is a fast-growing component of the industry, and investment banker Paul Heydon put the market capitalization of public gaming companies at more than $100 billion in 2010.

    Considering these trends, it's easy to see why the BLS predicts multimedia artists and animators will be the fastest-growing group of professional artists from 2008 to 2018.

        Job TitleProjected 2012-2022 Growth
        Multimedia Artists and Animators-U.S.6.3
        *This data is sourced from the 2013 BLS employment report (BLS.gov)

    What is the salary for computer animators?

    While exact salary varies, computer animators generally earn above-average wages. Professional experience, location, and industry all play a part in determining salary. The BLS states that the motion picture and video industry employed the largest number of multimedia artists and animators in 2009. Artists and animators in California tend to earn more than those in other states; after California, New York and Washington are the states with the most multimedia artists and animators.

        *This data is sourced from the 2013 BLS employment report (BLS.gov)

    The primary source of professional certifications for graphics and digital designers are the software companies that produce the tools used throughout the industry. A key certification vendor in this field is Adobe. Adobe products continue to be used throughout the entire graphics and digital design industry. Candidates can earn the Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) certification on a number of different products, including InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat.

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    "Investment banker says global games market's worth $105 billion," VG247, August 27, 2010, http://www.vg247.com/2010/08/27/investment-banker-says-global-games-markets-worth-105-billion/

    "Graphic Designers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm

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