Visual Designers

Everything you see in the digital and real (nature excluded) world results from someone's design. A TV shelf, a pop-up ad, a sock, an app, a building—behind all of them is a designer's work. Agencies worldwide rely heavily on their designers because they're responsible for a project's visual side, which is paramount in this digital era.

Designer-cover

Design principles

If you have an excellent eye for design and your sentence is “that should be two pixels to the left”, you should take the time to check out what’s skills you need to become a pro.

There's a lot more to design than what meets the eye. It's not just a random act of putting together images, words, and colors. Designers are guided by a set of universal principles and their sense of esthetic.

Contrast—the difference between design elements. Its main goal is to distinguish objects from one another and make them stand out, which is achieved through color, size, shape, or form.

Balance—the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space in a design. It can be symmetrical with equal visual weight on both sides of a central line and asymmetrical with unequal visual weight on each side of the composition.

Emphasis—making certain parts of a design stand out or not stand out compared to other elements using contrast, balance, color, size, white space, etc.

Proportion—the relationship of sizes, shapes, and quantities between one part of a design and another part or to the whole composition.

Hierarchy—the ranking of design elements used to show the importance of each by manipulating colors, size, and perspective.

Repetition—the act of repeating the same or similar design elements like colors, fonts, lines, shapes, sizes, formats, and texture and making them come together as a cohesive whole.

Rhythm—the creation of a visual tempo in a composition. The repetition of elements such as lines, shapes, and colors suggests movement and provides a path for the viewer's eye. It's used to entice emotions of calm or excitement.

Pattern—the regular arrangement of repeated same elements (lines, shapes, colors) or setting a standard design for certain features.

White space—empty or "negative" space in a design whose primary purpose is to let the composition breathe or make some elements stand out.

Movement—the path a viewer's eye takes through the design, leading from one focal element to another. It's achieved through positioning, emphasis, etc.

Variety—the placement of different visual elements next to one another, preventing monotony through juxtaposition and contrast.

Unity—the concept of letting all other principles unify harmoniously within a composition, allowing each element to coexist, forming an aesthetically pleasing design.

adobe-XD-interface

Adobe XD

sketch-interface

Sketch

adobe-photoshop-interface

Adobe Photoshop

adobe-indesign-interface

Adobe InDesign

adobe-premier-interface

Adobe Premiere

adobe-illustrator-interface

Adobe Illustrator

after-effects-interface

Adobe After Effects


The most basic design tool is a pencil! Most designers still use it when drafting their first sketch or brainstorming ideas, doodling away on a piece of paper. The initial concepts then transfer to advanced software, where their shape is finalized.

As mentioned above, it takes a well-built computer to support all the tools a designer needs. Software such as Adobe (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, etc.), Sketch, Lightroom, Animate, and Cinema 4D require experience.

Even a very skilled artist needs to learn from scratch each tool to reach its full potential in creating amazing design pieces.

​​What's more important, the learning process never stops. Designers must keep updating their skills and knowledge to keep up with the industry. Upcoming talents keep raising the bar, and everyone else has to follow. Curiosity, diligence, constant exploring, and hard work will keep a good designer in the business.

Different types of designers

Depending on the project, different types of designers will be needed to do a good job.

Graphic Designer/Illustrator

Graphic design is the profession and academic discipline whose activity consists in projecting visual communications intended to transmit specific messages to social groups with specific objectives.

This definition separates graphic designers from artists such as painters. Art is purely contemplative, while graphic design is created to convey a message using images, typography, and page layout techniques. The typical outcome of a graphic designer's work are brochures, ads, images used on websites, logos, package design, etc.

Historically, graphic design has been present as long as human civilizations. The first form of print advertising appeared in Europe in the 17th century and exploded in the 19th and 20th centuries. Printing has always been of great significance for graphic designers, giving way to digital forms in the 21st century.

Web Designers

If your brand or product doesn't have a website, it might as well not exist! Digital presence is paramount these days, and you'll need a fine web designer to help showcase what you're selling. The quality of their work will define the first perception your customers form of your company. Web designers work closely with graphic, UI/UX, and animation designers to create visually appealing website features that will catch the eye of potential buyers. Knowledge of basic coding (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) is usually necessary to perform this role independently.

Creating and managing websites means also optimizing them. A brilliant design means nothing if the visitor has trouble navigating a page. A statistic says that 39% of people worldwide will stop engaging with a website if images won't load or take too long to load!

UI/UX Designer

UI and UX usually go hand in hand, and it's hard to find where one ends and the other starts. User Interface designers focus on the overall surface look of software, appliances, and devices while User Experience designers go deeper. UX designers' decisions come after thorough research and stepping into the customers' shoes; they try to understand their audience, the users' approach to the product, their needs, and goals in order to create the perfect design. UX designers make sure the look, feel, and usability of a product is top-notch.

Type Designers

Mistakenly often addressed as typographers, type designers create typefaces which are collections of fonts. The basic design variables of typefaces are style, weight, contrast, width, posture, and case.

Type designers skillfully craft new typefaces combining these variables. Typographers then lay out pages using appropriate typefaces. Fonts used on a page can affect the message a company is trying to send just as much as images and videos.

(Video) Game Designer

The video game sector is larger than the movie and music industries combined, generating over $180 billion of revenue in 2021. Many agencies specialize in creating video games, and for that, they also need specialized designers and producers.

Game design includes disciplines such as game writing, world, system, content, UX and UI, level, and audio design. The more complex a project is, the greater the variety of designers, writers, and producers is needed.

But game design is not only limited to video games. Board games are also increasingly popular, and they require graphic design skills as much as a thorough knowledge of psychology.

The human need for interaction created the widespread use of gamification, which is applied to apps and websites in an attempt to engage and motivate users. Gamification is increasingly used for marketing purposes, and its relevance is growing quickly.

Animation/Motion Graphics Designer

While graphic design is all about static images, animation and motion graphics make the static move. Special visual effects are used widely on websites, movies, video games, and various apps as the average digital user becomes more and more demanding.

The main difference between these two types of designers is that motion graphics designers create moving images while animators are responsible for creating the entire story of an animated video.

The former is the cheaper option, used to strengthen a brand's image and engage customers. The latter is more expensive and applied when the company needs to evoke the consumer's emotions, sell a product, or create how-to videos.

Brand and Product Designer

Brand design has little to do with drawing and much more in common with marketing and strategy. It's about comprehending a client's vision, the company's core values, and defining a brand's visual identity. A brand designer's manifesto and outlines are used as a guideline for creating every image, using specific colors, words, and narratives.

Product design is closely related to brand design because they greatly affect and influence each other. The brand reflects the company's products directly and vice versa. However, the product designer is much more in touch with the UX side of things than a brand designer

Creative/Art Directors

Creative directors are usually the leaders of a creative team. They are the evolved, mature, and very experienced versions of graphic designers or illustrators. Creative directors aren't born overnight, and they carry the burden of making top-management decisions. Their visions define entire projects and affect even the most minuscule pieces of design produced by an agency or studio.

Art directors are the ones who execute the creative director's plan, helping steer the team toward the project's finish line within the defined guidelines.

A designer's typical day

a day in life of a designer

It's not unusual for designers to be night owls. Whether that's linked to their creativity or not, their day usually begins later than your local drugstore's, accompanied by gallons of coffee or strong tea. You'd think they spend the entirety of their days creating and producing fantastic designs, but the truth is, it takes a lot to reach that phase.

Meetings—Despised by many, loathed by creatives who only dream of going back to their cave and focusing on their work. However, meetings are often more than necessary in an agency to deliver a project on time. Daily meetings serve to ensure the whole team is on track and updated on who's working on what, especially when one's task depends on someone else's.

Research—You never know what will land on your desk next in an agency or as a freelancer. Designers must immerse themselves in the industry they're tackling, from custom motorbikes to face creams, across birdhouses and running clubs, to comics. Each product has its audience, with particular preferences and messages they respond to, and designers need to learn all about them before creating visual campaigns that will appeal to them.

Searching for inspiration—Unfortunately, designers aren't cyborgs and can't process a request within nanoseconds. Also, ideas seem to vanish when they're most needed. Luckily, experience is on every designer's side, and they can draw from it whenever a new task lands on their desk. When they feel stuck, the internet and books are a generous pool of potential inspiration. Artists push each other, recycle each other's ideas, copy elements to form entirely new and original designs.

Brainstorming—Before deciding upon one creative direction, designers try out different styles and play around with ideas. Only after a trial and error process does a concept start to crystallize. A series of rough sketches become a couple of potential visions, which transform into a presentable design through refinements. After the presentation to key stakeholders, the design is additionally tweaked according to their wishes.

Client feedback—The most challenging part of a designer's job is working with clients. Finding a middle ground between a client's budget, needs, and ideas on one side and a designer's point of view on the other can sometimes seem impossible. The back-and-forth process of presentation-feedback can be long and exhausting, yet it's essential to reach successful collaboration, the completion of a project, and customer satisfaction.

Software crashing—As if the creative process and communication with clients weren't complex enough, designers' tools require strong machines and even stronger nerves. Apps crash all the time inadvertently, often before a designer saved the work done so far, technically throwing it to the wind. So, designers need to arm themselves with excellent equipment and patience.

Designing—Before they know it, designers find themselves with no time to actually design anything. If they're lucky, they'll squeeze in 2-4 hours per day to produce something useful. Some companies introduced a no-meeting day to their workweek, which is of great value to all creatives. Blocks of do-not-disturb design time on company calendars could also be part of the solution to let designers focus on their work.

Freelance vs. in-house employment

Freelancers In-house
Choosing which projects to work on
Working on projects the company accepts.
Income instability as clients come and go.
Job and income stability as the company absorbs the impact of client fluctuation.
Being self-reliant and answering to clients only.
Collaborating with a team and answering to managers.
Working on everything alone, without interacting or sharing the responsibility with anyone.
If the roles aren't strictly defined, there can be overlapping and stepping on each other's toes.
Being limited to one's own skills and knowledge.
Learning from other team members
No one defines working hours and location but the freelancers themselves.
Working hours need to be coordinated with the rest of the team. Usually it’s necessary to work from an office
Investing in their own progress.
Possibility of paid-for courses, seminars, conferences…
Relying on their own reputation and portfolio when acquiring new clients.
The company brand is an additional guarantee for clients to hire an agency and stay loyal to them.
Communicating with clients directly and frequently.
Communication with clients is mainly the responsibility of account managers or project managers.
Working on different projects, products, and brands continuously.
Being able to work on certain products and brands longer, getting the chance to know them better.

Designers don't usually have the privilege to choose between full-time employment at an agency and freelancing. In most cases, you take what you get at the beginning of your career. Later on, once they've accumulated enough experience, designers decide whether to freelance, work in an agency, or open up their own. More often than not, designers are fully employed while working on side projects. This arrangement gives them the space to build their portfolio and have the stability of full-time employment at the same time, reaping the benefits of both.

Average salary

If you're wondering whether being a designer is a profitable profession or not, we'll break down the average salary in the industry.

Naturally, the numbers are influenced by experience and location, but we'll present the average base salary per year in the US, according to the most popular data companies. We'll try to keep the numbers updated as much as possible; please visit the linked websites for more accurate information.

PayScale Glassdoor
Graphic Designer $47,228 $48,684
Type Designer - $46,412
UX Designer $75,627 $94,400
UI Designer $66,016 $85,532
Web Designer $52,234 $80,180
Video (Game) Designer $66,894 $75,682
Animation Designer $57,462 $60,320
Product Designer $86,303 $70,176
Creative Director $90,813 $128,859

Becoming a designer: get started

If you'd like to be a designer, the best advice is to start practicing right away. Pick up a pencil or open up one of the free tools available online, and start creating. The more you practice, the more you'll see what skills you need to refine and which tools to purchase to progress further.

It's not necessary to have formal education to become a designer; however, it might be easier to be taught and mentored by professors while building a peer network. Check your local universities to find the course you're most interested in.

Becoming a self-taught designer is the rockier road, but one that could lead you to the desired destination. The internet is filled with online courses for beginners and more advanced users. Here are the most popular websites where you can find hundreds of courses:

Your first job as a designer

designer's first job

Before even beginning to look for your first design gig, collect your best work in a portfolio. Images speak louder than words in this case because whoever considers hiring you needs to take a look at what you're capable of. The most popular websites used to showcase a designer's art are Behance and Dribbble. Of course, you can always create your own template and include it in your application.

There are two ways to land your first job as a designer: through an internship and freelancing. Internships are mostly, unfortunately, unpaid. However, if you can spare the time and money, they can be a great start to a lucrative career. Sweep the websites of digital agencies and design studios near you, and even if you can't find any openings, contact them and ask to join them as an intern. They're usually swamped with work and could use an extra pair of eyes and hands. At the same time, you'll get the opportunity to learn A LOT from creative professionals. Who knows, after a while, they might even hire you for good!

The digital age has brought many changes to our lifestyle, one of them being that a freelancing gig is a few clicks away. If you haven't already been commissioned to do some free work for acquaintances, you can start by offering your services on platforms such as: Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, Remote.co, Truelancer, Guru.

A designer's career path

Most designers start out as graphic designers. In time, they find what interests them most and focus on that area of expertise. Some may be intrigued by software and specialize in UI/UX, starting from a junior position and progressing toward more senior roles. Others could shift to motion graphics and work their way into the video game industry or animation. It all depends on an individual's interest and the willingness to perfect skills continuously. It takes a lot of practice and investing time in additional education.

It's common for designers to begin their career in an agency and end up opening one of their own. If not, they can progress all the way to the position of a creative director and beyond. Some designers build up their portfolio and reputation, but instead of opening an agency, they find their freedom in freelancing.

Teaching is also an option for some designers. This profession doesn't exclude working on projects, so one can still pursue their passion while collaborating with students and sharing their knowledge.

designer's career path

Hiring a designer

So far, we've addressed designers and advised on how to make the most out of this career. On the flip side, companies looking to hire a designer also need some attention. We'll guide you through some basic steps that could help you make the best choice.

Define the type of designer you need

Based on your company's projects versus the variety of design expertise and experience we explored on this page, you should be able to find common ground. If you already have three graphic designers on board, but none of them is able to guide the team and provide a vision for projects, you might be better off looking for a creative director.

Freelancers or in-house hires

Consider your current design needs as well as design plans for the future. If your roadmap doesn't call for too many design hours, you might be able to hire one or more freelancers who could jump in and help out with your projects. However, if your company relies heavily on designers, you'll need someone on your team you can trust.

Candidate's portfolio

A designer may be the best in the world but not the best fit for your company. Based on your clientele, brand, and the type of projects you want to excel in, choose the designer whose work matches your expectations. If you don't like their style, chances are they'll never be good enough for you no matter how hard they try, which is a lose-lose situation.

Prioritize experience over degrees

Wipe out the thought that university degrees equal good designers. Nowadays, many talents are self-taught and get better at their job through working on projects and attending online courses. The important fact you need to focus on is whether the candidate will be able to satisfy your company's design needs. Their portfolio should answer those doubts.

Make sure they're a good cultural fit

This goes for any candidate, regardless of their role. Designers can be challenging to handle, just like all creatives, so try to minimize the risk of conflicts by picking someone whose personality fits your company the most. You'll be able to assess this through interviews.

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