Careers: Would You Like to be a Graphic Designer?

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by Efim Cheinis

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
– Steve Jobs

All successful businesses advertise. They have logos, letterhead, business cards, many do flyers and brochures and these days, most businesses have their own websites. So, all of these companies need the services of designers – right?

The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems because most businesses today have their own computers. Twenty years ago, all those companies would have needed the services of a graphic designer, but since simple ads can be designed even in basic word processing programs, many businesses make the decision to do their own design work. Usually, this is not a good idea because the people designing the ads often do not have the artistic talent or the computer skills to produce effective graphics. Amateur design may look fine to the owner of a business that is trying to save money but they are seldom good enough to attract new customers.

The result of the personal computer revolution is far fewer job opportunities for graphic designers than there once was.

Most of design work in the 21st century is done for big corporations rather than small businesses – and most often it is done through large ad agencies. Let’s look at what you should know and be able to do as a design professional in Canada. According to the Canadian National Occupational Classification, (www23.hrdc-, graphic designers conceptualize and produce graphic art and visual materials using image processing, layout, design and multimedia software. Also they have to consult with their clients in order to meet the clients’ needs. Thus, at the very least, you should have three types of skills: artistic talent, computer literacy and communication skills.

Imagination, rendering skills and a good eye for colour are all necessary qualities for a graphic designer: even better if your designs are original and you have your own unique style! But the ability to draw and paint is now less important than your skill with various graphic programs on the computer. You not only need a working knowledge of programs like Microsoft Office Suite (PowerPoint, Word, Excel) and Outlook, you must be skilled in such graphic and layout software as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Flash, Quark XPress, InDesign, and Dreamweaver. Moreover, every year, there are new IT and design software technologies that come out on the market and need to be mastered. If you want to be a graphic designer, it would be helpful if you enjoy studying.

You should also have good communication skills, both verbally and in writing. Do you possess marketing skills? If you think that this occupation might be good for a newcomer with weak English because it only involves computer work, you are wrong. Much of your
time will be spent talking about your work (and selling it!) to supervisors, co-workers and clients in order to persuade them that your work is the best solution for their needs and goals. You also need to be a detail and deadline-oriented person, one who knows how to accept criticism without taking it personally. Do you like working in a team or being self-employed (about three out of 10 graphic designers are freelancers)? Can you work with minimal supervision?

If you are willing to take on all these challenges for a salary that will most likely never make you rich, you should think about enrolling in a two to four year graphic design program at an accredited school, college or university. In some cases, your schooling could be paid for by Ontario Works or Employment Insurance. Upon graduating, prepare your portfolio (a collection of your best graphic work or websites) and résumé, and enter the job market!

How would you look for a graphic design job? The visible job market is represented in various advertising media including city newspapers (classified section) or the internet, (i.e. and or Once you see a vacancy, reply immediately to the specified email address/fax number with a targeted cover letter and don’t forget to include your online portfolio website for easy access. The best way to approach the hidden job market is by networking or looking into telephone or business directories, and finding addresses for any advertising, graphic design, packaging, publishing and multimedia production companies. Once you have the needed list, visit/email each of the places and leave your résumé in hope for a potential placement. What are the average graphic designers’ salaries? There is a very good source on Canadian salaries located at the official Human Resources and Social Development Canada site. Open the following internet address:, then click “Career Planning” and next “wages and salaries”. You will find a window where you may choose any Canadian Province or Territory, for example, choose Ontario, and click “Go”. After that you may choose a city, for example, Toronto and in the window with the title “Search for” write the name of the desired occupation “Graphic Designer”. Then click “Search”. Once the occupation appears, click “Graphic Designers and Illustrators” line and you will see average ($20.06/hr), high ($28.65/hr) and low ($12.35/hr) wages for a graphic designer in Toronto. Another good source for finding the monetary compensation limits in USA and Canada is at:

Once you have all of the necessary skills and experience, it would probably be a good idea to apply for a Registered Graphic Designer title using the website

The graphic design profession is not regulated in Canada; therefore, job requirements are determined by individual employers. If you were a graphic designer in another country, and you are looking for work in Canada, you must become proficient in Canadian marketing and business practices, and master a wide range of Canadian communication technologies. Also some employers may require international diploma evaluation or membership in one of the Canadian graphic design professional associations. Information on this can be found at:

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